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Kate Rutherford and Jasmin Caton Author Long Routes in B.C.’s Purcell Wilderness

Under lowering clouds, Kate Rutherford descends Block Tower after completing the first ascent of The Slim Princess (5.10, 250m).

[Photo] Jasmin Caton

A few weeks after climbing the Westie Face (5.12d A0, 700′) on Yosemite’s Leaning Tower, Kate Rutherford drove north, teamed up with Jasmin Caton and hiked to British Columbia’s Leaning Towers to author new routes.

Unlike the Valley’s tower with the same name, which is climbed several times a week during spring and fall, the Leaning Towers see visiting climbers a few times a year at most.

The Leaning Towers are located 50 miles south of the Bugaboos, in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. “They’re really an untouched part of the world,” Rutherford told Alpinist. “The allure of it being wild was a draw for both of us.”

Between July 11 and 18, Caton, a Squamish B.C. resident, escaped from her work as owner and operator of Valhalla Mountain Touring. Rutherford dropped off her home, a 1961 Airstream trailer, and put her rock-jewelry business on hold in Bishop, California. Caton and Rutherford have been roping up together since 2007; their last expedition was to Greenland in 2010.

The team set up their camp near a glacial lake. They didn’t see anyone else in the area during their eight-day visit. Wall Tower is the wall above the lake.

[Photo] Kate Rutherford

The tall, unclimbed east face of Wall Tower–their primary objective–and neighboring Block Tower, has been on Jasmin’s mind for more than five years. The towers, 100 km from her work, are visible during clear days. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, while on a ski traverse in the area, that she got a closer look at the Leaning Towers, Wall and Block Towers. Soon after her tour, she saw images of the steep, high-quality granite walls taken by alpine climbers Steve House and Vince Anderson from a plane. “They looked like an undiscovered Bugaboos,” Caton told Alpinist.

It was Caton who recruited Rutherford. “She knew she could count on me for some high-quality bushwhacking,” Rutherford said with a laugh. With their partnership secured, they recruited climber and ski guide Stephen Senecal, who works for Caton in the winter, to help them bring in eight days of food, a heavy rack and camping supplies. For one-and-a-half days, they followed small trails, meandered through thick rhododendron and crossed long stretches of talus and loose moraines to reach their destination. After Senecal dropped his pack on the shore of a glacial lake and hiked out, the two didn’t see another person for the duration of the trip.

It rained every day except one during their visit to the area. And, like their trip to Greenland five years prior, mosquitoes constantly buzzed them. The women climbed three routes during their visit, two of them under frequent showers.

Jasmin Caton walks across a moraine while approaching Wall Tower. Block Tower is on the left and Wall Tower is on the right.

[Photo] Kate Rutherford

They climbed Block Tower, via a new route, called Slim Princess (5.10, 250m), on July 14. Slim Princess follows fingers and fist cracks to offwidths and chimneys. Slim Princess is a 1920s comedy film about a woman who stuffs various items, like pillows, into her clothing to look more attractive. The crux came at the end of the route, before they reached the saddle between Wall Tower and Block Tower. Here they overcame a roof by a reachy finger lock and by gripping dirty holds. Three-inch black, crusty rosebud lichen was brushed and kicked away to expose the holds underneath them. “They grow as tall as a flower,” Rutherford said. They completed the five-pitch route, followed by 100 meters of scrambling, to reach the summit and then descended back down in 11 hours round trip.

On July 16 they repeated the Northwest Ridge (5.7, 300m, Cambell-Jones-Palmer-Roxburgh) on Wall Tower, which follows a ridgeline above the steep east face. They climbed their second new route, and the most demanding one on the trip, State of Wonder (5.11-, C1, 300m) in 13 hours round trip, on July 18. Often they encountered green moss-choked cracks, which required a nut tool to clear out so they could jam them or set gear.

State of Wonder, named after an Ann Patchett novel, follows thin cracks to chimneys filled with chockstones, lichen-covered faces and clean, long splitters. It’s the first route to ascend the east face of Wall Tower. They completed State of Wonder in 13 hours from camp to camp. The climbers led and followed all the pitches mostly free, only pulling on gear when necessary. No bolts were placed on either of their new routes.

On July 19 they put on their 60-pound packs and hiked out for 10 hours. “I recommend the area but it’s not for the faint of heart,” Rutherford told Alpinist. “It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.”

(Top) Jasmin Caton jamming 5.10+ cracks on the first ascent of State of Wonder (5.11-, C1), Wall Tower. [Photo] Kate Rutherford (Bottom)
Kate Rutherford jams a lichen-free 5.10 hand crack on State of Wonder. [Photo] Jasmin Caton

Sources: Jasmin Caton, Kate Rutherford,