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FA in the Cirque of the Unclimbables
July 2003 :: Canada :: Cirque of the Unclimbables


A new route dubbed 'Riders on the Storm' was recently put up by Mountain Fellowship Fund recipients Johann Aberger and Evan Stevens. Their new route in the Cirque of the Unclimbables is, as they mention, destined to become a classic. Get your passport in order and get up to Canada! Read the whole report below.

After 5 days of preliminary travel from my home in Colorado, the Kluane Air bush plane circled and stooped into Glacier Lake in the North-West Territories of Canada. My partner, Evan Stevens, and I unloaded all of our gear and started trekking for 3 miles of hell. It took 6 hours (after losing the “trail”) of bushwhacking through alder thickets and scrambling up loose talus in order to reach Fairy Meadows. 


Fairy Meadows is a surreal area at the base of vast expanses of alpine granite. Being the first people in the Cirque for the year, we had our pick of choice bivi caves to spend the next several weeks in. We set up shop and took the next morning off to rest from the hellish hike in, despite the good weather. That afternoon, Evan and I did some reconnaissance.  Since it was still relatively early season, snow capped the peaks’ summits and melted on to their faces. Flattop Peak was loaded with several feet of snow on the summit, spilling snowmelt onto the face we’d intended to climb.  East Huey Spire caught our eye with a dry line up splitter granite cracks. We climbed the first two pitches (that had been climbed previously) and scoped the rest of the route through binoculars. It looked promising and had never been climbed to the summit of East Huey Spire.


The next day dawned clear and we got a 4:00 AM start on Lotus Flower Tower. The early season conditions made the lower half of the route very difficult. The first three pitches were dripping wet and soaked me through a gore-tex jacket. The climbing, supposedly moderate in difficulty, turned into French freeing up dripping cracks. From the top of pitch three, the route dried up a bit. There was about a thousand feet of moderate chimney climbing. Frequently wet and loose, the climbing demanded our full attention despite the moderate grade (5.7).  We reached the bivi ledge before noon, simul-climbing the last three pitches of the chimney. From there the climb dried out significantly as we started up the headwall. At one o’clock, an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in and we retreated from the top of pitch 13. 


The rest of the trip we spent working on our new route on East Huey Spire. The route had a previous attempt on it made by Paul Friberg and Kurt Blair in 1997. We found evidence of their attempt on the first 5 pitches, which they called 5.10, A2. We freed all five of these pitches at 5.11c. The quality of these pitches was Yosemite-esque with very little cleaning required on pitches 1-4. Pitches 5-7 were up a beautiful splitter with very difficult climbing. Pitch 6 was the crux at 5.12b (or C2). Neither Evan nor I could free it without falling. Pitch 7 traversed out of the splitter (11b) and into a nearby corner where the free climbing eased to 5.10. We followed the corner for several pitches and freed all of these pitches (previously aid climbed and named “Don’t Panic, It’s Organic”). There was one dangerously loose/ wet pitch that went free at 5.10b R. The final pitch was an unclimbed line that went up a steep 3-inch crack and onto a sparse arête directly to the summit at 5.11+. 


We topped out on our fourth day of working the route using two fixed ropes to bypass the initial pitches of free climbing and save strength to free the upper pitches on the summit push. All other attempts to free the face were made from the ground up, freeing every pitch as we went. After 6 days of climbing and cleaning (i.e. gardening with nut tools and wire brushes), there were 2 pitches that we didn’t free. The crux would go at 5.12b/c (pitch 6). Our route, named “Riders on the Storm,” is an ultra classic (now that it has been cleaned) and is guaranteed to be repeated by the masses. There is a good chance it will be freed by a stronger team in the near future.