<-- Map of summer 2016
(click to enlarge)
|Climb 3 - Aug 14
NORTH NESAKWATCH SPIRE
|Climb 2 - Aug 13
SOUTH NESAKWATCH SPIRE
|Climb 1 - Aug 12
The Nesakwatch Spires, with prominent north and south peaks, sit just north of Mt. Rexford and east of Mt. Slesse and the city of Chilliwack and are composed of excellent blocky white granite. Their stone is among the best in the range, hosting a variety of short and mid-length routes, with grades ranging from low-5th to 5.12. Plus, the approach takes half a day and there is awesome camping on flat boulders in the upper basin, making it a perfect spot to spend 2-3 days climbing right outside your tent door.
Will and I spent 3 days (2 nights) in the area. We climbed three routes. The first day we hiked in and then climbed the popular West Ridge (5.5) of Rexford, which took just a few hours and got us back to camp in time to eat dinner with my mom, who had hiked up that day to spend the night at camp before hiking out the next day. The second day we climbed Dairyland (5.10d) on the steep west wall of South Nesakwatch Spire and then spent a relaxing afternoon making snow-cones and doing nonograms. The third day we climbed the aesthetic Southwest Ridge (5.9) of North Nesakwatch Spire and then packed up and hiked out. Will was back to Seattle by 8pm.
The following page contains photos and route overlays for our three days in the area. Everything just fell into place—awesome partner, bluebird weather, perfect camp, amazing views, great climbs—to make for an awesome trip! Thanks Will for joining me on this adventure.
Some random notes:
• The approach from car to camp took us 3.5 hours with heavy packs. Car to car climbs are definitely possible and might be preferred in later season once the snow (and hence water) is gone from the upper basin.
• Despite the perfect weather on a summer weekend, Will and I had the upper basin entirely to ourselves every night (apart from my mom, who hiked in and joined us Friday night before hiking out Saturday; this was a nice addition to the trip). On both Saturday and Sunday, we saw a few parties each day doing the Ensakwatch Enchainment (this is by far the most common undertaking in the area, a 0.75 mile link-up that climbs over the three summits from north to south, starting via the North Ridge or Southwest Ridge of North Neskawatch, going over the North Ridge of South Nesakwatch, and finishing via the North Face or some variation of Rexford), but most were in there just for the day; we never saw parties on any other routes. Based on the license plates we saw and the people we talked to, this area is relatively popular amongst local Canadians, but seems to have not yet hit the radar of the alpine climbing community south of the border. And the steep wall of solid granite on the west face of South Nesakwatch—although reminiscent in appearance and rock quality to Prusik Peak—seems to get very little traffic at all. Will and I agreed that the area is one of the best-kept secrets of the Cascades. But that is likely to change over the coming years.
• Running water is something to consider on any trip into this area. In mid-August, we found no running water in the basin. The only running water we did spot was close to the start of the hike up and some muddy water running down a dirty slope below Rexford. But we were glad to see a fair bit of snow still lingering in the low spots in the upper basin. Not wanting to deal with the annoyance of melting snow on our Jetboil, we had packed up black garbage bags; with the help of the sunny skies we were able to melt more water than we could possibly drink. Given the size of the snowpatches in the upper basin, I would say that at least some snow will linger until the end of August (2016), but by September (2016) the basin might be completely devoid of snow or water. The last permanent running water is the major stream crossing early on in the trail long before reaching the basin. So if going into the area for an overnight in mid- to late-summer before all the snow has melted from the basin, bring garbage bags and/or extra fuel for melting snow. If going into the area for a day trip or in late summer after the snow has all melted, consider packing water all the way from the car.
• As the previous discussion should indicate, no snow gear was required on our trip (mid-August). Earlier in the season, I could imagine that snow gear would be nice to have for the slope traverses and gullies.
• The best camping spot is a flat-topped boulder in the upper basin. This is within 15 minutes approach to any of the climbs and has an awesome 360° view. There were also snow patches nearby for melting our water. There is also a flat-topped boulder lower on the ridge but this does not have nearly as good of a position or views.
• Our rack for Dairyland on South Nesakwatch: set of stoppers, doubles from tips to #2, single #3, single #4, slings. This was a good rack for the climb and I don't think there is anything we did not use. The only thing I might change is to bring triples in #1 and #2 for the long 10b splitter on Pitch 5, but then that makes for a pretty heavy rack, so the alternative is to run it out a bit (after all it is a handcrack, although mighty steep and strenuous) or to walk cams and possibly even lower to collect a cam or two. A much lighter rack was needed for our other two climbs (single rack from fingers to #4 was plenty sufficient for the Southwest Ridge of North Nesakwatch and I think we only placed one #0.75 and one #1 on the entire West Ridge of Rexford).
