Summit Elevation (m): 3088
Trip Date: July 15 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 1650
Round Trip Time (hr): 14.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 28
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break your leg or possibly die
Difficulty Notes: The south ridge route that we took involves difficult, loose scrambling with exposure. There are easier routes but they are longer and cannot be done safely with the amount of snow they had when we were there.
Technical Rating: SC7; RE4
GPS Track: Download
After spending an amazing morning approaching and ascending Watermelon Peak, Phil and I decided that we had enough time and energy to give Bobac Mountain a shot as part of a day trip from the Helen Creek parking lot. Due to a last minute change of objectives (we had a longer day trip originally planned), neither of us had done very much research on Bobac other than finding Josee’s trip report – one of only a few available online. Josee’s group found a pretty nifty scree bench traverse along the east face that they first spotted from Watermelon Peak. While on Watermelon, Phil and I didn’t love the look of some of the snow slopes we’d be crossing on this bench. We were only wearing minimal footwear and even the north and west facing snow slopes on Watermelon were pretty slushy by the time we descended them. We felt that side-sloping exposed, sun-baked snow slopes in runners was probably not in the best interests of alpine safety and started looking for alternate routes. Too bad neither of us had read Rick Collier’s report of a moderate ascent route via Bobac’s SE slopes.
After staring at the south ridge of Bobac for a few hours while on our scenic ascent of Watermelon Peak, Phil and I both decided that there was no reason not to try that route. It looked so bloody obvious there had to be something we weren’t seeing from our vantage. It turns out that was definitely the case, but we blithely headed for it anyway. As we picked our way easily across the huge boulder field between Bobac and Watermelon we finally felt the full force of the summer sun. It was bloody hot! We decided once again to fill our water bottles as the ascent slope on Bobac was all south facing. We were expecting the lower scree slopes to be an exhausting grunt but were very pleasantly surprised by how solid(ish) the scree was. I was also pleasantly surprised at how great I felt. My legs weren’t very tired at all as we slowly picked our way up the gully, aiming for the south ridge high above.
After passing a neat pinnacle feature in the gully, we rounded a shoulder and completed our ascent to a surprisingly large plateau just under the south ridge proper. The good news was that there looked to be a route ahead. The bad news was that it didn’t look quite as easy or straightforward as we were hoping it would be. There wasn’t much to do but start getting our noses into things, so we started up the ridge. Right away I knew that we were going to have to get a bit lucky for this route to go. Once we arrived at a slabby pinnacle which almost certainly cliffed out on its nose, we had to start traversing. Thanks to exposed slabs on the west side of the ridge, we were forced onto the broken, loose, exposed east side. After a couple of very exposed moves that involved committing ourselves on very questionable holds, we were getting a bit antsy. It started feeling a bit too desperate. If you’ve started getting off route on a mountain before, you know what I’m talking about.
After a few more detours onto loose ledges under the ridge on its east face, we encountered a stiff barrier in the form of several overhanging cliffs on the nose and exposed, loose and difficult terrain down to the east. It didn’t look good at all. We briefly detoured onto the west face to see if there was a route around the cliffs that way. There wasn’t. The only route on the west side was from much lower down and would involve a lot of backtracking and height loss. As I struggled up loose scree towards Phil, who was waiting just above me, I thought our attempt at Bobac was very likely over. We both agreed that we might give the snow / scree bench traverse a shot (after backtracking and losing a lot of height first), but I think we both felt that we didn’t have the mental energy, nevermind the physical, to tackle the steep, soft, exposed snow along the bench. Dejected, we headed back up to the south ridge with the intent of tracing our steps back to Lake Alice.
But wait a darn minute! We had put a lot of effort into getting this far! As we got back onto the ridge, I decided that we should check out the one difficult downclimb I’d spotted on the east side. This one, short downclimb would dump us onto moderate terrain that joined the snow / scree ledge traverse at its end, and looked to easily access the col before the summit, right at the one point where there was no cornice. I fussed around on top of this section. There were ledges here and it wasn’t super exposed – a fall wouldn’t be deadly at least. (It’s funny how the mind goes from “wow – that looks tough” to “well – at least I won’t die if I fall here”.) The only issue was the bottom 6 feet of the wall. There was a lack of holds and it looked like we might have to Spiderman things a bit in order to get down. Phil was ready to turn back, but I convinced him that he should stand where I was. I knew he could downclimb it. And he did! I put my camera in my backpack and managed to follow Phil’s lead by turning into the rock face and carefully downclimbing it that way. It’s a lesson for me that I have to be more willing to put the camera away once in a while.
We were both totally pumped that we’d found an escape! From the difficult downclimb we traversed on yet another scree bench before finding an easy (loose!) escape gully down to the snow / scree traverse bench that led easily to the col, bypassing the infamous cornice feature that holds people back from attempting Rick’s route, as it puts you right underneath it for a long time. We were psyched to be on the summit slopes after thinking only minutes before that our attempt was doomed. After a shot plod on scree we topped out to our second mind-blowingly scenic summit of the day. After many photos and a short break we turned our attention to the descent and long exit hike still ahead of us.
Since most of the difficult terrain was down climbed on ascent, we knew the descent would be slightly easier and it was. Thank goodness for all the cairns we built as the terrain was convoluted and every route looked impossible from below. We re-ascended the difficult crux wall fairly quickly before traversing on and under the south ridge to the first two exposed moves that we’d encountered. These were also slightly easier on return and soon we were off any difficulties. Instead of following our ascent gully down to the boulder field, we decided to risk things a bit and descended an enticing snow slope in an adjacent gully just to the west of our ascent one. The top part of this gully flew by as we plunge-stepped in soft, cool snow. Near the bottom it looked like we might get cliffed out, but we got lucky and the route bailed out easily to the shores of Lake Alice. Phew!
After a break at the lake we started the long hike back to the truck. The late afternoon lighting was gorgeous as we walked down the magical stepped terrain along the outflow from Lake Alice. We both took our time through this section, enjoying the views along the bubbling creek and marveling at the spot where it vanishes into the ground.
From here we put our heads down and hiked briskly through carpets of wildflowers, hordes of frisky Marmots (!) and under an increasingly threatening sky. Near Lake Katherine we thought we heard thunder and decided not to slow down until we were at least over Helen Ridge and descending the Helen Creek trail. We managed to avoid any tstorms until we were below treeline. Some heavy rains and light hail kept us on our toes, but the cool breeze and evening air was refreshing, to be honest.
We descended the final, steep 100 vertical meters to the truck and finished another day for the memory bank. Our day was so full of different scenes and different terrain, from hiking to easy alpine to difficult scrambling that I’m still digesting it days later. It was only around 30km total and took us just over 14.5 hours but it felt like so much more somehow. As I said in my Watermelon trip report, an advantage to day-tripping remote peaks is that you get to enjoy a smorgasbord of natural phenomena that takes most folks a much longer trip and a much heavier pack to experience. We certainly felt no regrets packing so many visual and physical experiences into one day.