After enjoying our 4 hour ascent of the north ridge on Assiniboine we were feeling like we might just make it down to Lunette lake before dark. The only problem? Well, as it turns out - the SW face of the big 'A' is not quite as trivial as some might lead you to believe, especially if you didn't ascend that way! While nobody claims it's easy, there are some trip reports on the internet of folks so-called scrambling the SW face. I re-read these trip reports after descending it myself and have concluded that these were all free solo climbs and not really scrambling at all. I think people should not be misled into thinking the SW face of Assiniboine offers an 'easy' route to the summit - in my opinion it has more objective hazard than the North Ridge route due to loose rock, tough route finding and snow / ice on route. You've been warned! :-)
The shortest term I can use to describe the SW face is "harrowing". A few more? "Loose", "Exposed", "Loose"... It was quite nasty. By the time we finally got low enough to re-ascend Lunette we both knew that we weren't getting back quite as quickly as we thought. We had already rapped twice just to get here and although there were some cairns (thank goodness), they didn't avoid some pretty serious terrain.
[Kev on the first rapell down the SW face.]
[Great view down the SW face, looking at a very distant Lunette Lake and our exit valley. ++]
[The terrain on the SW face is continuously threatening to kick you off - very careful downclimbing is necessary. If you can't downclimb loose and exposed terrain without needing to rap it all you shouldn't even bother trying this face.]
[More careful down climbing on dinner plate slate]
[Little ledges are the key to working your way down the face, traversing back and forth breaks the many cliff bands.]
[Kev does his best to stick to the SW face of Assiniboine! ++]
[Kev works his way down along the gully separating Assiniboine and Lunette.]
[There was running water on route, thanks to melting snow]
[More careful steps]
On the second rap the terrain was so bloody loose I knocked a pretty big rock onto the rap route while setting up. The rocks crashed onto the coils of rope I'd thrown down and I was shocked to find the rope cut clean through at the ends when I rapped down!! If that rock fell while I was on rappel I wouldn't be here right now. Very scary stuff. It was so loose I knocked pretty big rocks down just walking PAST them. I carry some good bruises from this still.
Finding the 'scramble' route up Lunette wasn't trivial either. We started up climbers right of the gully separating Assiniboine and Lunette. Kev suggested we traverse a small scree ledge and there were some cairns so we followed those around the west face of Lunette. There were a few breaks in the cliffs but nothing resembling scrambling so we kept traversing climbers right. Eventually we started giving up.
[Working our way around the scree bench to access the summit block on Lunette]
In an effort to save some energy we had left our heavy packs and even climbing gear back at the point where we started up Lunette. We didn't think it would take long and we were sick of lugging those dang packs around! This was starting to feel like a mistake though - we needed to rappel every route I could see up... Finally I decided to traverse all the way right, pretty much as far right as possible before cliffing out. It worked. Barely. We had to ascend a tight chimney before traversing climbers left across some exposed terrain and another chimney. This gully has a huge chock stone in it and Kev went under it while I found a route around it on climbers right. A short exposed scramble and we were on top of our second 11000er of the day! Amazing views again - including the east face of Assiniboine and Marvel and Gloria Lakes. Eon and Aye were also amazing from this vantage.
[Vern on the summit of Lunette Peak. Assiniboine's SW face and east face to the right.]
[Panorama from the summit of Lunette Peak looking over Eon and Aye and Lunette Lake. Our approach valley is down the center and curving to the left. ++]
[Incredible scenery from the summit of Lunette. The views of Gloria and Marvel Lakes are better from Lunette than from Assiniboine. ++]
We had a long day still ahead of us descending the rest of the SW face and hiking back to the truck - not to mention the drive back. After a brief summit break we headed back down Lunette to our waiting gear. The down-climbing wasn't terrible but I got lucky finding that route because there was no evidence of prior parties on it and lots of rappel stations in other locations on Lunette. Like all the down climbing on the SW face of Assiniboine, it was very, very loose.
[A massive rock is pushed up the mountain by the mighty Kev Barton!!! :-) Actually he just came from underneath this chockstone that's wedged in a gully just before the summit of Lunette.]
[Kev on a shoulder of Lunette Peak underneath it's summit, Assiniboine's SW face rising behind him to the right. ++]
[There are many of these small but extremely loose cliff bands to negotiate coming down Lunette.]
