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Cap Trinite Big Wall:

Les Grand Galets

By Andre Fortin

John Ford and I finally did it, we climbed our first big wall! We successfully summited Cap Trinite's Les Grand Galets, located about 2hrs north east of Quebec City, in the beautiful Saguenay region. We spent 3 very long and exhausting days making our ascension, starting early on the 7th and getting back on terra firma, 300m higher, late on the 9th.

(For a video of our climb please go to Les Grand Galets video)

John Ford and Andre Fortin

We had been looking for a decent weather window and although the period chosen wasn't looking perfect, with some forecasted rain, the prevailing winds were to be from the west, which we hoped would keep the east facing wall and us mainly dry. After packing up all the gear at John's place on Friday evening, we were left with nothing to do, but get going and drive a couple of hours eastward, if only to shorten the drive a bit the next day. We slept in our bivy sacks at a campground in Port Hope.

We got up early the next day and got back on the road to arrive on site at about 5:30pm on Saturday. We had planned - the Saguenay river being tidal - to catch the tide at near the end of its flooding cycle, with slack tide at 6pm - perfect. Showing up at low tide would mean having to walk a fair distance in soft clay with canoe and gear, to meet the water's edge, but now we could do all that within 10 feet of a grassy area. After loading the gear and ourselves in the canoe, we made our way to the base of the wall. The canoe ride lasts only about half an hour or so, but with the Saguenay region's often quick changing environmental conditions, that was enough time for the water to go from nearly ripple free to a little choppy with the increasing wind. The heavily loaded canoe, with its low free-board was a concern and we were quite relieved to make landfall, although the now not so calm water made getting out of the canoe and emptying its contents a challenge. It is a relatively short but quite steep hike from where you land the canoe to the base of the climb. It took us a few trips to get all the gear up there. We ended up dragging the canoe up a few feet into foliage and locking it up, along with the life-vests, to a tree. Once at the base of our climb with all of our gear - which we had too much of - we proceeded to set up our camp for that night. We had a MEC guide tarp with us and used it to shield ourselves and the gear from the rain that was to come later that night. The bugs were pretty bad, but once inside the bivy sacks; things were good.

Les Grand Galets

Day 1 - We got up before 5 the next morning and started putting together our gear, stashing what we wouldn't need in dry bags at the base. Our super excited selves finally were ready and we started the climb around 7. The first pitch is rated 5.7 and is normally climbed free, however it was fairly dirty and slippery in places and had trees and bushes higher up. Speaking of dirt; we happened to be the second team on the wall this year (it is normally closed until the 1st of August due to peregrine falcon nesting) and possibly the first ones on this route, judging by what we observed on the way up. It was overall quite dirty with a lot of crack sections filled with grass, moss, roots, dirt, etc. I ended up with dirt in my eyes, ears, even shoes along the way. Considerable time was spent cleaning potential pro placements. Anyway, back to the first pitch now. The top of the first pitch has a great ledge to work around in - and bivy if you wish -, however it is also the site of the worst haul of the entire climb. We put together a plan that involved removing the haul rope from the bags at the base, bringing it up to the ledge, coiling it and trowing it between a tree and some bushes, which were over what appeared to be a smoother section of the wall. The pitch had been climbed climber's right of that and had many potential snagging points. After a couple of tries, we were successful in getting the rope down and proceeded to start the arduous task of getting the bags up.

The second pitch is a beautiful and long dihedral that culminates with a pendulum that takes climbers to the next crack system a short distance to the left. The crack starts very thin and shows a few pin scars along the way. The use of micro nuts/RPs and a hand placed pecker got us going and soon enough the crack opened up some and allowed us to warm up the mastercams. The pendulum consisted of two bolted anchors with several left over nylon slings and a locking biner. We found many slings along the way and most felt crisp to the touch, probably heavily damaged by the environment and UV rays. However this arrangement (5 or 6 slings) didn't feel too bad and we opted to use it. Once lowered, a couple of swings was all it took to get a feel for it and grab on to the next crack and make a short climb to the anchors. The anchors area turned out to be fairly small and awkward, but the haul certainly was 100 times easier than on the previous pitch.

Second bivy

The third pitch frees at 5.10a, however this was also to be the start of "dirt city". Looking at significant accumulations of dirt and moss in the crack, there was no way this team would make a freeing attempt - bring the aiders! Being new aid climbers and having to clean many areas in order to be able to see suitability for gear placement meant that this pitch and others took us a while to climb. We were on top of the 3rd pitch with the bags hauled up at around 10:00pm. When John showed up after cleaning the pitch he mentioned that he had been unable to retrieve his head lamp, which was too far down in one of the haul bags before starting the pitch. I then asked how he managed to clean all the pro in the dark, to which he nonchalantly replied that he took a bic lighter out of his pocket and kept it in his mouth, to be lit where pro was to be removed - we both laughed it out and continued on with our tasks. Note to self: keep a headlamp on your helmet or around your neck at all times. We set up our bivy site for our first night and climbed into our DIY portaledges at around 11:30 - long day at the office.

