Jasper National Park

Amber Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Morrison P. Bridgland in 1916. The summit is covered with amber-coloured shale. Official name. (peakfinder.com)

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,540

Amber Mountain is even easier than Signal Mountain to tag "for free" while you're backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. Whereas Signal Mountain requires off trail hiking, Amber Mountain has obvious scree highways right to it's lowly summit right off the main Skyline Trail. It's a no-brainer for peak baggers, but I would never head all the way up there just for this summit. 

 

It could possibly be combined with summits such as Centre and Excelsior which are nearby.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,334
Difficulty Notes: 

This summit is literally right next to the Skyline Trail and can be hiked with backpacking gear easily.

Androlumbia, Mount (Little Andromeda)

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Very nearly an 11,000er, Androlumbia is an unnamed peak lying immediately to the west of Andromeda on the Columbia Icefield (hence the creative name). The view from this summit is as good, if not slightly better than the view from Andromeda, thanks to it's situation on the eastern edge of the icefield.

Technical Difficulty Level: 
8
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,330

On Sunday, April 19th we awoke in -15 degrees feeling pretty darn good with ourselves. The previous day we'd skied into our camp beneath Mount Columbia and even managed to ascend the peak before collapsing into our sleeping bags after a long and hard 17 hour day.

 


[The "Big C" with our tracks visible up her SE ridge / face.]

 

There was a cloud cap covering Columbia as we struggled out of our warm sleeping bags and slowly started breaking camp. The sky soon cleared completely off - we were going to have a blue bird day on the ice fields. Even though our views would have been clearer on Columbia this day, we were still glad to have climbed the face with some clouds rather than a relentless spring sun heating things up. As we packed camp we made decisions on what to attempt. At first Ben and Steven were pretty keen on tagging both Kitchener and Snow Dome. I offered to follow our ski tracks to just above the ramp and set up camp for all of us while they did the peaks. My condition was that they had to assist me in breaking trail to the Andromeda / Androlumbia col so that I could safely climb it solo and get through the crevasses with a rope / team mates.

 


[Vern is colorful with his winter mountaineering load.]


[Skiing towards the trench from camp. Rope is off since we are following our approach track / snow mobile tracks. This doesn't mean it's a great idea or even the safest option but it's what we did.]


[Looking south out of the bottom of the trench. Bryce is huge again at left.]


[Looking back at our tracks descending the trench - Mount Columbia just peeking out again over the lip.]


[The huge and impressive south faces of South Twin (C) and North Twin peaks.]

 

We followed our ski track back through the trench and up towards Snow Dome until Ben and Steven could continue on the snowmobile tracks to the summit while I would follow our ski tracks back to the trench. (Skiing the snowmobile track helped for crevasses but it didn't make the skiing any easier as the tracks were mixed and uneven and the snow was very supportive and easy to ski.) As we parted ways the plans changed slightly. Ben and Steven were starting to realize how big Snow Dome was and were hurting a bit after the 17 hour day on Columbia the day before. They agreed that they would only do Snow Dome while I set up camp. Then we would try to get me up Andromeda that afternoon from camp.

 

 
[The boys lip out on the trench.]

 
[Our tracks and Mount Columbia at center, Sundial, Warwick and Dias in the distant center-right and the Twins at right. ++]


[The Chess Group rises across the Bush River Valley to the west of the Columbia Icefield as we exit the trench.]


[Serenity Peak at distant left with Warwick and Dias at center and right.]

 
[The impressive peaks to the NW include (L to R), Apex, Clemenceau, Toronto, Listening, Sundial, Warwick and Dias. ++]

[Clear views as I look back at Steven and Ben as we start the long slog across the icefield flats.]


[Small figures on an ocean of snow and ice. The big "C" in the background, over 6km away.]

 
[A huge panorama looking south from Castleguard past Forbes and the Lyells including Farbus, Oppy and Alexandra before hitting Bryce at far right. ++]

 
[Looking down the Saskatchewan Glacier towards Mount Saskatchewan at distant left with Amery to its right and Castleguard at far right. ++]

 

I continued skiing solo along our previous days ascent track. The day was gorgeous. I felt alone and completely free as I skied under a brilliantly blue sky with a cool wind and warm sun on my face. I skied down towards the trench and found a perfect camp site under Androlumbia where we could best take advantage of it's west face and north ridge to access the Andromeda col and the south ridge route to its summit. I spent the next few hours digging in camp - building a spectacular biffy and kitchen and setting up my mid. I love building winter camps when it's windless, sunny and warm! I worked in my t-shirt, sweating furiously as I dug large blocks of snow to build a wind wall around the north and west sides of camp. Sitting there drinking a hot cup of coffee while enjoying a chicken sandwich with dutch cheese I reflected how lucky I was to be there, enjoying this wonderful day in this amazing location. Throughout the afternoon I could hear ice fall thundering down the steep faces of Snow Dome and Andromeda - reminding me that we needed to ski beneath the seracs the next day...

 

 
[The huge terrain demands huge panoramas. Mount Andromeda and Androlumbia at left with Castleguard at right. The much safer and gentler Saskatchewan Glacier in between at lower center. ++]


[I was hoping to bag Andromeda via its south ridge (rising right to left) but we ended up bagging Androlumbia instead - the peak rising at center here.]

 
[Getting closer to our next objective (well, mine). Steven and Ben bagged Snow Dome while I set up camp somewhere at lower left here.]

 
[Camp and the biffy as I wait for Steven and Ben to come back down Snow Dome.]


[The HMG Ultra Mid II is only 499 grams but is the perfect icefields shelter even in strong winds. The trick is to dig down about 12-24" below the surface inside the tent once it's up.]


[Andromeda as seen from our camp just above the ramp.]


[Camp is almost done. Andromeda and Androlumbia in the background.]

 

As the time ticked on and Steven and Ben weren't showing up, I began to realize that Andromeda wouldn't be happening for me this day. I wasn't too miffed as it was a long shot to begin with. I also wasn't too keen on climbing it solo - and it can be done in a long day trip. I thought maybe we could break trail to the col and I could go back very early on Monday to tag it solo but that sounded too desperate to be much fun and I wasn't convinced it would come to that. I decided to go for a nap instead of worry about more summits. (Note: I did ski Andromeda in April 2016 as a one day ascent and it was glorious - sometimes waiting is best.)

 

I woke up 30 minutes later when Ben skied into camp. Apparently Snow Dome was more work than they were expecting - a very common theme on the Columbia Icefield! When Steven rolled into camp 15 minutes later it was very clear to me that Andromeda wasn't going to happen. It was already 15:00 and my friends were tired and sore and needed a break. They were delighted and grateful to have camp all set up and we decided to chill out for a few hours and see what we'd do later. I mentioned perhaps breaking trail to the Andromeda south ridge and then ascending it the next day solo but I could sense that this wasn't going to work. Steven had an exam on Tuesday morning and we wanted to get under the seracs on Snow Dome before the day got too hot.

 


[Ben enjoys a late lunch after ascending Snow Dome.]


[Snow Dome has a lot of seracs on it's south side.]

 

After eating and drinking and sitting around for a couple of hours, we came up with a brilliant plan. I'd been asking why Steven and Ben didn't go up Androlumbia while I bagged Andromeda but they weren't convinced. Apparently when they climbed Andromeda they saw a lot of crevasses on Androlumbia's ridge and were very wary of it. I thought the whole thing looked skiable directly from our camp! Eventually we decided that all three of us would attempt to ski Androlumbia that afternoon and I'd break trail since Steven and Ben were pretty bagged already. I wouldn't bother with Andromeda and we could ski out on Monday and get under the seracs early in the day. I was happy with this plan. Taking a day off costs me a lot of cash, as I'm a contractor and paid by the hour. This way at least I'd get a second peak and make the day off worthwhile.

 


[Huge blocks of snow and ice on Snow Dome's southwest flanks.]

 

Ben was a wee bit grumpy as he struggled into his ski boots again, but as I led the way slowly up the west face of Androlumbia his mood improved. ;) The views were stunning, there was very little wind, and we were quickly realizing how awesome our ski descent would be! There were enough crevasses around to keep us sharp, but they were mostly filled in or obvious. Speaking of crevasses - it was neat to see our ski track down on the main glacier far below. From up close we didn't realize it, but our tracks clearly crossed many crevasses which were visible from up high as slightly shadowed straight lines. We could also see another group descending to their camp off of Snow Dome. They had ascended the long Saskatchewan Glacier rather than deal with the objective hazards of the Athabasca. Hard to blame them but with the warm temps the approach valley up from hwy 93 to the Saskatchewan must have been a drag...

