The helicopter flies away, and then there is just silence. The towering peaks of the Adamants rise impressively out of the Austerity Glacier leaving us feining for candy like a kid in a candy shop. The options are endless, and we are alone with no one else in sight, with a small likelihood of seeing anyone else for the next week. We have the Adamants to ourselves; technical rock faces, alpine ridges, a fantastic base-camp and two classic routes that are rarely visited but featured in Fred Beckey’s list of 100 North American classics. This was quite the contrast to our most recent visit to the Bugaboos just two weeks prior.
Over the past several years there appears to be an increased number of climbers headed to the alpine destinations of Western Canada, with the epicentre of this trend seeming to take place in the Bugaboos. The word of immaculate granite and excellent climbing is spreading, and more climbers are making there way to the “poor man’s Patagonia”. It seems that the Bugaboos, in particular, has grown to become quite busy over the summer months with several weeks of the summer guaranteed to be at maximum capacity in the Kain Hut and sometimes upwards of fifty or more tents at Applebee campground. The allure of the alpine seems to wane slightly when you have to wake up earlier than usual to merely avoid the line-ups at the base of the classics. Good luck being the lone party on the North East Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, the West Ridge of Pigeon or McTech Arete on Crescent Tower. Many of us head to the alpine to escape the world, traffic jams and the day-to-day stress of overpopulated cities; now we are finding the same hustle and bustle equivalent in the alpine.
Maybe it is the several parties at the base of a route, waiting their turn in a queue, late night parties in the hut or a group eagerly on your tail on your dream climb that puts you off just slightly. This is supposed to be a break from the big city not the alpine version of an early morning commute. Gone are the days of a ‘genuine’ mountain experience amongst impressive granite towers in the Bugaboos, unless you are willing to roll the dice and try your luck with the weather in the shoulder season.
This is not the case in the Adamants. If you are seeking a real mountain adventure that has astounding climbing, in an isolated mountain range, without going on a far-flung expedition, then consider heading there this summer. World class climbing, your choice of routes and a lack of concern with waking up extremely early just to scoop other parties on a route; this is what you can expect in the Adamants.
Outside of the helicopter approach, the rest of your time spent in the Adamants should feel as isolated as you can get with just a 10 minute flight time. The western side of the Adamants, in particular, is a remote location. On the east side of the range, you can find the famous Bill Putnam Hut, one of the flagship huts for the Alpine Club of Canada. The hut is considered a deluxe backcountry destination and is even outfitted with an oven. Unlike in the winter, there is no lottery system requirement for the summer months. The hut provides access to a large selection of quality routes, but the longer and more challenging routes are not readily accessible. As appealing as the hut sounds, staying there will make accessing the more technical routes rising out of the Austerity Glacier challenging and will likely guarantee that you will run into other parties who are also taking advantage of the hut too.
On the western side of the Adamants, there is no hut, just the option for a luxurious base-camp that you have hopefully decided to fly in with you. It is possible to set up a camp near an outcrop of rocks very close to the base of the Ironman Buttress, this will allow for some time to not be spent sitting in the snow on the Austerity Glacier. With the possibility of a remarkable mountain experiences and an expedition style basecamp, what more could you want?
Surprisingly for an alpine destination, there are some fantastic cragging options very close to camp with easy access. Likely the chopper will drop you off around noon, so these are great options for the first day at camp or during a rest day. The Ironman Buttress has a mix of possible options ranging from 5.8 to 5.12. The one to four-pitch crack lines that start from the main ledge of Iron Buttress are quality routes, if they were at a crag that was quickly accessible, they would be five-star classics and are reminiscent of some of the best granite locations in North America. Most have some form of an anchor at the top, but they aren’t bolted; be prepared to leave a few nuts or lasso some cord around a flake. Depending on where you have set up base-camp this can be as short as a ten-minute approach or possibly thirty.
