© Neil Bennett Photography 2020.

Mt Slesse

If you don’t know of Alpinist Magazine, take a look for their online articles. A recent edition had a very in-depth article on Mt Slesse. It is a very jagged peak in the coast range, fairly close to the American border, maybe 100 km east of Vancouver. It has a VERY alpine feel to it even though it is close to a big city; very committing. Way back in the 50’s a plane, trying to fly through to Calgary, turned around in bad weather, was too far south and hit the peak killing all aboard. The wreck wasn’t found until the next summer.

You can find images online of something called the propeller cairn, built by people many years after the crash. I have been there and it is very poignant, complete with an old suitcase. There were dark rumours about climbers returning to the peak due to some rumoured stash of money or gold, but those probably aren’t real.

Something like 1970 I was climbing a bit with a local fellow and we cooked up the idea of driving up an old logging road, hiking about 4000' up a trail to a meadow area, then another 1000’ or so to the peak, climbing the peak (scrambling and easy 5th) then descending to the car and driving home. We were young and strong. There are a bunch of people in this story so I will start calling them “C1, C2, etc”, “C” for "climber:. The local fellow  I just mentioned is C1. He mentioned a friend of his might like the outing and he apparently knew where the trail started - he is C2. We drove up an old logging road to the bottom of the ridge and didn’t immediately find the trail. We started up the ridge anyway, assured by C2 that we would find the trail almost at anytime, but we didn’t.

Some of our ridge climb resembled vertical bushwhacking and if you haven’t bushwhacked in coastal BC then you don’t really know what the word bushwhack means. We probably made it 3500’ up the ridge and we realized we weren’t going to get in our ascent so we sat down for a bite. Ever curious, I wandered around a bit and maybe 30 m from where we were sitting was the trail! We wandered up the trail to the meadow area, looked at the peak then descended the trail. End of attempt 1.

A couple of weeks later: C1, C3 and me. We drove up the same logging road to the bottom of the trail, booted up the trail and as we were getting close to the meadow there were a bunch of really nice blueberries. C1, upon reaching down for some blueberries in the meadow area, tripped and fell into the middle of a blueberry patch so we stopped for a while and ate blueberries. A lot of blueberries. Some as large as marbles, probably. Eventually we continued up to the peak, where C1 said his stomach was feeling bad from all the blueberries. End of attempt 2.

A couple of weeks after that I returned with C4, we hiked up and slept amongst the remaining berries and climbed the peak the next day. Some scrambling and a pitch or two of climbing on pretty good rock, mid 5th maybe, then the summit. Nice outing for sure. We had done the easiest route on the mountain and looking over the top down the north easterly aspects of the mountain was impressive to be sure. It was from some vantage point on this ascent that people had seen a bit of the plane wreckage hanging on a cliff, but it was all gone when we were there.

Years go by. I had the notion of climbing the NE ridge of Slesse and all the pieces finally fell into place: C5 and good weather, in other words. This is a true alpine outing. Access and descent are a challenge so normally what people do is to leave a bike on the westerly aspect of the mountain, then drive around to the easterly aspect of the mountain, do the climb and descend into the westerly aspect, walk the old logging road (now closed off) where we had driven years before to the bike, one person rides the bike down the long hill, around the mountain on a gravel road then rides up the long road on the other side to the car, then retrieves his partner. A truly long day. A 10,000 calorie day easily.

This story really isn’t about the technical climbing, more about the peripherals, so I won’t bore you with stories of the climb. Lots of those to be read online. It really was a great climb, maybe one move of 5.9, kinda runout close to the top, good rock except for the popcorn granite at the top, but good. I had talked to a guy who had done it with his son maybe a month before about water and he said “no problems”. Apparently there was snow at about the halfway area then he had slept at the top and melted snow for tea.

We filled our water bottles in the remains of a pocket glacier (a place where occasionally the ice departs downhill on slick granite at a great rate of speed) but we had lots of water to begin and for our bivouac ("bivy"). But, no snow at the halfway point. We topped out only to find a very small patch of dirty ice at the top so we were now out of water and we had about 6000’ to descend. But! But! It was September and blueberry season! Our descent would take us right through the blueberry patch and after a few raps, down climbing and scrambling, there were the blueberries!

We gorged. We descended, mostly in the dark, listening to creeks but not able to access them but eventually we found water. C5, younger and stronger than me, rode the bike for the car (an epic in itself due to the bike being a size for my son, much smaller than C5) but we eventually made it back to civilization and home. From leaving the bivy to getting home it was at least an 18 hr day so I’m going to call it a 10,000 calorie day and a wonderful outing. Thanks C5!

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