MOUNT SIMPSON 2575m 8600′ – Climb Every Mountain by Doug Sly
I believe that hiking, far more than getter there, is the total experience of being there. John Carter
Now that Americans have named all their mountains, they should start naming their hills. Chogyarn Trungpa Rinpoche
At 5:30am on July 13, 1998, I picked up Kim Kratky in the truck and we set out on the 2½ hour drive to the MacBeth lcefield trailhead about 10km up Glacier Creek north of Argenta.
We were headed for an infrequently climbed pair of summits called Mt. Simpson. The peak is only mentioned without description in the 1971 edition of Putnam’s Climber’s Guide South, and subsequently in the 1977 edition it is omitted entirely. Kratky finds himself to be systematically ascending every significant bump over 8000′ in the West Kootenay and so when you accompany him there are only a few relatively unknown shitpiles (Howie Ridge’s term, not mine) left to do. (To date, Kratky has ascended now over 500 peaks including some repeats and peaks in other regions). Neither of us were sure what to expect – we even thought we might be home by 3:00pnn – except that the north ridge approach Kim had chosen looked gradual under the magnifying glass on the 1:50,000 map. On any trip I always hope to limit the bushwhacking to under an hour to treeline.
Hiking by 8:25 from 4600′, through bush saturated after six weeks of on-and-off rain, we crawled across the slanted nearly-out bridge a few inches over the swollen creek, and then crossed the open meadow of waist high grasses and young not-yet-flowering cow parsnip. After about 45 minutes of quick easy trail-hiking, we entered the wooded bog and started to hop the corduroy trail as we ascended to the plateau below the MacBeth headwall. Before the first tributary crossing after the meadow, Kratky stopped. This was far enough; he felt we were well past Mt. Simpson, and in a good position to head up to the ridge. (We were at about 5 1 36 5 5 793 with the obscure prefixes for the east-north coordinate system on the government 2000 square metre maps). The bush looked unusually semi-tropical; lots of peat, clods of moss, broken wet cedar. It was steep. Angling left (we were perhaps 2km north of the base of the summit), we ascended_ After a bit more than two arduous hours of steep bushwhacking, around several cliff bands, over innumerable deadfalls, making orange peat out of punky fallen snags, and skirting patches of devil’s club, we finally hit upon a recognizable slide alder spine to follow to the treeline at about 5900′ not far below the ridge. As insurance, we had flagged our route up using a roll and a half of tape. The light rain had stopped and the bugs started to come out. Here Kratky took our first lunch at 11:10; I couldn’t eat much when I glimpsed a towering summit still maybe 1½km to the southwest and another 2700′ higher. I was disappointed in myself because I was nearly exhausted already. Kratky had found the bushwhack tough but he was fine. This was his first trip after a month of climbing in Bolivia where even the airport in La Paz is at 14,000′. Before he had left for the South, I had said, “Let’s go somewhere when you get back”. He had replied, “OK, but are you sure you’ll want to after I’ve spent a month at high elevation?”
We side-hilled across many rocky ribs, over melted drainage areas dotted with glacier lily, and across small scree slopes to the basin below the peaks. (My sense of flora and fauna cross-scheduling falls well short of Petersen’s Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Guide where, for example, glacier lilies are said to be found “when white tailed ptarmigan, grey-cheeked rosy finch and water pipit are nesting”). Here we gained the ridge at a low point where there was a break in an already weak small cornice. Then we scrambled another 500′ up typical class 3 broken rock slabs and boulders to the 8600′ summit by 1:10pm.
My legs were now shaking I was so tired. Kim left me there in the full sunshine to eat lunch. I looked at Banquo and Fleance to the north with the MacBeth Icefield and the tiny unnamed lake just to the right. I panned over to the awesome black chunky tower of Lady MacBeth and then shuddered at the steep glacier climbs below Archduke Mountain that Trevor Holdsworth had attempted the year before. Finally, I looked at the planned ridge traverse between Cirque and over Fingerboard and Emperor to Archduke; there was a club trip led by Thiessen scheduled to try this in late September. It looked feasible with four hands.
Meanwhile, in about 45 minutes Kratky came back after scrambling to the other summit; over and around several small towers, about 200′ down and up and down and up. Perhaps a kilometre round trip. He was sweating profusely. He had found a cairn on the other peak whereas there was none at the first one. Just after 2:00pm we headed down. I had recovered some energy but my legs still wobbled and so I couldn’t make much time on the rocks. As we dropped back down into the bushwhack of what I started calling Birnam Wood (following the general rule to retrace one’s steps if there is any doubt about the way back) we untied each flag as we recovered it; I felt reassurance and lift as we found each one. However, at the first major cliff band below the spine, we lost it. Somehow our original trail must have swung big time north below the cliff. This worried me. I was all but totally exhausted and my reasoning skills weren’t firm. I now understand that we could head straight down to the creek bottom because from above we had seen no big cross-gullies to deflect us the wrong way. Besides, the way up was not worth finding. Kim as leader had to try to avoid patches of devil’s club, the stream beds with deadfall, and hope we didn’t hang up on a cliff (it wasn’t ever open enough for this to be a big worry). We couldn’t avoid a couple of bad deadfall patches, and by the last 500′ to the path I was running on empty; but you can go a long way on empty. A body is very like a battery—it benefits from being used up at least once in a while.
Once on the path, I just wanted to keep stabbing my way along until I came to a good board above the creek over-running the bog. I poured several bottles of milky silt-laden water on my head. Beautiful. My last thought was to focus when I had to crawl over that bridge near the end. Made it back to the truck at 5:40pm.
Had a Mountain Burger in Kaslo (I just about never eat this kind of thing anymore but it tasted wunderbar just the same). The experience of the summit is attainable below the highest point for some people. Of course for others, only Everest, the highest of all points, may provide that experience. And for still others, the summit becomes the sum of all the summits. I am attracted to ascending to places where without route finding and hard scramble I could not otherwise have gone. I brace myself against the wind. Expanse replaces my preoccupation with the steep slope and where to put my feet. All of a sudden, everything is clear! The geography now fits together. This was my kind of outing; it was really about endurance peripatetic& The purpose was not to establish experiences of everyday survival. Mt. Simpson itself is perhaps forgettable, but there is an uncertain cavity of energy engendered which remains.
Time to 114802 summit: About 4½ hours, 9 hour day
Map: 82K/SE Lardeau1;100,000, 1984