Mount Rexford is a seriously pointy piece of granite laced with alpine routes and just a short ways out of Chilliwack, BC. Now, when you think of Chilliwack, BC, you probably don't think of huge, jagged, pointy spires, I mean, from the Trans Canada, it's all rolling hills and farm land. Here, let me google that for you in case you're unfamiliar. See what I mean? Not where you expect to find a bunch of alpine climbs.
Now, you wouldn't know it from my last few trip reports, but I do actually live in Calgary and normally call the Rockies home, but thanks to the vagaries of life and long-distance relationships, I've had the opportunity to knock out a few coastal objectives recently and this past weekend we decided that instead of doing our usual and heading up the Sea to Sky, we'd head east on the Trans Canada and check out Mount Rexford.
Saturday morning, Tash, Christine, and I loaded into Christine's logging road crusher - her Honda Fit - and headed East.
Mount Rexford can be climbed from either the East or the West side. The East side has longer routes but our plan called for us to approach Saturday, climb and get back to the car on Sunday and then somehow have me make a 6am flight back to Calgary on Monday morning. After chatting with a buddy who had had a similar camp to summit to car effort on the East side take 20 hours, we decided that for the sake of my making my flight, we'd stick to the shorter routes on the West side.
Here's a map to the East side/West side decision point on the drive in. We made it to that point without issue in our Honda Fit. When we got to the tee, we turned right since we were headed to a West side route, and if you're headed East, there'a apparently a locked gate you need to get a key for - so uh, go do some research on that logistical faff before you go that way.
We only made it a couple of kilometers up the road before we hit the first water bar and ditched the car to proceed on foot. If you've got a high clearance vehicle you can save yourself A LOT of logging road slogging. But we had a Honda Fit. We did not save ourselves slogging. We slogged.
Thanks to the miracle of Gaia, I've got a full log of the approach. It ain't pretty.
The approach on the West side of Mount Rexford when driving a two wheel drive vehicle goes something like this:
- Walk a few kilometers up a very pleasant logging road while being rewarded with better and better views of the incredible Mt. Slesse
- When you reach a small clearing with a fork in the road where one branch is marked by a Mount Rexford sign, take that branch, complete two switchbacks on an old road bed before the trail itself heads uphill.
- Ascend directly uphill forever.
The approach on the West side of Mount Rexford is so steep, and so sustained, that my ski touring partners should be fucking ecstatic. Why should my ski buddies be happy? Because people often complain that my skin tracks are too steep. My usual response is that switchbacking is a waste of time and we're here to crush vert and shred lines.
Well, I'm a changed man.
Whomever established the trail up to Mount Rexford was the 'me' of that dark and shitty, snow-free time known as summer. Their philosophy? Switchbacks are for the weak. Switchbacks are to be scorned. Anyone who disagrees is to be mocked as the soft and weak.
The trail ascends directly uphill. The only lateral movement is that strictly required to get around obstacles.
Temperatures were high and there's limited water on route and we took what opportunities we could to reload our bottles including a small creek running in the drainage ditch beside the logging road. Once into the gory guts of the climb, we eventually found a creek at about 1200m just as we were starting to worry that 2L each wasn't going to be enough and gladly reloaded again. That was the end of the running water.
We continued our slog up towards a creek marked on the map just below the Alpine and around the 1650m mark where Alpine Select suggests you can find some camp sites. We didn't find running water or any terrain remotely flat enough to pitch a tent so we kept to our slow, uphill death march until we made it to the iconic big flat boulder that is the primo (and already occupied by a couple of climbers bivying) campsite. Luckily there's plenty of other flat boulders big enough to support a tent.
For future reference, we were there in late July and there was absolutely no running water to be found at camp - just a few snow patches that provided snow to melt on the stove. Next time I'm headed out there, I'm bringing my big black MSR Dromedary to fill with snow to get some solar melt going (some people use black garbage bags but they aren't exactly food safe and get holes easily which can result in losing all your hard won water). Much later in the season water would be a serious issue.
With parking at a whopping 450m elevation and camping at nearly 1950m, it was a pretty tough day with big overnight packs and we were pretty stoked to get to camp.
