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A Grand Illusion

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

The Illusion Peaks were first ascended in September of 1961 by by Dick Culbert, Ronald Hatch, Monte Lasserre, and Arnold Shives. Since that time the two impressive granite domes have seen little action when compared to the next door neighbours, the Nesakwatch Spires and Rexford summits. in 1972 Dick Culbert, Fred Douglas, Paul Starr, and Ross Wyborn made the firsrt ascent of the large West Face of the North Peak. A long, bushy, and adventurous 'moderate' route that has likely not seen a repeat ascent. Fast forward over a decade to July of 1984. Maxim De Jong and Robert McLeod made an impressive ascent of the Northeast side of the South Illusion via Memorial Pillar. Although moderate in grade the Memorial Pillar sports some wild looking climbing and a nine inch off-width on pitch eight. The first ascent team aided this thirty-five meter crack using six bongs. Two years prior Maxim De Jong and Hyung Soo Kim ascended the high quality Northeast Buttress of the North Illusion. A 10 pitch 5.8 route with a variety of excellent cracks, clean slabs, and of course a little shrubbery. In 1982 and 1985 two routes were forged up the North and North East Face of the South Illusion. In 1982 Peder Ourom and Craig Thompson climbed the North Face Wall Grade V, 5.9, A3, 12 Pitches. Shortly after in 1985 Fred Becky climbed another imposing line on the Northeast face (The Bastion) Grade IV, 5.10, A2. Other notable ascents include several adventurous slab climbs on Guardian peak, The closest summit to the logging road in Centre Creek. Over the years there has probably been more routes climbed in the Illusion group but this is just a brief history of the area.

In 1993 Kobus Barnard, John Black, and Emily Butler made the first ascent of what one might refer to as the Rexford Traverse or Grand Ensakwatch Traverse. Barnard and crew traversed from North to South over the Illusion peaks then continued over the Nesakwatch Spires and Rexford. Note: the party also included Pi Pillar and South Rexford peak. Barnard wrote that his original plan was to continue to Middle Peak (USA) and then back into Canada and finish by ascending Mount Lindeman. A Horseshoe loop of around 30 km and 4000 meters of gain on unrelenting technical ridgelines. After the Rexford Traverse the team threw in the towel due to a lack of food. Barnard spoke highly of this outing in his blog.

After seeing lot's of action on the corridors classics such as the Tantalus Traverse, Lake Lovely Water Circumnavigation, Armchair Traverse etc.. Nick and I thought it would be nice to be a little more creative for a change. After some research and a little indecisiveness Nick and I settled on trying to complete the Rexford Traverse. If we felt great, had enough water, and moved along faster than anticipated maybe we would even continue on to Lindeman.

In classic Nick and Jessie fashion we settled on a 'casual' departure time from Squamish of 6:00 am. This would put us at our start point for 9:00 am. We estimated the day would take us around twelve hours, which in theory should put us back at the car without the need of headlamps. As we rumbled down the Trans Canada highway towards Chilliwack we discussed some strategies for the approach. Eventually we made the decision to bushwhack straight up from the centre creek road to the base of the North Illusion summit. We would start out day by climbing the North East Buttress a ten pitch supposedly high quality 5.8. If all worked out we would then simul-climb most of the route in an efficient fashion .

Nick numbing the feet across Centre Creek

Once we parked at 880 meters on the Centre Creek FSR I shoved the rope, food, water, and gear into my twenty two litre pack. Off we went right around 9:00 am as expected. The approach was what we expected: Coastal. Steep and bushy with sections of steep moss and tree pulling. After around 200 meters we emerged into the sub alpine old growth and travel became more obvious. We got to chatting about the classic Bushwhacking grading system. Nick suspected somewhere in the rhelm of BW2-3. Not too bad by coastal standards. Apparently the highest grade BW6 involves overhead bush, Devils Club, talus, and bears under the talus. Oh yeah, and steep terrain. Thankfully there was no BW6 and the two of us popped out at the stunning South Slabs of Guardian Peak. There is tons of potential for moderate slab climbing on Guardian and it is close to the road to boot.

