Monday, July 31, 2017

Achilles Spire (Weekend Double Header - Part I)

Achilles Spire is a 300m, 13 pitch 5.8 sport route on Mt. Andromache (beside Mt. Hector) off the Icefields Parkway. Tiff and Connor invited us along for a big day out and we all stayed at the Mosquito Creek Hostel (3 km from the trailhead) on Friday night for an alpine start on Saturday. Kyle and I arrived at the hostel early enough to scrounge some free wine, cheese and mustard left over from previous guests. Score! We enjoyed the addition to dinner and also took advantage of the hostel's wood sauna, interrupted by brief plunges in the frigid Mosquito Creek. Feeling very relaxed post-sauna, we were in bed early.

The alarm went off at 4 am. I apologize to our hostel-mates but we didn't want to get scooped on the route by the hypothetical people driving up from Canmore who had got up at 3. Luckily our concern was all for naught, and we didn't see another party until mid afternoon when we were most of the way back down the route. We were on the trail at 5:30 and got to watch the sun come up illuminating the mountains of the Wapta Traverse and the turquoise Hector Lake. The approach climbs steeply up past a waterfall before turning towards Mt. Andromache, crossing rocky ledges. When Achilles Spire came into view, we got really excited, but we still had 45 mins of approach to go. All told, it was a 1.5 hour grunt up 710 m of elevation (over 2.7 km if Kyle's watch is trustworthy).
Following cairns on the sunrise approach to Achilles Spire. Lake Hector to the left
Achilles Spire positioned directly above the boys (not the cool pointy thing). Route starts around the left side of the buttress
We were on route by 7ish. Nobody had scooped us and we had the place to ourselves. Kyle and I swung leads and Connor and Tiff did the same behind us. We had gained a ton of elevation on the approach but as we started up the route, views of Little Hector and the glacier of Mt. Hector came into view. The position was excellent, the rock was very solid and the route was well bolted. The route description was very helpful and we were able to make great time. We climbed with a 70m rope and 14 alpine draws so were able to link 8 pitches (1+2, 5+6, 8+9, 11+12) with minimal rope drag. It was all around incredibly enjoyable. I even led pitch 10, one of the 5.8 cruxes, and was totally stoked!
Kyle on his way up to the belay station at the top of pitch 4
Kyle leads away on one of the 5.8 crux pitches (pitch 5)
It wasn't too warm in the shade. Perfect temp for climbing in a hoody. Looking up the Icefields Parkway to the North
Sunny belay station at the top of pitch 9
Kyle on pitch 10, the super fun 5.8 crux
We topped out at 10:30 am and got to chill out on the summit for an hour and a bit in the sunshine. It was beautiful. As we waited for Tiff and Connor (who hadn't been able to link pitches as they only had quickdraws), we ate an early lunch and napped on the warm rocks.
Kyle on the broken rock of the final pitch
Eating lunch with views of Mt. Hector

Very pleased with ourselves
Connor bringing Tiff up the last pitch
The team!
The descent was 12 rappels back the way we came. The sharp limestone caused some issues with stuck ropes, but it was nothing we couldn't get unstuck with some strategic rope flicking. It was a slow descent with rockfall hazard from the loose rock on the ledges. Surprisingly, after being alone all day, we passed 2 parties who had started much later than us as we rappelled. They had a long day ahead of them! Finally, 10.5 hours after leaving the car (with a 1.5 hour break at the top), we had completed Achilles Spire. Its a committing day because of the approach, but it was by far one of the most fun multi-pitches I have ever done. Definitely the best one I've climbed in the Rockies. Highly recommended!
Achilles Spire standing proud (left-most large spire)

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