[The key on Lunette Peak is a small climbing party and plenty of patience to work your way down. There are cairns and markings but they don't guarantee the best or easiest routes. We found our own route up Lunette Peak and it wasn't marked by any previous parties.]
[Kev descends the scree bench beneath Lunette's summit block - we're almost lower than Eon and Aye finally!]
We struggled slowly down the massive SW face inching ever so slowly towards Lunette lake and freedom. But freedom didn't come easily for us. We rapped a third time and still had to find routes down a seemingly endless line of cliff bands and loose gullies. We were thankful for cairns, orange flagging and even red paint on the rocks but even with all these route markers it was hard to navigate such a loose and complicated route that we didn't ascend. IMHO unless you are chasing the 11000ers I wouldn't bother with Lunette. It's views are nothing compared to Assiniboine and the ridge route is so much better than the manky crud on the SW face that I would suggest avoiding this face all together if possible. It's certainly easier to descend it if you scramble up it too, but you'll need at least one or two raps anyway on descent. It's not the 'scramble' that I've read it is. I've done many mangy, nasty scramble routes in my hundreds of peaks but this one takes the cake. I'm sure that I'm now ready for the Goodsirs and I'm debating now if I want them... :(
[Back at our packs after descending the summit block on Lunette, Kev adjusts his boots for the long and painful descent still ahead of us. Note the forest fire that has started up in a remote valley! Very dry conditions.]
[Kev descends beside the gully that separates Assiniboine and Lunette. You can follow this gully to the col but you will have to back track to find the scree bench from there - it's about 50-100 vertical meters beneath the col.]
[Our third rappel - with a slightly shorter rope. :( We probably could have downclimbed the 5.2'ish terrain but at this point we just didn't feel like it anymore.]
[Kev descends under a steep and convoluted section of the SW face]
After hours and hours of stressful and painfully slow down climbing we were finally in the last exit gully before the lake. Right? Wrong! As the sun set and we strapped on our headlamps we still weren't even at the lake yet! Wow. What followed was a nasty bushwhack in the dark - no trail that we could find! We tried desperately to get to the lake but even started to run into cliff bands in the forest! Finally we had a stroke of genius / luck and broke onto a hard scree slope on the south side of the lake that ran through the cliffs all the way to the lake shore. (We guessed because it was pitch black out by this time...)
[The shadows are slowly getting longer but we're way below Aye and Eon finally! ;-)]
[At this point we are almost home-free right? Wrong! A few more cliff bands on the SW face yet and then a few MORE to reach the lake since we couldn't find a trail in the pitch dark. We thought about an hour or so to the lake from here but it's hours away yet - a very foreshortened view. If you look carefully you can see a path through the trees heading to the lake. This is an avalanche path that took out about 100m wide path right through full grown trees! We followed this path on skier's left until it cliffed out. By then it was pitch black outside and we continued traversing cliffs in the forest on skier's left until we got right out of the trees onto the rocky scree slopes that you can see from here, left of the lake. We followed this slope right to the edge of the lake where we found a faint trail. It would probably be easier to simply traverse skier's left above treeline the whole way instead of going down through the trees but everything looks easy when it's hours away yet!]
[Our escape gully off the SW face]
[Looking back at Kev just past the escape gully]
[Interesting route finding by Kev! Why go over the cliffs when you can walk through them instead?]
[Finally off the SW face and descending lower scree slopes to Lunette Lake - much darker than this photo makes it appear.]
[It's much darker than this photo makes it appear here. I have no more photos after this one - a glace back at the massive SW slopes of the big "A" and Lunette...]
FINALLY we reached the trail going around the climbers right of the lake. We started following cairns only to lose them again. It was extremely frustrating to bushwhack around Lunette Lake when we knew there was a trail somewhere in all this mess. We eventually stumbled on the trail leading back to the truck and after 1.5 hours, at 23:00 we stumbled into the parking lot.
On the way home at around 01:00 we had to slow down for a pack of wolves crossing highway 93. An amazing and rare sight! A great way to end an amazing trip - one I won't soon be forgetting. It took us roughly 36 hours truck-to-truck for Strom, Assiniboine and Lunette. It felt very, very good to be off the SW face but I miss the ridge already.
A great climb with great company. I look forward to more of these pesky 11000ers - they sure bring out some fresh challenges compared with the scrambles that I'm used to.