Labour Day Summit

Elevation Gain: 1,623m
Distance: 13.27km
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.

Lots of cars parked for the various climbing and hiking objectives in the area
Nicely maintained trail!
A cool bridge across Nesakwatch Creek
The Chinese Puzzle Wall across the valley
Mount Slesse from the memorial plaque
It’s smoky to say the least
Our first view of Labour Day Summit (L) and Station D (R)
Our camp site in front of our objectives
A closer look. Note the fracture glacier centre left.

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.

Starting up the slabs above camp
Slesse is huge from the base
Hiking up some lateral moraine
A stretch of heather to reach the next section of slabs
Finding a way down to the slabs now
A short section of glacier to cross
Easy slabs from here
The start of Station D’s north buttress route
Not worth lingering here
Andrea making the crossing
A quick glance at the route while we get out of the way
Nearing the start

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.

The route up close
Andrea ready to climb!
Scrambling up
Starting the lead
Easy climbing above
Looking down at Andrea above that crack

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.

Pitch 2
A stuck cam in a weird spot
Andrea on lead!
Looking above that clean section of rock reveals the typical terrain on the route
Looking down at Andrea and now starting pitch 3
The route above
Looking back down pitch 3
Andrea climbing 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 on pitch 4 climbing a fun but short dihedral
Looking up the dihedral
Higher up pitch 4
Starting to get some views of Station D’s summit block. It apparently goes at 5.7
The splitter finger crack on pitch 5 was just out of reach 🙁
This will have to do!
Looking back down
There’s Andrea at the belay station

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.

Looking up pitch 6
Propellor Cairn in the distance. Can you see our tent?!
Andrea leading pitch 6
Andrea searching around for the best route above
Near the end of pitch 6
Looking down at Andrea from the start of pitch 7. You can likely just scramble from here
The remainder of pitch 7
Now the terrain eases off
Andrea seconding up the last pitch

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.

Myself on the summit
Nesakwatch Spires and Mount Rexford from the summit. All three completed in separate trips.
Mount Larabee, American Border Peak and Canadian Border Peak. I did CBP earlier in the year
The east ridge up Station D
Andrea and I on the summit
Looking down the east face. There may be a line, but it looked challenging
Station D and Mount Slesse

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.

Starting the scramble down
Cliffed out above the notch
Andrea rappelling down
Done with the rope now
Traversing towards this ridge low point
Andrea in front of Station D
A view of the ridge low point and somewhere to rappel to
But it cliffs out down there…

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.

Regaining the upper ridge
Looking down the ridge…
and the cirque below! It goes!
Sunset behind Station D and Slesse

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.

Scrambling down the ridge
Getting lower in the cirque
A reasonable line can be found down this
Last stretch of slab in the dark
Headlamps visible across the valley below Nesakwatch Spires
Sorting our way through the dark

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.

A less smokey view of Labour Day Summit in the morning
Hiking out
We stopped by the bridge for a cold plunge

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.

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