Hummingbirds and Dirty Highs in the Waddington Range

Team Smiles. photo: Kinley Aitken


Kinley! photo: Jasmin Caton

Sarah! photo: Kinley Aitken

Jas! photo: Kinley Aitken

I received the Facebook message from Jasmin sometime in March.

“Do you want to climb in Waddington this summer? You, me and Sarah?”

I was deep in daily life at my winter job as cook and ski bum at a ski touring lodge in B.C’s Chilcotin Mountains. It was about the time of year when the skiing had been epic week after week, the days getting longer and the mind just recently had been tickled with thoughts of the climbing season that was just around the corner. Although I was in no rush to stop my daily work/ ski/ sleep/ repeat schedule, my mind easily drifted back to memories of the range almost 9 years ago. I remembered surprisingly little of the daily details, but I could almost see the endless granite ridgelines, feel the gorgeous splitter crack systems and hear the constant thunderous icefall from the toes of all the hanging glaciers. The raw feelings of hanging out in such an intensely wild and beautiful zone came back quickly.

“Yes.” I typed back and pressed send, smiling to myself.

I had visited the range as my first alpine trip. The group had consisted of five bad ass boys and me, a so-called alpine virgin. After twelve days during that glorious August I left the range having sat atop 3 summits under perfect blue skies.

With that one Facebook message, the seed had been planted and I couldn’t help but daydream of heading back into the Wadd. This time however with three ladies and decades of climbing experience between us, the possibilities were endless… had anyone ever had a pedicure atop Sunny Knob, done yoga poses atop any of the Serras or had a pillow fight to decide who would lead out the next day?

Fast forward to mid July, Jasmin Caton, Sarah Hart and I were poised and ready to leave as soon as the weather looked steady. We were well aware that, with the late start to summer the alpine had not really had a chance to heat up and were all interested to see what the range had in store for us. We had objectives that we were all psyched for but agreed to see what conditions the range was in before zoning in on just one.  We were stoked to have a late addition to our trip. Firefighter, photographer and all around great guy, Chris Christie. I am not sure if he knew what he was in for hanging out with three chicks for two weeks but I was reminded by my male friends a mans perspective of the opportunities,  ‘Taking pictures of three chicks getting sweaty and then cuddling on tiny bivy ledges, only to come back to camp and bathe in freezing water and then laze around camp in boy shorts… ” Hmmm, alright. Noted.

planning sessions. photo chris christie

lots to organize. photo chris christie

I was fantastically ready to get out of

dodge (Squamish), away from daily routines and start the long days of engrossing mountain fun! A small nagging thought kept weaseling into my psyche… I let myself wonder about how it would go with three strong (headed) chicks in potentially stressful situations and how

conflicts would be resolved. I am not sure why I anticipated (and feared) conflict, perhaps because the three of us hadn’t hung out much aside from a quick trip to climb the North Ridge of Baker or to trip plan and sort gear. Maybe I hadn’t yet let go the memories of grade school girls’ dynamics, (back stabbing bitch!).  I went as far as adding to my packing list some conflict resolutions tools that might be useful in the field. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have it. The week spent in Squamish, with time booked away from work and waiting for our desired forecast, days passed quickly with coffees, gardening, climbing and summer BBQ’s.

Something happened just a week before our departure date. I fell and hit the ground. Hard. I was leading a relatively new sport route which features a decently high first bolt albeit easy terrain up to it. I had climbed the route a few times before always gong about the first moves the same way. As I pulled up to clip the first bolt about 20 feet from the ground, my hold (a 30 pound block) pulled free and there I was sailing through the air (yelling). I somehow landed on my feet on a soft patch of dirt between sharp rocks and bounced down the steep slope. I came out of the fall with sore ankles and knees, three stitches in my elbow and feeling incredibly lucky that I wasn’t more seriously hurt.  Sore and shakey, I made myself get back on the horse the next day to get out the jitters before we hit the alpine.

the block I pulled off pre trip. do not try this at home.

And then, it was go time.

gettin’ outta dodge! photo: kinley aitken

As we pulled into the hangar, Mike eyed up our load of gear, with his eyebrows raised and a smile across his face.

“It’s mostly Chris’s!” I attempted to defer Mike’s obvious thoughts right away. He smiled and mentioned something about travelling with girls.

I contorted that nail polish and tampons didn’t really take up that much space.

He wasn’t convinced.

After calling on years of playing Tetris and packing massive loads of food into helicopters, we JUST fit everything into the machine. San Pellegrino, Coca Cola, Beers and bags of apples and oranges included.

Just as quickly as we had sped out of the comforts of the Kings ranch we were standing atop the heli pad at Sunny Knob under the rays of glorious sunshine and under the delicious sparkling spread of our new home. Yes!

hello stilettos. photo kinley aitken

welcome to the Wadd. photo kinley aitken

the good life at Sunny Knob. photo: Chris Christie

We woke up to arrange camp, sort gear, admire our sick surroundings all the while listening to the life of the mountains all around us. Some of the faces we had been hoping to climb had a fresh dusting of snow on them and being the rock climbers we were, the wet streaks weren’t calling us to jump on them straight away. While walking up the Tiedemann Glacier to scope some of our objectives, one feature that we had come hoping to climb, now stood out to me among the Serras like a quartz geode cave on a vertical granite wall.  (Yes, they exist. Go climbing in Mallorca.)

