Marc-Andre Leclerc has made the first free and first solo winter ascent of Slesse’s Northeast Buttress. He had to drytool thin ice and neve on the crux headwall.
Over the last two years, Leclerc has proved to be one of North America’s finest alpinists with major new routes and bold repeats in Patagonia and the Rockies.
Gripped’s editor Brandon Pullan touched base with Leclerc after the climb. He got dropped off at the start of the road the evening of the eighth and walked up to the memorial where he bivied. Colin Haley and Dylan Johnson popped by at 11 p.m. Then, he started up at 5 a.m. on the ninth and approached the buttress directly through the bowl beneath the mountain. “The snow was generally fairly firm, although deep in places, and I crossed the by-pass ramps and made it to the first rock pitch at first light,” Leclerc said. “Above that, on the Beckey Ramps, there was a lot of ice and good neve to with a section to 80 degrees before moving back to the ridge crest and climbing a pitch of M5 to the bivy ledge.”
From there, easy snow steepening to 75-degree neve led to the base of the headwall. The crux pitch of the headwall went at about M5+, with a spicy crux transitioning from steep rock to thin mixed slab with one-centimetre-thick ice patches here and there. Above that the climbing eased up slightly until reaching the summit. “I believe I must have spent about five hours on the route, but that is an estimation, I had no way of telling time.”
Leclerc said he descended the Southwest Buttress and walked back over Crossover Pass and down to pick up his gear at the memorial. He walked the gravel road back to the junction with Chilliwack Lake Road and had only walked a bit before getting a ride back to Chilliwack. “I was back at my sister’s place having dinner at 6:30 p.m. A spectacular day in the mountains”
Canada’s West Coast has had a mild winter, so much so that some would say winter never showed up. The warm conditions have led to a number of big ascents including the recent send of Slesse’s Heart of Darkness by Colin Haley and Dylan Johnson. Little snow fall combined with low freezing levels have led to new ice and mixed routes forming with low objective hazard.
On Vancouver Island, a number of peaks in the Mackenzie Range have received first winter ascents. The summits are usually snow-covered with dangerous cornices, but this year they’re snow free. Climbers have been summitting all winter in T shirts with no more than a rack of rock gear.
Some would argue that because of the spring conditions the ascents shouldn’t be considered winter ascents. Most climbers would agree that anything sent in a calendar season can be called that season’s ascent.
Famed high-altitude climber, Denis Urbko, talks about what he considers winter ascents in the Himalayas. Read about it here.
In the Rockies, winter conditions certainly extend beyond the solstice and equinox. However, many winter ascents have been made during high-pressure chinooks that bring warm spring-like weather. So the line is fuzzy as to what could be considered a winter ascent. Steve House and Marko Prezelj’s ascent of the North Face of the North Twin was in April but was considered an ascent in winter conditions.
Leclerc recently returned from Patagonia where he made the first solo of Cerro Torre’s Corkscrew Route in winter conditions. His climb is considered one of the boldest in Patagonia’s history. With or without full winter conditions, Leclerc’s solo of Slesse’s Northeast Buttress is just another feather in Canada’s most promising young alpinist’s hat.
–Written by Gripped Editor Brandon Pullan who was lucky enough to have first climbed Slesse in 2003.