 


[Glacier coming off of Androlumbia - you must traverse above this terrain on the way to Andromeda's south ridge.]

 
[Looking back at camp - barely visible at center - Mount Columbia at distant left and Snow Dome rising at center.]


[Back on the skis. You can just spot our track curving down to the right - camp is just out of sight here.]


[Spot the tiny figures skiing across our tracks at left. They are exiting the Saskatchewan Glacier. Columbia looms many kms distant now.]


[A large ice avalanche comes off the south side of Snow Dome across the glacier from our ascent route. This is why ascending or descending too far south on Snow Dome is a very bad idea. People have also died in crevasses here.]


[There are large holes on Androlumbia. Many smaller ones too. Bryce is always trying to steal the show on this end of the Icefields.]


[Yet another ice fall avalanche off of Snow Dome. This one is falling directly over our ski path which we will be taking off the glacier tomorrow.]


[It's pretty easy, but still a decent workout getting up Androlumbia's west slope.]

 

Near the summit ridge the snow became wind hammered and crusty. Since the skiing would be crappy there, we ditched the skis and boot packed the rest of the way. The views to our right were stunning! Androlumbia is not a popular peak but at nearly 11,000 feet and on the eastern edge of the icefield it is perfectly situated for some killer views. Andromeda looked quite snowy - good thing I wasn't up there alone breaking trail. 

 

 
[High on the summit ridge of Androlumbia with gorgeous, clear views over the ice fields towards Mount Columbia (C) and Snow Dome (R). ++]


[Steven points out that we're probably on a cornice.]

 
[More late afternoon panoramas of the icefields looking like an ocean beneath us. Columbia, South Twin and Snow Dome clearly visible L to R. ++]


[Hard to believe we were up there 24 hours ago. Note the perfect intersection of tracks on the glacier below from us and a group who did Snow Dome from a camp on the Saskatchewan Glacier.]


[Mount Clemenceau rises over Chaba Peak with Tusk and Toronto Peak to the left.]

 
[More sublime late day lighting on the immense sheet of snow and ice.]

 
[Huge Mount Bryce.]


[Castleguard at lower right with Alexandra at left.]

 
[Looking south from the summit of Androlumbia at Forbes, Lyells, Alexandra and Bryce. ++]


[Mount Forbes is the highest peak in Banff National Park at 11,851ft.]


[All five Lyells are visible but 4 and 5 are barely showing up. Farbus and Oppy on the right.]


[Mount Alexandra is a beautiful and remote 11,000er - one of my favorites so far.]


[Mount Sir Sanford shows up to the west - it's around 11,500 feet tall so it shows up often from this area.]


[Vern and Ben on the summit of Androlumbia.]

 

After taking photos it was time for the best part of this peak - the beautiful ski run down. We enjoyed some great turns, especially Ben and I carving around each other's tracks on the upper mountain. We got back to camp way too soon. With a couple hours of day light left, we made supper and enjoyed another perfect glacier evening camp. Steven was miffed to find out that a famous icefield thief had got into his food and destroyed most of it while we were up on the mountain. angry Another reminder of the many things that can happen to ruin a trip. BURY YOUR FOOD on the Columbia Icefield or risk losing it all while you're gone!

 


[A last glance back as we leave the summit - Castleguard at center foreground.]


[Looking across hwy 93 towards Cirrus (L) and Mount Cline (C).]

 
[Descent panorama with Andromeda taking up a good chunk of the foreground view. ++]


[Another couple of visible 11,000ers - this is Warren (C) and Brazeau (R)]


[Charlton and Unwin at left with Mary Vaux and Replica at foreground right. Endless Chain marches off to the left.]

 
[Descending the summit ridge of Androlumbia with the lower south ridge of Andromeda in front of us. You can see why this is the easy route on Andromeda - but it's much further to the summit than it looks here as the summit visible is a false one and there's two more before the true summit is finally attained. ++]


[Heading down to our waiting snow sticks.]


[You can just spot our camp at center left, the ramp clearly visible running down between the icefall just to the right of it into the shadows.]


[Steven and Ben ski down Androlumbia.]


[Vern skis down - what a blast!! Photo by Steven Song.]


[Steven on the big slope.]


[Looking back at a fantastic Rockies ski run!]

 

Monday morning dawned cold but mostly clear. Andromeda was buried in a cloud cap so good thing I wasn't up there alone. We skied quickly under the seracs and then carefully down the steepest roll near the toe of the glacier ice fall. After that it was a fast ride to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and then a long trudge to the cars from there. I highly recommend Androlumbia as a day trip or the tail end of another ice fields trip. Highly worth it for the views and if there's decent coverage on the glacier the holes should be mostly filled.

 


[Another cold, but clear, morning.]


[Steven prepares to exit the glacier from camp.]


[This guy couldn't wait for us to leave camp. He's already eating a whole bunch of Steven's food and wants more.]


[Skiing the ramp.]


[Walking off a steep roll down to the glacier (I skied it).]


[Looking up at Sky Ladder (R) on Andromeda. You can see the AA col in the distance on Athabasca on the left background.]


[Steven skis the last few meters to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.]


[This is how most icefields trips will end now that the climber's parking lot is closed.]


[Andromeda Strain is a Barry Blanchard classic hard Rockies route - not for the faint of heart.]


[Ben can't believe the graphic sign showing tourists what will happen to their child if she falls in a crevasse and gets wedged in!]


[If we didn't leave in the bloody dark we would have had better warning thanks to signs like this one.]

 
[A last glance back from where the glacier was in 1925.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,925
Elevation Gain (m): 
1350
Round Trip Time: 
9.00
Total Distance (km): 
20.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Crevasses, seracs and avalanche risk are what makes Androlumbia a peak to ascend with caution and in good conditions.

Andromeda, Mount

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by Rex Gibson (a former president of the Alpine Club of Canada) in 1938. In Greek mythology Andromeda was the wife of Perseus who rescued her from a sea monster. It is also the name of the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy can easily be seen with binoculars Official name. First ascended in 1930 by W.R. Hainsworth, J.F. Lehmann, M.M. Strumia, N.B. Waffl. Journal reference CAJ 19-152. (from peakfinder.com

Technical Difficulty Level: 
8
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,450

I wasn't sure that I would manage to summit my last 11,000er on the main Columbia Icefield in the spring of 2016. Rumors were flying around that the Athabasca Glacier approach was toast this year thanks to an extremely warm winter / spring combined with low snow and an serac event that covered the route I've always used through the headwall with tons of ice and snow earlier in the year. I wasn't too concerned, as I knew I could approach the south ridge from the Saskatchewan Glacier if I had to, some other year. The South Ridge is the easiest route on Andromeda (there are a lot of routes on this particular 11,000er) and probably one of the technically easiest ascents on the Columbia Icefields - but it does have a lot of objective hazards so I didn't want to underestimate it. To be honest, I had mixed feelings about doing my last Athabasca Glacier ski mountaineering approach. It's true that this approach is full of objective hazards and I've been extremely lucky not to have had a single bad experience through the icefall, but it's also a gorgeous area with rock, snow, ice, wind, clouds and sun all competing for attention as skiers skin up steep snow through crevasses and under towering ridges of snow and ice a vertical kilometer above, staring coldly down at them as they thread their way through it's hard, blue detritus. It's an area that hundreds and hundreds of visitors to our beautiful province gaze towards every day and wonder who the heck goes up to that forbidding place and actually enjoys themselves while doing it! 

 

I've been up the Athabasca Glacier a number of times over the past years. Most times the weather has been good (because why the heck would you want to go up there in a blizzard?) but there was that one time I got frost-nip and set up camp in a blizzard. I've gone up the headwall in the dark when it was nice and cool and too late in the day, when it was so bloody hot we were almost fainting under our heavy winter mountaineering loads. Thanks to global climate change, I worry that my kids will not be able to enjoy the Columbia Icefields area as much as I did, or at least they will enjoy it differently than I did, so I'm glad I got to preserve some memories for their generation of what the area "used to be like when you could ski up the ramp and kick steps up Mount Columbia".

 

So, it was with mixed feelings that I started planning possibly my last ski trip up the Athabasca Glacier with Anton and Gen for Sunday, April 17. The weekend before I managed to ski up Resplendent Mountain in Robson Provincial Park with Ben and Mike. Conditions on that approach were very dry for mid-April, but as I drove past the Columbia Icefields center on my way home on Monday I noticed that the ramp looked to be in excellent shape, and even the lower approach looked fairly reasonable from highway 93. When a high pressure system was forecast to be moving in on Sunday, April 17th, the planning for a one day ski ascent of Andromeda started in earnest between Gen, Anton and I.

