American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Contiguous United States, Montana, Glacier National Park, Mt. Edwards, Various Activity

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Mt. Edwards, Various Activity. On the left side of Mount Edwards’ north face is a large triangular buttress. At mid-height, this buttress is dissected by a distinctive snowy ledge. From this ledge, water ice seems to ooze from deep within the mountain to form spindly ’sides and thin curtains that descend the steep rock to the snow slopes 500 to 800 feet below.

In the winter of 1996-’97, Jim Earl, Kelly Cordes and Chris Trimble began the quest to reach this ledge. They climbed three pitches up the rightmost (and longest) line on the buttress but failed to attain the ledge. They named their incomplete route Baby Semler in honor of one of Glacier Park’s finest. For three years, this was the extent of activity on the buttress.

With Y2K, fat ice and motivation returned. Earl and two others attempted a line just to the left of Baby Semler. Again they climbed three pitches but fell short of the elusive ledge. Sticking to the theme, Jim dubbed this line Holy Moses after another park ranger. Two days later, Jim was again making the four-hour slog to the bottom of the buttress, this time accompanied by me. We climbed two pitches up yet another line, but due to heavy snowfall and increasing avalanche danger, we opted to retreat. (We refrained from naming this incomplete route because we knew that another party had been attempting it as well.)

After that first trip up to the buttress, all of those almost-done routes were all that I could think about. With Jim gone to Ecuador for a month, I was left scrambling for a partner. I convinced my friend Blasé Reardon to join me. I was looking for the easiest way to reach that snow ledge, and I reckoned Baby Semler would be it. Three moderate pitches brought us to the route’s previous high point. Here I followed a narrow snowy traverse 100 feet to the left. This brought me to a steep continuous curtain of ice. A few feet up, it was thick enough to install a hanging belay. One more pitch landed us on the snowy ledge that signified the end of the route. Finally, success on the buttress. We began referring to it as the “Bureaucrat Buttress,” and changed the name Baby Semler to Rule Book Roger (IV WI5). The reference remains the same.

Almost immediately I began seeking a partner to attempt Holy Moses. Two weeks and many logistical snafus later, I was back, this time with Ryan Hokanson and Mike Jobeck. Again we cruised the first three pitches. The fourth and final pitch remained hidden from view around a corner. From the ground it had looked rather difficult, so as I started the lead, I was anxious about what awaited me. As I worked out the moves, the pitch revealed itself section by section: sustained and technical, but not especially strenuous. At mid-pitch, a snow blob collapsed under my weight and sent me for a short ride. This was but a minor setback, and soon I found myself once again at that not-so-elusive-anymore ledge. Holy Moses (IV WI5+) was now whole.

I wish that could be the happy ending to the story of Bureaucrat Buttress, but soon enough Jim was back. There was still a line to be done, and he wanted it bad. I had a funny feeling that morning and was glad when Jim offered to lead the crux third pitch. As I belayed the first pitch, I began to relax. As the rope paid out, I prepared to climb. Glancing up to check Jim’s progress, I saw a bright flash, accompanied by a loud thunk. Instantly I was on the ground and bleeding badly. I had taken a chunk to the face. The game was up. Poor Jim got turned back again.

Kirby Spandangler, unaffiliated

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