Elevation Gain: 1640m
Total Time: 13 hours 30 minutes
Date: October 5th, 2022
Mount Rexford is the highest summit along the ridge system that’s comprised of the Illusion Peaks, Nesakwatch Spires and a number of others further South. Like its neighbors, Rexford boasts a steep vertical profile made of huge granite blocks perched sky high above the Nesakwatch basin. I had been in the area a few months prior to climb North and South Nesakwatch Spires with Winnie. Now, I was returning to finish up the final summit and take some friends who were new to alpine climbing out for a first technical ascent. When I originally climbed the spires, the plan was to do Rexford, but we had run out of water and had to bail beforehand. Based on my previous research, I knew this summit went about 5.5 on the West Ridge and then 5.6-5.7 to gain the true summit. This seemed like the perfect grade to start with and most reports seemed to indicate only a few short pitches of climbing.
Given that there were four of us, we decided to split out into two rope teams with separate gear for both. This isn’t necessarily more time efficient, but gives both friends an opportunity to learn a bit more with an individual follower/leader set up. Andrea would lead one team with our friend Alex and I would lead for Jacob. We planned to leave Vancouver around 6am and that would give us about 10-11 hours of daylight by the time we reached the trail head. Andrea and I were leaving for a road trip Thursday, so we set Wednesday as our leave day. Unfortunately, there was dense fire smoke in the area, but the forecast seemed to indicate some clearing by 8am with a full-force return by 5pm. That wasn’t going to stop us, so Wednesday it was.
As is often the case, I was running about 20 minutes behind and didn’t end up leaving Vancouver until 6:30am or so. Alex met us at my place and then we drove over to pick Jacob up. We reached the trail head around 9am, being able to drive past the wash out that originally stopped Winnie and I a few months ago. The valley was chocked with thick smoke, much thicker than the forecast called for. Too late now though. We started up the remainder of the service road and ascended up through the well-trodden climbers trail to the Nesakwatch basin. It was slower going, thanks to the dense smoke and everyone’s keen desire to avoid hard exertion of the lungs.
By 1PM we reached the base of the West Ridge route and ditched a few pieces of gear before starting the scramble up. There was a one long running ridge that ran in parallel with the prominent West Ridge and it wasn’t clear if they were one and the same. Nonetheless we climbed higher to get a view. The terrain was a mix of difficult and exposed steps interspersed with large ledge systems. We had to make careful and deliberate movements as there were not shortage of places to fall. As we gained higher we did eventually see that ridge connected to the main West Ridge. Alex lead us to the base of a heather ramp where we re-grouped. Then we scrambled up a short 4th class gully before reaching the top of the long broad West Ridge.
Here we had a great view of the West summit tower and it certainly looked imposing from our vantage. We scrambled along the easy ridge terrain until reaching the base of the West summit tower. At the base, we spotted some cairns and followed those around to the north side along a broad ledge system and then up a short 5th class gully. From the top of the gully, we located the 5.5 climbing pitch that would take us to the top of the West summit. The route looked quite manageable so we just geared up with harness and climbing shoes, but didn’t bother taking the rope out. I lead us up to the top on largely clean rock, but a few spooky blocks presented themselves here and there. Certainly a route to double check your hand holds on.
At the top of this pitch I had a clear view of the middle and eastern (true) summit. I had read in reports that you need to climb over the middle summit to reach the start of the final climbing pitch on the east summit tower. So, I did just that and ascended up a cool flake on the short middle tower and then up and over to have a look at the east summit tower. Andrea, Jacob and Alex followed shortly after and now we all stood just a few meters from the last pitch. There was a long down sloping slab before the vertical pitch/crux and we had to think out the best way to belay the leader.
We had hauled two rope teams worth of gear up, but now having not even used any of it until this point, we ditched the original plan. To speed things up, Andrea was going to lead with one rope twinned up and then my 8mm x 60m rope as a tag line with Jacob, Alex and myself attached to one end each respectively. Rather than belay from the large ledge below the middle summit tower, I slung a block at the base of the slab below the last pitch for a better stance.
Andrea took the lead and cruised half-way up before encountering some world-class rope drag. She battled it out and eventually pulled through all the final moves before setting up an anchor on the summit. I was on the tag line, so I climbed up first to free the twinned rope from it’s rope-drag doom. The pitch consisted mostly of large blocks with easy edges/foot holds to pull off of. There was one V-shaped chimney to stem up, but it was fairly trivial and the remaining moves were low fifth. Overall, not very challenging or engaging and a long ways to haul the rope up for.
Alex and Jacob followed up next and at last all four of us stood on the summit. The smoke was too thick to get a full perspective of the area, but it did make for a cool dystopian style view all around. We located a rappel anchor on the north side and I rappelled first with a bit of awkward traversing move to get back to the slab section at the base. I didn’t have much descent beta, but I kept track of all the rap anchors we spotted on the way up and figured we could just follow those all the way down.
Jacob and the rest rappelled shortly after and then we switched over to approach shoes and started our way back. I was originally going to re-climb the middle summit but thought I’d peak around the side where a nice ledge system was present. Sure enough, no climbing was required and we could simply bypass the whole middle tower to reach the west tower. At the west tower, there was another rappel anchor that took the rope all the way to the base of the 5.5 gully pitch. I rappelled first again and found the next anchor that Alex had pointed out on the way up. We did one last rappel to the ledge system on the north side and then scrambled our way down the west ridge again.
There was one more rappel anchor above the Nesakwatch-Rexford col, however I had descended that gully previously and it was memorably unpleasant. So, the ridge it was. Alex and I followed the West ridge all the way to the end and then located another rappel anchor above the heather ramp we had ascended. We rappelled this too and then located one last anchor that would take us down a gully and onto steep scree before reaching the boulder field. This seemed quicker than down climbing the remaining ridge. Alex and Jacob went first to go retrieve their stashed gear, meanwhile Andrea and I could make a more direct line towards the trail head.
Everyone made it down successfully and then I followed, this time with the head lamp out as the sun had faded to darkness. The gully was over hanging and awkward to rappel, but otherwise uneventful. There was a short, crappy descent on the tamer part of the gully at the bottom and then onto easy terrain again. From there we made the 2+ hour plod back to the truck over relatively easy trails and boulder fields.
Rexford is the tallest in the group, but not doubt the least engaging climbing. For us, most of it could be scrambled or soloed without too much trouble and so hauling all that gear up ended up being weight training. The views are still amazing and Rexford itself is exceptionally aesthetic, so well worth the day out when it’s all said and done. Just don’t expect nice sustained 5.5 to 5.7 pitches. I’d say a great summit for a first alpine climb outing.