Achilles. Fucking. Spire.
It just sounds EPIC with a name like that.
This route has been on my to do list for ages, but Katherine and Christine (my usual rope guns) had already climbed it so it just never seemed to be what we landed on as a weekend mission.
It's a shame, because Achilles Spire is awesome. It's 12 bolted pitches of climbing up 300m of good rock on an incredible spire on Mount Andromanche. A super aesthetic alpine climb that's fully bolted and moderate to boot - it goes at 5.8 and not a old school 5.8 - a modern, don't shit your pants 5.8. Bring a 60m rope, 10 draws (plus a couple of spares), a sense of adventure and you're good to go. I kept hearing about how it was an incredible day of 5.fun but just never got out there.
Finally my weekend came - I had a willing partner, but it meant I was going to be swinging leads which despite the mellow grade was going to be a challenge for my notoriously awful lead head.
Saturday morning we found ourselves dumping the car at the Hector Creek parking lot and starting up the Hector Creek Trail. The approach climbs up between Andromanche and Hector following the South side of the creek until you reach the top of a waterfall at the toe of a hanging valley. There, you cross the creek and then follow the absolute sea of cairns trending North towards the prominent spires. The route description warns you not to confuse Achilles Spire with the spire to the right of it. Worth checking their photo.
Anyway, at the bottom of the route, we unfortunately discovered that there were at least a couple of other parties above us and it didn't really look like the party in front of us was moving super quickly. On the flip side the weather was perfect, the company was decent and we weren't even in a huge rush, so we decided to hang out at the base for a bit so we wouldn't crowd anyone.
I led the first pitch and from there we swapped back and forth as we sort of leisurely worked our way up the route. The rock quality is great, the views of Hector are incredible, so instead of getting stressed about the relaxed pace making a long day longer, we just settled in to a cruise-y and casual day punctuated by hanging out on the bigger belay ledges to kill time.
The grading felt pretty fair, the bolts felt really well placed, and the whole line is just crazy aesthetic. I absolutely understand why this route is in such high demand and has become a bit of a classic.
Many of the pitches are longer than 30m but to keep things easily retreatable, there are mid-stations on the longer pitches for rappelling back down. Reading the (excellent) route description is super useful - which we discovered after the first time we accidentally stopped at a mid-station, dividing a 50m pitch into two 25s. 25m is long enough to be believable so it isn't always intuitive if something's a punctuated long pitch or a couple of shorter ones.
Really the only issue with the route is rope drag - bring a bunch of alpine draws, because the route is classic 'Rockies rambly', crisscrossing across an arrete in a number of places and rope drag can get pretty epic at times.
The descent involves 15 rappels to get down to the ground. This is one route where rapping on doubles really isn't going to save you much time - your rope is going to get tangled, stuck, and just basically be a pain to manage on a number of the pitches so just suck it up and come to terms with 15 rappels.
Once back down on the ground we (mostly) retraced our footsteps and headed back to the car. There's lots of crisscrossing trails, all seem to take you where you're going so as long as you're headed in the right general direction, you should be fine.
So, key takeaways - incredibly fun route, epic setting, nicely bolted and enough people know how great it is that if you can, I'd climb it on a weekday. Ultimately, Achilles is now officially one of my favorite routes.
Despite the slow moving traffic, we were car to car in 12 hours. With no traffic and not exactly being a great climber myself, I think it would go for me in 9 or 10 so it's a long, but not crazy, day.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.