GR232272 (near Mount James Walker ) November 28, 2004

Mountain height:    approx. 2,550 m (7,380 ft)
Elevation gain:       approx. 700 m
Ascent time:         
Descent time:        2:20

Scrambling with Mark.

How many days ‘till Christmas? It can’t be soon enough. We’ve asked for a GPS from our exceedingly generous parents and today was yet another shining example of why Mark and I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house without one. Basically, we started the trip on-route, decided we were off-route, even though we were actually still on-route, tried to get back on-route, but, of course, we were already on-route and so we were now off-route, realized we were off-route, but knew where we were and so changed our destination, thought we were on-route for the new destination, but were actually on-route for the old destination and off-route for the new destination, made it to a minor summit, where we realized we were on the wrong mountain! Got that! Let me explain…….

Our goal was Mount James Walker. Its strategic location right in-between the Spray Range and the Opal Range guaranteed a great view and we had good weather to go along with it. Starting at the Sawmill parking lot, we hiked along a ski trail for a while and then took a right turn on a cutline. After traversing a considerable distance, through trees, on the side of the mountain, we eventually came to an opening, where I realized we had gone too far north and were now in the valley south of Mount Chester , that houses the Headwall Lakes . We had two choices here – go southeast up to steep slopes above to gain the ridge, with no guarantee of success, or try and salvage the day by summitting Mount Chester, via the Headwall Lakes route. We were quite close to the drainage I had used as a descent route after summitting Chester two summers ago, and therefore decided that, given the great weather and the chance of a terrific summit view, we would change our destination to Mount Chester .  

We started up but drainage, but found travel to be tedious and uncertain due to the thin layer of ice over the running water below. Cutting up rubble slopes and rockbands to the left, in order to gain the ridge, seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t! It was an absolute nightmare that we were both lucky to walk away from unscathed and still breathing. The terrain was far steeper than it appeared and was covered in a light layer of fresh snow, making the footing unreliable and treacherous. Add to that, the worst possible rock imaginable (extremely loose shale) and you have an accident waiting to happen. I led the ascent and before I knew it, I had ascended terrain I could not downclimb. I had no choice but to continue up. I climbed very slowly and cautiously, but huge handholds would crumble when I touched them and there were at least five moves whose outcome was a 50/50 proposition – the foot holds and you’re safe; it slips on the snow or the rock gives way and it’s a brutal fall to the bottom, resulting in severe injury or death.

I eventually made it to the group of trees, where I traversed along a steep rockband by holding on to the branches of the trees. From there, I was able to get out about 30 m of rope, setup an anchor around a tree, and throw the rope down to Mark, who like me had gone up what he couldn’t get down. Unfortunately, the rope became stuck between some rocks and I had to rappel down to dislodge it. Rope in hand, Mark slowly made his way up to safety. At the top we both collapsed in exhaustion, disillusionment, and relief. The ascent of this seemingly straightforward slope took us over an hour and we only gained about 60 m of elevation.

Reaching the summit of Chester was now out of the question and after the nerve-wracking ascent we both just wanted to go home. A short rest revitalized us a little, however, and we decided to continue at least to the top of the ridge, where we might get a good view of Birdwood, Smuts and company. The slog to the start of the ridge was steep, long, and grueling, but it was well worth the effort. The view of the aforementioned mountains was fantastic and included many others. The ridgewalk to the summit was definitely the bright spot of the trip, the snowy and beautiful surrounding scenery, highlighted by the corniced ridge and blue sky. 

Shortly before reaching the highpoint, another mountain appeared to the north that looked exactly like Mount Chester . It didn’t take us long to realize that it was Chester and all this time, we had been on the wrong mountain, or least not the mountain we thought we were on (my navigational prowess never ceases to dismay me!!). Actually, we were kind of glad to be on this infrequently ascended minor summit. It was uncharted territory for us (unlike Chester), sported a unique and magnificent view (especially towards the Headwall Lakes and The Fortress at the end of the valley), and meant that we wouldn’t experience the bitter disappointment of failing to make the summit of Mount Chester, as we did on April 20 of 2002.

The summit view was great. Snow-covered Mounts Chester, Birdwood, and Smuts, were stunning. Unfortunately, a solitary group of clouds hovered over Assiniboine throughout our brief summit stay, but the rest of the panorama was gloriously clear. From the summit, there was an option to descend to a col to the east and then ascend the slope that we initially thought was the final 300 vertical metres of Mount Chester . We made an attempt, however, the steep slopes were covered in wind-blown, hardened snow and would have definitely required crampons to descend. Given the lateness of the day and the fact that our hands were frozen by a bitterly cold northwest wind, making it difficult to put our crampons on, we decided to head home.

A very bizarre day, but rewarding day: from our severe routefinding woes, to a nightmarish hour on a treacherously steep slope, to a pleasant ridgewalk and a magnificent summit view.      

Looking west at Mount Murray


Making our way up to the ridge after a harrowing hour on a dangerous slope; at this time we thought the peak in the background was Mount Chester  


Almost at the ridge


On the ridge of GR232272; the summit is at the right


Again, on the ridge; the prominent peak to the left is Mount Birdwood 


From left to right: Mount Birdwood, Pig's Tail, Commonwealth Peak, and Mount Smuts at the far right


Almost at the summit, with picturesque Mount Chester behind


A summit view of Mount Chester, the Headwall Lakes Valley, and The Fortress at the far end of the valley


A closer look at The Fortress (centre)


Looking down to the col and ascent slope east of GR232272


Mark at the summit


Part of Kent Ridge (right ) and Mount Inflexible (left)

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