 

The plan was to sleep in the parking lot the night before and get up early enough to put us under the Snow Dome seracs before the morning sun hit them. I had a good idea of the route to Andromeda's south ridge, thanks to an ascent of Androlumbia the year before so given good conditions we hoped to be back off the mountain and down the ramp as close to 14:00 hours as possible. As the weekend drew closer the forecast invariably changed a bit until my "go to" trusted source, SpotWx.com was predicting winds and cloud over Andromeda until the afternoon before the HP system finally moved in. Most other forecasts were much more optimistic, showing light winds and clear skies all day. Clouds wasn't a bad thing, given the nuclear conditions forecast once the HP system was overhead, so we maintained our original plan. I picked up Anton at his place around 16:00 on Saturday and we met Gen in the upper parking lot at the Icefields center at around 20:30 under clouds and a very stiff wind, so far proving SpotWx correct. After chatting, eating supper and sorting gear, we turned in around 21:00 with alarms set for 03:15 and a planned departure of 04:00. We were encouraged by a Yamnuska van parked in the parking lot and a large camp on the Icefields just above the ramp that I could see using a telephoto lens. Obviously the route was navigable and we might even have recent tracks to follow.

 


[A very dry (for April) Athabasca catches some final rays of setting sun as we prepare to sleep in the parking lot.]


[Interesting lighting from blowing snow and the setting sun high on Andromeda.]

 

(NOTE: Something climbers on the Columbia Icefields have to factor into their plans nowadays, is a longer approach than what used to be possible from the bus tour parking lot along the snow coach road. That option is now off limits thanks to Brewster moving the bus terminal to the old climber's parking lot. By the time you walk your gear down the paved road from the upper parking lot, past Sunwapta Lake and the lower parking lot and all the way to the toe of the glacier over several moraines, it's almost an hour later than your departure. Then of course you have to ski further up the glacier than before, adding even more time. C'est la vie.)

 

The wind howled most of the night but when we got up at 03:15 it was thankfully died down quite a bit. There were stars and a bright moon overhead, but cloud caps on the surrounding 11,000ers including Andromeda and Snow Dome. It was also bloody warm. We measured the outside temperate at 2 degrees in the parking lot! I wasn't super happy about this for a variety of obvious reasons when we were dealing with objective hazard such as avalanche terrain, seracs and snow bridges! After gearing up, which included strapping skis to our packs, we started towards the glacier. Walking on ski boots with my skis strapped to my pack reminded me of a week earlier when I walked around 15km with my skis on an overnight pack to access Berg Lake and Resplendent Mountain! Thankfully this time I only had a day pack and only had to walk a few kilometers before putting the snow sticks on my feet where they belong!

 


[It's pretty dark at 04:00 in the parking lot!]

 

When we reached the glacier we decided to rope up right away. On hindsight this was a great idea since I've never seen the lower glacier so bare before. Usually I've skied unroped to the first icefall but this year that may not be the best idea in the world. If you wander too close to the center or climber's left on the lower glacier, there are some slots opening up already - and they're bigger than you'd think. We chose to use a 60m rope with 20 meters extra rescue coil at the front and 20 meters between skiers. I carried a separate 30m rescue rope in my pack at the back. There's a hundred different ways to rope up on glaciers - this is just one that I've used. (I'm also a huge fan of self-contained rescue pulley systems like the Mammut RescYou because they are so intuitive to use, don't involve building z-pulley systems on frozen ropes with prussics and work with almost any diameter rope and even go over knots. With a RescYou, you simply build an anchor and start hauling your partner out on a 6:1 pulley system. No fuss - no muss. It also works equally well as a self rescue device to haul yourself up a rope with 6:1 ease.)

 


[As we approach the first icefall, it's still fairly dark - darker than this photo would suggest.]


[Still dark as we start switchbacking up the first icefall.]

 
[A beautiful sunrise over Nigel Peak as we look back from the first bench in the headwall. ++]

 

Anton set a great pace - slow 'n steady - and we put our heads down and trudged our way up the lower glacier in the dark, each of us lost in our own little halo of silence, the way roped travel tends to be. I think there is a solace in traveling roped on skies. There isn't a lot of talking possible because of wind and distance between climbers, yet you feel connected to your rope partners both literally and figuratively because they are there to help you if you get into trouble. I don't know - I like skiing up things so I'm a little bit weird that way. ;) The wind was stiff in our faces, coming down the glacier, but it was a 'warm' wind. Dawn was breaking in a plethora of bright morning colors over Nigel Peak (behind us) as we arrived at the first icefall. The route looked remarkably easy and obvious and we didn't even need the skin track from the previous party in order to navigate up under the Snow Dome seracs. I think what made it so easy this year was the fact that there was only one option! Every other option, including the left hand approach through the icefall was way too open and crevassed to even consider. Basically there was one way through and that's it. Thankfully the early serac falls had filled in the upper bench and we quickly made our way under the seracs and towards the ramp through the final headwall.

 

 
[This snow ramp made it very quick and easy to gain the first bench in the icefall. Every other time I've been here, there's a very steep roll that has to be clambered up and is almost too steep to skin up. Not this time! ++]

 
[LOTS of blue ice to our left as we work our way through the serac fall zone. This zone was also much more filled in than usual. Note Andromeda to the left and Androlumbia covered in clouds. We still have to work our way up the ramp and then climber's left to gain the ridge visible here at far left which is showing the first false summit. ++]

 
[Navigating the second bench to the ramp and under the Snow Dome seracs. This is where many folks get into trouble with crevasses since they're so well hidden here.]

 

The ramp was nicely filled in and Anton set a great pace / track up it's back, until we were looking at the Yamnuska camp just waking up to our right. From the top of the ramp we followed the terrain up Androlumbia's west face and over her north shoulder. There was one spot where Anton stopped for a bit and yelled back that he was getting a "bad feeling" about where we were. I indicated we were about 60m to the left of Steven and Ben's Andromeda GPS track, so we cut sharply to our right, uphill before continuing around the north shoulder of Androlumbia towards the Andromeda col. Looking back later from Andromeda's ascent ridge we could clearly see that Anton's track went over a large slot that only got larger if we wouldn't have changed direction here! Great gut feel by Anton and shows the importance of being sensitive to the terrain you're on and speaking up if something doesn't feel right. So far, Andromeda's upper mountain had been covered in clouds and the main icefield was also showing a lot of cloud cover. There were some positive hints of clearing towards the west and even Mount Columbia was starting to clear as we rounded the north ridge of Androlumbia but I was pretty resigned to having no views on my last Columbia Icefields 11,000er. :(

 


[Approaching the bottom of the ramp - obvious as an unbroken line of snow ahead and up the last icefall.]


[Anton leads up the ramp - you don't want to stray too far off this very handy feature.]


[Nearing the top of the ramp the terrain evens out again.]


[The view from the top of the ramp looking back down the Athabasca Glacier looks deceptively simple - except for the obvious crevasse maze on the second bench below.]


[The camp at the top of the ramp is just stirring awake as we pass by.]

  
[As we contour around crevasses at the toe of the neve, this is our view of Androlumbia's west face and north shoulder with Andromeda's first false summit buried in cloud beyond. Obviously we had to be careful not to go too far left, but what's not so obvious from this vantage is the giant holes that also exist if you go too far right.]


[Telephoto of the Yamnuska camp set up at the top of the ramp.]


[The grunt over the north shoulder of Androlumbia was interminable. Thankfully it did end at some point.]

 

The snow slope to the Andromeda / Androlumbia col never seemed to end but eventually, after cutting across an avalanche slope high on Androlumbia's north ridge we could finally see the col just ahead. Surprisingly, we could also see a highway of boot tracks up the south ridge! Apparently the Yamnuska group ascended Andromeda the day before - this was a nice surprise as it would presumably make our ascent a bit easier and safer. Their skin track was slightly higher on Andromeda than ours, which is why we missed it. Both tracks flirted with some big holes as seen from above, so neither one was perfect but then again, there are numerous crevasses up there so what can you do other than cross a few of them?

 


[Androlumbia's shoulder has some tilt to it.]

 
[Looking back down at the ramp (lower center) with the camp just barely visible and Snow Dome sporting a cloud cap in the background. ++]


[We started flirting with crevasses again just head as the slope rolled off a shallow bench.]