Aug 12 - Hike in, set up camp, climb West Ridge of Mt. Rexford, enjoy a beautiful evening at camp.
Approach (9:40am-1:15pm). The trail starts 4.7 miles up the Nesakwatch River Road which is off the Chilliwack River Road (see map for detail). We were able to park our car about 4.1 miles up the road, just before a major washout. From there, it was a 0.7 mile hike along the road to the signed trailhead to Mt. Rexford. From the trailhead, it is about 4000' of elevation gain over the course of 4 miles. Kind of an unrelenting angle but well-defined. With our heavy packs, it took us three and a half hours from the car to get to the flat-topped boulder in the basin below Nesakwatch Spires and Mt. Rexford.
1a. Map I made showing the approach detail, location of high camp, descent detail, popular climbs, etc. Click to enlarge.
1b. Google maps image showing location of trailhead and drive from the US-Canada border.
2. The Nesakwatch Creek Road had been graded in Spring 2016 so we had not problems driving my Subaru up it, until we reached the washout at 4.3 miles. This road can be rough if it has not been recently graded.
3. The washout at about 4.3 miles up the Nesakwatch Creek Road. We parked at about 4.1 miles.
4. The start of the trail up to Rexford at 4.7 miles.
5. The first couple of miles of trail gains elevation through forest. The trail is well-marked, obvious, and steep the whole way up.
6. Hiking along the rock wall, with Mt. Slesse behind.
7. This photo was taken from near the top of the rock wall. From here, we aimed up and right, heading across the boulders and heather slopes to the saddle on the right. Our camp was just on the other side of the saddle. The peak in the photo is North Nesakwatch. The North Ridge is on the left skyline. The SW Ridge is on the right skyline.
8. We camped on top of a large flat-topped boulder in the basin below the spires. From left to right: North Nesakwatch Spire, South Nesakwatch Spire, Mt. Rexford. This was an awesome camp with an awesome view and less than 15 minute approach to all of the climbs we did. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to see more photos of camp! This is a camp you will enjoy and remember.)
Climb the West Ridge of Mt. Rexford (3:05pm-6:30pm). Mt. Rexford is the rightmost and tallest spire seen from the basin below the spires. Its summit tower is an aesthetic pointed spire of high quality granite. It is close to camp and the climbing is moderate, making for a pleasant half-day jaunt from camp. A popular route to the summit is the West Ridge, which forms the right-hand skyline from the upper basin. Our route was mostly a 3rd-4th class scramble up the lower ridgeline to below the steeper summit tower, where we traversed over to the north side on a ledge system and then climbed easily (5.5) up to the summit ridge. From here, to get to the true (east) summit, we traversed the ridgecrest and then climbed a short chimney to the top. We we back at camp in time for dinner.
West Ridge (5.5, 700')
Camp to Base of Route: 7 min
Base of Route to West Summit: 1 hour 18 min
West Summit to East Summit: 26 min
East Summit to Camp: 1 hour 34 min
|1. On the lower West Ridge, mostly blocky 4th.
2. Looking up towards the summit tower of Rexford from midway up the long West Ridge. The summit of South Nesakwatch is to the left.
3. North Nesakwatch Spire and South Nesakawatch Spire to the north.
4. Looking up from the base of the summit tower. From here, the standard (easiest) route goes left up blocky terrain and to a chimney system.
5. The standard route goes up this blocky chimney system, 5.5.
6. Will on the summit ridge as we head towards the true summit (behind out of view).
7. Will leading the final pitch to the true summit, a short 5.6 section.
8. On the summit of Mt. Rexford. A wooden cross in memory (?) of Doug Rexford.
9. The standard descent from Rexford is to reverse the West Ridge route. We made a couple of rappels through the steeper summit area.
10. This photo was taken from the top of South Nesakwatch Spire the next day, looking over at climbers on Rexford. They are climbing a more direct line to the summit than the standard route which goes to up blockier terrain to the left. This direct route looks like it has some great exposure and cracks. Wish we had known about this route!
