Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Markhor Peak/Needle Peak NE Ridge Scramble
(Trip report cut-and-pasted from

"Just tell how you climbed the god-damned mountain." (Fred Beckey's advice on trip report writing)

[ members] Burndug, dblair, Spectrum, cjb and Rose T. Cat traversed Markhor Peak and Needle Peak's NE Ridge yesterday. Beta, some of it sketchy, was provided by dru, who's done the route something like five or six times, and by Matt Gunn's Cairn Publishing website. We completed the route in approximately 8.5 hours, and did not use a rope. Less experienced scramblers will probably want a rope, slings, a few small chocks or tricams, and familiarity with their use. Helmets, needless to say, are a good idea for scramblers of every experience level.

This report is being written in a highly abbreviated format because a/ there's a lot of information to convey, and, b/ the writer is achy and sore this morning and wants to get the whole writing and photo-uploading process over with before dropping dead of exhaustion. So, onward:

To follow our route, drive up to Coquihalla Summit. Everybody Else says park at the MOH snowshed, as for the Needle Peak trail. Don't. Instead, drive under the highway and park at the Zopkios Ridge washrooms/snack stand. This location is highly trafficked and provides added security for your car. The snack stand provides cold drinks and/or reasonably good food at the end of the day. The washroom provides cold water, soap, and paper towels, so that when you arrive sweaty, exhausted, and covered in krummholz (foreshadowing!) you can clean up before beginning the long drive back to Vancouver.

Pass back under the highway. Look due SE and note two big open slabs on Markhor Peak's north face. Cross a little creek and work up S by SE through open forest, steepening after 15-20 minutes, to reach the base of the lower slab. Cross the toe of the slab and traverse due E through forest to reach the base of the larger slab. Smear steeply up on excellent clean granite, low 2nd-3rd class in parts, to reach the upper end of the slab. DO NOT CONTINUE STRAIGHT UP FROM THE TOP OF THE SLAB. Instead, traverse due E through some of the thickest bush known to man. Smack your colleagues in the face with branches. Lose your trekking poles' baskets. Swear. Step in a hidden seep. Fall in holes. Swear some more. Eventually, just as your patience is running dangerously thin, cross a small, fast running creek. At this point, turn due S (uphill) and work your way up through more bad bush, keeping just E of the creek, until you emerge into a rock-and-heather bouldery meadow basin below a huge granite cirque. Again, DO NOT CONTINUE STRAIGHT UP, or attempt to gain the ridge above the cirque by climbing to the west (climber's right). (There are major cliffs to the W, invisible from this angle, that prevent contouring around Markhor). Instead, traverse due E, boulder-hopping or travelling on remnants of snow, to reach a heathery ramp that skirts the eastern edge of the cirque. Climb the ramp until above the cirque's cliffs; then, when possible, begin traversing due W on heathery sloping ledges until some steep scrambling allows you to obtain the wide ridge crest. Take a breather; you have now reached the beginning of the route, approx. 2-3hrs. from the car.

Hike easily along the ridge to reach a distinctive "sandy col" between Markhor's summits. Scramble easily up to the higher summit. The rock here is crumbly Coquihalla granite, and detachable hand- and foot- holds are something to be anticipated. Take a photograph of your favorite stuffed animal on the summit. The rest of the route now comes clearly into view (Photo #1 on the Cairn Publishing website).

The objective now is to get down to the Markhor-Needle col. Make a descending traverse down Markhor's SW face. In general, you want to aim due SW; too far S and the face cliffs out; too far W and you run into the cliff band that prevents traversing around Markhor from the approach. Most of the descent is vegetated. Our access to the "easiest line" was prevented by water and slime running down a key slab about halfway down the face. After a lot of hunting around, we descended a long (80') contact between two slabs: a distinctive 8'-10' deep crack that ranges from boot width to 1' wide. Some exposure; few handholds. We made a variety of funky moves ranging from butt-sliding to foot-jamming to laybacking to descend this awkward pitch. It would be easy to break a leg here; use caution. From the bottom of this pitch, easy walking leads down to the Markhor-Needle col.

The real work now begins. Ascend the "first bump" visible in the Cairn Publishing photo. We were surprised to discover a very cold wind blowing from this point; though it was a sunny July afternoon, most party members wore jackets and/or hoodies for the rest of the climb. It would definitely have been uncomfortable climbing in shorts and t-shirts. From the top of "bump 1," there is a steep exposed descent down a narrow ridge to the col with "bump 2." ("Crux 1" on the Cairn description). Climb down the very exposed ridge on big holds (low 4th class). Drop off the N toe of the ridge to reach a stance. Scramble around onto the S face (exposure) on bad sandy holds and back up to reach the col.

Scramble up the S face of "Bump 2" from the col. Though neither dru nor the Cairn web site mentioned difficulties here, we reached an impasse at a distinctive dead tree beside a large detached flake. The climbing is sketchy on bad holds, and after scouting around we could not find anything resembling a safe alternative. We overcame this pitch as follows: step behind the flake and shed your pack. Climb straight up the crack behind the flake (low 5th, awkward; CJB, who led the pitch, was given a foot boost by dblair for balance). Reach a stance. Climb straight up for another 5'-6' on terrible loose rock (exposure; no holds). Traverse left to pass below another dead tree directly above the flake. DO NOT PULL ON THE TREE; IT WILL NOT SUPPORT BODY WEIGHT. Be aware that anything you kick off here will go straight down on top of your partners. Also be aware that a fall from here will send you straight down the face. We found this unnerving pitch to be the crux of the climb, and essentially unprotectable.

You are now in the col directly below Needle's beautiful NE ridge. Climb straight up the ridge, always picking the easiest line, until you reach a crux just below the summit: a headwall surmounted by traversing around on the S face (low 5th; exposure; crumbling holds; Cairn Publishing's "Crux 2"). Cross this section quickly and confidently, then scramble another 80'-100' up to reach Needle's summit cairn. The major difficulties are now over.

When ready, descend Needle's W ridge (2nd-3rd). Wander down the center of the ridge until it steepens near the toe. Some well-meaning idiot has flagged a trail down an eroding gully on the S face here. DO NOT DESCEND THE GULLY. It is a/ sandy; b/awkward to enter; and c/ totally trashed from foot traffic. Instead, head right to the end of the ridge and follow flagging to make a awkward descending traverse on solid rock (2nd-3rd) to reach slabs and a well-worn trail coming up from the meadow below. Follow the gorgeous well-marked trail down the W ridge through open heathery country, then steeply down to reach the highway just W of the MOH shed.

Refreshments and wash-up available at the Zopkios Ridge pull-out; delicious food (if slow service) at the Wildcat Grill, off the Aggasiz-Rosedale exit from Highway #1, just W of the traffic roundabout before the bridge. Tuesday is all-you-can eat spaghetti (delicious!) for $7.95, or prime rib and spaghetti for $15.95. Congratulations, you're done.

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