American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Coast Mountains, Mt. Gilbert, West Pillar

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Mt. Gilbert, west pillar. Mt. Gilbert (10,225') is an impressive granite peak that lies 90 km southeast of Mt. Waddington, deep in Canada’s Coast Mountains. Although it is the closest 10,000-foot peak to Vancouver, it is one of the most difficult mountains to access in the range and is rarely climbed. On August 3 Mike King flew Chris Cartwright and me in his Jet Ranger from Bluff Lake across the Homathko Icefield to the wide glacial bowl below Gilbert’s west face. The west pillar rose directly above our tents, looking totally compelling. We just had to climb it.

Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. It snowed for three days, dropping a couple of feet. When it stopped, we climbed the glacier shelf on the northwest face of Gilbert and made the first ascent of a fine 8,900' rock peak via the east ridge. It was bitterly cold, and the rock on Gilbert showed little sign of drying. The weather turned bad again, but fortunately this time it rained, which cleared the rock of snow. Finally, after we spent two more days in the tent, the sun came out. We packed our sacks with food for three days and set off for the pillar.

Gilbert’s west pillar is guarded by a large bergschrund system. Access is further complicated by a hanging serac and an ice couloir that regularly spew rock and ice down the approach slopes. The whole approach would be unjustifiable if it were not for the Little Tower, a steep rocky crest that cuts into the left side of the serac and shields a narrow segment of the approach slopes from ice fall. From a little way up the crest of the tower it is possible to cross the couloir to reach the west pillar. The base of the pillar is undercut by a series of roofs, but these are breached on their right side by the Beak, a prominent prow with a corner running up its left side. The only weakness on the smooth central section of the pillar is the Great Flake, a hanging, left-facing flake system that leads through seemingly blank walls to the exit chimneys and summit snow slope.

Early on August 11 we crossed the bergschrund, climbed the Little Tower, and traversed across the couloir to reach the foot of the face proper. We expected the climbing to get very technical at this point, but the rock was superbly featured and gave brilliant climbing that was never too hard. All those days in the tent, snatching views of the face with the binoculars and working out the easiest way to go, had paid off. The line slotted together perfectly, and that evening we found ourselves racing toward the exit chimneys as a big storm approached. Fortunately, this fizzled out before it reached us, but we ran out of time and had an uncomfortable bivy in the chimneys. Next morning half a dozen more pitches took us to the top of a superb climb (700m, V 5.10a)— perfect granite, all free, and far easier than it had any right to be.

Simon Richardson, Scotland

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