Second bivy: John at the bottom

Day 2 - Woke up at dawn and worked on sorting out the bivy - up on pitch 4 we go. This pitch ends at a hanging belay, below a long dihedral, I wouldn't want to be sitting there in my harness for hours - belay seats rock! The only hick-up on this pitch was a scary sounding flake. A .5 cam had been placed under it and it started to make this crackling noise as gentle pressure was put on the aider. Right there and then I started having nightmarish visions of this thing detaching itself and falling (it was at least 3' across) and cutting my rope or thundering down on John. Needless to say, it was left alone and another means of pro used - whew! The 5th pitch was somewhat straightforward, but also very long and dirty. I moved up for about 50' alternating and back cleaning with 4-5 pieces of pro, before I left a bomber piece behind. The crack required a lot of similar sized pro and I was a little nervous (maybe more than a little) about running light higher up. This had already happened on a previous pitch and I had resolved the issue by building a belay and getting lowered to re-aid up and recover the pieces as I came upon them. I didn't relish getting lowered into space in this fashion again...By the time we made the top of the 5th pitch, it was dark again. This time we were looking at the prospect of setting up two portaleges on a clean, vertical section, on head lamps again - did I mention that we were totally fried from this , a second long day of suffering? We did manage to get this done and were in bed by 1100pm. This was an incredible night; no wind, a sky full of stars, as well as the huge triangular roofs at the top - hard to describe what it felt like.

Pitch 5

Day 3 - Started early again, although it took us some time to get going; we were so tired the evening before that we hadn't been as careful sorting all of our gear, opting instead to take care of that after a night's sleep. In addition, doing all of this while on a blank wall isn't the easiest thing either. Although pitch 6 had good gear, especially past a death looking block (watch the video), I found it challenging technically. There was a cave like feature that gave me some trouble. There was also the time when I was sure a piece of pro I was on was about to blow. I had a .5 cam in a small pocket like feature with reasonably parallel sides. I did some light testing (I did not do full testing on every piece, if it looked good) and stood on it. It then started to creak and sort of break down in small pieces. Many cracks on the wall have some condition where the surface of the rock kind of turns into sand, so to speak, however most seem to be able to hold gear securely once cleaned. I yelled down that I was about to fall, although I wasn't too concerned, having a couple of bomber pieces not far below me, including a good bolt, and on a near featureless section of the wall. The top of pitch 6 terminated in a decent size cave - nice to be able to put your feet down on something.

Top of Pitch 6

Pitch 7 was short and included the classic roof traverse. Although traversing the roof was pretty painless, getting up to it wasn't - I was pretty much on edge most of the way up until I reached the horizontal roof crack. The vertical crack was thin and had me hang off of tiny gear - I was very happy to meet up with the roof. The pitch ended at 2 bolted anchors which we used to lower out and reach the next crack to our left. By the time we started pitch 8, it was once again starting to get dark. I was hoping for an easy, short last pitch, but it turned out to be another lengthy, very dirty one instead. John was being investigated by multiple bats while at the belay, although he claims they were dive bombing him. We were both on terra firma at around midnight, and of course, completely exhausted. We took what was necessary for a bivy in the forest, and left the rest at the belay for a morning pick-up. I never had such sound sleep, getting up around 7 the next day without waking up during the night.

Leading Pitch 6

Because of the way the environmental conditions had been changing over the last couple of days, as well as our weariness of rapping down with all of our gear, while being uncertain of the correct sequences from rap anchors to rap anchors; we decided that we would hike back to where the car was parked with all of our gear, then hike back up to base camp via the statue and climber's trails, pick up the canoe and stashed gear, and then paddle back under a light load to the bay area and get out. This process took us 12 hrs. 12hrs of back breaking work down the long trail with heavy packs and that, after 3 days of suffer fest. Once done, we opted to get another night sleep at a local campground and left the next day for the long drive home.

Pitch 7

It was on a January evening at climber's rock when I asked John if he wanted to climb this wall this summer. While he thought about it for a couple of minutes, I fully expected him to reply something along the lines of have you lost your marbles?, or are you out of your mind? After all, we had only gotten into trad climbing 6 months before. It is when he said OK that I started to have that feeling of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. Had my mouth opened without being engaged by my brain or something? Anyway, we right away started to take things seriously, buying reading material, watching videos, asking questions on forums and such. We also did a ton of practice at both Rattlesnake Point and Mount Nemo during the winter. All that time spent getting ready for this adventure was key to our success. What we didn't practice, we figured out on the wall. I found the experience amazingly rewarding on a personal level. I also found it very difficult and nerve wrecking at times, much more than I had anticipated. John and I had opted to climb this route for a first wall. It certainly made it easier logistically, over going down to Yosemite, however it probably isn't the easiest big wall climb to do as your first "test piece". Having stated that; we are already talking about going back next year to try a different route. I guess you can say that we picked up the big wall bug. Our first crack at the cat gave us a chance to see where we need to spend more time improving certain skills, so that we can be safer and better prepared next time. I can predict that a significant amount of aid climbing trickery will be taking place on the escarpment during the next few month ...

Andre Fortin