Monday, October 27, 2008

The Coolest Place You've Never Heard of...

...just might be the Chehalis Range.

The where?

Exactly. The Chehalis Range is a compact group of peaks that sit just across the Frazer River valley on the boarder between Washington and Canada. If you have spent any amount of time perusing the host of "selected climbs" volumes for this part of the country, you have probably heard of some of the peaks and routes there. Although you you would be hard pressed to talk to someone who has climbed any of them. So it is with the Chehalis. The approaches are vague and problematic and first hand reports and current information is hard to come by. For those willing to give it a go, the rewards are well worth the effort.

A waterfall on the Chehalis River along the Statlu Lake approach.

There are many would be ultra-classic routes in the Chehalis including the Tuning Fork on Bardean, the North Ridge on Clarke, and the incredible Viennese-Clarke Traverse. The range is glaciated, but barely. For the most part the glaciers are remnants of snow and ice that sit at the base of the rock faces in the range. In early season most of the approaches involve crossing some snow and/or ice, but by late season it's often possible to approach in tennis shoes.

The climbs range from easy class 2-3 scrambles to 5.10+ climbs, all on compact granite which is for the most part, excellent for climbing.

Lower Statlu Lake

Perhaps the biggest draw to the range for climbers looking for a moderate mountaineering route/traverse is the Viennesse Clarke traverse. This is a 4 mile ridge traverse that enchains about 6 summits, starting with smaller peaks and eventually linking the prominent summits of Viennese, Recourse, and Clarke. For the most part the route is class 3-4 scrambling along the crest of an undulating ridge with exciting but not nerve racking exposure. The summits of Viennese and Clarke both involve a pitch or two of mid-fifth class climbing with one cruxy 5.8 move on Viennese.

I have done a number of long ridge traverses in a few different ranges here in the US and this is perhaps the best of those if not the most unique. For skilled and efficient climbers, this climb is very doable in one day. For those a bit slower with route finding and roped movement, doing the climb in two days would allow for a spectacular bivy along the way.

Most round-trips into the Chehalis Range are easily accomplished in three days from Washington. One day for the approach, one to climb, and one to hike out. That having been said, it would be a shame not to spend a few days in this remote and scenic place. A 4-5 day trip would allow for a climb or two and a more relaxed pace.

Mount Bardean from the Viennese Clark Traverse.

From most of the summits in the Chehalis, the North Cascades are in plain view, including Mount Baker to the south. The deep valleys and long ridges of the range all add to the alpine flavor of this seldom visited corridor of the Pacific Northwest.

The approach gully on the Viennese-Clarke Traverse

The full length of the Vienesse-Clarke
traverse follows the white ridge crest.

Just below the summit of Viennese.

Regrouping on the way down from Viennese.

Descending Recourse on the way to Clarke.

Looking back along the crest of the Viennese-Clarke traverse.

Seth Hobby boulders a section
of ridge on the way to Recourse.

On the summit of Clarke at the end of
the Viennese-Clarke traverse, Chehalis Range, BC.

--Coley Gentzel

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