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Story of Mega Route on Wild Split Mountain in B.C.

The following story was written by Grant Stewart about his first ascent of Split Mountain in B.C.

Split Mountain in B.C. Photo Grant Stewart

Two and a half years ago, I received a message from my friend Tim Russell with a fuzzy picture of one of the most outrageous rock formations I had ever seen.

It is visible across the Skeena River from the Highway 93, as the river snakes its way up the steep valley between Terrace and Prince Rupert. Talked about for years, it had rarely been approached and never climbed.

Russell made two trips to the wall with Gary McQuaid and Nick Black and climbed the first six pitches. Then in 2015, Russell, Tyler McDivitt and I made our first serious attempt to reach the top in capsule style over eight days. We found steep granite and splitter cracks.

We got frozen fingers and had an adventure. We were forced off by a storm. On the ground, we agreed that the experience had pushed to our limits for commitment, difficulty and risk.

The nearby town of Prince Rupert receives a ludicrous 3,060 millimeters of rain annually, making it the rainiest town in Canada. So in 2016, we climbed a new 700-metre big wall up river with McQuaid and Laurent Jensen. It involved jet boating, steep runout rock and a 24-hour summit push form our hanging camp.

A combination of overexertion from bushwhacking with massive loads and dehydration had caused my legs to swell to the point where I had to visit the hospital. I was cleared to leave in the morning. We would go attempt Split Mountain, all four of us.

We reached the wall tired and Jensen set off finding that the first of two bolts on the loose 70-metre initial pitch had been sheared off by rockfall.

That evening, we struggled to haul our gear up the rough off-vertical granite. The rest of the route was overhanging.

Heading Split Mountain Photo Grant Stewart

In the morning, I had to lead. I used some aid and some free techniques. Later, McQuaid led a bold pitch before we rapped to our ledge.

The next day, McQuaid and Jensen rapped out to head home, leaving Russell and I to head up. The next day, we jug ropes and head across a 5.11 traverse and up a splitter finger crack.

We hauled our ledge and slept again. Each morning, the cool air of the snow-filled couloir condensed into a churning fog beneath our feet. A mass of moisture that reached us before being sucked down and spilling out to the Skeena River.

It was cold in the morning and we watched as the wall high above exploded with the faraway warmth of sunlight. It had gut-churning exposure and I climbed the bombay chimney above

Russel headed up pitch eight on edges into a corner. With cams behind loose flakes, he laybacks the crux. I saw the tension in his body as he set up, right foot coming up to a smear above his waist, left hip into the wall.

A moment of uncertainty and he fired for the crack above, sticking the lock and pulling up into the fist crack corner above. We were near our highpoint from the year before.

The weather looked bad. The year before, I took one of the biggest falls of my life off the next pitch when a flake I was laybacking ripped off. I gave the pitch to Russell, telling him it wasn’t too bad. We could see the shimmer of Terrace’s lights. The light was fading.

The steep corner crack we hoped to climb appeared to slam shut. I gave up on free climbing and stood as high as I could in my aiders desperately searching for anything. As the dirt and lichen crumbled away, a perfect pod for a tiny #1 nut appeared. I climbed to the very end of our rope.

Russell headed up in the near dark. After almost an hour and nearing the end of the rope, I watched Russell make it to a stance a few meters below the top.

After some deliberation, he made a few tenuous moves slapping up nothing on a smooth arête before reaching for the sloping lip at the rim of the wall. Stretched out, far above his gear and looking at a swinging ledge-fall Russell throws his heel up over his head and commits to a mantle onto the summit.

I soon joined him and 10 minutes after topping out, the clouds opened and we found ourselves in a storm. It took us until 2:30 a.m. to reach the safety of our wet portaledge. Exhausted and shivering, we had never been more stoked.

High on Split Mountain Photo Grant Stewart

The new route is called Split Mountain South Face 5.11+ A1 500m 14-pitches and was climbed by Grant Stewart and Tim Russell in 2016.