While Christine and Tash did useful things like set up tents and inflate sleeping pads, I was my typical useless self and ran around taking photos.
While the East side sports longer routes, the West side is worth a visit if only for the sunset. As golden hour descended, bathing peaks and faces in a beautiful honey coloured light, we were treated to arguably one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. Even if you don't climb, you owe it to yourself to go spend a quiet evening at the base of Mount Rexford.
The West Ridge of Mount Rexford
With a somewhat less than alpine start on Sunday morning, we sauntered out of camp and started our approach the ridge proper. The first step is to gain an upper basin and access a prominent gully that climbs up and to the right to gain the ridge. Even with the low levels of snow, we had to cross some snow to access the gully, but things were soft enough that it was no issue, even in approach shoes.
We were presented with two options for accessing the mouth of the gully. We could climb a snow slope or cross a short patch of snow and then use a fourth class scramble to access it. Given our approach shoes, we decided on rock over snow.
Once into the gully, well, that was full of snow too. Luckily, it had receded enough that we could sneak up the deep moat instead of transferring to snow.
The head of the gully presented our first technical challenge of the day. The left wall which we would have to ascend was soaking wet and covered in slimy moss. Luckily, we had a rope gun and we tied a rope to Christine who made a few impressively committing moves on wet rock and scrambled out the top. She then belayed Tash and I up to join her.
Clear of the gully, we found ourselves at the base of the ridge and the first step was either a doozy for a scramble or an easy super short pitch for a climb. It was a common theme on the climb. Short, three move sections of low fifth climbing. Some we committed to, some we sent our rope gun Christine up who would then drop a rope down to us after setting up a gear belay.
Once on the ridge proper, it flattened out dramatically. We had the option of either following the crest of the ridge (aesthetic) or dropping off the climber's right side a bit (fast) and elected for the more aesthetic line. It's got some scrambly bits, but is more of a hike than anything until you make it to the base of the summit pinnacle.
The pinnacle itself though, well, that's finally some climbing. It started off with a few sections with short lived difficulties that we either solo'd through or pitched out depending on the exposure. After a couple of pitches we reached an upper plateau. There's three options that look like summit possibilities when you get up there. If you go west, there a short ramp to a cairn that marks the false summit visible from camp. Next, there's a short pinnacle in the middle and finally to the East, hidden by the pinnacle, you can find the true summit. Gaining the true summit involves crossing a shallow, exposed ramp and then a single pitch of climbing that goes at low fifth.
When we got to the summit, we were immediately overwhelmed by a horrifying cloud of flying-ant-bug-things. This was somewhat of a damper on the summit experience so we ran away as fast as possible, setting up a 30m rappel that got us down the face and back across the ramp.
Getting off Mount Rexford was easy. We basically just reversed the route. We found plenty rappel anchors built from slung features and when inspecting the tat, all of them were in good conditions so we didn't even need to leave any of our own behind.
Descending to camp took a couple of hours due to the number of rappels involved but soon enough we were back in camp where we finished packing all of our gear and headed out the trail.
As with the hike up, water was a major issue on the way down in the scorching heat, but by taking advantage of the creek at 1200m, we managed to get enough water to not straight up die in the heat.
The last bit of logging road back to the car was actually really pleasant, the grade is easy enough that it's comfortable walking and the final kilometers actually melt away.
If I Was Doing It Again
If I was going to do the West Ridge route again, I'd just do it as a day trip. The 1500m into camp is a slog with a heavy pack and it would have gone way faster without being weighed down. From camp, the summit is only about 400m of elevation gain and the whole thing would make a super doable day trip.
Even better, if I was going back to do one of the more difficult routes, I'd go the opposite way and go up for three or four days. A little extra food wouldn't make the hike in much harder and if I'm going to fight my way up that trail again, I'd rather get more than a single route out of it. There's a ton of incredible looking routes up both Rexford and the neighbouring spires and I'd love to spend a long weekend banging out everything I can. Dairyland for example looks like an incredible route.
Regardless, the whole weekend was fantastic. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, the rock quality is great, the terrain is super interesting and I just so happened to be there with two crazy awesome people.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.