 
[Skinning towards the Andromeda / Androlumbia col under a pretty thick cover of clouds still. At this point I was resigned to having limited views from this 11,000er. The south ridge looks bloody easy though! ++]

 

As we approached the col, the clouds started to dissipate all around us and bits of (very warm!) sun started punching through. We ditched our skis and a bunch of gear at the col before putting on crampons and starting up a pretty bare looking ridge to the first false summit about 300 vertical meters above us. We knew we had around 500 vertical to go from the col, and a pretty long summit ridge traverse so we weren't too surprised with the amount of work still ahead. I played a mind trick on myself for this climb which worked pretty good. I didn't consider anything before the col as part of the climb but simply thought of it as the "approach". This meant we were 6 hours into our day before I really considered us climbing Andromeda. You'd be surprised how much these innocent mind tricks can influence energy levels on bigger days in the hills. I've used this particular "approach trick" many times including on slogs such as Recondite, Alexandra and the Lyells.

 


[A few meters to descend and we're finally done the "approach"! The south ridge rises steeply above us with a nice set of tracks beaten into it - barely visible here.]

 

After a steep initial grunt to the first false summit, we followed the highway of tracks up frozen and supportive snow to the second false summit where our highway mysteriously ended. I was a bit surprised that the previous group apparently didn't bother with the traverse to the true summit. It looks a bit intimidating at first, but it's not as bad as it looks and it's not very far. Maybe they ran out of time or something, or perhaps they simply weren't worried about it - a rather healthy attitude unless you're a peak bagger! ;) In a lucky twist, the clouds were completely cleared off Andromeda at this point and the views in every direction were rapidly becoming cloud free. The only issue now was that we were in a bit of a race to get back down before things got truly nuclear - the sun was HOT already, even at 11,000 feet. 

 

 
[Looking back at the col as I start the final 500 vertical meter push to the summit of Andromeda. The clouds are lifting but still pretty thick to the south.]


[Anton follows up the south ridge.]


[Gen takes over kicking steps - the descent tracks from the previous party didn't work that well for ascent but did help with trail breaking.]

 
[Anton kicks steps up behind me as Androlumbia starts peaking out of the cloud cover behind him. ++]


[As we crest the south ridge, Mount Columbia starts peeking out of the clouds at far right.]


[We're casting shadows! Hoping that the clouds are really clearing.]


[Following the previous group's tracks to the false summit from the top of the south ridge.]

 
[Looking back at our tracks from the broad false summit plateau.]


[Mount Columbia and Mount King Edward - two giants on the western edge of the Columbia Icefield.]

 
[Even the toques and hats are coming off in the warm temps! We're higher than Androlumbia at left now.]


[Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak - all of which I did on the same day back in September 2014 with Ben and Steven.]


[Always steeper and further than it appears. The snow was hard enough here that it was easier to walk beside the highway of tracks to our right.]

 
[Gorgeous and untracked views to the true summit from the second false one, including views of Mount Athabasca at right. The best part? Note how clear it is now! Talk about perfect timing... ++]

 

I led on a mix of soft and firm snow along the corniced ridge connecting the second false summit and the true one. I gave the cornice a wide berth before ascending to the true summit and topping out at around 11:30 to an amazing summit panorama and barely a breath of wind - not something I was expecting on the entire approach! Once again, the Columbia Icefields were treating me well. I have summitted 14 peaks on the ice field now, and have had brilliant views from all of them. Not one summit in a whiteout. Not bad! After taking a zillion photos we descended slightly off the summit to enjoy a few minutes in the warm sun out of the breeze to eat lunch.

 

 
[I love cwms like this! This view is looking south towards the Saskatchewan Glacier from the traverse between the second false (R) and true (L) summits of Andromeda. ++]


[Lots of clearing skies as I work my way to the true summit. This is a distant view of Mount Cline, another 11,000er in David Thompson Country (R) along with the three so-called "White Goat Peaks" to the left, including Dasant, Troll and Gruff.]


[Anton and Gen follow my tracks down from the false summit.]


[Looking up towards the true summit.]


[Great views towards the Lyells from the traverse.]

 
[The traverse between summits isn't difficult but there is cornice to the north and avy slopes down to the south so there is some level of concentration required. This is looking back at Anton and Gen coming from the false summit.]


[Gen pops onto the summit of Mount Andromeda!]

 
[The clouds are gone! This is looking north from the summit, over the Athabasca approach glacier at lower center. Peaks include Columbia, King Edward, South Twin, Snow Dome, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Kitchener, Woolley, Diadem, Mushroom, Charlton, Unwin, Tangle Ridge, Sunwapta, Wilcox, Warren, Brazeau, Poboktan, Nigel (L to R) and of course many others. ++]

 
[Enjoying a gorgeous day with views of many other 11,000ers.]


[Mount Forbes at left, Lyell I, II and III at right.]


[Mount Columbia and Mount King Edward.]


[It took me two years and three attempts to finally stand on the summit of Mount King Edward.]


[North Twin Peak and Twins Tower.]


[Mount Athabasca looks deceptively close and very dry. The descent to the AA col is not as easy as it looks from here - I know of more than one party who got benighted thanks to this deception!]


[Mount Saskatchewan is extremely close to being part of the 11,000er club. Some would say it is. Mount Amery just behind it is also very close.]

 
[The view south over the Saskatchewan Glacier towards Banff National Park isn't too shabby either. Summits visible include (L to R), Athabasca, Cirrus, Cline, Saskatchewan, Forbes, Rudolph, Edward, Ernest, Farbus, Oppy, Alexandra and others. ++]


[Looking east over Nigel Peak towards the Nigel Pass area.]


[Great views of Coronet, Monkhead, Warren, Brazeau and Sunwapta (L to R).]


[Charlton and Unwin are not small peaks! They are located on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Mary Vaux rises at right over Replica Peak.]


[Mount Bryce looks inhospitable from this angle with snow and clouds blowing off her lofty summit.]

 
[A wild scene of rock, snow, ice and clouds around the Lyells area including the infamous Alexandra Glacier between Ernest and Farbus which is part of the Great Divide Ski Traverse and one of the gnarliest bits of it. Our trip into the Lyells is one of my all time favorites. I still wonder if we could have bagged Oppy (far right) when Steven and I wandered all the way to Farbus, but we didn't have the time or energy. ++]


[Mount Forbes remains one of the most recognizable peaks in the Alberta Rockies and one of my most prized summits.]

 
[It's hard to think of something I'd rather be doing than eating lunch with this view.]


[The heavily crevassed Athabasca Glacier headwall which we have already navigated and will now have to ski down.]

 
[A great view of Snow Dome and its dangerous overhanging seracs (center left) which are a dangerous objective hazard for anyone ascending the Athabasca Glacier below.]


[Telephoto of the White Goat Peaks.]


[Alexandra finally clears - she is still a top 5 11,000er for me, having ticked all the 'right' boxes for my definition of what a mountain experience should be.]


[Cockscomb Mountain and other peaks in the Bush River area are remote and rugged.]


[The Adamants are obvious to the west, located in the Selkirks in BC. Peaks include (L to R), Sentinel, The Stickle, Adamant, Turret and Austerity.]

 

We didn't linger long in the rapidly warming oven we were now baking in, and soon started a fast descent off the mountain. My favorite part of Andromeda, other than the views, are how quickly a skier can descend it. We left the summit around 13:00 with a goal of making it through the serac zone almost a vertical mile lower by 14:00 and we almost made that goal! Once we got back down to our skis, we roped back up for the initial re-crossing of the crevassed avy slope of Androlumbia. Once we knew we were passed the obvious slots, we agreed to unrope for the remaining descent based on our ascent observations and the current snow conditions, which was still pretty locked up. I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again here - unroping on a glacier is *NOT* the safest thing in the world to do and should be considered very carefully before committing to it! Every time I've done it, the risks have been very clearly acknowledged and accepted by the entire group I was with. If anyone in the group wanted a rope, we would have roped up. In this case, Gen delicately retorted to my inquiry, that she was fine with unroping as long as I skied down first! LOL - I agreed since it was my turn to take that risk anyway.

 


[Gen on the traverse to the false summit.]


[Care must be taken on the traverse between summits that you don't wander onto a cornice.]

 
[Traversing back to the second false summit under a blazing HOT sun now.]


[Mount Sir Sanford is an 11,545 foot peak located in the Selkirks. I'd love to climb it some day.]

