Grace via the Greatless

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January 25, 2020

Ever since descending the Great Slide in 2008 on a backpacking trip, I have dreamed of visiting again to climb it. As Grace peak was an orphan for my winter round, plans came together to climb this with friends Grant and Duncan.

We drove out to the North Fork Boquet and located the trailhead with little difficulty. Finding the start of the trail was a little harder in the dark, but after finding the path and after following this for a bit past some campsites, we lost all sense of a trail anyway. According to the register no one had been in this area for several weeks, and we definitely saw no sign of recent human activity. Compass out, we switched to bushwhack mode and made our way through and across the numerous streams, swamps, and open wooded areas of this area. Many stream crossings were made on rocks and ice flows, with a couple spots where the ice collapsed harmlessly underfoot. At some point we picked up a trail again along the South Fork Boquet, and this made travel a little easier except for a few areas of mass blowdown which required some diversions.

On the approach.

My second visit to this lovely rock... it still serves as a useful cairn along the way.

As we approached our goal, we angled up and away from the drainage, through the open woods, as we went around the mountain towards the North-West flank where I knew the slide lay. We came to a big gully with some nasty spruce trees blocking progress and I checked our position by shooting bearings off the visible peaks of Hough and the Beckhorn. We determined we were one gully over from the slide, so climbed a little higher before finally finding a way to push through the spruce at a good place to contour around. Another bunch of open woods whacking ensued, until finally, as my friends were beginning to doubt that there really was a slide on this mountain, we topped over a ridge, pushed through another dense band of trees, and mercifully stepped out onto an open slide.

Base of the Greatless.

Crusty snow on top of ice was the conditions, so we pulled out our axes and climbed the first low angle section in our snowshoes, until we hit some more significant ice where snowshoes were not cutting it anymore. We changed to crampons here, but in retrospect should have done it earlier as there was no real good ledge to do this on, and changing footwear on a slope was somewhat awkward. Continuing on upward we stuck mostly to the snow which gave good purchase for both feet and axe plunges, crossing the slide back and forth, sometimes choosing different lines depending on our comfort level for the exposure. A couple of delicate moves presented themselves, where focus was required, but in general it was a really secure and fun climb. There was also lots of low grade technical ice available too be climbed but not having a rope, we skirted around these sections. As we neared the top, the slide got steeper, but "ledgier". A few grunt moves to pull up some of the ledges, and then we were at the top and into some incredibly dense cripplebrush.

Climbing the upper reaches.

The final bulge before the bushwack from hell.

We pushed upwards through this by swimming, squirming, and cursing. I commented that I did not rememeber this part... I thought the slide went right to the top of the mountain. In fact, I could see the bare rock of the top of mountain twenty meters above us, so there was nothing more to do but spend the next half hour or so trying to unlock the puzzle of getting our bodies and snowshoe strapped packs through this mess. Finally I got to the point where I could almost touch freedom. The last two meters felt a little bit like it must feel to be born into the world, with my head finally pushing through into open air, followed by my shoulders. Some more wriggling and pushing got my arms free, and then finally as my hips cleared the bush, I was spat out onto a gloriously open rock ledge. Duncan and Grant found a possibly easier way around my struggles, but I then had a lovely rock chimney to scramble up to the summit ridge which they missed.

Ahh... gloriously open rock on the summit ridge.

We high fived and looked down... seeing now that there are two parallel slides on this mountain. Oops, we climbed the wrong one! I have searched the internet on this second slide, but can find no name for it. Close study of the USGS map shows this second one so it obviously has been around for a while. I am calling it the Greatless slide as it is much like the Great slide, but not quite as great because of the horrendous finish.

Looking down at the Great slide on the left, and the Greatless on the right.

We scratched across the rocks in our crampons to the summit block, and then settled down in the lee of this for a few minutes to refuel. We originally had thought of maybe adding another peak or two of the range to this hike, but the forecasted bad weather for late afternoon was starting to move in, so we decided it was probably a better idea to get out of Dodge while the going was still good. As we packed up to go, Duncan found that one of his poles had been literally ripped off of his pack (attachment point and all) at some point of during squirm through the bushes. If anyone cares to repeat this climb and comes across a pole in the most unlikely location, I am sure Duncan would be eternally greatful to get it back.

Duncan and I on top of Grace.

Without too much difficulty, we found the herd path back down into the valley, and snowshoe skied this, losing elevation very quickly. Fifteen minutes later, we were back down on the lower slabs of the true Great slide, which we followed a little further downwards until we cut through the woods and across the base of the Greatless slide. Some joking comments were made of climbing it again to rescue a pole, but a few bursts of light rain had us moving again back towards civilization. We whacked on through the open woods contouring around the mountain until we found our track from the morning, at which point the navigational mind could shut itself off as we followed this all the way home.

Crossing the swamp motel lands on the return journey.

One last bit of excitement ended our day as we made the final crossing of the river. Grant stepped onto an ice shelf which collapsed, dropping him waist deep into the water. He rolled onto another ice shelf which then also collapsed, plunging the rest of him in. With a lot of cursing and a bit of a walrus move, he got himself onto a rock and climbed out, soaking wet, but unharmed. Pretty much right at that moment the rain decided to come down hard too, adding insult to the injury. Fortunately we were only about ten minutes from the car, so we just motored (Grant squelching in his sloshingly full boots) the last stretch ending our ten hour day.

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