Nick cruising beautiful slabs on Guardian S Face

We took a brief pit stop at what we realized might be the only water source of the day. Nick and I hydrated and continued to the base of the Northeast Buttress on North Illusion. Nick tied in, started up the first pitch where some runout slabs led way to an impeccable 5.7 layback corner leading to a small belay ledge.

Excellent climbing on Pitch 1

After the initial pitch we completed two long pitches of simul-climbing on pleasantly clean slabs and cracks which placed us around halfway up the route. Another long pitch of generally unpleasant bush and heather brought us to the small Ridgecrest next to the Giants Causeway, a long 4th/Low 5th class Dyke ending in a couple awkward chimney moves. Nick then led one more fifty meter pitch with a spectacular leftward flake traverse and a small chimney. From here we scrambled to the summit of North Illusion.

Our rough line of travel. Blue = Belay

From the summit of the North Illusion we descended towards what was going to potentially be one of the more complex sections for route finding. A picture perfect 'Au Cheval' was followed by a 20 meter rappel into the North-South Illusion Notch. Several pitches of climbing up to 5.9 led to the ridgecrest of the South Illusion. Upon reaching the 'Au Cheval' we made a few moves down climbing and scooted across to the edge of the notch. After thinking of different options we settled on leaving behind some cord and rappelled off of a small but bomber horn.

Looking towards the South Illusion from the North Illusion.

Nick and I transitioned back into rock shoes before Nick headed off onto lichen covered but good quality rock. Drew Brayshaw and Jesse Mason made a one day out-and-back traverse of the Illusions from their bivi below the Nasekwatch Spires in 2013. Drew noted that they climbed three shorter pitches up to 5.9. Culbert had written that he had climbed out of the notch on 4th and low 5th. We figured if you went straight up, one might find themselves in 5.9 terrain. By looking down the gulley and right on the face we could see a potential line of easy terrain but it looked fairly bushy. We decided on finding a route through the middle. Nick climbed efficiently out of the notch and before long, he had placed a micro-traxion and I was on way my simul-climbing towards the ridge. We reached the ridge in one long simul block within the realm of 5.7 staying on generally good but lichen coated rock with patches of krumholtz. We were pleasantly surprised with how smoothly it went.

Nick leading into adventurous territory.

After ten minutes of ridge rambling, we reached the summit of the South Illusion. We stopped briefly to snap a few pictures before moving onto the classic Ensakwatch Enchainment. We descended the South Illusion and scrambled up and over "Linchpin Hill" one more short descent and we found ourselves at the base of the stunning North Nasekwatch Spire.

The North Nasekwatch Spire lies ahead

We made quick work of the North ridge of the North Nasekwatch Tower. The rock is excellent and the climbing is enjoyable. The route stays within low 5th class if you surf around the arete a few times. We summited via a corner crack on the left of the arete with beautiful exposure. At this point we still had plenty of technical terrain to cover but it felt like we were moving a little faster now. Nick's previous experience in the Nasekwatch group helped with route finding.

Cruising up to the North Nasekwatch Spire

Next on the list was the South Nasekwatch Spire. A true 'mountaineers' peak only consisting of technical routes. We scrambled along until the base of two pleasant looking crack systemswhere I tied in and started ascending. The rock on the South Nasekwatch is high quality. We climbed the North ridge in one long pitch which brought us to the base of the summit block. The only way to the true summit of the South Nasekwatch Spire is by squirming your way up a short awkward 5.7 off-width crack. Nick soloed the crack, tagged the summit, lowered off, and belayed me up on top rope. We grabbed our packs and started descending. The descent from the South Nasekwatch went smoothly. One rappel off shiny new anchors and some scrambling brought us to the col.

