MOUNT BURNHAM 2910m 9547′
Mt. Burnham is farther east from the Monashee watershed than any other summit in the group, and is the most easily seen. Mounts Burnham and Grady were formerly known as Halcyon Peak, and also Thor and Odin by residents of the area.
1. East Ridge. The 1932 expedition started from Nakusp by boat! The group of three crossed Pingston Creek by felling a tree, spent a rainy night under a boulder and arrived at the meadows on the second day after leaving Nakusp. Two members climbed the ridge while Axel Wetterstrom remained at the meadows. A short chimney was the most difficult place. (II,5.4,s,*).
Jean Waterfield (Mrs. Spicer), Nels Wetterstrom, August 24, 1932.
Alternate approach: Traverse Mount Grady from west to east, and pass under the south face of Burnham to its east ridge. Return to the advance camp, near the lake west of Burnham and Grady, on the south side of the peaks with one rappel on broken ground.
Alternate approach: Cross the bridge on Frigg Creek and after 100 meters angle south through bush to a switchback of a skid road. A clearcut area leads up to dry open ground interspersed with cliff bands on the south side of the east ridge. Find a route through the cliff bands to the alpine zone and a small tarn (2060m, 6760 feet). Five hours. Camp. The rope is required at a few steps on the upper east ridge, 5 hours. The rock is quite solid. Rappel on descent.
Robert Heslop, Dan Robertson, August 24, 1984.
The north side of the east ridge, gained from the road below, has the worst bushwhacking that the author has seen, and the attempt failed.
Alternate approach: Approach from Mooncastle Lake. Scramble the eastern north spur of the east ridge to the east ridge at 2590m (8500 feet). There are five rappels on descent. August 1980.
2. North Couloir, North Spur. Climb up the small glacier under the north side of the Burnham-Grady col. A vertical ice pitch overcomes the large bergschrund, and another vertical ice pitch gains the couloir leading to the col. The couloir itself is about 55 degrees steep. From the col, traverse on a good ledge system to the north spur. Ascend to the summit; the hardest place is about 1.5 pitches from the top. Ice, Glacier (III,5.7,s). Cameron Cairns, Mike O’Reilly, 1984.
Since no one climbed Burnham at this year’s camp, Paul Allen asked me to see if I could dredge up some memories of our climb of it in 1980. In August of that year Pat Taddy, Linda Allis, Janice Isaac and I spent four days at Mooncastle Lake at the foot of the Frigg Glacier about 2 km. north of Mt. Grady. This was to be a decadent helicopter camp; no bushwhacking up from Pingston Creek for us. As you shall see, it turned out to be a little less decadent than we had planned.
Reading my diary, I am shocked to read that we didn’t get away until 7:30 next morning for a planned traverse of Burnham and Grady in that order. First, we had to descend some 800′ through light timber to a glacial lake southeast of Mooncastle. Somewhere along this stretch, Janice slipped and sprained her ankle; she carried on for the rest of the day but wasn’t in top form. Next we contoured east under the main north buttress of Burnham to reach another north ridge about a kilometre east of the summit. This we scrambled till we reached the main east ridge at 8,500. At this point the ridge is quite flat and we could see some kind of radio transmission cone below and east of us.
We made easy progress to the first of the two prominent steps in the ridge. Here the climbing began in earnest. Pat must have recently climbed something difficult (probably Snowpatch), because he relaxed with a smile of enjoyment and let me do almost all of the leads. The west ridge is more like a face at this point and is made up of slanting ledges, cracks, and near-overhangs that offer some impressive exposure. I can’t remember anything of the individual pitches except that we decided the route rated a 5.4 level of difficulty. There were probably three or four pitches of roped climbing in total. By 4:00 we were on the summit to find no record.
Considering the late hour, the desperate-looking notch between our peak and Grady, and some thoroughly-uninviting slabs to the south, we decided to go down the ascent route. It took us three rappels to get off the steps and down to the flat part of the east ridge. A fourth rap took us onto the north buttress we had ascended. After down climbing a bit, we decided to rap off the side of our north ridge and into the basin below. This was a vertical 150’er using a tree for an anchor.
Back in the basin and 800′ below camp, we found darkness closing in, so decided to bivvy on a rocky moraine at 10:30. Views of the Milky Way and some meteor showers compensated somewhat for our uncomfortable bed in the sub-alpine scrub at 6,200′. The next morning we thrashed up to our camp in an hour. Moral of story: leave early.
BURNHAM, BEES AND BUSH – Redemption on Mt. Burnham
After turning around short of the summit on Mt. Grady at last year’s KMC Climbing Camp, I felt badly in need of redemption on this fine Highway Peak. Unfortunately, without resorting to air support, Mt. Grady is frightfully difficult to access (can you say “Gold Range Bush”?). Mt. Grady is the western half of the double-summited massif of Mounts Burnham and Grady formerly known as Halcyon Peak, so I looked to Burnham for my atonement.
On August 15th , Sandra, Kumo and I left Nelson planning to set-up an advanced base camp near tree line below Burnham’s East Ridge. A new dam and hydroelectric project on Pingston Creek has significantly changed road access in the area, but by noon we had negotiated the maze of logging roads across the lake from Nakusp, shouldered our packs, and started hiking.
I’m sure those who have experience with this sort of thing will shake their heads at our bushwhacking from 3600’ with full overnight mountaineering packs in the dreaded Gold Range bush. And with good reason. The bush of Gold Range is populated with all manner of genetic mutants – we enjoyed head-high devil’s club, rhododendron, raspberry, alder, and various other forms of man-eating vegetation. Of some consolation was the 5-foot tall blueberry bushes with ripe berries the size of grapes. Whining aside, we reached our camping spot after 5 hours.
The next morning we were off by 6:00. The first 2000 vertical feet were easy travel on meadow and low angle slabs; 9:15 saw us arriving at the base of the technical climbing. The route was obvious: straight up the steep and imposing East Ridge. The ridge is composed of two steep steps separated by a flat section; the rock was very high quality and the climbing was exceptional. The exposure and the views were tremendous: the 18 route towers over the Upper Arrow Lake , and affords splendid views into the heart of the Gold Range .
We climbed the first step via: 30 m of class 4, 30 m of easy class 3 scrambling, 60 m up to low fifth ( 5 .2-5. 3 ), and 30 m up to 5.3. Some class 3 scrambling took us to the even steeper second step, which we climbed via: 40 m up to 5.3, 25 m up to 5.3, and 25m up to 5 .4 – a bit of an off-width awkward chimney at the end was the crux. Easy class 3 terrain took us to the summit and much rejoicing.
I was surprised to see not only a summit register, but also quite a few entries – since 1988, the peak had been climbed on average about once every 2 years. After lounging in the warm sun on the summit for an hour we headed home retracing our steps by down-climbing what we could and rappelling the rest (four raps, only one of which was a full 30m). The next morning we managed to thrash our way down through the bush in only 3 hours. Over all, it was an exceptional climb, one of my very best in the Kootenays, which would be a frequently climbed Kootenay classic if it weren’t for the painful approach.