Elevation Gain: 1,623m
Total Time: 14 hours 38 minutes
Date: August 5th, 2023
Labour Day Summit (aka Labour Day Horn) is an unofficially named peak on the southern end of Slesse Mountain’s long-reaching ridge line. It’s so called for the “Labour Day Buttress” route up the north buttress; first ascended by Dick Culbert, Paul Starr and Fred Douglass in 1974. Since then the summit hasn’t seen a ton of attention, at least in the online space. The beta seems limited to a few sentences in various guidebooks, crude route lines on zoomed out photos and a mention or two on forums like CascadeClimber. This lack of information is always a draw for me and given the standard route is 6-7 pitches of 5.7/8 climbing up an aesthetic buttress, it’s hard not to be tempted.
Andrea and I had been thinking about Labour Day Summit and it’s neighbour Station D for some time since first reading about them and now for the August long weekend the weather lined up to make an attempt on them. Climbing these summits would also give the added bonus of scoping out the Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse as well. Our plan was pretty simple; hike in early Saturday morning to climb Labour Day Summit, camp and then climb the north buttress of Station D on the following day with a hike out after.
We woke up at 5am Saturday morning, drove out to the Slesse Memorial trail head and hauled our heavy packs up the surprisingly tame trail to the Propellor Cairn. I was expecting an approach like the Nesakwatch Spires, just across the road, but found a minted trail instead (Nesakwatch really isn’t all bad, just adding for comparison). A nearby fire had filled the valley floor with a modest amount of smoke, so we kept the exertion down where possible and reached the memorial site after a 3 hour cruise up. There was a perfectly assembled bivy site near the cairn with no occupants so we quickly set up our tent and then took a long lunch break.
From our vantage we had to crane our necks up to take in the imposing east face of Mount Slesse. Marking it’s northern boundary was none other than the Northeast Buttress an impressive route both up close and afar. Looking south we could see both of our objectives and this head on view made the routes appear near vertical. At the base of the Labour Day Buttress route a large section of fractured glacier looked ready to slide across our ascent path. Neither of us were keen on spending the looking weekend squashed under a chunk of ice, so we decided we should get a closer look and bail if it was not manageable.
We left camp just before 1pm and hike across the vast slabs at the base of Mount Slesse before a heather side hilling session took us to the next section of glacial bed rock. A bit of route finding was required to get around some bluffs and then we traversed for a kilometer or so on tame slabs towards the base of Labour Day Buttress. As we neared the ice fall area, we found that a large bench and funnel greatly reduced the area of exposure to the teetering blocks of snow above. We made a quick sprint to safer ground and continued on our way; scrambling around to the base of the route. The closer we got the less imposing the route became and while there were few question marks higher up it looked manageable.
A diagonal hand crack seemed to mark the start of the route and from below it appeared to be something we could scramble up. We geared up, but left the rope on the bag and I started my way up. As I got underneath the crack it revealed its more vertical nature so I opted to take a short foot ledge out right, but that too turned more exposed and challenging than I expected. I backed off and asked Andrea for a belay and racked up while she flaked out the rope. Now with the confidence of some modern climbing equipment around my waist, I jammed my way up, placing two pieces before a mossy exit. Now came the theme of the day, a stretch of steep heather interspersed with stout granite ledges and occasional 5.7/8 moves. I ran the rope out about 50m, but needed to stay in ear shot of Andrea below. Pitch 2 was just ahead with a fun looking wide crack and corner system, but I belayed Andrea up first before we moved the anchor closer to the next pitch.
Andrea took the lead next and climbed an excellent looking line up a widening crack with a fun corner to stem into. She exited out climber’s left when it got into off-width territory (hand size dependent) and ran the rope out to the next granite ledge above. I seconded up and stuck to the wide-crack finding excellent fist jams and then thin hands higher up. Now I took the lead and crashed my way through vertical krummholtz before a 4m wall blocked my progress. Some pre-excavated cracks offered protection while I pulled a fun sequence of moves to gain the sandy top above. Unfortunately, I create some heavy rope drag in the process, so I continued only 10m further before belaying Andrea up.
