Jonny Simms and Chris Brazeau, both from Golden, B.C., have made the first ascent of an often-talked-about big wall on Mount Stephen in the Canadian Rockies.
The Rockies have many unclimbed big walls, but few so close to the road. People have been talking about the large, unclimbed wall on Mount Stephen for decades. It has long been known as The Great Wall of China.
About 15 years ago, two climbers attempted the wall (exact location unknown), but after a serious injury they had to be rescued. Last summer, Tommy Caldwell and Sonnie Trotter went up to have a look at the steeper left side. Trotter posted this photo to Facebook, it shows how big and eye-catching the wall is from the Trans Canada.
Simms and Brazeau are no strangers to Mount Stephen. In the winter of 2013/14, they made a Europeanesque first descent of the North Glacier (read about it here).
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In the summer of 2014, the pair turned their attention to the Great Wall. From Aug. 5 to Aug. 7, they climbed a new 20-pitch 1,100-metre grade six 5.11+ they called The Accomplice. They officially named the wall: The Apocalyptic Wall.
Simms and Brazeau hand drilled 18 bolts on lead. “This route is a serious big wall alpine rock climb. The route follows a ground up ethic of weakness’s through the right side of the massive wall,” said Simms. “The rock quality is characterized as mixed. A lot of steep, excellent rock higher up on the face with some exceptionally loose lower angle bands down low. Classic Rockies, not to be taken lightly.”
They spent three days and two nights on The Accomplice and Simms notes, ” Now that the route is established, this route can be completed in one seriously long day by fast parties.”
To approach the route, park at the Monarch Campground just east of Field, B.C.. Cross the Trans Canada and follow the crest of the obvious moraine, below the Stephen North Glacier. Follow the moraine and then continue along the treed trim-line to below the east-northeast face. Once below the face, scramble up the right side of the big moraine slope up a natural draw. This draw will lead you to a rib to watch the face and rack up on. There are a pair of binoculars and a few other items from the first ascent. From the rib, continue up on the right to the big, clean, left-facing corner on the far right side of the cruxy approach slabs. Once below the corner, easy fifth-class soloing will lead you underneath a very large choke stone. First belay here. If there is no chock stone, you are in the wrong system.
Approach Photo Simms
The Apocalyptic Wall
Pitch one 5.7 50 m, start climbing the clean corner system to a decent ledge for the belay.
Pitch two 5.7 60 m, continue up corner system using the left side to face climb on good limestone.
Pitch three 5.0 10 m, finish up the corner system to start of the 4th class rib.
Pitch four, Simul climb or solo the rib for 150 m with a few intermittent steeper easy fifth-class steps that may require a belay.
The Columbarium (house of urns) Bivy – Bivy Cave number one
Brazeau approaching the wall Photo Simms
Brazeau at the first bivy Photo Simms
Simms at the first Bivy on the approach Photo Brazeau
Pitch five 5.8 20 m, Climb the corner on good gear just right on the right side of the rib to the obvious break in the whole lower face. This break is walkable in both directions. At this break, 15 m right is a cave bivy on a bed of sand. Water was found walking left from the cave bivy about 50 m. Directly below the obvious double black water streaks. A snow patch from the Stephen North glacier feeds these black streaks.
Pitch six 5.8 15 m, from the cave simul climb, climbers right passed a knife blade to a short wide looking left facing corner. There is a single self drive belay bolt here. Climb this corner at 5.8 to the lower angle loose terrain.
Pitch seven 5.9+ 60 m, step off the loose stuff onto solid slabs and kitty litter. Angling up and left aiming for a short, steeper, right facing corner with a short crux. This will lead you to a two-bolt anchor. Topping this corner leads to the start of the steep climbing on the upper face.
Pitch eight 5.11+ 22 m, follow a line of four bolts to a 5.11 crux into a roof that takes good gear. The rock quality will continually get better, so keep climbing. Step left around the roof and continue up a finger crack leading to a good ledge with a single bolt. Continue right past the bolt to a big ledge. Two-bolt anchor here.
Pitch nine 5.11+ 35 m, climb directly up, into a very small crack which takes decent small gear. Hard moves after. Follow the system to a single bolt. Passing bolt into lower angle terrain leading you to a beautiful straight in corner system. Climb corner system to a good ledge.
