Monday, July 23, 2012

A Weekend in the Valhallas: Mount Bor and Urd Peak

Mount Bor

Mount Bor lies on crenelated ridge north of Black Prince (unmarked on NTS 82F13) and, on the map, has the appearance of a couple of bat ears with a slightly higher (8 metres) southwestern peak, while the lower northeastern peak sports the name on mapsheet 82F13. In late June 2007, three of us climbed the higher southwestern peak as a day trip from the Drinnon Lake trailhead. For many years, I'd been intending to go back and tag the lower northeastern peak, but time, conditions and other constraints delayed my return by five years.

In late July, 2012, in a brief period of clear weather between massive rain events, three of us again hiked into Gwillim Lakes on the well-maintained BC Parks trail. The campground at Gwillim was either under water or under snow and completely deserted - apart from marmots. After a quick break we crossed the two outlet creeks from Gwillim Lakes on a solid snowbridge (first) and wet rocks (second). On the north side of the lakes, a rough trail leads up to the upper Gwillim Lakes and is most commonly used by scramblers heading for the south ridge of Lucifer Peak. We followed this trail to the upper basin, then some boulder hopping for 60 metres or so led to nice solid snow that took good steps all the way to the Black Prince-Lucifer col. 

Heading up to the Lucifer-Black Prince col

On the north side, after a quick easy snow descent of perhaps 180 metres, we found a relatively level gravel/slab platform beside a creek and made camp. The weather was somewhat gloomy but no thunderstorms seemed imminent so we headed up towards Mount Bor. The only guidebook for the area, has one recorded route which makes no sense "walk up the east face, use the northeast ridge at the top." The east face, however, is clearly not a "walk" and there is no "northeast ridge". So, as is usual in this part of the Kootenays, the best thing to do is ignore the guidebook description and work out your own route.

Alanna not only wanted to climb a snow couloir that led to the west ridge but also wanted to kick all the steps. Both Doug and I are only too happy to let the youngsters do the hard work so quickly agreed and we all hiked up easy snow slopes to the base of the couloir where Alanna, panting like a happy puppy, behind me, asked "May I?" "Of course," said I, graciously relinquishing the step kicking. 

We climbed the couloir on the left

Alanna blasted up the couloir to the ridge while Doug and I were merely sucked behind in her wake. The west ridge is rather loose, and has two towers of shattered rock perhaps 70 metres apart. The easiest route follows the ridge for a short distance - one class 3/4 step - then traverses on ledges on the south side below the first shattered tower until it is easy to scramble to the top. On top of the first tower, the second tower looks higher (both towers have cairns) and contains the summit register, so undoubtedly, like us, you'll feel the need to climb it too. The easiest route to the second tower is to scramble along ledges on the south side to the base of the final tower, then pick a line and climb to the top - another short section of class 3/4. 

Ledges on Mount Bor

We hung out on the second summit until the cold wind chased us down. We toyed with the idea of descending the west ridge to the col between the northeastern and southwestern summits of Bor, but the short descent from the col to snow slopes below looked desperately loose so we decided to climb back down the couloir. Although we had to face in, with Alanna's super steps, this was quickly achieved and we boot-skied back to camp.

Our campsite, while scenic was quite cold with katabatic winds blowing down from the snowfields above us so we were all snug in our tents soon after dinner. 

Alanna dwarfed by the big cliffs near camp

Urd Peak

Next day we got up at 6 am, and left camp just after 7.00 am for the long walk to Urd Peak. Heading slightly north from camp we descended classic glacier polished slabs weaving our way between snowpatches, short steps and wet slabs until a good snow slope led all the way down to Rocky Lakes some 300 metres below. We passed around the eastern side of Rocky Lakes so we did not need to contend with the outlet stream and wandered on a pleasant mixture of firm snow and meadow to the larger Hird Lake. We took a chance and passed Hird Lake on the east finding a good log jam crossing of the outlet stream. Beyond Hird Lake, we wandered a short distance through an avalanche decimated forest of knocked down and flag trees until a grassy slope led up to a prominent snow ramp. Contouring east on this snow ramp, we reached a snowy draw that led up to a col below the west face of Urd Peak.

Alanna and Doug with Urd Peak still far in the distance

The guidebook description for Urd Peak "a grassy slope walk from the west" is accurate enough although it's a steep grassy walk and features more loose rock than advertised. Nevertheless, it is easy and within half an hour of leaving the col we were on the summit, which sports a massive cairn but no summit register. There is an interesting and somewhat unfamiliar - as you are looking south instead of the more usual north - view of the Devils Range from the summit as well as far reaching views to the Monashees to the north and, closer in, the Valkyrs to the west. 

The Devils Range

Conscious of the distance we still had to travel back to camp and back to the truck, we stayed only 30 minutes on the summit before retracing our steps back down to Hird and Rocky Lakes. Climbing the 300 metres uphill to camp felt hot in the sun, but, by the time we got to camp, grey clouds were billowing over Black Prince and we hastened to pack up the tents.

Alanna kicked another great swath of steps up the snow slope to the Black Prince-Lucifer col and we glissaded as much as possible on the route back down to Gwillim Lakes. Our snow bridge had melted completely away so both outlet creeks were crossed on wet rocks, and we blasted down to Warlock Lake, back up to Drinnon Pass, and, over-taking what seemed like hordes of day hikers, we made it out to the truck three hours after leaving camp. Had I not been trying to keep up with iron-legs Alanna, I suspect I would have gone much slower.

Doug and Alanna on the Black Prince-Lucifer col

Alanna had stashed three bottles of BC apple cider in the creek and I downed mine in one large gulp. Doug, who was driving, wisely refrained, as after a long day hiking with not that much food I felt almost instantly tipsy. Driving back, Alanna happily polished off two bottles in the back of our truck and entertained us with stories of her various climbing exploits on the way home. 

Urd Peak from Rocky Lake

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