Blast from the past - Free climbing the Vampire Spire

The Vampire Peaks from the seat of a DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver float plane piloted by Warren LaFauve.

Recently I was digging through an assortment of neglected 35mm slides (yeah, I know old timey stuff) and came across two pictures; one of me and one of my buddy, Hank Jones. We are standing on a summit in Canada‘s North West Territories during twilight. My mind was blank, I had almost no recollection of that moment, even though it was indubitably a special part of my live. “Blasphemy” I thought. I slapped myself in the face and poured my beer out as a sacrifice to the Gods, but still had no recollection regarding the date or even the name of the route we established.  Quickly I rummaged through my collection of American Alpine Journals. After gathering a few more photos and remembering the details with help from the report I figured it proper to share some of those moments. The Vampire Peaks might not be the biggest, gnarliest towers in the Territory but what they lack in size and mystique they have in quality! 
The Moment - a climax of contentment! Watching the sunset at around 12:30 am from the top of the Vampire Spire.

The photographs were taken during the first free and one day ascent of the Vampire Spire - 350 meters of yummy alpine granite flanking the southwest face of Mount Appler, protruding from its base like a giant fang juxtaposed with neighboring formations the Fortress and the Canine.

   Looking up at the first pitch of the Coffin (above), A really nice 12b pitch low on splitter southwest face (below), and the Vampire Spire's southwest face with the Coffin being the big feature (left).

During my first visit to the Vampire Peaks we established an aid route on the Spire’s east face, during this time I immediately observed the potential for high quality free climbing! Several years later in 2004 I returned with Hank Jones for some alpine craggin on the Vamp with one big stunning and unclimbed crack feature that splits the southwest face on our menu. We dubbed this line the Coffin for its unmistakable coffin-like feature high on the route and the probability of getting wacked by the off chance of falling debris getting funneled into the giant corner system.  We spent a few days climbing and cleaning mostly following splitter finger cracks and big steaming pitches. Our free climbing hopes got stopped short though by the incessant drip from a huge chunk of ice lodged deep inside the bowls of beast; the cold heart of Nosferatu.  

                           Hank Jones chilaxin at the base of the Vamp, and yeah, that big gear was very useful!

Not satisfied about having a section of aid on our new route we turned to another option for a free route, not as glorious as our first objective, but a strong contender for a quick free ascent: having only four days before our flight out had us gnawing at our chance like a rat on a cheetos.  We followed a crack and gully system that began to the left of the Coffin that eventually wandered up to some really nice crack pitches on the north face. This route went well with all the pitches going free first try, and making the summit in about 8hrs; the first free ascent and the first one day ascent of the areas namesake was in the bag, we named our route Darkside, IV 5.11.

Darkside climbs the splitter crack left of the Coffin, up into the big gully, then up the left skyline of the spire..

Low on the start to Darkside, with the hulking mass of granite called the Phoenix just out of view in the background.

The final pitch with Hank belaying on the summit of the Vamp (left), Hank leeding the crux 5.11c fist crack (right).

And umm...yeah, the bouldering is good there too!

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