Pitch 10 5.11 25 m, move right and up some decent foot ledges and choss pillars. Careful not to dislodge stacked choss. Climb pillars to a steep horizontal break which takes number three camlot. Mantel, heel hook up and left to a good ledge.Carefully, moving right, continue into lower angled loose terrain. Find a belay here.
Pitch 11 5.8 15 m, climb on the left side of the belay up a corner system to another obvious break in the whole face. This break is walkable. Simule climb left for 40 m to the , under some roofs. Water drips were found here.
The last supper and The entrance to Purgatory Bivy number two. Have a good sleep.
Simms at the second bivy Photo Brazeau
Brazeau looking at the Great Wall from the second bivy Photo Simms
The awesome bivy Photo Simms
The Chamber of Canonization
Pitch 12 5.11 30 m, simul climb about 80 m left along the ledge underneath and through the big black water streaks to the obvious clean corner system. Climb the steep corner system on beautifully featured rock. An excellent pitch.
Pitch 13 5.11 50 m, the best pitch in the Rockies. Continued steep jamming, crimping and pinching quartz crystals up the corner to a large ledge on the right. Belay here.
Pitch 14 5.10 10 m, finish up the love chamber. Your time is up. Top out corner system to a low angle choss ledge. Belay here on the left. You should now be below and in the large black streaks with some big black roofs.
Pitch 15 5.9 30 m, climb up and right into the large left facing corner system. After 10 m move left, out of corner system and climb up another 15 m on nice slab to a solid chunk of rock. A knife blade was left here for the belay.
Pitch 16 5.10 40 m, start right and climb up quartz infused limestone with minimal gear leading you to a protection bolt. Climb past bolt clipping a second bolt with a long sling. From here traverse horizontally left following solid weakness on some good gear. Weakness leading you to a single button head bolt and a good number .75 camalot. Belay here.
Brazeau heading up pitch 12 Photo Simms
Simms starting up pitch 13 Photo Brazeau
Brazeau seconding pitch 13 Photo Simms
Beatification – The crux pitch
Pitch 17 5.11+ 30 m, the airy crux pitch. Memories of Petrifying Wall. Off the belay, clip another button head bolt. Following face holds on featured quartzite infused limestone left into space. Continue left on some good gear, now go straight up and aim for the in obvious, left facing corner. Climb the corner into some shattered and splintered rock, leading you back right into a wildly exposed roof. Pull the roof and flop onto a good ledge. One bolt and natural gear belay.
Pitch 18 5.11 20 m, start right and move up on another excellent pitch. Follow compact slopers with spacious gear to a horizontal ledge. Mantel the ledge and move right and then up where angle eases. Natural belay in corralled limestone.
Brazeau leading up pitch 17 Photo Simms
Simms coming up Pitch 17 Photo Brazeau
The Veneration Plateau
You made it, nice work. Now you are on the left, just below the base of the final headwall slope of the Stephen North Glacier. A fine ski descent indeed. Have a smoke. You probably need it.
Scramble and solo the main prow of good rock up the ridge for 100 m until soloing is no longer possible. Belay here for one more excellent pitch.
The Stairway to Heaven
Pitch 19 5.11 50 m, climb the corner system in the steepening ridge on clean rock. Pulling a small roof and moving left to a ledge. Move back right up steep buckets to a good stance and good gear. Continue straight up through face cracks and a key pinch to a lower angle terrain. Follow the lower angle terrain. Many belay options exist.
Pitch 20 5.8, simul-climb up for another 100 m.
Scramble to the summit climbers left of the Stephen North glacier saddle. You are now standing on top of the Apocalyptic wall. Congratulations.
To descend, walk southwest-west down rugged talus slopes and drainage to the town of Field. Don’t forgot to get your trail permit for the fossil beds access. Or else go stealth and heads up for the motion sensor camera by the first sign encountered upon descent.
Simms leading up pitch 19 Photo Brazeau
Simms heading up pitch 19 Photo Brazeau
–Information supplied by Jonny Simms, including the route description and photo with route line. Simms works for Cirrus Alpine guides, check them out at www.cirrusalpineguides.com.