Simon Richardson and German climber Micha Rinn have recently returned from a successful expedition to the Coast Mountains in Western Canada, where they made three first ascents. The standout route was Game of Thrones (ED2) on the South-West Pillar of the stunning Monarch Mountain.
Monarch (3572m) is one of the highest mountains on the range, but is very remote and rarely climbed. Game of Thrones is the first route on the 1250m-high south-west face. Regarding his inspiration for the peak, Simon told UKC:
'The story began 20 years ago when I first climbed in the Canadian Coast Mountains with Dave Hesleden. We traversed the mountains north of Mount Waddington and on the horizon was a very prominent solitary peak. On our way back home we met Don Serl, guidebook writer and pre-eminent Coast Mountains climber, and he explained that the peak was called Monarch Mountain (3572m).'
Monarch experienced poorer weather than Waddington, Don explained, and was very rarely climbed - perhaps one ascent every three or four years. Simon was intrigued and resolved to climb it some day.
'Three years later Don crowned his Coast climbing career with a four-day ascent of the North Ridge of Monarch - the fourth route on the mountain and by far the most difficult. I took a deeper interest in the mountain and realised that the south-west face was huge - well over 1200m-high - and also unclimbed. Unfortunately I could not find any photos of the face.'
The standard route of ascent is from the east and only a handful of people had ever seen this side of the mountain, so the south-west face remained an unknown entity.
In April 2007, light airplane pilot and mountain photographer John Scurlock flew around Monarch and took a remarkable series of photos. These showed that the south-west face was defined by a magnificent line of two stepped spurs that led directly to the summit. John published his images online and Don and Simon considered making an attempt, but other commitments got in the way.
Simon told UKC:
'As one of the largest unclimbed walls in the Coast Mountains it was a prominent target but attempts by other teams were thwarted at the outset by bad weather or difficult planning. Don retired from climbing five years ago, so after our success on the Diamond Ridge on the Grandes Jorasses last summer when Micha Rinn and I were looking for an objective for summer 2017, Monarch immediately came to mind.'
The pair prepared very carefully for the expedition and both climbed in the Alps beforehand to ensure they were fully acclimatised. They flew in to Monarch by helicopter on 28th July - the standard means of approaching the Coast Mountains due to the long approaches. They camped on the col between Monarch and Page Mountain and acquainted themselves with the area on a new route up the North Ridge of P2620m to the west. Simon told UKC:
'We then climbed Monarch by the West Face. This was the second route climbed on the mountain in 1953 and has seen very few ascents since. It provided an interesting and somewhat demanding mountaineering route of 'Difficile' standard and would be our descent route.'
Finally, on 4th August the pair started up the south-west face.
'Rather than follow the crest of the lower of the two spurs we climbed a more direct line to its left before bivouacking at the foot of the impressive second spur at half height on the face,' Simon told us.
'The climbing had become gradually more difficult during the first day and was particularly challenging on day 2 on the second spur. Unlike the Waddington Range, which is mainly comprised of excellent granite, Monarch is a metamorphosed volcanic. This was very solid in the upper half of the route but it was very compact with few protection possibilities. Rather alarmingly all the holds sloped downwards! We had numerous long runouts, and at times were worried whether the route would go, but fortunately we found a climbable line.'
At the top of the second pillar the upper ridge provided easier climbing. The pair bivouacked for a second time 70m below the top and were on the summit early next morning. The descent of the West Face went smoothly thanks to their prior knowledge of the route. Simon described the line as follows:
'We called our 1250m-high route Game of Thrones and graded it ED2 5.10a. It is similar in difficulty and scale to the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses but more serious. We would not have been able to descend from above half height because the compact nature of the rock would have quickly exhausted our rack.'
After a day's rest, Simon and Micha made the first ascent of The Sugarloaf (2620m) which lay at the end of a long pinnacle ridge to the north of P2620 that they had climbed earlier in the trip.
Commenting on the local response to their new lines in Canada, Simon told UKC:
'Reaction in Canada to our ascent was very kind and gracious, especially considering two Europeans had plucked one of their major routes. Don Serl wrote on Facebook "Superb! A great route on one of the very finest Coast Range peaks! Well done, Simon and Micha!"'
Last July, Simon and Micha climbed a new route on the south south-east face - AKA Tronchey Wall - of the Grandes Jorasses, named Diamond Ridge (1600m, 5c, AO). A few months later in November, Simon was part of the successful British expedition to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia that made a 16-day ski traverse of the Salvesen Range. The group made a number of first ascents including Mt Baume (1912m) and the spectacular Starbuck Peak (1434m).