On a number of occasions, I have cast an eye in the direction of Mt Prestley, and saw a couple of unnamed peaks lying on the ridge between Prestley and Drinnon Peak. While these two peaks are dwarfed by Prestley to the east, they are rocky peaklets and worthy objectives – the east one in particular has an attractive tower shape. My favourite and most reliable Valhalla resource confirmed that the two peaks are unnamed, and while he had climbed the northwest one, he had no ascent info for the east, and more statuesque, peak. Music to my ears. I enticed René LeBel to join me in investigating the east unnamed peak by dangling the possibility of a new rock route if not a virgin summit. We thought we would make a long weekend of it by trying our luck on the southeast ridge of West Prestley.
So, on the Labour Day weekend (2006), with the requisite pouring over maps and digital photos completed, René and I headed off for a 3-day camp on the south side of Prestley. We drove to the Prestley spur at km 10.2 on the Bannock Burn FSR, and parked at the first avi path down the spur road. We did the usual (my third trip in two summers) moderate bushwhack into a camp at 2200 m. After making camp, rather than actually exert ourselves, we chin-wagged and lolly-gagged around in the warm sun.
We were up bright and early the next morning and headed off on a westerly traverse under the three peaks of Prestley. Once immediately under our objective, dubbed “Jailhouse Rock” (498136), we looked up at the steep compact rock of the south ridge and decided the west ridge, which presents an attractive outline from the north, was worth checking out. We continued west around the south side of the Prestley massif; after passing one tricky section on an exciting narrow fourth-class ramp, we easily scrambled around to the pass west of Jailhouse Rock.
The west ridge of Jailhouse Rock looked entertaining and promised to provide us our sought after rock climb. We started scrambling the low angle and broken section of the lower ridge to firmer rock above. As we continued scrambling along the ridge crest, I kept thinking “Uh oh, I hope it gets harder ahead or this rope on my back will be for naught…” We came to one tricky section that had us discussing the merits of the rope, but René declared it was short and quickly bypassed it via some low fifth moves on the north side of the ridge.
I followed and shortly thereafter we were on the summit. Sadly there was a cairn on top. We lay about in the early morning sun; I took solace in the knowledge that we would surely need the rope on my back for a rappel on our planned descent route down the East Ridge. Much to our surprise, the East Ridge proved no harder than class 3+. We scrambled down the ridge to a gully on the east face, which we descended with only one short chimney section worthy of note, all the while the rope safely stowed in my pack. We were back at camp in time for lunch, after which René scurried up the east ridge of the east peak of Prestley.
The following day, another warm and cloudless one, we climbed the southeast ridge of the main (west) peak of Prestley, first done by Ken Holmes and Les Brown in 1980. After traversing west from camp, we bypassed the somewhat scruffy looking lower ridge by scrambling gullies and slabs on the west. Remarkably, we found some bear diggings at 7800’ at the base of the south face of West Prestley. We gained the southeast ridge at the base of the second step and climbed initially on the right side of the ridge and then on the ridge crest to the summit. The climb was characterized by generally excellent rock, with the upper pitches in an airy position.
Blow-by-blow account of our climb:
P1: Start in a corner on the east face just around from the ridge. Climb the corner and then make a rising traverse to the right until under easy terrain below the ridge. 45 m, 5.3.
P2: Climb easy slabs and then surmount a big flake to gain the ridge crest. Climb the ridgecrest to a boulder belay on the south side of the ridge. 45 m, 5.6 (but mostly easier). Variation: climb the right-facing corner to the left of the easy slabs to the same flake: 5.7. P3: Climb a steep off-balance flake/crack to the base of two parallel corner systems. Start up the left dihedral, and move right when you get scared. Continue up the corner to a (dodgy) boulder belay. 55 m, 5.6+.
P4: Climb the rest of the dihedral to the ridge crest. Follow the ridge and drop off on the east side to a good belay stance. 50 m, 5.6 (but mostly easier).
P5: Return to the ridge crest, and walk the sharp ridge for a half a rope length. One step to left will put you at the base of the very steep south face. 30 m, 4th class.
P6: 10 minutes of class 3 scrambling puts you on top.
Yet more lolly-gagging and rubber-necking in the sun on top, and then we took the usual descent down the east ridge with two raps. Monsieur LeBel nipped up the Centre Peak of Prestley whilst I coiled the rope. The last time I was at the Centre-West col (July 2005), there was a pile of snow 6+ metres deep. This time there was none. The last time I descended the gully on the south side of the col (also July 2005), it was a steep and icy snow slope. It could hardly have been more different this time, as all the snow was gone after the long hot summer. We scrambled down nasty loose choss until we came to step in the gully where it narrows. It was probably only fourth class, but the mountains of choss encouraged us to do as others before us had done: rap the step. I would hate to ascend this gully in the absence of snow.
After the rap, it was an easy amble back to camp. We hiked out the following morning in 1.5 hours.