A Bad Case of The Bens, Part One

Ben Lomond, to me, will never be just another mountain. Even from a distance, this sharp granite horn pierces the sky in a way that can only create a momentous first impression. The peak is located on the divide between the Seymour and Stawamus Rivers at the head of Clipper Creek, and this story, while it dates back some fourteen years, might as well have been yesterday in my mind. 

In May of 2006, Simon Chesterton and I had viewed this iconic peak while we traversed nearby Chanter Ridge. I don’t recall either of us discussing it at the time, but the conversation was probably unnecessary. That mountain, we knew, was Ben Lomond, and we were absolutely going to climb it one way or another!

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Ben Lomond from the unofficially named Chanter Ridge
This photo shows the route we would be attempting, taken by Simon Chesterton on our traverse of  Chanter Ridge on May 10, 2006

 

Ben Lomond….photo by Chris Hood

 

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Though most people I knew had never heard of this mountain, I’d been preoccupied with it for about a decade by then.  I’d only seen it up close recently, and after all of the years I’d spent exploring the Seymour Valley, all I knew was that Ben Lomond formed part of the headwaters of the Seymour River. It was first ascended in 1908 by noted climbers Chapman, Gray, MacDonald, and Perry, who were very active in southwestern British Columbia. The mountain, in fact, borrows its familiar name from another located in the Scottish Highlands. The similarities, however, end there. Scotland’s version is a relatively easy walkup in the southern Munros, just 974m in elevation. Our quarry looked considerably more challenging, and just getting to the mountain was going to require serious commitment!

 

Now it was the tenth of June, 2006, to be precise, in the midst of a long spell of unusually hot spring weather. Finally, the day had come to climb Ben Lomond, and we were ready.
Though Simon and I had managed Chanter Ridge very well, on this trip we we invited more people along. We put together a solid team of five, with Denis Blair, his son Alan, and Chris Hood also signing on for the mission! To get to the trailhead, our first order of business was to drive as far up the Furry Creek Road as we could manage, which turned out to be about eight kilometres. We knew, ultimately, that we’d have to access Ben More via a logging spur followed by some stiff bushwhacking.
I soon could see the top of the slope, where Denis and Alan were taking a break, under cloudless blue skies. They had scouted the route ahead. It occurred to me that it must be immensely satisfying to be able to experience the mountains with your father, as Alan often has. Denis, for his part, is now into his seventh decade and still climbing in fine style. His trade secrets? Beer, plain or plain ripple chips, and plenty of exercise. Take from that what you will!
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The Blairs are the most mountain capable family I know. Denis’s wife Shirley and daughter Jen have also been to many different summits.

Meanwhile, Simon had swiftly reclimbed the ramp, and with the group together again, we worked our way through several rock passages. Soon, we  found ourselves on the broad summit plateau of Ben More, and it was there that Ben Lomond finally came into view. From our vantage point, it looked even more dramatic than I had imagined!

 

Here comes Simon back up the ramp yet again!
If anything Simon was faster the second time around! Once he returned, I reminded him that “At the end of the day you’ll have out climbed us all!” Laughing, he replied  “That’s all part of my plan!”
Ben Lomond in the late morning sun

 

Weaving among boulders on our way to the summit. This photo brings to mind a few choice curse words originating with the guys ahead of me, some of which may have rhymed with buck,  trucker, or mastered.
Our last difficult step to work our way around. You can’t quite see the sketchy looking moat where the snow slope ends

I, for one, was glad to see an easier expanse of snow, as every step it felt as though someone was jabbing and twisting a dull knife into my hip. Somehow that didn’t detract much from the moment, as days like these in the mountains are so easy to appreciate. Fortunately, Denis was able to share some ibuprofen tablets with Chris and me, which helped us considerably!

Ben More’s summit plateau was open and inviting!
The guys reaching the summit of Ben More!

 

Denis, Alan, me, and Chris on the way to Ben More summit, which Simon measured at 1650m elevation…photo by Simon

 

The well protected summit of Ben Lomond. The route up is the steep snow at left, then along the ridge, well to the right of the sizeable cornice. Five Fingers Group on the Coquitlam Divide is at left in the background …photo by Simon

Ben More would clearly be an idyllic location to camp, as you can see from the pictures. There are panoramic views in every direction! Of course, that idea was far from our minds! We were already brainstorming the ideal route down into the saddle below Ben Lomond.

Ben Lomond and Bagpipe Mountain from Ben More summit
The black thumb of Mt Sheer at left here with Mt Garibaldi lurking behind
The approach to Ben Lomond via the connecting ridge at left

The ensuing quest to descend Ben More to that saddle was a stiff test of skills. Denis took the lead, but we all contributed our route finding thoughts as the going was again more complicated than we had expected. There was more bushwhacking, bridging of gaps, jumping, and sliding as we scrapped our way down. As before, there were several dangerous moats to avoid, including one so cavernous I could not see the bottom.

Ben Gurion, Ben Stiller, Benny Hill, Ben Franklin, Ben Savage, Ben Roethlisberger…we were definitely running out of Bens. I remember Alan, by far the youngest in our group, saying “Ben who? I don’t know who half those guys are!”At one point, I may or may not have mimicked Michael Jackson singing the theme song from the movie “Ben”. You know, the sequel to Willard, the movie about all the killer rats? I’d say you had to be there but since you weren’t you never had to hear me sing!

Alan Blair contends with some of the trickier down climbing. In the years that have followed he’s become quite a prolific mountaineer
When I look at this photo I’m reminded of how much fun this scrambling was. I think, technically speaking, it may have been the hardest part of the trek.
If you follow the line of trees from bottom to top you can discern part of our chosen route

That was followed by a careful glissade down another snow slope which would finally bring us to the saddle. It was also a very cautious exercise, as the runout into the valley below was sobering to look at. Somewhere on this slope I somehow lost my sunglasses, which is a dangerous thing to do on treks like this because your eyes need to be protected from the sun. Luckily, Chris kindly loaned me his fit over shades, which had me looking a little bit like Roy Orbison.

Cavorting around as we descend Ben More…photo by Simon

 

Getting ever so close to the saddle now…

Once we’d attained that goal, it was simply a matter of following the connecting shelf over to Ben Lomond. While the terrain was reasonably easy to navigate, I found ascending the last hundred metres to the base of Ben Lomond really uncomfortable, but the scenery was certainly captivating!

Chris on the saddle headed for Ben Lomond…photo by Simon

 

Ben Lomond and our approach route. We would follow snow slopes to the summit. Bagpipe Mountain is rear left with Meslilloet well in behind it…photo by Simon
Red Mountain, which was to be our third destination…photo by Simon
Pinecone Peak could also be seen. Simon had been there several days earlier…photo by Simon
Here come me and Chris on our way to the col, hurtin’ hombres!
Denis and Alan discuss upcoming strategies

The slope ahead looked steep, but the snow conditions were absolutely perfect, and the mountain waited quietly as the midday sun beat down on us. Our chances certainly looked promising as we geared up, finally breaking out our ice axes and strapping on our crampons.

So, did we summit Ben Lomond?

Truthfully, it all depends on who’s answering that question! If you’re up for it, join me for the conclusion of this story: A Bad Case of the Bens, Part Two, coming up soon right here. Same Bat time, same Bat channel!

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I’ll basically use any excuse to work in a Batman reference, to be honest!
Ben Lomond awaits…photo by Simon
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