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Ascent to Mount Farnham-Foot of summit block on 2017-08-27

Climber: Rob Woodall

Date:Sunday, August 27, 2017
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Mount Farnham - Foot of summit block
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:11460 ft / 3493 m

Ascent Trip Report

We turned back at foot of summit block - steep loose terrain over much of route and we ran out of time and expertise. One to do with a guide (such as Kirk Mauthner who knows the peak well), unless really comfortable with this sort of Rockies-type terrain. Considerable danger from spontaneous stonefall.

Previous reports suggest camping at top of forest, but this only saves an hour each way. The key to this peak seems to be to know exactly where you're going and to be able to deal efficiently with very bad terrain.

After our Mt Harrison climb we find a motel in Cranbrook, next day drive north, lunch in Invermere then follow Horsethief Creek Rd which leads to the trailhead (mostly signed but if in doubt follow the main dirt road, probably doable in 2WD although high clearance advised). We spend an hour in the evening locating the trail (the start isn't marked, the info we have is vague and outdated, and the flagging starts a good way above the road). We are within day hike range so spend the night here - we'd been expecting a hike of several km to get to this point - road evidently extended in recent years. A highlight on the drive in was seeing a black bear: the first bear I'd seen on the whole 3 week trip.

There's a wide area on the forest road, with a couple of upturned logs, which makes a good camp spot - the trail starts at the far (S) end of this.

Next morning we hike at first light, 0620. We head up a re-entrant which is mostly tree free, finding the tape marked trail at the top R corner of the cut block. Trail is well made with occasional markings. It climbs R and seems to stop at creek. We boulder hop across to R (S) side and head up thru open forest, higher up seeing occasional tape or cairns. Trees run out, there's a creek and this is the campsite recommended in previous reports. We head straight up easy stonefield, which higher up steepens into loose scree. (May be slightly easier up to R where the gradient is less steep). Crossing the lip we bend L and boulder hop our way towards the small lake (which has no apparent outflow - creeks operate underground around here).

Once above the lake we examine the bivouac.com options. Straight ahead is an obvious gully to a col. Up to R is West Face Direct, which uses one of the gullies, but unclear which. S ridge looks complicated. So we head for the col. We scramble up L to bypass an icy snowfield, get too high and have to rappel, wasting some time. Gully is unpleasantly loose so we soon climb out to R, on nice red rock with good scrambling at YDS 3 and 4, emerging on ridge to R of col. Col is overtopped by snowy top edge of glacier; we note a possible route across this and back into the gully - not that we fancy descending the gully nor the class 4.

We ascend the ridge R, initially class 3 scrambling then loose talus which leads to the foot of the (30m high?) summit block. Instructions say to head L, following top edge of scree, with the wall of the summit block decidedly loose but providing the only handholds we have. We come to the couloir - to reach it we'd have to climb steep snow with a deadly drop off. The couloir itself is very steep, and all the rock around here is too loose to be useable. We head back R, descend the talus slope a little until we can traverse R (SE). Below is a gully, which continues up to the R of the summit block. Above, it looks steep and unfriendly. This is presumably the top of the West Face Direct route. As we watch, spontaneous rockfall discharges a few decent sized stones. We watch in horrified fascination as they ricochet down the gully ensuring they would find and eliminate anything they encounter on the way down. We investigate, but the rock in the gully is smooth and holdless, and wet from the active stream. Several reasons not to go down that way!

It's 2pm. With more time we might be able to summit, but our priority is now to get down safely. We seem to have little choice but to reverse our descent route. Heading down steep unstable talus then scrambly slabs, arriving at the col we crampon very carefully across to its W end (impressive exposure to N) and descend easily into the top of the gully. The gully is pretty steep with unfriendly scree and a few drop-offs. We make some headway, scrambling down W side, then reach a 3m descent back into gully, consisting of soft black shale-like rock. Greg scrambles down it and narrowly avoids a serious fall down the gully when his big-boulder foothold gives way. I try to bypass this on better rock but fail to find a viable alternative and am left teetering on dubious holds when another big boulder gives away (but at least I'm expecting it). We get down a bit further and escape L (E) onto the red rock we'd scrambled up this morning. Suddenly the prospect of class 4 down climbing doesn't seem so bad! At length we arrive at top of snow slope. It's steep and a little icy (doesn't see much sun) so we crampon carefully down it.

Mightily relieved, we know we're likely to get down alive - it's taken all our skill and instinct and a fair bit of luck to make it down to this point. The remainder of the descent is uneventful; we're back at the car at 2020, just before dusk, 14 hour day. We have a booking at Invermere hostel: fortunately it's open 24 hours and our 2230 arrival isn't a problem.

Theoretically it's Assiniboine next - we'll see how we feel after a good night's sleep!
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5948 ft / 1812 m
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5948 ft / 1812 m
    Distance:6.2 mi / 10 km
    Start Trailhead:5512 ft / 1680 m
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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