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Sky Pilot, Tombstone Tower, and Mount Fee

(Originally "Notes from the Coast", CAJ, 1994)

by Kobus Barnard

(all photos copyright by Kobus Barnard)

First, let's recognize that the most important aspect of climbing is who did what first, and how hard it was. With this understanding , we are ready to begin study of page 36 of Bruce Fairley's guide, where he has a route on the North face of Sky Pilot attributed to Emily Butler and myself in November 1984. To set the record straight, the route we did that winter is not visible in that photograph. Still, since we admire Bruce's eye for routes, we decided that we could simply resolve this problem by doing "our" line sometime. This summer we set out to do just that, but as far as we could tell from the ground, it appears that "our" line is a bit grotty for a summer route. So we tried our luck with a line a few hundred feet to the right. This line begins on a ramp diagonaling left up to a ledge, and then goes up for about five pitches to a notch below a final headwall appearing as a steep section of the right skyline in the photograph. The final pitch ascends the headwall from the col. The route ends on the high shoulder, a bit of a hike from the summit. Much of the wall is quite broken, and with devious route finding it would be mostly bushy third and forth class. However, by making some attempt to do a direct line, we found nice climbing, with a some moves in the 5.7-5.8 range. And what about the 1984 line? This goes up the other side of the ridge forming the right skyline in the photograph. Under winter conditions there is a relatively low angle snow line from the basin directly up to the base of the gendarme forming a second peak of Sky Pilot, and clearly visible on the other photograph of the peak on page 34. Once at the base of the gendarme, it would be easy to traverse around the other side to the summit, following the South Ridge Route. However, we entertained ourselves by climbing the gendarme directly, which was mid fifth class.

Next, I would like to offer a few comments on a peak near Sky Pilot worthy of more attention than it gets: "Tombstone Tower". The North edge is described as a 5.8 directly up from the notch. Emily and I visited the tower in 1987 and to my eye, this does not look like a particularly casual 5.8! Since the pro seemed a bit scarce, rather than risk my neck to find out if going directly up from the notch is really 5.8, I found a nearby line which does in fact match the grade, if not the description. To climb Tombstone Tower at 5.8 with adequate protection, you can start a little bit below the notch on the west side. The route follows a broken line until perhaps half way up, and then does an airy traverse to the right to switch over to a second line of weakness. Going straight up would be a nice alternate, but the protection possibilities are less obvious from below. The final few meters are loose. Before I am accused of sandbagging, I hasten to add that this kind of climbing bears no relation to the Smoke Bluffs or the Gym!

Finally, I turn my attention to another somewhat infamous peak: Fee. The standard route on this peak is described as dangerously loose. In 1992 Emily and I tried our luck with a second line which goes up the left side of the west face to a notch below the final step in the north ridge, and then follows the ridge. Although it is possible that this was a first ascent, there was a pin below the notch, a rap station at the notch, and some webbing at the top. These signs of previous passages could be the result of failed attempts and/or descents from the standard route, but somehow the route felt climbed. So if you did this line before 1992, let someone know and set the record straight! Either way, Fee's second route is also about 5.6, and is also serious. With care it is a reasonable proposition, but please tread lightly on those blocks! To descend, we down climbed the mud forming the last pitch of the standard route, and then made one long rappel from the flat ridge using manually set chock stones as anchors. On rappel we passed large flakes which look like they would come off with a single breath. Be careful!.