You likely are not going to go all the way to the Adamants to find cragging but if you are looking for more due to weather or rest days check out the rock on the north side of the Adamant – East Friar col, climber’s right of the approach up to the South Buttress of Adamant. This area has a few traditionally protected pitches with rap rings at the top and very limited beta on the routes. The several routes located in this area could make for a great afternoon of low commitment climbing. We ended up finding these routes after going for a walk across the Austerity Glacier to check out the approach to the Adamant – East Friar Col.
The prospects for a legitimate mountain experience are high in the Adamants, the range consists of excellent rock providing outstanding opportunities for climbing. Ironman Buttress, which some have compared to the Beckey-Chouinard route in the Bugaboos, offers some of the best rock in the area and features what should be one of the classic climbs of Canada; the Gibson-Rohn TD 5.10+. That route alone is worth a week-long visit to the area, the quality of rock and positions on the route will surpass expectations. The Gibson-Rohn is approximately 8 pitches with some scrambling separating the upper half of the buttress from the first 4 pitches. Unlike some genuinely committing alpine routes, Ironman Buttress affords the opportunity to retreat quickly with just a couple rappels if you are using double ropes. As you gain ground on the climb, the slope to the west of the buttress continues to rise as well, this makes it feel like escape would be easy but that’s not guaranteed. Although the routes on Ironman Buttress don’t get you to the summit of Ironman proper, the summit will feel less important after such a stunning day of exceptional rock. There are a couple descent options that involve several rappels and a quick walk back to camp.
One thing that is for sure in the mountains is that the weather can change unexpectedly. During our visit to the range, we were surprised with a severe three-day snowstorm in the middle of August, the unsettled weather was forecasted to arrive during our trip, but none of the forecasts called for 50+cm of snow over three days. This mid-week storm shut us down on our other objectives and left us exploring for a moderate route that we could climb in boots and crampons. Fortunately, the Adamants don’t disappoint, and there are ample possibilities to climb even after a dumping of 50cm. From the Austerity Glacier, the ability to combine the NW Ridge of Austerity and the Ironman Bypass make for a tremendous moderate alpine ascent; 5.3 45-50°. A mix of heavy snow, scrappy climbing, moderate ice and alpine granite can turn a typically average adventure into a great day in the mountains.
The Adamant range is one of the premier alpine destinations in Canada. There is something for everyone, classic technical rock routes, moderate alpine ascents and faces like the 750m, rarely attempted North Face of West Friar. If you are looking for world class climbing without the crowds then consider putting the Adamants on your summer hit list.
How to Get There
First, make your way to Golden, BC. Then depending on how you decide to access the range you will either make your way to a helicopter staging area approximately an hour north of Highway 1 on a Forest Service Road or go past this to access a trail that will take you to the Bill Putnam Hut. The 10-minute helicopter flight is highly recommended and if you time it right with Alpine Helicopters, for approximately $400 per person you will be able to stuff 3 people and a surplus of gear for a week onboard one flight. Alternatively, you can hike in but getting to the Austerity Glacier with full loads will be long and involved.
Realistically there is probably a two-month window for the best weather in the Adamants; from mid-July to mid-September, you will likely have a good shot at a decent weather window. We thought we had a week-long window of good weather last August when we flew in, several days later it snowed 50cm and we were tent bound for three days. Be ready for a full-on experience on the Austerity Glacier, year-round.
Guide Book and Gear
The guidebook for the area is Selkirks North by David Jones. You will not find pitch by pitch descriptions online like many of the other classic alpine climbs in Canada; appreciate the limited amount of beta you can find and be prepared for a great adventure! Fred Beckey’s book, 100 Favorite North American Climbs has a good topo and description for Ironman Buttress and also the beta for the South Buttress of Adamant.
For gear, if you intended on trying Ironman Buttress and perhaps some other alpine routes bring an ice axe, crampons, nuts and a technical rack with extra hand-sized pieces to 3″. You don’t have to take it all on every climb, but this will provide you with some flexibility depending on what you are looking for.
For base-camp, we brought lawn chairs, a large Coleman stove with a grill, bacon and more. Go nuts, we only had to move our camp around 100m from where the helicopter landed, and we were happy to have taken the extra supplies when it snowed 50cm mid-week and forced us to stay in camp for several days.