Aug 13 - Climb Dairyland on South Nesakwatch Spire (7:42am-3:16pm). The steep west face of South Nesakwatch holds the area's hardest routes. As of 2016, I know of at least a half-dozen 5.10 to 5.12 routes on this wall. One of the more popular and easier (although climbing is challenging at 5.9-5.10d) is called Dairyland. This is a great route with solid, well-protected climbing. There are some standout sections of climbing on the route: the splitter 5.9 hand crack on Pitch 1, the techy corner with 10d crux move on Pitch 4, and the 45m splitter to the top on Pitch 5. The route finishes with the standard short offwidth to the top of the summit block. The route is a bit dirty just due to lack of traffic, but apart from that it does rank up there with some of the better alpine climbs I've done in the Cacades. And the advantage of the lack of traffic is that we had the wall completely to ourselves. After a mellow descent we were back in camp enjoying snow cones and nonograms.
|SOUTH NESAKWATCH SPIRE
Dairyland (5.10d, 700')
Camp to Base of Route: 13 min
Base of Route to Top of Summit Block: 6 hours
Summit to Camp: 46 min
|pretty darn easy once you are in the upper basin||1. Approaching the steep west face of South Nesakwatch, about 13 minutes from camp to base up an easy boulder field.
||2. The awesome 5.9 hand-crack that starts the route. Pitch 1 was my favorite pitch on the route—just pure fun 5.9 crack climbing.
||3. Pitch 2 is kind of mediocre climbing up a heather gully and broken ground. But one throw-away pitch amongst 1 good pitch (Pitch 3) and 3 excellent pitches (Pitches 1, 4, and 5) is pretty good for an alpine route.|
|5.10a||4. Pitch 3 heads up to the bottom of a prow. The description we had said to "pull out right to a belay ledge at the bottom of the prow" but when I tried to go this way it seemed very dirty and unprotectable, so I ended up climbing the cracks in the photo and pulled out left (instead of right) to a ledge at the bottom of the prow. This seemed to be a direct way to go and the climbing was quite good.
||5. Will led the crux pitch. This pitch consists of a few harder (5.10) moves amongst easier (5.9) moves. Gear is a bit thin at times, but it seemed you could always find a place for a small cam or nut if you looked for it so the climbing never felt runnout as some descriptions suggested. The 5.10d section was a technical move on smaller holds which Will and I both felt looked harder than it actually turned out to be. Will did an awesome job leading this pitch.
||6. Looking up the 40m splitter on the last pitch up the west face. This crack eats #1's and #2's so with a double rack I did a fair amount of walking of my cams. The hand jams are great and a bold leader could certainly run it out, but the crack is steep and there are few good rests. I found this pitch to be the hardest pitch of the route just due to the lack of rests.
7. Will climbing the upper splitter.
8. A zoomed-in view of Pitch 5 from below during the descent. When I was leading the pitch it was a bit unclear of whether to go left or right where the crack forks, but I went right and I think this is the way to go. The section immediately after the fork certainly felt every bit of 10b to me.
9. The pitch tops out in a cool alcove right on the upper north ridge.
||10. Dairyland tops out on the north ridge just a short scramble to the base of the summit block, shown in photo.
11. The standard way to surmount the summit is to climb an offwidth (5.7 to 5.9, depending on source). There is no bolt on the top of the summit block, so the safest way down from the top of the block is to sling the horn at the top of the offwidth, lower, and then flip the sling off of the horn as Will is doing in the photo.
|Scramble S, then one rappel into notch between Spire and Rexford, then scramble SW down gully. Class 2-3.||13. If not continuing onto Rexford, the standard descent from the South Spire is down a gully between South Nesakwatch and Rexford. This is a bit loose but was pretty quick and mellow as far as North Cascades gullies go. This gully is undoubtedly filled with snow in early summer, which is probably steep and hard enough to want an ice axe.
14. Our camp gave us plenty of time to gaze at the steep west face of South Nesakwatch. Definitely some potential for some new routes on this wall. Probably hard. We were intrigued by the right-leaning corner in the photo (this is just right of a route called Fairytales and Fantasies, which goes up the crack in the center of the photo). There appears to be lots of grass in this crack in the moment, and it is unclear how wide the chimney is above it, but it is intriguing....
Aug 14 - Climb the Southwest Ridge on North Nesakwatch Spire (6:34am-10:45am) and then hike out (11:20am-2:20pm). The Southwest Ridge is the prominent ridge on the left skyline as seen from the upper basin. It provides a convenient short route and is slightly steeper and harder than the north ridge routes. The start and final sections are the steepest and most challenging, with the lower-angle middle being predominantly pleasant scrambling. We had no topo for the climb but it was fairly obvious as the route stayed close to the ridge the entire time. We started the route with three pitches of fun and reasonably steep 5.8 cracks, then unroped and soloed about 100m of 3rd-4th class, and then reached the summit by one pitch up a splitter 5.8 crack and then a pitch of 4th class blocks to the top. This summit gives a side-view of the west face of South Nesakwatch, showing how steep that face really is. From the top, it was an easy descent to the saddle betwween the Spires and then a zig-zagging 3rd-4th class scramble down into the basin and back to camp. (We had entertained the thought of continuing onto the North Ridge of South Nesakwatch, but this would have taken us a couple of more hours of time, and Will needed to get back to Seattle as he had work early the next morning. So we left the North Ridge (and the rest of the Ensawkwatch Traverse for that matter) as an excuse to come back into the area on a later date.) We packed up and three hours later we were at the car.
|NORTH NESAKWATCH SPIRE
Southwest Ridge (5.9, 700')
Camp to Base of Route: 18 min
Base of Route to Summit: 2 hours 51 min
Summit to Camp: 35 min
|1. A bit of 4th class scrambling (right side) to get to the base of the climb. Left side might work too.
