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Summer Camp 2002

Sir Sandford

by Jacqueline Louie
Photos by Ray Van Nes



Mt. Sir Sandford. It’s a place you’ll never forget.

"I could have stayed for another week!" says Iain Combres, a participant in last summer’s Mt. Sir Sandford camp, organized by ACC Calgary. "What a magical place that was! The views from the summits were amazing."

Sir Sandford Glacier Looking West Combres was one of 49 ACC members from across Canada who took part in the self-catered, self-guided section camp last August, based out of the ACC’s Great Cairn Hut in B.C.’s northern Selkirks. It’s an incredibly spectacular area with a wide variety of objectives, ranging from easy scrambling to serious. During the three-week camp, ACC members summited 10 peaks: Alpina Dome, Belvedere, Big Black Friar, Citadel, Guardsman, Guardsman’s Daughter, Palisade, Redan, Sir Sandford, and Silvertip. Silvertip mountain, with its majestic views of Sir Sandford and the Adamants, was one of the most popular trips. "I enjoyed Silvertip because of the variety of the climb - creek crossings, scrambling, snow slopes, exposed rock ridges and the view from the summit," one participant says. But it was Sir Sandford (3,530 metres) that was the huge draw: 21 ACC members reached the summit and at least a dozen more made an attempt.

This is how Ted Davis of Victoria remembers Mt. Sir Sandford: "I had climbed mountains as large and challenging as Sir Sanford before. Indeed, in 1973, Budge Gierke and I climbed the North Ridge - a considerably more difficult route than what we were contemplating now. But that was nearly 30 years ago . . . (At the ACC camp), I was restless because of an irritating chronic shoulder injury and a sort of global self-doubt. But at 3 a.m. there were enough stars in the sky to attempt the climb, and once up, I started to feel better. So the four of us - Doug and Wendy Hogg, Gretchen Whetham and myself - set off by headlamp from the Great Cairn Hut," Davis says.

"My doubts about my fitness evaporated as we climbed toward the col, and I felt confident as the sun broke through the clouds at dawn. Doug leading, we short-roped up the westside ledges. These ledges, although technically easy, were exposed, and route finding took some care. It was novel for me not to be leading, but I noted that Doug took about the same route I would have taken, and everyone seemed stable enough that we weren’t going to have some sort of regrettable epic. Finally, by the time Doug put in ice screws for a belay at the base of the Hourglass - I knew that I was a strong member of a good team, and if the weather held, we would all make the summit."

"This climb was probably the most serious I have done in a decade, and was enjoyable and satisfying as a climb can be: a beautiful mountain, a challenging but not terrifying route, and good trustworthy companions."

Ted Davis, Doug and Wendy Hogg and Gretchen Whetham were the first of two teams heading up Mt. Sir Sandford that day; close behind were Tim Jellard, Gordon Gruber, and Martin Gleixner.

Sir Sandford and Ravelin Diane Colwell, an ACC member from Calgary, remembers watching both parties on Mt. Sir Sandford: "Maurice De St. Jorre and I went on a sightseeing trip to Minaret col to check out the rock on that incredible spire between Sir Sandford and Vidette Peak. Along the way we caught glimpses of both Sir Sandford teams going up the glacier, heard the action from the radio reports and were thrilled to hear that all had summited. For me, a highlight of the trip was being in the welcoming group when the climbers returned, and taking photographs of those beaming, exhausted faces. Listening to the first stories of the mountain’s unrelenting difficulties was awesome," says Colwell, who deeply admires the generosity and goodwill of so many Alpine Club members in teaching and supporting climbers of all abilities. "Being part of the history and tradition of the ACC, with its emphasis on co-operation and camaraderie, is a special thing."

Another participant, a self-described second year climbing novice, also praises the opportunity to learn. "I appreciated that the more experienced climbers were prepared to have me along, were patient and offered good advice. The location was great with a huge variety of accessible climbs." One classic alpine climb was Belvedere: "a long time on snow bridges working around the toe of the Silvertip glacier, trudging across the glacial plain, then a snow slope topped off by scrambling over big granite blocks to the summit."

Belevedere, Black Friar Another party - Iain Combres, Shaun Fluker and Mark Lane - also enjoyed their trip to Belvedere, climbing Azimuth mountain along the way. Belvedere was "an easy scramble that afforded views of mountains, icefields and valleys in all directions," Lane says.

While nearly all of the climbs during the section camp went without incident, there was one accident: Doug Miller was hurt descending Palisade ridge. Miller’s regular climbing partner, Vic Bell, describes what happened: "Doug Miller was walking sideways across the snow slope when his foot slipped. He tried to arrest with his ice axe, but it was pulled from his hand in the first moments. He was trying to grab it again as it hung from his wrist strap above him. He accelerated faster and faster and hit the rocks at the bottom before he was able to get his axe." Miller noted later that he had just moved down steeper snow slopes further up the mountain, and had negotiated many similar slopes in the past. "I don't think he was complacent about the slope, but he didn't anticipate losing the hold on his axe or the speed of his slide," Bell says. Recovery has gone well for Miller, who broke a hip joint in the accident. Looking back, the experience has hammered home the importance of practicing self-arrest. "I could have been more cautious in hindsight, but I didn’t think I was taking unnecessary chances," Miller says.

Overall, the section camp offered something for everyone, and came with some of the comforts of home. Participants and all gear were flown in by helicopter. The Great Cairn Hut served as a gathering place to cook, store food, eat and talk. Participants set up their tents nearby, in lush alpine meadows filled with flowers.

"The hut provided a cozy central meeting place, complete with the comfort of camping chairs and tables," says one participant, who also praised the organization that went into the entire camp. "Communications were top-notch with radios and a satellite phone. Trips were organized the night before, people happily pitched in to do hut duties and extra tasks if they were in camp for the day."

Camp organizer Bill Marriott enjoyed every minute of the camp - even the sleepless night spent praying for four of their group who were bivyed in a snowstorm at 10,000 feet on Mt. Sir Sandford. "The only thing I enjoyed more was being able to give them all a hug when they finally staggered back into camp." Joe Turnham on Silvertip A Saturday morning 'deadline' scramble up Silvertip mountain, while the rest were nursing hangovers from the end-of-the-week party, "had three of us giggling like kids," Marriott recalls. Also part of the experience was being woken at high camp by a helicopter at 6 a.m. - "which did not enhance my respect for heli-climbing, but then it got me thinking . . . weren’t we doing the same thing but only to a lesser degree?"

Held in a different location each summer, the Calgary section camp is becoming more popular with every passing year. "It looks like this type of trip is gathering the momentum it needs to carry on," Marriott says.