Mt Tupper – Upper Headwall of South Rib (5.11-)
Personal Rating: **
Rock Quality: 6/10
Length: 7 pitches of 5.6 – 5.11- climbing
Timeline: 12 hours (car-to-car)
Gear: # Double Rack 0.3 – 3
I looked up at the relatively blank wall, seeing a few minor down sloping holds and poor feet with no obvious imperfections for gear placements, I thought we must have gotten a bit off route. I backtracked a few moves, pointed to the right (the only other option) and approached a large detached boulder that seemed precariously suspended. No way. Back to the left I went, again looking at the rather blank wall and thinking to myself for the 3rd time that day… 5.8? But alas, as my eyes scanned the grey-coloured quartzite I saw a single fixed piton, naturally higher than anyone would prefer, and that was the only evidence needed to know we were on route, luckily it was Jon’s lead!
The day began at 5:30am from the Hermit Parking lot. The hermit trail, while a tad bit steep, does get you up into the alpine in good time. It was a heavy snow year so much of the Hermit Meadows campground was covered in snow – a bunch of trail guessing, a few creek crossing, and one soaked foot (Jon’s) got us up onto the West Ridge (PD 5.4). We traversed along the West Ridge until before the “Au Cheval” step, trying our best to reference the guidebook photos for the best option to reach the ‘traverse ledge’. Reaching what we assumed was the right location, we dropped one pack, loaded all the gear into the other that the follower would carry, and began our down-sloping traverse.
As expected, we found the photos in the guidebook vs reality to be not so straight forward. Instead of a gentle traverse, we reached a slabby gully that we chose to descend without too much issue, although be weary there was plenty of wet moss and down-sloping holds, but good 1′ wide ledge systems here & there.
Once down the gully we traversed around a rock arete and then ascended another slabby gully that did have a corner feature with plenty of positive holds. Although we brought our ice axes for the snow holding on the Tupper traverse ledge, we found the ledges to be bigger than expected and could easily bypass any snow remaining there, and easily walk to the base of our chose route, the South Rib: Upper Headwall (D 5.8).
Here’s where things get interesting. The book describes the South Rib as 5.8, however, in the description it mentions that the original climbing party had to bail out due to an electrical storm and didn’t climb the upper pitches… I can say from my experience of climbing around Squamish, the Rockies, and the Bugaboos – I felt the upper headwall should be graded at 5.10+/5.11-. I’ll try and do the best pitch breakdown I can.
Pitch 1 – 5.6ish: Easy climbing on blocky ledges
Pitch 2 – 5.8: Fairly straight forward traverse leading to a short chimney. A few options to exit, however, I chose to go right to the base of a steep looking corner system.
Pitch 3 – 5.10+: A steep corner system (beautiful) with big hands & fists. Corner can be lay-backed, however, lots of lichen and not many positive footholds make it exciting. A ledge system breaks this pitch up and provides a solid rest before the upper & steeper corner. Overall, really fun.
Pitch 4 – 5.9: Climb a moderate arete (5.8) with minimal protection to a large ledge, and make a rightward traverse to a short vertical crack system (good gear).
Pitch 5 – 5.11-: I thought this pitch was the crux. A short (15m) but steep wall with thin fingers. Gear was tricky near the top! (no photos, sorry!)
Pitch 6 – 5.10: Face climbing.This pitch looks like it doesn’t go, but it’s all there. A steeper slabby wall that meanders up before traversing to the left. You get a solid #3 before traversing left – There isn’t much in the way of protection otherwise and some committing moves to a fixed piton. A little heady.
Pitch 7 – 5.7: Enjoyable cruiser climbing up a fun crack system leads to a large ledge that traverses over to regain the West Ridge.
If I’ve left a pitch out, it’s likely because it was more of a scramble / moving belay. The rock quality is 6/10 in my opinion – in comparison with other routes in Roger’s Pass.
We spent 4.5 hours on route before regaining the West Ridge. Definitely longer than expected – but more stout than expected. A short 15-minute scramble later and I was standing on the summit of Tupper. Our timeline was as follows:
0530 – leave Hermit Meadows Parking Lot
0830 – make it to West Ridge
1030 – reach the base of the Upper Headwall
1500 – Regain the West Ridge (5.4)
1830 – Back at Hermit Meadows Parking Area
Total: 12hr 15min
The descent route was the same as the normal West Ridge. Back at the car we celebrated with a snack and a beer, discussed how we likely wouldn’t attempt the South Rib in its entirety, and talked about the other better looking route options on the upper headwall (Such as the Tupper Corner). Overall, it was a fun day out in the mountains, and an adventurous experience!