 
[Great views over the Columbia Icefields and our ascent tracks (C) from near the false summit.]


[I still haven't stood on top of Mount Bryce. Some day!]


[Mount Clemenceau is one of four peaks over 12,000 feet in the Canadian Rockies.]


[Tusk (R) is another 11,000er located near Clemenceau. Further to the left is another impressive peak in the region, Mount Shackleton.]


[I waited years to finally summit Mount Columbia on a beautiful spring evening one year ago on April 18, 2015.]

 
[Another incredible day on the icefields. I've been so lucky over the years with the weather and views up here! Timing is everything.]


[Looking over the corniced summit ridge of Little Andromeda.]

 
[Descending the broad upper east plateau to the south ridge. ++]

 
[Descending the south ridge towards Androlumbia with the summit plateau at left. ++]


[The large 'schrund on Little Andromeda is obvious as we start our descent of the south ridge of Andromeda.]

 
[Looking directly down the south ridge towards Little Andromeda as the day goes 'nuclear' on us (warm and sunny).]


[Our skin track across the north ridge of Androlumbia is visible far below. To the right side there are some big holes that we just barely avoided thanks to Anton's 'spidey senses'.]


[Looking straight down the south ridge at our skis - tiny dots at the col.]

 
[Ridiculous views along Little Andromeda's east face towards Oppy and the Lyells.]

 
[Views over the ramp and the Athabasca Glacier towards Snow Dome from the Andromeda / Little Andromeda col.]

 
[We roped up for the first part of the descent around the north shoulder of Androlumbia thanks to a few big crevasses on the face.]

 

The ski down Androlumbia was as fast as I remembered it being last time I was there. We could see fresh ski turns down the ramp and quickly made it down that section as well. The ski through the icefall was as exhilarating as usual, trying to avoid huge ice chunks while maintaining enough speed to limit objective hazard to the seracs above! Any tourist with a long telephoto lens would get some quality entertainment watching me ski through there... ;)

 


[Carefully skiing down to the main icefield.]


[This is why we love ski ascents! QUICK exits.]


[Descending off Androlumbia towards the ramp.]

 
[Back to feeling small on the icefield, looking back at Andromeda and Androlumbia.]


[Taking a break while descending the ramp - this is the life!]

 
[View from the ramp looking down the Athabasca Glacier. The Snow Dome seracs at upper left, Nigel Peak in the distance at center and Andromeda's false summit at upper right. You can see that we traversed above some serious terrain at upper right. ++]


[Carefully avoiding crevasses as we continue to descend the Athabasca Glacier headwall.]

 
[Almost home free now, skiing off the main icefall to the lower glacier. The snow is going soft in the intense spring heat. Androlumbia at upper left and the Snow Dome seracs at upper right. ++]

 

The descent down the gently sloping toe of the Athabasca Glacier, past the tourist buses, was slightly damped by slushy, grippy snow but went quickly enough. The slog back up through the moraines and then the paved road to the parking lot was the highlight of the entire trip (!!), as usual.

 


[Arg. Every trip to the Columbia Icefields ends with this plod now...]


[The 2km trudge from the toe of the glacier to the upper parking lot (since the lower is closed this early in the season). Andromeda's false summit at upper left.]


[Andromeda from the parking lot showing the Skyladder at right and Andromeda Strain at left.]


[Happy to be back safe from a great day out.]

 
[Our ski tracks are visible on the ramp descending from the main icefield. You can also see the ski tracks under the Snow Dome seracs at right. ++]

 

I was delighted to have such a wonderful day as my last one approaching the Columbia Icefields this way. Given the windy and cloudy conditions we started in and the doom-and-gloom beta we had on the approach conditions, our day could not have turned out better. It was great to get out with Anton and Gen and find new potential partners for more alpine climbs in the future. Thanks again to Anton for being on the sharp end of the rope and to Gen for kicking steps on Andromeda's upper ridge!

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,319
Elevation Gain (m): 
1650
Round Trip Time: 
10.50
Total Distance (km): 
24.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

The route itself is one of the easiest on the Columbia Icefield, but objective hazards should be respected including many crevasses, serac exposure and some avalanche slopes on route.

Antler Ridge

Interesting Facts: 

This summit is a minor highpoint on the south ridge of Antler Mountain along the Jasper Skyline trail in the Maligne Range.

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,450

I call the summit on the ridge that connects to Antler Mountain 'Antler Ridge'. We climbed up this ridge from the Snowbowl campground along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National park. To gain the minor summit, simply scramble up the steepish slopes behind the campground and continue up the ridge through several small (and fun!) cliff bands until you can't go any higher without getting into serious terrain.

 


[Vern and Hanneke come up the lower ridge behind the Snowbowl Campground.]


[
Views from Antler Ridge are quite spectacular in late afternoon lighting.]


[Looking towards Antler Mountain from the ridge.]


[At the summit of Antler Ridge.]

 

An interesting and refreshing return route is to go down towards Antler Mountain and then to the east down scree slopes to a little tarn hidden in the high meadows above the Skyline Trail. Trust me. This lake is very cold! We went for a quick dip and my heart must have stopped for a few seconds in the process.

 


[Trust me. This tarn is VERY cold!]

 

The return to camp is via the Skyline Trail and a boggy meadow.

 

Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,158
Difficulty Notes: 

Simple off trail hiking from the Snowbowl Campground along the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park.

Athabasca, Mount

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by J. Norman Collie in 1898. Athabasca is the Cree Indian name for "where there are reeds" and originally referred to Lake Athabasca. Official name. First ascended in 1898 by J. Norman Collie, H. Woolley Other reference Collie 105.

 

(from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,491

As the first peak of my 40's, I thought it would be nice to tag an 11000er that's been on my radar for many years. Mount Athabasca looms over the Columbia Icefields center along highway 93 - otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway. I'm sure it has the most tourist photographs of any 11,000er, except maybe Mount Temple in Lake Louise or Robson to the north. Some people might be surprised that I hadn't done Athabasca earlier in my climbing career, considering that I already completed many of the more difficult Columbia Icefields summits. The truth is, that I'd been saving Athabasca for the perfect time. It's close to the road and fairly easy, so I wasn't in a rush to get it done. There were two options I was considering. The first was a solo ascent in summer or late fall via the unofficial scramble route that avoids most of the glacier and ice. I wasn't scared of the regular routes, but just thought it would be fun to try something different. The second option was to do it in winter conditions via the AA (Athabasca / Andromeda) col and it's this option that I ended up doing on Wednesday, April 8th, four days after leaving my 30's forever in my rearview mirror.

 

Ferenc sent out an email on Monday, asking if anyone was free to climb anything during the week. He had vacation days to burn and was itching to get to a summit. There was a nice two day high pressure system building and I instantly thought of the two most accessible peaks I still had to do on the Columbia Icefield - Athabasca and Andromeda. Our original plan was to bag both peaks on subsequent days, but that didn't turn out. Oh well - I wasn't complaining  too much about having to go back another day for Andromedawink

 

There are many online trip reports for Mount Athabasca. It is probably one of the most summitted 11,000ers along with Temple, Hector and Victoria. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that it's used for mountaineering courses, it's close to the highway, highly visible (making it very popular) and technically very easy in both mountaineering and approach terms. While it's ascended often, via several routes, it is usually done in spring or summer conditions. In the fall, most routes are icy and the glacier crevasses are eager to swallow climbers. In the winter, all her routes have significant exposure to avalanches and of course the temperatures can be prohibitively cold! Both Andromeda and Athabasca have a nasty habit of catching westerly winds blowing off the massive snow / ice sheet to the west and these winds can catch people off guard. A warm, sunny day in the parking lot can be a very cold one a vertical mile higher.

 

If you have a keen eye, you may have noticed that my total distance for Athabasca is a bit further than most other trip reports. This is due to the unfortunate closing of the so-called climber's parking lot that used to exist part way up the glacier tour access road. See the following map and descriptions for details.

 

 
[The new parking / approach situation for accessing the Athabasca Glacier, Mount Athabasca and Boundary Peak. You used to be able to drive up the red line after driving through or around a gate, and park at the first blue circle which was the 'climber's parking lot'. The two dashed red lines from there are the approach routes for Boundary Peak and three of the popular routes on Athabasca (North Glacier, Silverhorn and North Face). For accessing the main ice field via the Athabasca Glacier, you used to be able to shuttle your gear to the second blue circle which was the parking lot for the glacier tour buses. From there you could descend a steep road to the glacier, saving at least 2km off the yellow line approach from the toe. The red dashed line from the second blue circle is the access for the AA route on Athabasca. Now the old climber's parking lot is the new base for the snow coaches and climbers have to park at the red circle and walk the road for Athabasca and Boundary. For skiing the glacier, your only option now is to park at the yellow circle (if the road is open) or the first red circle (winter) and ski from the toe of the Athabasca. This will add significant time and distance to any Icefields trip.]

