The more I learn the Tantalus range's ins and outs the more I fall in love with this complex group of mountains close to home. Each summer generally involves some sort of adventure in the Tantalus Range. This years Tantalus highlight was completing what was possibly the second ascent of Mount Ossa's North Ridge. The North Ridge of Ossa was first climbed in the early 2000's by Yanik Bérubé and Roger Linington of the VOC in a two day trip from the Sigurd Creek trailhead which they gave a grade of 5.7. Ossa's North Ridge splits the beautiful North Face and East Face. The ambiance is outstanding with large crevasse riddled glaciers on either side. The North end of the Tantalus range tends to see less traffic making for a slightly more adventurous feel.
In typical Squamish fashion Nick and I took a slightly more leisurely start time departing the car at 8:12 AM on August 27th. We wandered up the Sigurd Creek trail at a brisk pace knowing that we had a lot of terrain to cover and some question marks. Soon enough we arrived at the Sigurd Creek crossing removed our shoes and awkwardly walked across the frigid stream. A good wake up for a big adventure. After crossing the last swath of lush sub-alpine old growth we emerged into the impressive basin below Pelion and Ossa. Our objective was in sight but we still had a long climb ahead of us to reach the base. We weaved through the compact glacier polished slabs, patches of Campion Moss, waterfalls, and thick fog patches. This lead way to the hanging Glacier that separates Ossa and Pelion.
We scampered across the glacier hopping a couple small crevasses. Eventually we faced the final obstacle between us and the base of the North ridge. A a semi-detached tongue of firm snow stood between us and the base of the ridge. We both strapped into our crampons took out and ice tool and started traversing across.
Once across we carefully stepped over the bergschrund onto the lower angled granite slab and removed out crampons. I stacked the rope Nick tied in and set off to the ridge crest right away so I did not have to spend much time in the precarious belay stance above the deep bergschrund. After knocking off some loose rocks and gravel Nick arrived at the ridge crest and put me on belay. I hastily climbed to the crest which was a much more comfortable belay on a nice ledge. Above us lay the start of the good climbing. I shivered at the shaded belay while Nick delicately danced his way up a steep but high quality “5.7” pitch of edges and cracks. The following pitch of 5.6 followed pleasant crack systems to the feature "Berube" called the rabbit ears (a small tower with two ear like summits). From here the route was not entirely obvious. Staying on the ridge crest would involve some serious and very hard climbing. We decided to follow a long traversing flake to where we could hopefully get a vantage point on where to go. Nick lead the traversing pitch to somewhat of a precarious and exposed pizza pan sized belay ledge. I climbed over to him enjoying myself on a nice 5.7 finger traverse followed by an awkward down mantle to the belay.
It seemed we would have to climb one long pitch to gain the ridge again. Considering that this lead would involve some more serious climbing on some delicate blocks Nick set off again. After a couple minutes of gentle climbing and a couple small runout’s nick rounded the corner out of sight onto compact stone and pleasant crack systems (5.7). Nick belayed me to the ridge. The position was outrageous. Steep on either side, glaciated, with clouds swirling in and out. The next pitch involved a short section of knife edge ridge and then a 25 meter headwall of enjoyable granite cracks (5.6). Not to mention excellent views of Ossa’s imposing North face.
After six pitches of climbing the difficulty of the ridge eased to mostly low 5th with some 5.6 moves here and there. Considering that we had the rope out we decided to continue simul climbing. I set off on a long simul block (maybe 200 meters.) Nick took the next long simul block. Both sections that we simul climbed are fantastic. Beautiful, clean granite, and incredible ambiance. After moving together in a state of flow we gained a long section of excellent 4th class terrain. This 4th class terrain eventually brought us to the sub summit of Ossa. To our surprise we found two sets of new shiny looking rappel anchors. The only reason I can image someone drilling rappel anchors here would be for helicopter access guiding. According to the 2003-2004 Tantalus Provincial Park Aviation Management Plan no humans are not allowed to land a helicopter or plane on this end of the Tantalus range Provincial park (Unless it is out of the park). I was disappointed to see this knowing that the poor goats and other animals have to deal with the noise pollution. Do we really need to fly everywhere or can we give nature space to breathe sometimes? Just a thought.. Pardon my short rant.
Nick and I made a short rappel into the Col below the summit of Ossa. We used to rope to belay one last pitch of easy climbing up a short but unpleasant gulley that led to a fun chimney. I emerged on the summit of Ossa in thick cloud, set up and anchor then belayed Nick. I would consider this final pitch to be the worst pitch of the route. That said it is not horrible but the rest of the route is high quality. Nick and I stuffed some food in our faces and commenced the long descent back to the valley.
We started by descending the West Shoulder of Ossa. This route I well travelled, generally well marked and features one short gulley of 4th class scrambling. As we left the cloud layer we did accidentally find ourself off route and had to traverse some steep blueberry covered ledges. I found several tuff’s of mountain Goat fur. I have such deep respect for these animals. They put us humans to shame in technical terrain. Once we found our way back into the correct gulley Nick and I sauntered through vibrant alpine meadows with breathtaking views into the Clowholm River valley and the mysterious Phantom Range. An area I would like to explore in the future. Patches of wild flowers bloomed and small streams pulsed with melt water as we transitioned into the sub-alpine. The wandering Ossa Mountain trail led us back to the atmospheric amphitheatre below Mount Ossa. We stopped for a couple minutes for gulps of glacier melt and to say hello to two kind folks that Nick and I knew.
Like a blur my tired legs carried me back into the old growth forest. Nick and I travelled in silence both hungry and ready for the trail to end. I underestimated the size of my lunch and found my self in a unsustainable pattern. I would stop grab as many Huckle berries as possible, stuff them in my mouth, and run fast to catch up to Nick again. After several times of doing this I realized that this would only make me more hungry and that a big cookie was waiting in the car. I could learn a thing or two from Nicks seemingly patient mind set while slogging in the forest. Eventually we started chatting again. The rest of the trail flew by and we found ourselves back where we started. Content, tired and Hungry.
The North ridge of Ossa cannot be found in any local Alpine guide books but is a very worthwhile route and deserves more ascents in the future. Another useful trip report from the first ascent can be found on Bivouac.com.
For those interested in the more technical details of our day here they are.
Total Distance: 27 KM
Elevation Gain/Loss: 2450 Meters
Time: 10 hours 33 Minutes
Difficulty: Stiff 5.7
7 Pitches, Two Long simul blocks, Long section of 4th Class, Glacier Travel, and a short section of steep/firm snow
Route Length: 500ish Meters from base of ridge