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Topic "Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (part 2) (1 of 4)" started by Dave Stephens on Jun-12-2005
Topic "Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (1 of 5)" started by Dave Stephens on May-29-2005

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (1 of 5)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Sunday, May 29, 2005 08:40 AM

On Saturday, 28 May 05, Blair Piggot and I made an unsuccessful attempt at Mt. Yarrow's East Ridge (Alpine II, 5.8). With Bob, Dinah, Andrew, and Linda spending time over the last few weeks in the Spionkop Creek area (just outside the north edge of Waterton National Park), I wanted to see what the attraction was.

There are four main creeks that run parallel to the northern boundary of Waterton Park. They are (south to north), Yarrow Creek, Spionkop Creek, South Drywood, and North Drywood. The two Drywood creeks contain good ice climbing in the winter and a number of rockclimbing crags and bluffs in the summer. The other two haven't really been of much interests to me, but like I said, some friends have been hanging out near there lately.

Between Spionkop and Yarrow Creeks is Spionkop ridge, with it's highpoint being on the southwestern end (GR107527 on 82 G/1 Sage Creek). The eastern end of Spionkop Ridge is unofficially known as Spread Eagle Mtn, which contains an impressive east face. The mountain is flanked by two ridges, one on the north and one on the south. The ridge on the south contains an outlier peak at GR178544). This outlier is unofficially named Mt. Yarrow. Bagging Mt. Yarrow as a traverse from Spread Eagle Mtn would be easy. Bagging it from the east ridge is good practice for Mt. Alberta.

About a month ago, Blair teamed up with Waterton-based Chris Goble to make an attempt at Mt. Yarrow's East Ridge. I didn't really care about the objective. It's not on any of the lists that I'm trying to do, and it's just an outlier of a mountain that isn't even officially named. That makes it pretty insignificant in my books, but as part of my climbing relationship with Blair, he gets to pick objectives from time to time, and that's what he picked. Actually, a little alpine rock does everybody good, so I sucked it up and that's where we went.

For the access, we drove down Hwy 6, from Pincher Creek toward Waterton. Turn right on Spread Eagle Rd (GR919573 on 82 H/4 Waterton Lakes). Follow that gravel road until it ends at a T-intersection. Take the left turn, which dead-ends in about 2km. That's where we parked. From there, you can follow a trail up to a bench, turn right, and hike up a grassy slope, which turns to scree. This eventually leads to the east ridge of Yarrow. There are lots of false summits along the eastern side of this ridge, and as you get closer to Mt. Yarrow, the scrambling becomes increasingly difficult. The rock along this ridge is horrible and it's tough to trust any hold. The true climbing starts about where you cross maps (back on 82 G/1).

Our first pitch of climbing was a warm up. 35m of 5.3 climbing. We didn't bother with rock shoes on that pitch. 5.3 is usually easy, but like I said, the rock is horrible. Everything is downsloping, breakable, and covered in scree. The next pitch was 30m of 5.6. Again, usually not that difficult, but it's really hard to
find protection and just as hard to hold on to anything that didn't crumble when you touched it.

This brought us to a small ledge, which is at the base of the crux 5.8. Blair is usually a 5.10 trad climber, but I've been keeping him on skis all winter, and his skills were a bit rusty. He made several attempts at getting over this first bit, but he described it as "vertical gravel", with a lot of exposure to the north (right). All of the holds were downward sloping at a 20 degree angle, covered in choss, and most of them would break right off when you smacked it with your hand.

After spending a couple of hours in this spot, we agreed to turn around with our humbled tails tucked between our legs. After a terrific spring season of bagging 11,000'ers on the Columbia Icefields and lots of big 10,000'ers on the Wapta, it was hard to accept being denied by a peak that's barely over 7,600 ft... a peak that really is only an outlier of an unofficial mountain.

We were close. Once above the 5.8 crux, there was one additional 15m section of technical climbing, followed by some scrambling to reach the summit. The connecting ridge to Spread Eagle Mtn appears to be easy scrambling as well.

