King of the Bush

The Bush Mountain massif has been the secondary objective of a few trips now. Last year, we were going to ski some of its three peaks (Rostrum 3284m, Icefall 3195m, Bush (peak) 3081m) after Arras peak on the other side of the valley, but ran out of weather window.  Then this April, Ian and I decided we would abuse the sleds on gravel one last time to do a long trip, skiing as many of the plethora of 3000m+ peaks in the upper Valenciennes River and Icefall Brook logging road systems over a full week, but were turned back by the state of the road, not enough snow to get the sleds over a large washout no matter how much roadbuilding and sweat we put in. So, with a short weather window, I decided to bike it now and concentrate my efforts only on Bush Mountain.

I started biking from the truck at one of the many slidepaths on the first few clicks of the Valenciennes FSR where the snow hadn’t melted back far enough yet to continue with the truck. After a click or two on the bike was the massive washout that stopped me from reaping the harvest of a big storm last September, which was the cause of this and many other washouts in the area. The power of the water coming off the west side of Bush Mountain was so great it erased all sign there was a road for 200m, replacing it with coarse river rock and leaving the far side of the road stranded 6 feet in the air. Even wrestling the bike up was a challenge. Then I continued along the road, across the Valenciennes River until stopped again by another new washout, where the major yet unnamed creek west of Navy Creek has claimed the bridge that used to span it. Then after a couple more seasonal washouts off the west side of Arras, I was looking up the Rostrum Valley at my quarry, taking a mere hour and a half of cruisy biking to get there.

Icefall Brook looking toward the canyon. Note how little snow is perched over the access trail bench this year

Then I got the skis and boots off the bike and onto the pack and forded the river, starting from the base of Arras’ west couloirs since there is little bushwhacking from the road to the river flats at that spot (none if you can find the remains of the road that crossed in that area). After barefooting the ford, I hooked up with the old road on the west side of Icefall Brook and then took a dry streambed heading west toward Rostrum Valley. Then up the rock-strewn canyon, and up the the glacial bed of the Rostrum Glacier on moraines and bare rock. The only part that might be a bit of unavoidable bushwhacking was after veering off the glacial bed, which was still snowbound. I found a dry, mostly level site to bivy near running water, with skinnable snow right away at 1750m, and turned in for bed.

DSCN9969 The top of the ice tongue I’d be climbing early tomorrow
Rostrum Peak NE face
The day’s activities

Since I wanted to ski both Rostrum and Icefall peaks before retreating I decided I should get up early. However, a short distance from the bivy I’d be on ice which would be hard to navigate, so I decided if I’d have to make my way through it in full dark, I might as well wake even earlier to pad my chances of getting the double, as the crux would be in the dark no matter what. So I started skinning at 1:30, reaching the flat lower part of the glacier before long. After an easy crossing, it was time for the steep part, the tongue spilling off the upper glacier to the lower. I had a great shot of the entire glacier from Forbes last June, without which navigating this crazy landscape would be difficult in daylight, impossible at night. I climbed up it on hard snow, avy debris, ice, all sorts of stuff. The hard part was nearing the top, when exactly do I turn left to avoid the worst of the expansion crevasses as the ice flows over the knoll and bends to make its descent. What few serac towers I could see in the limited reach of my headlamp looked different than they did from Forbes, due to vantage or more likely the glacier moved a substantial amount in the heat of last summer. I made a call and started left on skins too early, and had to go back to crampons to gain one last shelf before heading left for real. I dropped off a stash of water for when I came back from Rostrum, then breezed up the upper glacier, clinging close to Bush Peak as the center of the glacier was marked with massive crevasses. Once I was on skins, I could start looking around and enjoying the beautiful moon-less night, huge star field, shooting stars, a faint aurora to the north. What a place.

Division Mountain on the Mons icefield, sunrise

Nearing Rostrum’s NE face, I could finally start to make things out at 4:30am, and turned off the headlamp to let my eyes adjust. The lower face is badly fractured, a big thick chunk of ice is slowly peeling off over the years. I climbed up to the left of the chunk, hoping I could find a narrow bridge of avy debris to re-connect the big chunk to the rest of the lower face above, but only found a narrow trench of ice separating the two. So instead, I went up a zippered schrund to climbers left onto a short snow face, then traversed right to get to the intact part of ice on the main face. After the lower angle ice plugging up the lower face finished, there were a couple schrunds and then I was on the main chute of the upper face. Snow quality was a much harder crust than I would’ve expected for such a high north aspect, but I kept hoping that higher up there might be a skiff of pow ontop. It never quite happened, and I topped out on the summit at 7. The pyramid of shadow cast by Rostrum dominated the Bush Arm as the sun rose and I relaxed and dug around fruitlessly for a summit register.