Looking up at the Grand Cappuccino, Jasmin vividly describes in her trip report,

“Naturally, being coffee fiends, we were drawn to the name of this 3300m spire, but the lack of serac fall threatening its vicinity, and the fine-looking steep headwall comprising the east face made this objective even more tempting than an expertly poured, extra foamy, dark-chocolate sprinkled, biscotti accompanied beverage.”

With its alluring attributes and golden, smooth face, we clucked like hens with psyche for our desired line.

moon rise. photo: Kinley Aitken

Continuing up the glacier I tried to remember if there had been as many massive avalanches sweeping down all the faces last time I was in the range. As we scoped Tiedemann, one giant release off Waddington swept over the entirety of the col and for some moments time slowed down as we watched the debris shooting towards us. I felt a tug at my harness to see the girls running the other direction.  The slide came

Three Amigas

close enough that after the fear and emotions of those moments settled, reality caught up with us.  As much as we wanted to run around and climb everything that turned our cranks, we had to choose lines with minimum exposure to the massive unstable slopes all around.

Kinley climbs a headwall pitch on Tiedemann tower. photo: Sarah Hart

Jasmin climbs another sweet headwall pitch. photo: Kinley Aitken

what goes up…… photo: Kinley Aitken

Our warm up route on Tiedemann Tower was fantastic. We began by solo and simul-climbing the lower flanks of lower angle and loose rock, but soon roped up as the angle steepened and the rock quality gave way to a sea of splitter overlaps, corners and faces. We lead in blocks each loving the freedom of choice in our upward movement. The upper headwall beheld some classic pitches of varied 10 plus jamming. Oh the joy!

We could have named our variation,

“Sunshine, smiles and splitters”.  Walking back to camp that evening and reflecting on the day, I felt almost silly that I had anticipated conflict with the girls. Not only had we completed our first mission without a hitch, (aside from a few stuck ropes and a couple shit incidents) we had done so while getting along famously.

Jasmin displays her stoke for our current endeavor

good times on Tiedemann. photo: Jasmin Caton

a little bit stoked? photo: Jasmin Caton

we were not alone! photo: Kinley Aitken

For a stress free ‘rest day’ Chris, Jas, Sarah and I walked up to the Plummer hut to climb the super classic Claw Peak. With over 6 hours of walking for 4 pitches of climbing, I thought more than just once, how so very much I loved walking through the mountains, in the company of friends and on days like that one, how much a sweet playlist and good earphones can enrich the experience!

Jasmin happy for the sunbeams on a ‘Rest Day’ photo: Kinley Aitken

Taking a moment to reflect and soak up some more rays. Photo: Jasmin Caton

the mighty Claw Peak. photo: Kinley Aitken

Camp life was posh. Music was playing, a full kitchen complete with wine glasses, napping boulders, tanning boulders, dance party boulders and vogue reading boulders.  Gourmet food was eaten, books were read, hair was washed and our bags were packed for the ultimate visit to the coffee shop. We packed our bags for Serra Two and our main objective of trying to climb the unclimbed east face of the Grand Cappuccino. Along with our bivy gear and varied racks for free and aid climbing I noticed how the tiniest of packing details proved each team members’ individuality. Sarah and her 9 squares of toilet paper per day left Jas and I smiling but shaking our heads. I secretly stashed my half toothbrush and three lip balms, Jas being as focused and objective as usual probably only brought EXACTLY what was needed. Chris’s bag was MASSIVE and I again thought how the stereotypical “girls pack heavy on trips” was hilarious.

Night Life. photo: Chris Christie

why not? photo: Jasmin Caton

not bad comapny. photo: Kinley Aitken

Climbing through the chossy yet amazingly cool, rotten dyke/ chimney like feature the next day on our way up Serra Two my thoughts kept hovering around a recurring theme.  I can only speak for myself, but being a female climber in my early thirties is an interesting time. Done were the days of living for months at a time in my van and absolutely avoiding any sort of calendar commitments in favor of being available for last minute trips. Why do so many ask me.. ” sooooo, when are you going to have some babies?” I don’t know why it is that when you buy a house or are in a stable relationship… that this is the question you recieve? I did know, somewhere along the road and perhaps not meaning for it to happen, life got damn busy! I loved my work and was finally building a sweet house with my boyfriend, yet sometimes carving out time to go on trips like these seemed like an effort. I was thankful that I had ladies in my life like Jas and Sarah that still were chasing adventure and climbing hard even though we all were playing the balancing act of work, play, life. As to remind us why wearing bright shades of pinks, purples and baby blues in the mountains is for more than just photos, the Hummingbirds who followed us around were some of the coolest wildlife viewing I have done! As they were hovering around us wondering were the hell the gigantic flowers came from we were amazed at this tiny creatures resilience in such an environment.

