Cirque of the Unclimbables - 1997

[e-mail received 11/17/97]

Myself and 3 others made the long trip from the UK to the Cirque via Whitehorse. Kluane Airways provided transport to Glacier Lake where we arrived on 01 August. According to Warren LaFave (of Kluane Airways) it had been the wettest summer he could remember and a group he had flown to the Cirque earlier had spent a month watching the rain in Fairy Meadows. In support of this, a couple of Americans we met on the approach, on their way out, had spent a week waiting to get on the LFT only to be thwarted by bad weather. We were luckier. The day after we had slogged up the talus to Fairy Meadows, it dawned bright and sunny.

Climbing as 2 pairs we got to the top of the LFT within 2 days, in fair style and in brilliant weather. 7 hours of rapping in the twilight/darkness got us to the bottom, tired and dehydrated. A group of 3 Spanish guides from the Pyrenees made a faster ascent a day later, followed by 3 guys from Salt Lake City. After 7 August the weather became very changeable with heavy rain followed by scattered showers and the odd period of sunshine. We left the Cirque on the 12 August and during the period of 7 - 12 August no-one ascended the LFT. (A group of 4 from Colorado were still waiting when we left). We did, however, make an attempt on an unclimbed line on a prominent slabby rib of a 1200ft tower on the ridge between Phenocryst Spire and West Huey (S.E face of Phenocryst?) but had to abandon it due to heavy rain after approx. 650ft of climbing.

We were extremely pleased to get up the LFT on our first go, especially as we were tired from the walk-in the day before, The views were amazing and the climbing, gob-smacking. All of us felt that it was the best climb we have ever done. Not just for the climbing, but the best line and the most aesthetic peak we have seen.

A few hints for your Guide:

  1. Hidden within the 5.7 chimneys, next to one of the belays, is a small, downward pointing, spike in a deep crack, from which water drains. This helped us to conserve more of our own supplies. It looked as though it stays permanently wet as there was a large carpet of moss within the crack. Worth mentioning on your topo?
  2. While rappeling the bottom half of the route we encountered another rope snag hazard. The ropes of both teams got caught on a flake after the forth rap from the bivy ledge. Rapping as 2 separate teams meant that we only lost one rope. This may have been due to poor route finding as it was pitch black when we were descending. Our rope was returned by the Spanish team who didn't encounter any problems during their daylight descent.
  3. There are 2 large metal boxes at one of the bivy sites within Fairy Meadows. These stopped the various rodent inhabitants pinching our food.
  4. Several of the larger boulders around the bivy site have grown expansion bolts.The "Penguin Boulder" being an example. Apparently the work of a previous Spanish team.
  5. There are several short routes situated in and around the large dihedral facing Fairy Meadows on East Huey. Details unknown.
  6. We also found a topo of a route on Bustle's South East face called "Club International" 5.10 A2 (?). We left the topo in the boxes at the bivy.
  7. While waiting at Glacier Lake on our way home, we witnessed 2 huge rockfalls from Mt.Harrison-Smith, which fell onto the trail. The guys from Salt Lake, who descended the trail shortly afterwards said that the trail up the talus slope had been wiped out and that the whole area was unstable. Future visitors should be aware of the possibility of being flattened.
  8. Despite your assurances that there would be no mosquitoes in Fairy Meadows, we got eaten alive! Luckily we did have some bug dope. We think that the unusually wet weather then a sudden hot, dry spell must have brought them all out at once.
  9. We were pleased not to encounter any litter anywhere within the Cirque. We had also expected to see lots of climbers but were pleasantly surprised to find the Cirque empty. The Spanish team arrived while we were on the LFT and stayed long enough to make their ascent then leave to canoe the Nahanni river. The Salt Lake team arrived a couple of days later, followed by the team from Colorado. The most people in the Cirque at any one time was 11.

Well George, I hope this report is of some use for your Guide. You certainly helped us out! I'm off to try the SW ridge of Ama Dablam next year, hopefully I'll be lucky with the weather again. No matter what I do in the future, the South East face of the Lotus Flower Tower is going to take some beating as the best climb on the planet!

Safe Climbing,