OverviewThis route has a bit of a reputation for having difficult route finding and being a sandbag. Most of the information we could find on the route (e.g. on Summit Post, climbing magazines, other websites, by talking to other climbers, etc.) all made the route sound fairly intimidating. Some of the comments we heard or read included:
- Harder than 5.9+
- Hard to stay on route
- Hard to figure out where you are
- Run out in places
I’m here to tell you that this is not necessarily the case. We climbed the route (via the Sideline Variation start), and found the route to be a fabulous climb, just about right for the grade, and we didn’t have any route finding difficulties. We were back at camp before 2 o’clock. There are good topos for this route and others in the Perch in Climbing magazine #204 (June 2001).
The Route DescriptionFollow this beta and I think you won’t have any difficulties staying on the route.
We roped up to get through the approach gully (others don’t) – we climbed the chockstone on the far left hand side of the gully (i.e. don’t walk up the gully until the chockstone – start climbing well before the chockstone on the left hand side of the gully). There is one steep section then the climbing eases off. About 10 metres past the end of the chockstone gully, is the start of Astro-Elephant. The direct start (i.e. not the Sideline Variation) is easy to see, as you are following a right slanting right-facing corner system. The Sideline Variation starts about 15 metres to the right of the direct start and starts in a broken right-facing corner.
Pitch One – This pitch starts off climbing a right facing corner and then gradually rises and traverses right. You are aiming for an obvious ledge with a tree on it. This pitch is rated 5.8 but is probably closer to 5.6. Belay from the tree.
Pitch Two 5.9+ – This pitch starts just to the right of the belay tree in an obvious right-facing corner. Climb this corner (good pro) to the top (see photo). From the top of the corner there is about 10-15 metres of slabby climbing – you are aiming for an obvious small overhang with a block below it. This small overhang is slightly to the right of you – climb up to it, and then over it on its right hand side. It may be possible to climb directly over it, but it would be hard – there are decent jugs on the right side of the overhang. Once overtop of the overhang – you then go up and left for another 10-15 metres – following a series of cracks. Finally, you head straight up and end up on a little ledge, on which a good belay can be built. This pitch wanders, so using two ropes is recommended.
Pitch Three 5.8 – The topo shows the route moving up and to the left for a pitch, where it joins with the direct start. While that works, here’s what we did to easily eliminate one pitch. From the top of pitch 2, climb directly right for about 4 metres until you hit a big obvious right-facing corner. Climb up this corner a ways (4-5 metres) and place a piece of gear (with a sling). Climb a few metres higher until it is possible to climb out of the corner to the left. From here you are at the top of pitch 3 on the topo (and on the direct start) – but don’t belay here. Continue up and to the right, until you can make a rightward traverse into a small left-facing corner (see photo). Follow this corner up bearing slightly right until you reach the ledge and a big tree. Belay here. From this ledge it is possible to traverse off of the climb to the right into the descent gully. We climbed these first 3 pitches the day before (on a rest day) so that we would have them dialled for our attempt on the whole route.
Pitch Four 5.3 – From the belay tree – walk left and climb a big right facing corner to its top (about 10-15 metres). From the top of this corner walk along a broken ledge and set up a belay at the left edge of this ledge. You will be looking at the obvious large right-facing corner (see picture) with a slot coming out of its top. This is your next pitch.
Pitch Five 5.9 – Climb the scary looking chimney/slot. Getting out of the slot and established on the ledge to the left is the crux. It can be fist jammed (which is what my partner who led it did) or it can be stemmed (which is what I did with the pack). There is an old bolt at the top of the corner that you can clip (for a directional for the second), but don’t belay here. Continue up and left on the ledge, until about 10-15 metres before you hit the arête. This is very important, because this is one of the most important route finding decisions – you need to start just to the left of a shallow right facing corner system.
Pitch Six 5.9+ – The shallow right facing corner starts as an overhang (see photo). Do not climb it here. Start to the left of this little overhang and traverse into the corner. Then climb the corner straight up for about 10 metres. This is where most people have the route finding difficulties. Instead of continuing up the shallow corner system, you need to traverse directly left. There is a small piece of old sling that has been threaded through a natural hole in the rock – head toward it and clip it (it’s your only pro). From here you continue traversing left making a few thinner faces moves (that constitute the crux). Eventually, you work your way up and left until you come out on a sloping ledge that you can easily walk across. You’re aiming for the obvious right-facing corner system. Make sure you put as much pro as you can in while traversing – although to be fair, there’s not too many places for pro. We belayed at the bottom of the right facing corner, but you could also climb up the corner for 5 metres and belay on a little platform there (this is what most topos show). I felt with rope drag it was better to belay at the bottom of the corner.
Pitch Seven 5.8 – This is one of the most fun pitches on the climb. It starts off as a right facing corner (if you’ve belayed at the bottom of the corner as we did), then hits a little ledge and switches to a left facing corner. This corner system is followed up until you can make an obvious move to the right. You belay in a large slot/groove.
Pitch Eight 5.8 – This is another section where a group we talked to went off route (although you really shouldn’t if you’ve made it to here). From the belay, climb up a few metres and then traverse directly left into the corner system. Climb the corner system directly up and belay on a nice pedestal right below a very obvious thin crack system which curves slightly to the right (see photo).
Pitch Nine 5.9+ – Climb the obvious thin crack up (see photo) and over a little overlap and then bear left making one more harder move until you burst out onto the summit slabs. You can either belay somewhere here, or climb the slabs all the way to the summit (which is what I did).
As previously noted, the only real route finding challenge is making sure you traverse hard to the left in the correct spot on pitch 6 (which is pitch 7 on most topos). The best beta is that you only need to climb this shallow corner for about 10 metres off of the belay ledge, before traversing to the left. Looking for the old piece of sling also helps (also, see my photo).
This is an amazing route, with great climbing on almost every pitch. My only caution would be to not take someone who isn’t solid at the 5.10 grade on this climb. This is because the crux pitch involves a long traverse and you really don’t want to fall here. If the second falls, due to the traversing nature of this pitch, they will have just as bad of fall as the leader would. If your second decides half way across the pitch, they don’t want to make the moves, it would be a really bitch to get down from there.
The DescentWalk off to the descent gully on your right. Descend the gully making one rappel (one 60 metre rope is good) off a tree near the bottom of the gully.
Essential GearA varied rack, with more of a focus on the smaller sizes, but at least one large piece for Pitch Five.
External LinksThe Elephant's Perch Page on Summit Post
Trip Report from piquaclimber.com which also contains a descent topo
Trip report from Guillaume & Jennifer Dargaud's website (scroll down)