"Yak Peak is the spectacular alpine summit near the top of the Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope, an immense graceful sweep of south-facing granite tapering to an elegant peak".
For years my friend Sean has put this route on his wish list and this year we tried to make it work. We had planned to climb it over the September long weekend, but plans changed, as they often do. We then tried to make it happen for later in the month, but that didn't work either.
When Bill and I left Squamish a few days earlier than planned on account of him tweaking his leg, my thoughts drifted back to Yak Peak, which we would pass on our drive back home. I texted my friend Paul, and within 20 minutes we had a new plan. He would leave Calgary a few days earlier on his way to visit his family in Vancouver for the long weekend. We planned to meet at the Zopkios parking lot near Coquihalla summit at 6am on Thursday.
After visiting Bill's family in the Fraser Valley, we left for Hope and spent two relaxing days there, camping, visiting the public library to gather information on the route, and doing a reconn hike of the approach trail and the start of the route. The approach trail is well described in the Select Climbs of the West and is clearly marked and cairned. From the parking lot, it took us about 50 minutes to the base of the route. Bill would not be climbing the route with us on account of his leg, but he was enthused by this project as much as I was.
The Pre-Dawn StartWe had planned to climb a route called "Yak Check", which is a combination of two routes on the Peak, one called "Yak Crack" and the other called "Reality Check". The guidebook states that the best time to climb this peak is June-September. It was now already October 4, so we knew that we'd have to contend with colder weather and shorter days. To beat the shorter days, we'd have to start early, accepting the colder temps that accompany a pre-dawn start.
Paul's car read -5C as he approached the Zopkios parking lot, so we activated a set of hot shots, packed our puffies and tuques and set off! Soon enough our hands and torsos were warmed by the uphill hike, but our toes remained frozen. We started on Pitch 1 shortly after 7am in plenty of light, but it wasn't until the top of Pitch 2 that the sunlight would warm the rock face and start to thaw our toes. We continued to belay with gloves throughout the day.
|Paul climbing Pitch 2|
Pitch 3 to 5 consist of beautiful crack climbing, most of it in the very friendly yellow cam hand size.
|Paul climbing Pitch 3|
This is my favorite size and I find it typically quite enjoyable. What I didn't expect is the how stiff cold toes can get and how torquing them in the cracks can be quite unpleasant. Ouch! I informed Paul that the temperature had remained a steady 4C throughout the initial pitches - it was like climbing inside a refrigerator!
|Looking down at Pitch 4|
Still, we made good progress, climbing through the bush to get through the Pitch 4 belay station and then getting to lunch ledge on top of Pitch 5 in good time.
|Looking down from Pitch 4 bolted station|
|Looking down from Pitch 5 bolted station|
These first few pitches are quite clean and nice. There is little loose rock, except in the low angle grooves and near the trees and bushes.
The next few pitches angle back towards the right along faint grooves and corners. The gear is thin in places and the climbing can be somewhat runout.
|Paul climbing Pitch 6 (or was it Pitch 7?)|
We found Pitch 8 to be challenging and our pace slowed down. Pitch 8 is a long 55 m 5.9 pitch, which I split into two parts by setting up a station halfway at the bushy tree below the roof overlaps. The overlaps are well protected by placing cams below the roofs, but pulling through the bulge on the small and at times crumbly holds was committing. From here, the gear got smaller (small blue alien cam size) as did the holds. At times, I would put a micro-cam in a flake, only to see the flake flex from the camming action. Needless to say, I did not place these cams, not even "for my mother".
|Paul near top of Pitch 8|
The final move to get to the Pitch 8 station was easy enough, but the rock crumbled under our feet and it was a challenge to find hand and foot holds that we could trust. It was unsettling.
It was now 1pm and while we expected we would have time to complete the route, we were not keen on climbing more "oatmeal" granite. The guidebooks hinted that the rock quality deteriorated for the next few pitches, so we decided to rappel the route from this point. We texted Bill to share our plans. His reply came "Why bail now?". A good question, which we addressed with our reply "Cold, windy, crumbly rock and frayed nerves". That summed it up.
|"Oatmeal" granite on Pitch 9|
The top of Pitch 8 is the start of the recommended rappel route and we thought we'd find it equipped with rap rings. As it turns out, the bolted stations on the Yak Crack route were in better shape than those on Reality Check (the rap line).
|Pitch 1 - 8 of Yak Crack|
The most most unsettling rap station was the one missing a hanger (see below). A previous party had left a nut in its place. We gingerly rapped from this station to the next one.
Bill had patiently spent the day in Hope, reading and playing guitar, waiting for our return. After he received our text, he drove back, met us on the trail along the highway and treated us to beer and burgers. It was nice to get out of the wind, warm up our toes and review the day's adventure.
|Paul and I after rappelling from Yak Crack|
On a warm summer day next season you might see us back up on that wall, exploring the last few pitches and topping out. Perhaps we'll bring crazy glue for the oatmeal granite!