So, now the plan is to do more alpine rock, get in better condition, and come back for this insignificant 7,611 ft, unofficial outlier, which isn't on any of my lists.

Oh yeah... the highlight of the trip... On the drive in from Pincher Creek, Blair was talking about a great little hole in the wall diner that he and Chris had stopped at in Twin Butte (between Pincher and Waterton). Blair raved about the food, where last time, he and Chris had beer, coffee, and great burgers. So, on our drive back to Pincher, we stopped there, and I was salivating for some good food. Blair orders two coffees and no food!!!! What's up with that.
Dave Stephens

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (2 of 5)
Author: Linda Breton
Date: Sunday, May 29, 2005 12:45 PM

Dave, good to see you getting out to where the real climbing is at! Those 11,000er's aren't all that...;-). That was a great description of the South Castle area, and it gave me a better understanding of the whole Spionkop/Spread Eagle/Yarrow formation.

So...what did you think of the area? I mean besides the chossy rock, and vertical gravel?

Linda Breton

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (3 of 5)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Sunday, May 29, 2005 01:44 PM

The area is okay. I kept looking back at better peaks like Newman, Dungarvan, and others to the west. The area is actually good for long ridge traverses, which I really like.

Dave Stephens

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (4 of 5)
Author: Linda Breton
Date: Sunday, May 29, 2005 02:14 PM

I agree about the ridge traverses. If we would have had a decent day for Loaf, we were considering the traverse to Newman. There is also that long traverse from Victoria Ridge down through Newman to Avion Ridge. I wasn't one hundred percent sure, but it looked like you might be able to access Victoria Peak from that ridge as well.

Linda Breton

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (5 of 5)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Sunday, May 29, 2005 07:24 PM

I think the Newman, Glendowan, Dungarvon traverse is nice, since it runs along the border of Waterton Nat'l Park, and one of my long-term goals is to climb all of the peaks in the park.

Dave Stephens

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (part 2) (1 of 4)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Sunday, June 12, 2005 08:47 AM

On Saturday, 11 Jun 05, Blair Piggot and I went back for a second attempt at Mt. Yarrow's East Ridge. Remember, that's the unofficial name of that SE outlier of Spread Eagle Mtn, which is an outlier of Spionkop Ridge, just outside of the Waterton Park boundary. It's a little bump that tops out at 7,611 ft, offers less than 3,000 ft of height gain, isn't on anybody's hit list, and is otherwise pretty insignificant. Well, Blair and I reached the summit this time, but it was much longer than anticipated. In an earlier attempt on 28 May 05, we were turned back at the start of the third pitch, and we guessed at the overall rating as Alpine II 5.8. Now that we've completed it, we figure it's really an Alpine III 5.6.

As most of you know, the rains of last week came down as snow in the mountains, mostly in the southern front ranges. Given the amount of new snow, Blair and I thought about postponing our second attempt at Yarrow and going back down to Logan's Pass for some good skiing, but if we're going to bag any big rock routes this summer, I need the rock climbing practice. So, we were set to go. Then as I'm reading my email at 0330 Saturday morning, getting ready to go, I see a picture that Bob Spirko took of Mt. Yarrow the day before (Friday). There is a lot more snow than we were thinking, but it looked like the ridge itself was dry. This turned out to be true. We had very little snow to deal with, and in most cases, we could just step over it.

We did the standard routine of get up at 0315, leave Strathmore at 0430, meet Blair in Monarch at 0600, arrive at the trailhead by 0730, start the approach at 0800. My last report gives details of the approach and the first two pitches. Since nothing was different this time around, I'll skip that part.

At the top of pitch #2, we were at the place that gave Blair trouble last time. This time, he didn't have much of a problem at all. Unfortunately, he broke away a crucial foothold in the middle of that crux, so I'd like to point out that I didn't get to use the same hold, making the section much more difficult for me. In hindsight, pitch #3 goes at 5.6, not the 5.8 we previously thought.