 

Part of any trip up highway 93 involves planning gas / mileage. Due to The Crossing being closed all winter (opening in mid-April most years), your last fill up is in Lake Louise. I've done a lot of planning and know that Canmore has a 24-hour Fas Gas, so I usually fill up there. Lake Louise Esso is open at 06:00 or 06:30 and open until 11pm, so that's another good one to plan. We ended up waiting 20 minutes at Lake Louise and didn't get to the parking lot until around 07:30. I think Ferenc was slightly underestimating how big Athabasca is - he hadn't done a decent mountain trip in 6 months. I knew from Steven that it would be a fairly big day, especially in full-on winter conditions. When I told Ferenc I was expecting a 10-12 hour day he was quite surprised. We walked up the snow coach road under a clear and very cold morning sky. I knew that it would be feeling like -20 so I was bundled up pretty good. I even tried toe warmers in my mountaineering boots, which only seemed to work on descent when I didn't need them anymore... Classic.

 


[Snow Dome and the Athabasca Glacier approach from the snow coach road.]


[Athabasca from the snow coach road - it looks so close! It's not. From here you can see the approach for the north face routes including the Silverhorn and the North Glacier routes.]

 

From the end of the road, we spotted some tracks going up moraines on climber's left and followed them up. I was pumped about possibly having a broken trail all the way, but that idea was soon dashed when the tracks stopped about 500 meters up the approach. The moraines steepened considerably at this point, and we donned our snowshoes to assist in the ascent. The snow pack was definitely at full winter levels from the base of the climb to the summit. Thankfully the base was supportive and the avalanche ratings proved accurate as the snow pack wasn't sliding or showing any major weaknesses all day. I've been warned that the approach is very foreshortened on Athabasca and this is certainly true. Looking ahead, the terrain looks mild and close but as you climb it you realize you're gaining a lot of height and everything is bigger, steeper and further than at first glance. This is very typical of snow ascents and the Twins are another great example of being much bigger and further than they first appear.

 


[Ferenc follows the tracks up frozen snow off the road.]


[The lower ice fall from the AA Glacier. The route to the glacier skirts this on climber's left via rock and scree. The impressive Andromeda Strain climb is marked.]


[Looking back at Ferenc and our approach through the lower moraines.]


[The tracks end. Boo. Note the cairn and the faint sign of a buried track in the scree underneath the snow cover.]

 

We managed to skirt the ice fall from the AA glacier on climber's left through snow covered rock / scree with faint glimpses of the trail underneath the fresh snow. There is some exposure here, especially with snow, but nothing too concerning. It reminded me of the scrambling section on the Aster Lake approach for Mount Joffre. From the top of the ice fall we wandered up fresh snow on climber's left, along the gorgeous AA glacier valley. We gained more height than I imagined we would towards the end of this alpine bowl. I can echo the warnings I receive for this route - it's further and bigger terrain than you may suspect. It's technically easy, but that doesn't mean it's without objective hazards (i.e. crevasses, avalanches, rock fall) or no physical effort.

 


[Up close and personal with the AA Glacier ice fall.]


[Again, there is a faint trail under the snow. Thanks to the brutal winds this area sees, there was little chance of big slides on this section.]


[Some awkward moves on 'shoes!]

 
[You don't want to get caught in a slide here. The snow was a bit punchy but as you can see, pretty thin. Chances of a big slide here were slim for us but with recent loading I wouldn't want too much more snow on this slope. Note the practice gullies showing up at distant left.]

 
[Looking across the Athabasca Glacier towards Snow Dome, Kitchener and K2 (L to R).]


[This is where a slide would take you over the headwall section.]

 
[Over the headwall and firmly on the AA Glacier now with Snow Dome, Kitchener and K2 in the background. ++]


[Roped up on the AA Glacier with the AA Col directly ahead and above Ferenc.]


[The AA Glacier is a special place, nestled between two 11,000ers and not visible from the road. Kitchener in the background here.]

 


Sidebar re: Routes / History on Mount Athabasca

Mount Athabasca was the first high peak to be climbed near the Columbia Icefield on August 18, 1898 by Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley. I can only imagine their thoughts as they became the first humans to view the immense icefield from above, viewing giants like Mount Columbia which nobody had ever seen before! That must have been an amazing experience. In the words of Collie;

A new world was spread at our feet; to the westward stretched a vast ice-field probably never before seen by human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, un-named, and unclimbed peaks.

I thought it would be nice to put together a sidebar of the climbing routes on this incredibly beautiful, accessible and popular mountain for your reading pleasure. Some of this information was gleaned from the excellent ClimbWild page put together by Henry Timmer.


[Photo from Sean Dougherty's book, "Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies". See below for route descriptions.]

 

  1. North Glacier II | 1920 by Josheph Hickson, E.L. Reford and Edward Feuz Jr. This is another 'easy' route to the summit, along with the AA route. It is exposed to serac fall and prone to wind loading but otherwise is a pretty simple glacier prod to the AA col and from there up the Silverhorn and to the summit.
  2. Silverhorn II | 1947 by Rex Gibson, Frank Smythe and Noell Odell. This route is slightly steeper and as a consequence is quicker to ice up, than the North Glacier route. It lies on climber's left of the North Glacier route and goes straight up from the north glacier to the summit of the Silverhorn on steepish snow / ice. Be prepared for ice if you choose this route, no matter what time of the year you go.
  3. The Hourglass III A3-A4 | Unknown first ascent. I search alpine journals and the internet for a long time and couldn't find a first ascent for this route. This is a variation of the North Face route which ascends to climber's right near the summit where the north rock face meets the snow / ice. This is where the "hourglass" feature is found. I've heard this route is getting more rocky and less icy as the mountain dries out.
  4. North Face III 5.8 | 1971 by Duane Soper and Dean Rau. This route is changing with the drying out of the face. It has been rated as low as 5.4 but now seems to be rated much higher. In this excellent climbing article, Barry Blanchard rates it at 5.7.
  5. North Ridge III 5.5 | 1898 by Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley. Collie and Woolley descended the North Glacier route. The North Ridge route is rarely done anymore, but it sounds and looks intriguing, also sounds frustratingly loose and chossy. This route can be accessed higher up by heading straight for the ridge from the North Glacier route once on the center glacier.
  6. North Face Bypass III 5.3 | Unknown first ascent. This seems to be a guide favorite and is also popular with local climbers. It sounds like the best mix of snow / ice climbing to the upper part of the North Ridge route, which is presumably better rock than the lower part.

 


[Photo by Greg Horne, taken from the Athabasca Glacier shows the AA Col route (1), AA Glacier (b), AA Ice fall (c), The top of the Silverhorn (d) and the AA col (e). Note, this route is pretty close to what we did, while many climbers go up to the col (e) first before proceeding up the Silverhorn.]

 

  1. AA (Athabasca / Andromeda) Col II | Unknown first ascent. One of the easiest routes on the mountain, although subject to rock fall and avalanches depending on conditions. This route is often used for the descent from any north face routes, due to the fact that it's usually safer late in the day due to it's north aspect. Don't under estimate this route, as it can be very icy later in the season and there may be a rappel required to descend over the 'shrund.
  2. Practice Gullies III | Unknown first ascent. These are considered part of Andromeda but can be seen on the approach to the AA col. Steep snow / ice up to 45 degrees. "f" is also one of these gullies but may appear as the AA Col from above, when descending from Andromeda. Rock fall and avalanche hazards. People mistakenly descend these when coming off Andromeda and end up with more than they bargained! The best way to descend Andromeda is via the AA col which is labeled "e".
  3. Andromeda Strain V 5.9 A2 W4 | 1983 by B. Blanchard, D. Cheesmond and T. Friesen. Another Andromeda route and obviously a hardcore one - a true mountaineering test ground on rotten rock and ice. 
  4. Scramble Route I | Unknown first ascent. This is an alternate route that is reported to be no more than rock scrambling and can be solo'd by experienced alpinists quite easily. Note that you should not be on the AA Glacier and should also not attempt this route if you're not confident on assessing and route finding big terrain features. There are rocky cliffs on the upper part that shed a lot of rock on warm days. The lower slopes above the glacier are avalanche prone and should be frozen or dry. Wear a brain bucket and go with a small group!