attracting hummingbirds was a good thing. blissfully ignoring the approaching storm clouds, maybe not so good?

one small pink and purple figure among a endless sea of rock.
photo: Jasmin Caton

As we reached the top of the chimney systems where Sarah and Jas waited for Chris and I, the ‘dirty high’ that had been forecast was testing our belief in the weatherman when tangible moisture began falling from the sky. Who came up with that term anyway? With minimal discussion, we consciously ignored the lenticulars and rain particles on our jackets in favor of upward progress. I apparently wanted to climb more than I wanted to believe the signs that the

clouds coming in hot… and more ridge line. photo: Sarah Hart

mountains were showing.  We moved over the rock, ice and snow weaving around and over knife edge fins and buttresses under a darkening sky to find where we had planned on bivying near the base of the Grand Cappuccino. Not finding the flat or remotely human sized ledges that we had hoped for we dug out a few small, down sloping and incredibly non-sleep inducing holes.  My Mountain House sweet and sour pork freeze dried meal tasted incredible and after popping

5 star luxury accommodation. photo: Sarah Hart

some sleepy time Advil’s I nestled in to my perch looking at the stars and thinking of the sweet steep climbing that were would be exploring the next day. Those dreams became nightmarish reality when I awoke in the middle of the night to snow falling on my face and no stars above. Not one of the four of us said anything for the rest of the

cheeks full of vega bars and smiles are the pretend kind….
leaving the Grand Cappuccino for another day. photo: Jasmin Caton

night I believe all silently hoping that we would drift off for a little while longer to awake to a warm sunny day.

As night became morning the snow continued to fall and visibility deteriorated. Our silent wishes for the storm to end had not been granted.  The decision to continue up the route had been reached after considering our options. After packing up and dumping the snow out of our helmets we began wallowing upwards through knee-deep snow. We munched on our bars and crept upwards over the rime and ice filled final 800 meters of climbing. Just a few days earlier, prancing around in our tank tops and rolled up pants seemed like ages ago! Now freezing hands and feet jamming into the cracks, I felt increasingly aware of the hours ticking away. With a few wrong turns and stuck ropes, we were forced to climb slowly, methodically avoiding knocking the multitudes of loose perched blocks onto each other. The day passed quickly and with the light starting to darken and lack of bivy options along the knife-edge ridge we were well aware that an injury was not an option. We climbed mostly silently, while at one particularly cramped and uncomfortable belay we asked one another or maybe asked the universe if perhaps we should just give in and have babies! Although we were joking I know there was an undercurrent of truth to our statements.

Kinley on the endless ridge line. photo: Jasmin Caton

The mountain finally offered a moment of respite as we walked the snowy ridge line with thousands of meters of exposure at our flanks. The clouds lifted just enough for us to spot the peak of Serra Two and knowing our descent line was close we kept moving through the fading light. Not much was said during our four rappels down the wide ice chimneys, the frozen fixed gear said it all, moaning under the weight of four of us every time we pulled the ropes. The glacier below was reached just as the sky became dark and we began to walk, our headlamp beams only exaggerating the low cloud and snow falling in the night.

While I was ultra relieved to have my feet back on the glacier, when the clouds began to clear to reveal stars and a nearly full moon- it was almost unbelievable. Walking down the upper Tellot towards to Plumber Hut with the piercingly bright moon dancing with swirling wispy clouds I couldn’t but feel that I was in exactly the right spot on earth in those moments. The mountains having silently and strongly tested us and then to offer such a gift such as the moonlit walk towards the adventures ending point, made me smile. I knew that promises of making babies would be deferred for at least a few more years, in favour of more of these moments.

dreamy condition for a glacier descent. photo: Chris Christie

After returning to camp I learned the extreme elbow pain I had been experiencing on Serra Two was due to an egg shaped infection of some sort. Pulling my shirt on and off caused so much pain that as we chatted about objective options for the final days of our trip, I realized even with my expertise in ignoring injuries, that my elbow would have me grounded at camp.  We decided to wake up in the morning and decide what to do and as if to help us in our decision-making, we awoke to slashing rain and zero visibility. The next day we flew out of the range under once again perfect blue skies, towards the vividly green valley floor our smiles were as wide spread as ever.

hard to believe just 24 hours earlier we had been waking up in a snow, stormy bivy. photo: Kinley Aitken

happy girls in an over stuffed heli. photo: Kinley Aitken

Jasmin already scheming her return on our flight out. photo: Kinley Aitken

Thank you to ALL of the support we had.

Thanks, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Patagonia for the trip support. Black Diamond Equipment for the Speed backpacks and ultra sweet and stylish Vector helmets.  Sterling for the 9.8 Velocity ropes. Arc-teryx without whose jackets I would be frozen into the side of Serra Two, and last but not least Vega for the Bars, Electrolytes and Gels that kept us fueled.

Thank you White Saddle! We love you!
photo: Kinley Aitken

Sarah Hart, Jasmin Caton, Kinley Aitken. photo: Chris Christie

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