Date: Nov. 19, 2018

Partner: Eric Carter

Guy Edwards once described the Sumallo cirque as the “best alpine climbing within three hours of Vancouver” (VOCJ 36 at p.150). I had previously visited the area in December, 2008 with Seth Adams when we climbed Zero Gulley to the summit of Sumallo Peak and then were shut down by spindrift while attempting a new route.

The North Couloir of Rideout is also known as the Minus Five Gulley, following the Scottish naming convention that has been applied to the cirque. It was first climbed in January, 1983 by Don Serl, Joe Buszowski and Joe Bajan (of Vancouver Island fame) and is one of the longest and most obvious routes in the area.

Recent warm temperatures meant that not much ice was formed and so the North Couloir, which is primarily a snow climb, seemed like the most obvious objective.

Rideout (left) and Sumallo (right) as seen from the road. The lower portion of the North Couloir is hidden, but the upper half is visible finishing just down and left of the summit. The prominent couloir ending at the col right of Sumallo is Zero Gulley.

Although a long drive from Squamish, the approach to the Sumallo cirque is incredibly easy. We parked where the road got a little too rough for Eric’s vehicle, walked for about half an hour to the end of the road and were essentially at the base of the face.

Eric crossing the peculiar baseball-sized avalanche debris below the face.

Firm snow in the lower couloir led to a short steep snow runnel. We found a good belay and Eric led this pitch, not finding any gear in the compact rock. Above, was a second, slightly steeper and less consolidated section which I led, wasting considerable time looking for gear that wasn’t there. Above, unsure of what we’d encounter, we kept the rope on for two long blocks of simul-climbing. The climbing was straightforward but finding gear and anchors was time-consuming and when it became apparent that the rest of the route would be more snow plodding, we untied from the rope. After a fair bit of effort breaking trail up the upper couloir, we popped out on the ridge just below the summit.

Climbing in the lower couloir. Photo: Eric Carter.
Eric climbing just below the first steep section.
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Eric climbing the first steeper runnel in the couloir.
Eric breaking trail and dragging the rope in the upper couloir. We weren’t sure if we’d need the rope again at the rock step above, but there turned out to be easy passage through it. I untied from the rope and tried biting it to take some of the weight from Eric, but it turns out this technique is pretty tiring for the jaw muscles.
Eric popping out of the couloir and onto the ridge.

We had discussed possibly traversing over Sumallo Peak and descending Zero Gulley but this looked somewhat far from where we stood. Instead, we opted to descend towards the Rideout-Silvertip col and the large couloir that leads back to the base of the face. Just below the notch where we’d topped out, the ridge became a bit too exposed for our liking and we traversed out onto the East Face, facing in to weave our way through some small rockbands. From the col, the couloir turned out to be quite gentle and with forgiving snow conditions we descended most of the way back down to the valley facing out.

Downclimbing towards the Rideout-Silvertip col. Photo: Eric Carter
Eric in a steeper section of the couloir we used to descend.

We arrived back at the car about 7.5 hours after leaving. The North Couloir is a long (nearly 700m of ascent from shrund to summit), moderate route in an impressive place.