After an insulting first attempt on Zeballos Peak–one that saw us practically thrown off the mountain and selecting an alternate route back to the car for fear of avalanche and falling rock– we used one of our open weekends to make a second attempt on the peak.
It was only six weeks after our first trip, but on the 28th of April, the snow on the south-facing slope had considerably retreated. Although we had several route options for ascending, including the one we used to come down on our first trip, we opted to stick to the ascent route we tried on the first trip, because the cornices were long gone.
Total Distance: 7.3 km
Starting Elevation: 442 m
Maximum Elevation: 1584 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1229 m
Total Time: 8 hours 30 minutes
Even early in the day, the air was warm, and the clear blue skies told us we would be scorching by midday. The slash was bone-dry, and even in the dense mature forest, the ground didn’t hold much in the way of moisture. These conditions made for a fast ascent up through the steep terrain to our entry point on the gully (~740 m).
All the evidence of an avalanche path was there: old debris, plenty of dirt and small rocks sitting on top of the rotting snow, and deep ruts in the slide path higher up. Today, even in the sun, the snow was firm enough to support our weight, while still giving us excellent holds for our feet.
We pointed up the long gully and started the long ~700 metres of gain from where we emerged to the broad shoulder of the ridge above. On the way, we ascended snow, up and over a few easy rock scrambles, and many sections of exposed rock gravel that created bottlenecks as we tried to avoid knocking rock down onto those below us. Above 900 metres, the snow had deep accumulation. In the slide path we could see evidence of cornice drops, deep ruts cut several feet below the surface of the snow – thank goodness there were none left, today!
Rather than follow the gully all the way up, near the top, we diverted to the west (our right) and picked our way up the nearly 40-degree slopes, around rocks emerging from the snow, and then onto a resting point atop the ridge (~1400m). As we waited for everyone to scale the ridge top, I examined the route ahead. The south face of Zeballos Peak rises in an impressive wall with several slopes leading to its base, but from our angle, we weren’t confident that they would go.
Once everyone was on the ridge, we continued to the east, rounding the toe of the south ridge that rises off the shoulder of the mountain. A short, easy scramble and a bout of wrestling in the bushes got us to the top of this ridge. I followed the crest of the ridge, while the others opted to contour around the right side where they found some moderate exposure for a few steps, and then out onto easy slopes toward the base of the mountain.
At the end of this ridge, there’s a small saddle before the rise of the main summit block; here, our paths merged. Wanting to avoid some questionable rocks protruding from the steep slopes, I opted to descend the east side to meet up with my friends. But then we had to drop over a lip into a basin. Basically, we had to glissade (freefell for a moment, I’m sure) to a natural stop below.
From the saddle, we ascended a short gully half-filled with snow and plenty of loose rock. We pointed up the ridge and carefully climbed the frozen northwest-facing slope to the narrow ridge above. I tried to stay mostly to sections where I could see rock poking out of the ice, but when my feet crashed through the thin crust, I gave up that effort and stuck to the 30-degree slope to the final ridge above.
After a short traverse on a narrow crest of snow, we had only a five-minute gallop up heather and rock to the summit. Talk about the views! To the north of Zeballos Peak, we were looking straight into the heart of the Haihte Range. Rugged Yai’ai created the most dramatic points of the skyline, and the sun glinting off the snowy features created a fantastic display.
It had taken us about 4.5 hours to reach the summit, and we delayed a good while in the sun and breeze, eating and chatting. We spent so long there that we nearly missed the views of the Bonanza Range and the Elk River monsters too!
All too soon, it was time to return. Our descent route basically followed our approach, but whenever we could, we took advantage of the steep snow to butt-slide.
The highlight of the day came on our descent of the long gully. From just below the rocks at the top of the gully, we were able to slide more than 100 metres of elevation in a single shot. We ended just above a bare section of dirt and a short scramble.
Compared to our first trip, this one was uneventful, and for that, we are grateful.
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