American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia, Coast Mountains, Bicuspid Tower, Life in the Fast Lane

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Bicuspid Tower, Life in the Fast Lane. On our first day on the Tiedemann Glacier, August 20, Graham McDowell, Ryan O’Connell, and I tried to navigate the maze into the Stiletto cirque and our objective, the majestic 2,000' unclimbed granite wall of the Blade. Late in the day a 40-60' wide crevasse, spanning the width of the glacier, stopped us. But we located a collapsed section of ice and snow that looked as if it could provide access to the other side. Dubbing the slender bridge Crunch Time, we descended to camp.

Several days later, after some storms, we crossed Crunch Time, but only a few hundred feet up the ice-coated face we retreated. With the remaining light we tried the southwest face of Bicuspid Tower, a nearly 1,000' bone-white granite peak with a twin summit. It had been climbed a handful of times, but had countless promising corner systems. We climbed four long pitches until dead-ending at loose, blank rock.

The next three days stormed viciously, with high winds lifting our tents. Graham brought large rocks into his tent, but while moving one he hurt a muscle in his stomach. When he woke he could barely sit up. We later learned that he had torn a muscle in his abdomen, requiring surgery. However, he urged Ryan and me to try something without him.

When the storm passed, on September 1 Ryan and I quickly ascended the glacier and belayed across Crunch Time. We’d decided on another attempt at Bicuspid Tower. This time we chose a slightly different, more direct start, but rejoined our previous attempt at the top of the first pitch. Stellar jamming and a stem box made up the second pitch (5.10a). The third pitch started with a 40' splitter, 3" cupped hand-crack (5.10b) that led to a ramp and difficult face climbing. The face gave way to a long dihedral with a continuous 3"-7" crack system for 600'. We groveled up the off-widths, aiding and French-freeing the steeper sections. We reached the col between the two summits. My research indicated that the south summit, while slightly lower, had never been reached. This was reinforced by our finding no rappel slings or sign of previous passage. We summited at 8:00 p.m., 45 minutes before dark. We named our route Life in the Fast Lane (IV 5.10c C1) because of all the obstacles we encountered.

We descended into the night, and midway down the weather turned bad. When we hit the ground at 11:00 p.m., it was snowing as hard as ever. We rappelled over Crunch Time on an 11'-diameter snow bollard, due to the deep snow. We walked quickly down the glacier, though our fatigue was showing. We were tripping and falling on moderate terrain, and then, while downclimbing a section of ice, I caught my crampons on my pants and tumbled head over heels for 60'. Miraculously, I was unscathed.

We arrived at camp at 3:00 a.m. Graham was waiting and quickly made hot drinks. His abdomen was no better, so we flew out the next day.

Ian Nicholson, AAC

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