With one more summit to tag Nick took off climbing efficiently over moderate terrain to a belay on the West Ridge of Mount Rexford. After a little bit of simul-climbing Nick had me on belay and I cruised along to the belay. From here we unroped and enjoyed climbing and scrambling on solid stone to the summit of the iconic Mount Rexford. We stopped to snap a few pictures and admire the views. We discussed continuing on to Lindeman briefly but both understood that with a lack of light and water we would have to come back another day. The ridge towards middle peak past the South summit of Rexford looked convoluted and long. Both of us felt parched from the past several hours of no water and commenced our descent of the Northeast Ridge back down to Centre Creek.

We rambled down the summit slabs before dropping into a cleft in the ridgeline and making a 20 meter rappel off of a chalkstone and another off of a solid horn. Shortly after the initial rappels we made one more down a chossy low-5th gulley. Unfortunately our rope became stuck and Nick climbed back up to free the rope. After this minor hiccup we continued down the Northeast ridge. The ridge is comprised of massive laser cut boulder and splitter cracks making it incredibly aesthetic. The descent was essentially back to back down-climbing boulder problems intercepted with easy scrambling. This would make an excellent ascent. Because of Nicks prior knowledge of the route he knew roughly were to go making it a bonus for efficient travel.We reached a massive chalkstone and started descending a grassy dike down into the slabby basin. The dike involved a few steps of slippery 4th class but was straightforward enough for our waining energy.

The beautiful basin below the East and Northeast ridges provided water for much needed rehydration. The scenery was stunning with massive granite walls looming above, steep glacier polished slabs with cascading seeps of snowmelt filing the basin with white noise. The grandeur of this basin made me feel tiny in comparison. The descent from here is not as straightforward as one might imagine. We weaved around from gulley to gulley to avoid meeting dead ends at cliff bands and water falls. This descent would be complex with nightfall making me appreciate the last of the evening light. The Chehalis range has similar descent challenges. We found ourselves in conversation again and arrived at Centre Creek.

While fording across Centre Creek,the cool water was a warm welcome on my thrashed legs. I suspected that if we were to bump into a bear face to face this would likely be the spot as we had seen signs of bear scat previously that day. A short bushwhack brought us back to the trail where we easily and happily ran back to the car. We concluded our day back where we started, changed into clean clothes and started bumping down the logging road in my old pickup. We finished the loop in a little over ten hours and both felt content with that considering the amount of technical terrain we had just covered.

Nick wading the creek before heading into overhead bush.

Just when we thought the day was over and our grumbling stomachs would be fed we came across a unwelcome surprise. Two large cedar trees had fallen directly over the road during our outing trapping us and several other hikers behind them. Of course I had taken the hand saw out of my car a week ago. Upon closer inspection we quickly realized that this would need the work of a chainsaw. I communicated with Kat via In Reach. She contacted our friend and Chilliwack local Gary Robbins. Gary called up a few friends and eventually found Steve who graciously came to our rescue with his chainsaw and young daughter who seemed excited at the opportunity to watch her dad at work. With Gary joining, Steve made quick work bucking up the trees into small pieces to facilitate moving them off the road. Steve had just arrived home from a SAR call and was still happy to come help us. Thank you Steve and Gary! You guys saved us and several others a long walk into town. Finally we made it back to Chilliwack at 11:30 and stopped at the only open food mart. As I stared at the cashier blankly I ordered the first items that came to mind, one Large fries, a Large Frosty, and a Large drink, trying to feed my insatiable appetite. We arrived home weary eyed at 1:30 am after what would have been a much earlier arrival time. This is what adventures are about.

The legend Steve hard at work!

The Grand Ensakwatch Traverse is nothing short of spectacular. A true coastal adventure of immaculate granite, old growth forest, steep jungleering, and endless technical terrain. This route shows that Kobus Barnard is a true West Coast Mountaineer with a hunger for remote granite walls and adventure, a view hasten to wandering ridge lines and drive to cover more ground. Kobus's trip report is what inspired me to try this objective. I would like to return in the future to complete his vision of adding Lindeman Peak. Thanks Kobus for the inspiration.

The Grand Ensakwatch Traverse

  • 10:18:00

  • 12 Kilometers

  • 2200 meters

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Nice account of this local coast mountain traverse

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