 


 

As we approached the end of the AA glacier, we could see the serious terrain that confuses and complicates most descents from Andromeda. After doing the Skyladder route (which is apparently becoming more difficult thanks to a retreating glacier) on Andromeda, many parties get lost or stranded over night while trying to descend to the AA Glacier from the AA col. There are two very steep ice couloirs coming off Andromeda's east ridge that leads to the AA col, these are called the Practice Gullies and were bare glacial ice when we were up there. I think some people get lost and try to descend these gullies, rather than going further along the ridge and eventually rapping or down climbing to the AA col and descending from there. Andromeda Stain is another impressive climb up Andromeda from the AA Glacier.

 

Ferenc wasn't thrilled when I told him we had to go straight up the huge snow slope at the end of the valley. At this point it was becoming obvious that the fresh snow was almost knee deep and the going was getting tough! Since I was carrying the rope, Ferenc broke most of the trail up the lower slope until the angle got too steep for 'shoes. At this point I wondered if we should ditch the 'shoes and crampon straight up the slope on climber's left, slightly to the left of the actual AA col. The slope was slightly lower angled to the left and looked to easily break through the rocky cliff band above. Ferenc was reluctant to ditch the 'shoes so he told me to try, and if my method was quicker, he'd follow. How's that for a sly way to get me breaking trail?! wink It quickly became obvious that the snow was supportive enough under the fresh stuff to quickly crampon straight up. Soon I was way above Ferenc and could see him taking off his 'shoes. I was in my favorite element. Steep snow, ice ax and crampons, a clear sky and stunning mountain scenery all around me! I whooped out loud several times while climbing. I couldn't help it.

 

The route up slightly climber's left of the AA col worked perfectly. The snow was supportive and we broke through the upper cliffs easily to the broad, wind blasted col. Spectacular mountain and glacier scenery greeted us from all directions, as we looked up with some reluctance at the significant height gain still awaiting us, leading up to the top of  the Silverhorn. I led up the Silverhorn as Ferenc took a break at the col. As I ascended I heard the familiar sound of serac fall and sure enough - a massive serac was crashing off the Andromeda Glacier far below us! An amazing scene of snow, ice and rock lay all around us as we worked our way up the Silverhorn. Castleguard and the Saskatchewan Glacier lay far below our vantage. We were slowly creeping up on the same height as Andromeda behind us and could now see the giants of the Rockies, including Forbes, the Lyells, Alexandra, Bryce, Columbia, King Edward, North Twin, Snow Dome, Kitchener, Twin's Tower, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Brazeau and many others.

 


[Looking back down at Ferenc after ditching the 'shoes and rocketing straight up the steep snow slope.]

 
[Looking north off the steep snow slope to the AA col. Our tracks just visible at bottom center. Andromeda looming across the AA Glacier at left.]


[Looking up at the rock bands above our route. We easily broke through them on good snow.]


[Ferenc follows me up the steep snow slope with the impressive NE face of Andromeda and the very difficult Andromeda Strain line somewhere behind him (approx. marked "a"). Raphael Slawinski put up a new line to climber's left of A. Strain with Scott Semple in 2006. They named it DTCB or "The Doctor, the Tourist, His Crampon and Their Banana”! They rated it at V M7, 700m. The practice gullies are coming down from the left of this photo, marked "b". The direct line to the AA col is marked "c".]


[As you can see, this is a pretty steep slope. You definitely want stable conditions here and snow is vastly preferable to scree or ice.]


[Ferenc takes the lead for a bit.]


[Ferenc continues to break trail for a while as we get higher up the west face beneath the AA col.]

 
[NOW we're talking!! Incredible views from the AA col area looking back at Andromeda and the Columbia Icefield. ++]


[Mount Bryce looms over Castleguard and the south ridge of Andromeda.]


[Great views towards the Lyells, Farbus, Oppy and even Alexandra at far right just sneaking into the photo.]

 
[Ferenc takes a break at the AA col, while I start breaking trail up the Silverhorn. We're sneaking up on 11,000 feet at this point. The practice gullies and part of Andromeda Strain are now clearly showing on Andromeda's northeast face at center left. ++]


[A loud "crack" followed by ominous rumbling turned my gaze to the icefall coming off Andromeda's south flanks. A massive serac fall broke the morning stillness and resulted in an impressive snow and ice avalanche.]

 
[Ferenc follows me up the ridge to the Silverhorn. You can also start to see why people get lost while descending Andromeda to the AA col. It's not straight forward terrain if you didn't ascend that way.]


[The Silverhorn ridge is pretty easy, technically. I was out of breath though.]


[Ferenc takes over the lead.]


[Vern ascends the Silverhorn Ridge. The descent slope from Andromeda to the AA col doesn't look very easy from this angle. Photo by Ferenc Jasco.]

 
[More impressive views from near the top of the Silverhorn, looking back at Mount Andromeda with Bryce at distant center and Snow Dome and Kitchener at right. ++]

 
[The impressive view from the Silverhorn to the true summit of Mount Athabasca! ++]

 

After a slight descent from the top of the Silverhorn, we gained the final snow ridge to the top of the mountain in a cold breeze and brilliant sunshine. The views were stunning in every direction. Truly a remarkable summit and well worth waiting for a clear, wintry spring day to do it! I once again felt the amazing privilege of being able to enjoy spectacular days like the one we were having. We took our usual smattering of summit photos before retreating slightly off the summit roll to a warm and windless perch on a flat area near the top. It was 30 minutes of sublime enjoyment, gazing at the world beneath our feet without a breath of wind and utter silence. Ferenc noted that we could hear our hearts beating - that's how utterly still it was. A very special experience that I won't forget soon.

 

 
[The final trudge to the summit of Mount Athabasca with a mind blowing view over the Saskatchewan Glacier++]


[Ferenc heads for the top!]


[Near the summit, we had to ascend a steep snow bank to the final ridge.]

 
[Ferenc stands on the summit of Mount Athabasca.]

 
[On a clear day like we had, you can spend a lot of time identifying peaks that you either have already stood on or want to climb some day. This is the view south and over the Saskatchewan Glacier (L), west over the Columbia Icefields, north up Hwy 93 (C) and finally east (R) . ++]

 
[A slightly tighter panorama looking east (L) and south (R). The Cline River Valley and the South Boundary Trail at left with the Saskatchewan Glacier at lower center right. ++]


[Mount Bryce looms over Castleguard.]


[Mount Columbia looms over Mount Andromeda. Mount King Edward to the right of Columbia.]

 
[Many of the northern Columbia Icefield peaks including from L to R, Columbia, King Edward, Andromeda, Snow Dome, South Twin, North Twin, Twins Tower, Kitchener, Cromwell, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Mushroom, Charlton, Unwin, Warren, SunwaptaBrazeau, Poboktan, Nigel, Cline River Valley, Willis, Stewart. ++]


[A steep pano looking off the summit of Athabasca over Boundary Peak, down the North Glacier to the Icefields Center and Mount Wilcox far below at center distance and Boundary Peak at foreground left..]


[Tele of Wilcox and the Icefields Center.]


[Ferenc at the summit.]

 
[A steep pano looking west off the summit, note Ferenc in the top right. ++]


[Vern near the summit of Mount Athabasca - photo by Ferenc Jasco.]

 
[The Lyells on the L and Alexandra between them and Bryce on the R. ++]


[The mighty Mount Forbes at distant left with the Lyells at right and Oppy at far right.]


[Mount Saskatchewan at right with Mount Amery at distant center. Both of these peaks are very close to 11,000 feet themselves.]


[Mount Cirrus at left with Mount Stewart at distant right.]

 

We had a long drive home and with only 3 hours of sleep the night before, we knew we had to get going from our perfect summit rest area. After taking 6 hours to ascend, we weren't sure how long our day would end up being. We left the summit around 14:00 and made short work of the long descent to the AA Glacier, even glissading part of the steep slope beneath the AA col! There was no sign of the usual 'schrund - it was filled with avy debris from the steep slopes above. This is another good reason to do the route in winter conditions - all the crevasses are filled in!

 


[Ferenc starts the long walk back down - long but quick. The top of the Silverhorn just to his right.]

 
[The terrain is steep enough that fresh snow or avalanche conditions are an issue - find Ferenc on the ridge below me.]

 
[I love this perspective of the AA Glacier and Andromeda.]


[Steep, fast descent to the AA Glacier.]

