Elevation Gain: 1,190m
Total Time: 9 hours 38 minutes
Date: September 21st, 2023
Mount Sloan is sprawling granitic complex of massive ridges, ribs and buttresses that sits on the southern shores of Downton Lake. At 2720m it’s one of the taller summits in SWBC, but it has company with the likes of Mount Truax, Dickson Peak and a host of other 2800+ meter peaks in the area. There are a number of ways to gain the summit but the most common appears to be a 3rd class route published in Matt Gunn’s scrambles book. My friend’s Steven and Elise had done the classic NE Ridge last year and another friend Sarah had climbed an interesting route on the South Central Rib in the previous year as well. All looked like fun options, but this peak didn’t really surface into my memory until last week. Alex and I were hoping to do a mid-week alpine climb somewhere in BC or Washington and our searches were being severely hampered by weather. We were most keen on Washington Pass, but it was calling for frost the day before we’d get there. Most of the SWBC was going to get rain or snow on the Tuesday and then we’d have one day to dry out before our ascent day.
After lots of digging around, looking at weather models and so on, I finally landed on Mount Sloan via the South Central Rib. This route is about 7 pitches up to 5.9 and my friend Sarah was able to provide some beta that made it seem worthwhile. Despite being in the rain shadow, even Sloan was forecast to receive snow on Tuesday. Alex hadn’t been to this area yet, so he was willing to take a chance that we’d get shut down by snow. We had a few factors in our favour, namely that our route was entirely south facing and it was going to be warm and sunny the day we’d arrive. I gave our odds 60/40 and that was enough to head out on an adventure.
We decided to drive out Wednesday evening and camp at the trail head to avoid an extra early start on Thursday. The drive up to Pemberton was uneventful, but as we made our way along the Lillooet River FSR a massive shadow lurched out onto the road. As the road straightened out my headlights revealed a hulking grizzly bear, barely breaking a stride and still outpacing us at 35km/h. It dashed into the forest shortly after. A quick reminder that it’s pre-hibernation season was all it took Alex and I to decide on camping in the truck for the night instead of a tent.
The Hurley was in otherwise good shape and we made it to the Ault Creek FSR around 10PM. I didn’t make it more than 600m before discovering the first of many massive water bars. They were deep enough to scrape the hitch if you didn’t drive slowly, but otherwise straightforward to drive through. After 30+ of these tedious water bars we finally pulled up to the road end and settled in for the night.
I didn’t sleep super well that night, so I was happy when 8am finally rolled around and we could get going. Naturally, the tail end of September offers a good reminder that summer is over and we had to endure a frosty morning start as a result. We both layered up and made a short, but unnecessary bushwhack through the cut block before discovering a proper trail. Neither of us was sure on what to expect in terms of ease of access, but it turned out to be a breeze. We followed flagging and a well established foot bed all the way to the upper lake.
There we were met with a sun filled cirque of granite and a glimpse of the conditions ahead. Snow clung to the north faces, but it seemed that our climbing route on the south face would be snow free after all! We ascended up ~400m of talus and screen through the massive cirque and reached the base of the climb. Thanks to some photos on mountain project the start was really easy to spot. Alex offered the first lead to me, so I geared up and started my way up.
A bit of stemming and a layback lead to a reachy move to a ledge and then I pulled myself out of the blank white corner. From there blocky terrain took me to a final unprotectable arete move on good holds. I walked over to the start of pitch 2 from there and belayed Alex up. Alex lead next and disappeared out of site after the first mini-head wall climbing nearly a full 60m to the start of pitch 3. I climbed up the first mini head wall and then up low angle, but poorly protected face moves into the corner system Alex was belaying from. One short over hang with some stemming took me to the start of pitch 3 with Alex. As we’d find out after Alex had climbed half of pitch 3 as well, so there was some confusion when I pulled only a handful of moves before reaching the long scramble mentioned in pitch 4. One wet corner offered the only challenge and then I rambled up the low angle ridge to the base of a steep, immaculate granite head wall.This head wall boasts a 5.11- variation so we opted to stick to the standard route. I’d certainly love to come back when I’m bit stronger to try this section out in earnest.