Looking down the Bush Arm

A constant of this entire trip seems to be underestimating what exactly a good freeze means. The approach day was mostly overcast, and the air a good 10* cooler than it has been for the past few weeks, and then the night was cold and clear, so the freeze was deeper and harder than anything I’ve seen in the past while. Which is absolutely incredible for glacier travel, especially while doing the general no-no of solo glacier travel. With such heat beforehand as we’ve had all spring, any weak bridges will most likely drop under their own weight, but once all that free water in the snowpack does finally get temps below seasonal, it binds up hard and makes the bridges quite strong.

Yep. that’s a bit scary!

At 8, I was bored and it was time to ski down. However, I was still in the mindset of the crummy freezes we’ve had all spring; with a good freeze, a couple hours of sun isn’t enough to soften the snow to any real degree. So the skiing was heinous, I’ve never skied such hard, steep snow and I did so incredibly poorly. After one heelpiece released, (toe was locked) pucker reached its limits and I literally sideslipped the entire rest of the face. Despite that experience, I decided I’d have to continue on to Icefall, as the only skiable route off the upper glacier was over there. Whether I’d regain confidence in myself and the snow in time to make the decision to summit Icefall was still open.

Rostrum NE

I made another steep exposed climb on the north face of Bush Peak to get around the crevasses onto the slightly higher glacial bench toward Icefall. By the time I was cruising up flat glacier again, I was feeling good and went up the beautiful chute of Icefall’s east face, which was starting to corn up nicely. On the domed ridge heading up to the summit, I couldn’t help but notice how there was pow. I have no idea why it was spared but the even higher northerly snow on Rostrum wasn’t. Once on the summit, I thought I understood the routes from the base of the north face back over to the Rostrum Valley well enough to give the north face a go. Getting to the roll though, on a pure north aspect as things got steeper I couldn’t help but notice something under the pow, a weaker blanket of faceted snow. If it can hold onto facets under the kind of heat we’ve been weathering over the past couple months, then I can understand why it reportedly still hasn’t been skied.

Looking down Icefall north face. Still rolling steeper…
Rostrum Glacier/ valley, Arras Peak behind

I pulled the plug and got back over to the ridge to ski the east face. After some nice corn on that I had to pull off to the side on some north facing terrain, as the schrund had opened up at the bottom of the line proper. A couple more find-your-way icefalls later, and I was back on the lower glacier, cruising toward the base of the gnarly ice tongue I ascended in the morning. Then pack up camp, walk down and bike out. 1500m gain on snow from camp to Rostrum Peak, 700m from low point to Icefall Peak, 700m walking down to valley bottom, 15km of biking back out. Two summits and two very tired legs.

Icefall east face, easiest glacier nav in the world.. nawwt
The tongue to the upper Rostrum Glacier I climbed in the dark

9 thoughts on “King of the Bush”

  1. Superb work. We were there recently and these peaks always inspire. I look forward to the photos and your usual well edited video. I am wondering if Icefall or Rostrum are worthy summer climbing objectives.

    1. I would think Icefall would be a good one, from either Icefall Lodge or camp in the valley, as it is a relatively moderate angle and exposure above and below. Rostrum would be difficult, due to the funnel shape of the face dropping rock or snow on the climb, the big exposure below, relentless steepness and length of glacier travel on approach. Perhaps a high camp on the ice? Or with a guide who knows the glacier well enough to travel it by night. Access on the glacier will become only more difficult as snow bridges drop.

      Google Earth has updated their imagery for the area since I went up there, worth a look.

    2. Nice work Trevor – amazing trip!
      Stan, I climbed the west ridge of Rostrum in the summer of 2006 from a point ~5 km up the Valenciennes road. The route is described in the 2007 CAJ if you are interested.

      1. That creek is now the first crux of any trip up there haha, it washed the road out badly. That NW glacier of Rostrum sure looks nice from Icefall.

  2. 3:10, lol! Thanks for taking the time to write about yer shenanigans. Have wanted that Icefall line for long time. Good to see you send. Happy trails.

  3. Nice work, killed it. Perfect soundtrack too – had to check it out, never would have guessed that’s The Guess Who!

  4. Good work doing both of those in a day! Especially in the dark and not knowing the terrain. It was probably a good call not to do the north face of Icefall, there was a lot of bare ice showing this winter. It looked in a lot better shape last year.

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