Trip: Vancouver Island, Mt. Harmston- Northern Lights
Trip Date: 12/22/2017
With a climbing friendly weather forecast Malcom Nicol, Ryan Van Horne and I plucked Mt. Harmston's unclimbed North East face out of the "to do bucket list" and made our way into snowy Strathcona Park on December 21/2017. Access to the eastern side of Strathcona park has been problematic the last few years, fortunately political pressure on forest companies to open up access for public recreation has resulted in a lot more open gates than we've been accustomed to.
Once at the col between the Comox glacier and Iceberg peak we scoped out the options for the following days climb- two options presented themselves with one looking a grade or two harder than the other. Without seeing the harder route from a different perspective we couldn't determine for certainty if the line was in. With the uncertainty of the harder route hanging over us we opted for the sure thing.
With with Winter solstice one day behind us, we knew we needed to maximize every minute of day light available, after hearing the alarms go off at 5:15 I felt like I needed a stick of dynamite to get out of my cozy mountain of down and face the frigid temps outside my bivy. The cool morning played havoc on the stove of choice for this trip, the trust worthy Jetboil melted the morning snow so slowly that Ryan and Malcom opted to skip a hot breakfast. Looking back we should have packed in one of our white gas stoves, canister stoves always seem to have issues once it's -15 celcius or lower. With a hasty breakfast finished we left camp in the dark @7:15 and unable to see our route as fog/cloud had enveloped the area over night.
Once across Milla lake the lower section of the route opened up. After a quick gear sort on the frozen lake we were on our way. Photo Credit: Ryan Van Horne
Here I am on the sharp end leading the first pitch. Photo Credit: Ryan Van Horne
Here I am on the sharp end of the second pitch- one of the crux's of the route, a grade 3 step with little to swing into above it. If the route was filled in I think it would be a great grade 3 climb, but with the marginal conditions and dodgy protection options we had I'd give it a WI 3+ on this day. Photo Credit: Ryan Van Horne
Here's Malcom dealing with the 4'th pitch. As with the other pitches this day, this one had a spicy early season feel to it.
Here's Ryan on the sharp end of the 5'th pitch. The ramp to the right was initially our intended objective, once we were closer the gulley to the left presented itself and appeared to be in better climbing condition.
Here's Ryan Van Horne coming up a tricky section on the 6'th pitch that definitely had a west coast feel to it- pull on whatever there is and yard your way up!
After 8 pitches of climbing we found ourselves on the upper snow field. With good snow conditions we were able to plod our way to the upper mountain without too much concern. At the top of this snow field we were greeted with a near vertical section of snow/ice and an overhanging cornice- fortunately we were able to body saw our way thru the cornice without too much swearing. Photo Credit: Ryan Van Horne
After 12 hours of climbing we found ourselves on the summit of Mt. Harmston. With clear skies we were treated to views of the Comox Valley, the lights of Mt. Washington, a couple of the North shore ski resorts and the glow of Vancouver on the horizon. With descent off the hill looming I was struggling to recall the exact location of the summer descent line off the mountain- fortunately we had a couple phones with us and were able to look at the guide book. With a little uncertainty still clouding our exact bearing we tried calling a couple local climbers (as we had reception atop the mountain) who we knew would have the beta we needed, unfortunately both Philip Stone and Lindsay Elms weren't home, though we did leave messages wishing them the best of the season.
To make the descent a little more interesting my headlamp died a minute after leaving the summit, fortunately I was worried that might happen and opted to carry a little 22 mA charge and the cable required to link the two devices. This lack of illumination made the first two rappels a little more memorable for me. To make things even more interesting Malcom's head lamp died after the 2'nd rappel leaving us with one working head lamp for 3 of us in the middle of bailing off one of the biggest mountains on the island! With events looking more and more epic for all the wrong reason I pulled my headlamp and the charger it was plugged into out of my coat and was relieved when it turned back on! Malcom, who is more resourceful than I turned into McGiver mode and duck taped his iPhone to his chest and finished the descent with it lighting the way off his chest- good times indeed...
Northern Lights: 8 Pitches, 700 Meters, WI 3+, M3, TD-
P1- WI2, 45 meters
P2- WI3/3+, 50 meters
P3- M1 (We simulclimbed this pitch) 45 meters
P4- WI3+, 45 meters
P5- WI 3, 45 meters
P6- WI2/ M3, 60 meters
P7- M1, Mostly a snow ramp, 50 meters
P8- WI2, (Short section simulclimbed then belay off tree at top of pitch) 70 meters
Half/Twin Ropes, rack of screws (2-10's, 6-13's, 4-17's,1-22), cams to #3, 4 pins, bird beak, alpine runners and quick draws, 2 screamers.
Approach via Kweishun Creek as described in Philip Stone's "Island Alpine Select"