From the top of pitch #3, the route was more of the same... another pitch of 5.6. Pitch #4 led to a short piece of flat ridge before bumping into another cliffband. For pitch #5, there appeared to be an easy gully on the right side of the ridge, but it was unprotectable and very exposed. So, we went left of the ridge and found surprisingly good rock for one pitch. It was that very prickly limestone, which causes your hands to look like they've gone through a cheese grater. Then, when we topped out from pitch #5, it appeared that the rest would be 5.3-ish to reach the summit. We switched back to boots and put the rock shoes away. We did a running belay for the 5.3 climbing, and we were very disappointed to popup from a short chimney and find another summit spire. At first glance, it looked like we were going to have to put our rock shoes back on, but after some exploration to the right, we found some easy 5.3 stuff to reach the summit. Nonetheless we got there.

From the summit, it's a simple ridge walk down to the Spread Eagle col, and bagging that mountain as well would have been an extra hour or so round trip. Unfortunately, storm clouds were closing in on us, so we needed to get down quickly.

Now for the descent. From just west of the summit, but not quite at the col, there was a spot where you could down-scramble to the NE. We figured we would try this approach and get as far as we could before rappelling. As it turns out, we could down-scramble the entire way down into the basin north of Yarrow and east of Spread Eagle Mtn. This is the origin of Spread Eagle Creek. There was a lot of route finding and down-climbing little four ft steps covered in loose scree. Nonetheless, it was a good choice to drop down that side. This brought us all the way down to the creek, were we picked up a game trail for the rest of the way home. The trail stayed about 50 yards south of the creek and was faint in spots, but it kept us from bushwhacking and really helped in the side-sloping. The game trail contoured around the eastern end of Yarrow and joined back up with our original approach trail. We were back at the Blazer by 1830.

Now for the food. I demanded that we stop at that place in Twin Butte, so we gave that a try. We both had some great chicken fajitas, but it took a long time. The place was quite busy, and it took nearly two hours by the time we were out of there. Like I said, great food, but a bit slow. The problem is that they only have one cook, one stove, etc, and she got about 10-15 orders at the same time, which she has to make one at a time. So, if the place is empty when you go there, you should be out of there in less than 30 minutes, but if it's busy, you'll be there for a while.

Finally, here is a summary of the pitches (for those that are curious). The pitches have a LOT of rope drag, so we weren't able to climb more than about 40m at a time.

Pitch 1 - 35m 5.3
Pitch 2 - 30m 5.6
Pitch 3 - 30m 5.6
Pitch 4 - 20m 5.4
Pitch 5 - 40m 5.6 (crux)
Pitch 6 - 150m-ish 5.3 running belay
Pitch 7 - 30m 5.3

You can walk off the south side at the top of pitch 2, and you can walk off from the summit. Anywhere else would require a series of raps to get down. Rap anchors would not be easy to find.

Dave Stephens

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (part 2) (2 of 4)
Author: Linda Breton
Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 09:18 AM

Good job Dave! The Castle area seems to hold all kinds of unexpected difficulties and failures for such low peaks (for me anyway :) ). By the way, Spread Eagle Mt, and Yarrow, outliers that they are, are on *my* Castle Crown hitlist. They might even be on Bob's. ;)

Thanks for the restaurant review!

Linda Breton

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (part 2) (3 of 4)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 09:55 AM

I was telling Bob that the route Blair and I took down from Yarrow would make a nice scramble route. It would allow you to bag both Yarrow and Spread Eagle. Blair and I were able to downclimb the entire route, which consisted of a bunch of little scree-covered ledges and little 4-5ft steps. There is even a nice animal trail to follow along Spread Eagle creek.

I don't think that the north ridge of Spread Eagle Mtn is a scramble route. There appears to be three pitchs of easy technical climbing.

Spread Eagle and Yarrow would also easily be bagged from Spionkop Ridge, but I'm thinking that would be a pretty long day.

Dave Stephens

Topic: Mt. Yarrow - East Ridge (part 2) (4 of 4)
Author: Linda Breton
Date: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 11:07 AM

Cool, thanks for the tip. When I had looked at your photos from your last trip, it had looked like that col might hold a way up.

Linda Breton