Comox Glacier - Argus - Harmston - Tzela - Red Pillar
After multiple failed plans to attempt the Kain Face on Robson and as plan B, a trip to the Bugaboos, poor weather and smoke coverage kept us on the island for a last minute week long trip into Strathcona Park.
After picking up the ACCVI Comox Lake gate key the evening before, Laurel, Casey, Kyle and I took off to the comox glacier trailhead and made our way up to the main summit of the Comox Glacier with our 80-pound packs. After close to a 10-hour slog and a vicious attack by wasps, we arrived at the summit and set up camp just below it.
We hit the trail for 6:00AM and headed towards Argus, our first objective. We made good time to the base of the climb and after a quick fifth class scramble up, we made the summit. From here we went down the gully and continued on to Harmston.
Exiting the base of the climb we went left along a slabby ledge leading to a fifth class downclimb that put us into a steep scree field. This led us to the ridge heading towards Harmston where we made great time. We reached the summit of Harmston in about 1.5 hours from the start of the ridge.
After reaching the summit, Laurel and Kyle decided to head back to camp, while Casey and I decided to attempt an alternative descent route and made our way over to Tzela. After a failed attempt finding a way down the direct 5.8 line leading to the summit, we found a steep chossy gully with some fifth class moves that led down to the scree field above the Cliff Glacier. After making it down, we traversed the scree field and topped over the ridge, making our way to Tzela.
Without any Beta or information on how to climb, we eyed up a potential line on the approach and decided to give it a try! We made our way straight up some steep vegetated ledges and around what we thought was the summit block but ended up getting bluffed out with no way forward or up. After reviewing our topo maps, we decided a new route would put us past our turnaround time, so we rappelled down and made our way back to the Comox Glacier.
Upon arrival we found one of our food bags torn apart by ravens. We ended up losing four bananas, tortillas, squeeze peanut butter, fruit loops, a full bag of granola, as well as our bag of milk powder. All our breakfast food for the next three days had been eaten!
We scrambled mid-way down the east face of the glacier and rappelled down to the snow. Over the next four to five hours our whole group swapped leads climbing a great exposed crack from the base of the glacier to the summit over six pitches. We were amazed with the rock quality, exposure and quality of climbing!
Starting just after 6:00 AM we made our way to the base of Argus and went around the left side of the mountain following the Argus bypass route. Just before the upper cliff glacier we descended a steep fifth class gully. We required a short rappel to safely get down. Below the gully we navigated some very steep scree slopes and a short fourth-class scramble to the start of the glacier.
Shortly after, we roped up and made our way along the upper cliff glacier. We were very surprised with the amount of route finding required to navigate the glacier safely. Our navigation required jumping deep crevasses and navigating some weak snow bridges.
After finishing the glacier crossings, we climbed the original west ridge route making our way to the summit in just over an hour. After making our way down we noticed the snow bridges on the upper cliff glacier had become very soft. After a slight near miss where Casey put his hiking pole through the snow into a very large crevasse, we were happy to have been fully equipped with crevasse rescue kits and roped up as a group of four for the entire crossing.
After getting off the glacier we decided to take a right trending line up some second/third class vegetated slopes back to the base of Argus instead of navigating the loose scree and fifth class gully that we had navigated on the way down.
After getting back to camp, we racked up our climbing gear and climbed a great exposed variation to our original climb we completed the day before. Another great climb!
After a great bivy under the stars, we realized our remaining food supplies would not last us until the weekend. Casey and Kyle decided to climb a third line on the glacier in the morning while Laurel and I packed up and slowly made our way back to the trailhead while taking many breaks looking for rocks and eating our remaining food.
The time out took just over five hours (about half the time of our way up) and our extended breaks resulted in the four of us meeting at the trailhead about 15 minutes apart. A quick drive back to the gate put us back in town at around 5:00PM.
Our experience using the ACCVI gate key as part of the agreement with Mosaic was great. The instructions were easy to follow, the key was easily accessible and our communication with ACCVI to gain access to the key was a positive experience. Our group wants to give a huge thanks to ACCVI and Mosaic Forest Management for making this trip possible.