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New B.C. Mixed Route Exceeded Expectations

Sage Brush is a new 130-metre M5 WI4 on a south-facing wall above the Fraser River

Ice and mixed climbers are familiar with the winter routes along the Duffy Lake Road and in Marble Canyon, but between the two are a handful of worthwhile lines that are often looked over. The newest addition to the area is the five-pitch Sage Brush M5 WI4.

Leaving the Bow Valley, a place with a lot of formed routes, for the arid region of Lillooet in search of ice might seem strange, but there are more possibilities than people realize. The town is next to the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon, an area with big peaks, steeps hills and countless drainages. During this time of year when the temps drop and than rise above freezing, those drainages fill up with ice.

Not far from town are the routes of Cayoosh Creek, like Loose Lady WI5+ and Synchronicity WI4, the popular flows on the Duffy like The Rambles WI3, and the dozens of lines in Bridge River, like the 250-metre Salmon Steaks WI2/3. Closer to town are the must-do Honeyman Falls WI5 and Cherry Ice WI3.

Bolting on the first pitch of Sage Brush. Photo by Danny O’Farrell

Above the Fraser River 15 minutes north of Lillooet (map here) is a cliff with two classics: French Foreign Legion, a multi-pitch WI2/3, and Draft Dodgers, a steep WI4. Between the two was a mixed climb that sometimes forms up a steep rock wall below a drainage.

On a recon trip to see if one of the other two climbs was formed, Danny O’Farrell and I saw that the unclimbed mixed route might be climbable. We packed the drill and screws and hiked up early this past Sunday. The 45-minute no-trail approach up loose dirt through sage brush was a quick warmup. We passed the other two climbs, both looking thin, and geared-up below our objective. The dense granite-like rock and setting were far more impressive than I’d expected from the dusty desert appearance of the area. Instead of soft, crumbly stone, we found solid edges for hooking and three-dimensional features for tool trickery.

Sage Brush M5 WI4 130m

The first pitch was a 30-metre M4 that took four bolts. It had one funky curtain with a slab next to it. The rock is dense with few cracks, and waterworn, which makes for slippery crampon placements. The second pitch is the  money, up a steep wall with drips and daggers at M5/6 with six bolts. The third-pitch climbs a fun WI4 curtain that has one bolt near the top before the exit into a rocky groove. Some years this might ice up. The last two pitches follow an alpine-like gully of snow and ice to the top of the wall.

We called the 130-metre M5 WI4 Sage Brush for the obvious reason that the surrounding slopes are covered with the plant. It’s the first bolted mixed route in the area. It was formed when we started up, but by midday when the sun was hitting it, the entire climb melted away. We rappelled off bolts that we drilled for anchors down an muddy waterfall. It should form back up during the next cold snap.