Alex swung leads into the crux pitch and initially started up the wrong corner. He back tracked when the route didn’t go and swung around into the next dihedral around the ridge. Just as he placed his first piece a few unlucky wallnuts slipped from his grip and fell below. One he managed to recover with a short down climb but the other disappeared into the descent gully below. With that out of the way, he disappeared up the dihedral. I heard some physical sounding remarks before a shout of excitement as he topped out of the tricky section and headed out of ear shot.
I came up shortly after and found the first dihedral steep, physical and committing. I could see it going at 5.9 but I also felt we were off route and maybe one corner system over from where we needed to be. Nonetheless I made my way up, abandoning one welded shut nut at the base, before reaching the supposed crux of the route. The 5.9 corner was easier than what we just climbed, but also sopping wet in sections. Some fun stemming and good jams higher up got me out of the snow laden corner and we were on our way.
Alex gave me the last two leads since pitch 3 was just a mediocre scramble, so I climbed up an easy ramp before swinging out on to the west side of the rib. Here the climbing stiffened, so I placed a few pieces and battled rope drag to an awkward belay stance. A trusty #0.2 and #0.3 totem with a gold offset secured our station and I belayed Alex up. The final pitch had contradicting beta. One person stated to climb to the right of the obvious rock scars above while another said to stick to the corner system. Either way it looked like multiple routes would work, so I just did a choose your own adventure.
I initially climbed up a block to a section of edges and stemming, but it looked unprotectable so down climbed and went around just left of rock scarred section. From the base of ledge part way up, I had the option to climb right on easy, but soaking wet blocks or a fun looking chimney section above. The chimney looked best, so I placed my first piece at the base of the ledge and pulled a tricky layback to mantle up to the base of the chimney. From there, I pressed myself against one wall and shifted my way up to a solid #0.4 and then stemmed up chicken heads and hand jams all the way out of the chimney. A highlight pitch for sure. The rest of the climbing was easy and I topped out on the ridge shortly after.
Alex came up and then we packed the rope and started the remaining scramble to the summit. As we soon discovered it’s still a ways to the top and we had a few 4th class moves along the way before reaching a long gully that took us the rest of the way to the top. We reached the summit around 3:40PM, about 4 hours after we started the climb. Facing the diminishing daylight hours, we didn’t stick around for long and headed down only 30 minutes later. There’s a secondary high point without a cairn that we quickly visited and then Alex lead us to west along the ridge to the entrance of the descent gully. We had been climbing directly to the right of it the whole time, so it was straightforward to locate.
With that we made good time down the scree gully and even managed to locate Alex’s lost wall nut. At the base of the gully, we found one short 3rd class section to down climb and then we followed our tracks down to the upper lake. I slipped out no less than 3 times on the loose terrain, but my ego made a quick recovery. We circled around the lake and then followed flagging back to Ault Creek where we had a speedy return to the truck. All told it was about 2 hours from summit to truck.
On the way home we stopped at Mile 1 in Pemberton for some burgers and drove the remainder of the way without a semblance of traffic! An excellent mid week adventure to say the least. We got super lucky to avoid the snow as most of the surrounding range was well dressed in white outfit. Adding to that the weekend was calling for copious amounts of rain, so what a perfect time to get out. As for the climb itself? Well you ascend just above the 3rd class gully the entire time, so it’s not very committing and there’s a fair bit of scrambling on most of the route. Pitches 1, 5 and 7 are quite stellar though and overall the route is super clean and solid rock. I’ve been getting used to having to dig out pro or hand-holds this summer and this was a pleasant change. I’d say it’s a worthwhile route in an iconic setting, but the climbing is not the highlight.