The next pitch was on theme with a number of steep granite steps, heather and one crack corner around 5.7 to keep things fun. Andrea cruised up with ease and we laid eyes on the next section. For pitch 5 we received the siren call of a 4-5m finger crack just beyond the belay. I excitedly climbed up a few blocks to gain the base of it before discovering it only started 8 feet above the ledge. Short of aiding up the low section, or pulling some blank hold wizardy there was no way to reach this garden of eden. I reluctantly traversed climber’s right in search of something else and found a moderate slab split off from the main wall by a 6″ crack running up its entirety. This still looked fun! I wormed my way up the crack (one could easily slab climb, but who doesn’t like off-width?) and then climbed a few more steps to reach a good belay.
Andrea came up next and we briefly debated scrambling the rest of the route. However, the ropes out and who knows there could be some tricky blocks ahead. Sure enough, Andrea found a few steps that made the rope a nice addition and then we found ourselves within one last pitch to the summit. I took the final lead and climbed up a short lichen covered stretch of slab before the route eased of completely. From there it was a scrambled up to the summit ridge where I belayed Andrea up. We ditched the rope and headed over to the true summit for an hour of view admiration.
After getting lost in the surroundings for a bit too long, we noticed the sun nearing the horizon and so it was time to get moving. Truth be told, neither of us had given the descent too much research (not that there is much anyways) as we were mostly concerned with the climbing. Now looking at the descent photo from the Alpine Select book it appeared we could just scramble off of Labour Day. Looking around the proposed eastern line it all appeared to be low 5th. A rappel cord at the top seemed to indicate we weren’t the only ones who thought so too. Perhaps there’s a line up this east side, but unless you came up it, it would be challenging to find an easy way down. From the summit ridge earlier, we had noticed tamer ledges and heather slopes on the north west side and figured we may be able to just scramble all the way to the notch between Station D and Labour Day.
So scramble we did… until we got cliffed out 20m above the notch. No matter, we brought webbing for just such an occasion. I setup an anchor while Andrea flaked out the rope and then she took the lead down the notch. I came next and we pulled the rope without issue. Now we traversed a ways along the south western cirque reaching a low point along the southern ridge. We scoped out some descent options as a single rappel appeared like it would take us onto the bench below. The topo also showed this talus bench would take us all the way back to camp. However, I looked further down the ridge a noticed a vertical section of ridge line protruding above the ridge. It blocked progress along the bench and while it didn’t appear on the topo it was tall enough to likely require climbing out and over.
We took another look at McLane’s descent beta again and decided we might as well stick to that. I was little apprehensive about this beta as he made no mention of a rappel on Labour Day and had called for only two rappels on Mount Bardean when it took us 7 in total. Adding a bit to the pressure was the impending darkness as the sun had made its exit from the horizon. Oh well, we had everything we needed to improvise, so we regained the ridge above us and discovered what appeared to be a reasonable descent line after all.
I lead us east down the ridge for about 40m before scrambling down to a cirque on the east side. We trended skier’s left and located a class 3 line through the slabs below. Half way down the head lamps came out, but we managed to navigate the slabs without further issue and reached the talus field below. We side hilled along the talus, contouring around Labour Day and did our best in the pitch dark to get back to camp. Overall, we managed to avoid any challenges and we were back on the slabs above camp after an hour long session of tedious talus hopping.
We reached camp around 11PM a lot later than expected and crashed out after a late night dinner. Before passing out, we made a pact to skip out on Station D as neither of us was keen to repeat the descent. I slept a solid 8 hours without stirring, an unusual feat for me, before waking up to a bright sunny morning. Slowly we tore down the camp site and then made a leisurely descent back to the truck; arriving back around 12:30PM.
With the mystery solved, I have to say this is a super fun outing for a short day trip from propellor cairn. While it’s not sustained and there’s only a handful of good climbing sections, I had a blast. The views are phenomenal, the route protects well and I think this makes for a great multi pitch for those wanting to try something up to 5.8 but without an overly committing line up.