2. Looking up Pitch 1. We had no topo, but it seemed pretty obvious to head up the cracks just left of center. The climbing was steep and exposed on solid rock, and sustained at 5.8 or so for most of the pitch. I led this pitch.
3. Will starting up Pitch 2. More engaging 5.8 crack climbing.
4. The upper half of Pitch 2.
5. Will at the belay at the top of Pitch 2. After the first couple of pitches, this route is in the sun even in the early morning. South Nesakwatch Spire behind.
6. Cracks on Pitch 3.
7. This photo is taken looking towards the summit after the first three pitches. From here, we back-packed the rope and soloed about 100m of 3rd-4th class terrain to the base of the splitter cracks about halfway up the summit tower in the photo.
8. Will leading up the splitter cracks which comprise the last real pitch of the route. These cracks felt 5.7-5.8, even though the guidebook put them at 5.8-5.9. Really fun climbing though. We had smiles on our faces the entire time.
9. Looking down the splitter cracks on the last real pitch before the summit.
10. Me on the summit of North Nesakwatch. South Nesakwatch behind.
11. Me perched on a block on the ridge between North and South Nesakwatch. You can see these blocks quite clearly from camp.
12. To descend back to the basin, we zig-zagged down the ledges below the saddle between the Spires. There is an optional rappel, but we found the terrain mostly 2nd-3rd class with an occasional 4th class move.
13. A view of the Southwest Ridge of North Nesakwatch Spire from the hike out that afternoon. The North Ridge (mostly 3rd, up to low 5th apparently) is the ridge on the left skyline.
Photos from Camp - We camped on top of a large flat-topped boulder in the basin below the spires. This camp was less than 15 minute approach to all of the climbs we did. Plus, it had an awesome view of the Nesakwatch Spires and Rexford to the east, Slesse to the west, and Shuksan, Baker, Larabee, and the Border Peaks to the south.
1. A view of camp looking east. From left to right: North Nesakwatch Spire, South Nesakwatch Spire, Mt. Rexford.
2. A view of camp looking south. Shuksan and Baker in distance.
3. Now this is the life (minus the nonogram for some of you). Slesse in the distance to the west.
4. Running water is difficult to find in the basin, especially in later summer. There were still some significant patches of snow in the basin though. With this in mind, we had brought some big black garbage bags, which we filled with snow. This was very effective. During the heat of the day, we could melt over 10 L of water an hour, and we had a regular drip off the end of the boulder. On our trip in August 2016, I would guess that snow will linger in the basin through August, but the basin might be devoid of even snowmelt water in September. This is definitely something to keep in mind if planning a trip here.
5. Looking down on our camp from high on South Nesakwatch Spire. We really did choose the best camp spot.
6. Evening light. From left to right: North Nesakwatch Spire, South Nesakwatch Spire, Mt. Rexford.
6. Enjoying an evening at camp. South Nesakwatch Spire and Rexford above. My mom had hiked in and joined Will and I for the night.
8. Enjoying sunset from camp. Slesse in distance left. My mom had hiked in and joined Will and I for the night.
9. Morning sun on the peaks to the east. Left to right: Baker, Winchester, Larabee, American Border Peak, Slesse.
10. Morning alpenglow on Mount Baker.
11. Morning sun on Mt. Slesse.
12-13. We found this interesting rock formation near camp. The contacts are very geometrically defined, which seems to rule out weathering. The outcrop was very isolated (we didn't see anything else like it in the area) which is also interesting. See Photo 14 for scale. After the trip, I shared the photos with my friend and geologist Doug McKeever, who proceeded to pass them on to geologists David Tucker and Ralph Haugerud and Rowland Tabor. As geology typically goes, none of them had a "for sure" answer but they had some good speculations:
14. Where's Will? (Too bad Will's not wearing a red and white pin-striped shirt, for all those Where's Waldo fans out there.)
15. Pocket glacier on Mt. Slesse (Aug 12, 2016). It was looking unusually large for this late in the summer. But the following week, on a particularly warm day, the entire glacier slid off all at once!