 

It was a very warm and pleasant trudge back to the car from the AA Glacier. We surprised ourselves with a round trip time of just over 9 hours - not bad considering we broke trail up to knee deep! 

 


[Getting away from the steep slopes, looking back at Ferenc exiting the face to the AA col.]


[A very pleasant descent of the AA Glacier.]


[Looking back at the AA col (L) and the practice gullies (R).]

 
[Descending the AA Glacier - it's more height gain than I realized in the morning!]


[Ferenc is tiny in the huge terrain just above the AA Glacier headwall.]


[Another look back up the AA Glacier.]


[Just above the rock bypass to the AA Glacier icefall.]


[Descending alongside the headwall.]


[Descending the icefall bypass.]


[Looking back at the icefall and the top part of Andromeda Strain.]


[Looking down the moraines just above the sno coach road.]


[View back from near the old sno coach parking area.]


[The road was being cleared in preparation for the snow coach icefield tours - there's still a LOT of snow here!]

 

I was supremely happy with our effort and count Mount Athabasca as one of my favorite snow (shoe) climbs. It's wasn't a very technically challenging climb, but the combination of views, weather and steep snow fulfilled everything I like about mountaineering in the Rockies.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,454
Elevation Gain (m): 
1500
Round Trip Time: 
9.00
Total Distance (km): 
14.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

The AA col route is exposed to rockfall and avalanches along the approach. In winter there is also significant avalanche hazard on the climb to the col.

Bivy Ridge

Interesting Facts: 

"Bivy Ridge" is an unofficial ridge running southeast from the Swan Pass bivy site that is usually used to access the Brazeau Icefield climbs. I am claiming it as a summit, since it is in an official guidebook (or will be soon).

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, July 30, 2015

After descending from the Brazeau Icefield and setting up our camp at Swan Pass, Ben and I decided that we were getting cold (that darn west wind again!) and so we would take a jaunt up a ridge just south of our camp which we dubbed "Bivy Ridge". We ascended so fast that we decided to keep traversing for a while and enjoyed the views over Swan Pass and back along our approach route. We also spotted yet another party of 3 coming to the bivy and after speaking with Rob again he confirmed that they were also going for Brazeau. This was a busy place! In a really frustrating twist, my bear spray that I'd left in 'our' bivy coral was missing! Someone had actually been up there in the two nights we spent camping on the glacier and taken my brand new spray and holster!! I wasn't too happy about that - but I guess I should have left a note. We didn't think it was that busy at Swan Pass!

 

 
[The delightful bivy at Swan Pass.]


[Ben takes a kick back on our way to "bivy ridge".]

 
[Our route up Henry MacLeod (north) and then along 'bivy ridge' (south).]

 
[Gazing back at the Brazeau Icefield at left and Swan Pass at center.]


[Swan Pass is below us here, just spot the mid at lower right and the other group's camp at lower center-right.]


[Great views of Mount Alberta from bivy ridge.]


[Looking towards Poboktan Mountain and Mount Smythe (R).]


[Mount Kitchener]


[I couldn't get over the view of the north face of Sunwapta Peak.]


[Ben keeps walking down bivy ridge, we hoped we could traverse the peak ahead and maybe summit it. This peak is unnamed.]


[The open valley we crossed on the approach with the braided North Fork of Poboktan Creek visible running through it.]


[Lovely hiking terrain]


[We turned around shortly after this point when we realized there was no easy or short way up any of the unnamed peaks via this ridge.]

 
[Great views over our approach valley and the Poboktan Creek valley in the far distance. Coronet on the right. ++]


[Poboktan Mountain is pretty high and has a glaciated summit.]

 
[Great views over Swan Pass show a number of lovely tarns begging to be explored. ++]

 
[A great view over Swan Pass towards Fortuna, Tyche, Moriah and Rebakah (L to R). ++]


[Our tiny bivy site at lower center-left.]


[Neat spines along bivy ridge]


[Great views of North TwinTwins TowerWoolleyDiadem and Alberta]


[Ben back near the summit of Bivy Ridge.]

 

Overall, Bivy Ridge is an easy scramble with very worthwhile views on a clear day.

Round Trip Time: 
2.00
Difficulty Notes: 

No difficulties - should be easy scrambling to the high point above the bivy site at Swan Pass.

Boundary Peak

Interesting Facts: 

Boundary Peak is an outlier to the north of Mount Athabasca. 

YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,871

Since school was just around the corner (where does time go?!) and Hanneke, my wife, was on call for the weekend, we decided that the weekend of August 19-21, 2011 would be a good weekend for a father / kids adventure. After some debate, the kids and I decided that Yoho would be a cool place to camp and the Burgess Shale guided tour would be a pretty awesome thing to try! Of course, since I'm a peak bagger and we had another two days to do other things besides the shale tour, I found us a nice peak to bag on Saturday, August 20.

 

So Nakagawa had posted a report of a trip up Boundary Peak in Jasper National Park with amazing views of the Columbia Icefields and especially Mount Athabasca. When I queried him about details he mentioned that it was 'easy scrambling' so I filed it away as a possible hike for the family some day. That day came sooner than I thought it would!

 

So was right. Boundary is an easy scramble, but it is still a scramble, not 'just' a hike. With almost 900 meters of height gain and lots of it on extremely loose and unstable terrain with exposure near the summit on the final ridge, this is not just a walk in the park - it's a grunt in the park. :-)

 

We parked in the parking lot at the beginning of the Icefields tour bus / approach road. The sign by the road says no walking but we ignored it and walked to the climber's parking lot. Next time I'll just drive around the arm and park in the climber's lot. It saves about 100 meters of height gain and roughly 1 km of walking but more importantly you don't have 18 buses / minute passing you on the way down. (Update 2016: For the past two years, the climber's parking lot has been closed and replaced by the new staging area for the buses. Now you really don't have a choice but to walk the road.)

 


[Hiking up to the climber's parking lot in the morning. No buses yet...]

 

Right before the bridge at the climber's lot we turned up to climber's left and scree bashed mostly on an obvious trail all the way to the peak. We briefly considered taking the northeast ridge instead of the north scree face to the summit but on hindsight I'm glad we didn't. The final few hundred meters of height gain is on brutal scree - looser than I've experienced in a while! We found a pretty cool fossil on the way up which inspired the kids to keep going - thank goodness. I was very impressed with them. Between Boundary and the Burgess hike they did 1700 meters of height gain and 30km of walking in two days. Not bad for a 10 and 12 year old. They'll be hiking me into the ground soon... :-|

 

 
[Things look a lot different here now, but this was the view in 2011, looking over the climber's parking lot towards Snow Dome and Kitchener (R). ++]


[Following a faint trail in the scree.]


[Kaycie and Niko in front of the very popular Mount Athabasca.]


[The highway in scree!]


[Impressive views north and we're not near the summit yet - this is Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak (L to R).]

 
[Great views back towards Wilcox (L) and Nigel Peak (R) which I did with my brother in a day back in 2007.]


[A trilobite fossil. Niko was very excited to find this!]


[Still on the scree highway - but it's getting loose now.]

 
[Up to this point we were only hiking, but there's some easy scrambling and limited exposure to get up onto the summit from here. ++]

 

The views at the summit make this minor bump totally worth it. Boundary is the same height as Wilcox with slightly more limited views (since it's so close to Athabasca). Of course the views of Athabasca are amazing the whole day. We spent over an hour at the summit in warm and windless conditions.

 

 
[Mind blowing views off the summit of Boundary Peak! Summits include, AthabascaSnow DomeKitchenerStutfield NEWoolleyDiadem and Mushroom++]

 
[The kids and Hilda Peak (R). Cirrus and Stewart in the distant background. ++]

 
[Panorama from Hilda on the left to Stutfield NE on the right. The first ascent of Athabasca ascended across the north glacier from right to left to the ridge in the foreground, which was followed to the summit. This route is very rarely repeated thanks to modern global warming. Click here for more about the many routes on Athabasca++]

 
[Looking north up hwy #93 over Mount Wilcox at center. Sunwapta to the right of Wilcox and Nigel at far right. ++]


[Telephoto of Woolley (L) and Diadem (R) with the two coulior routes on Diadem clearly visible.]


[Snow Dome (L) and Kitchener (R)]


[Looking carefully at the north glacier on Athabasca, you can spot tracks going up under the seracs and even a serac fall covering them at left!]


[The Silverhorn route is a classic and looks surprisingly snowy considering it's August!]


[There was rumored to be a scramble route up Hilda, but I've only heard of 5.5 climbing so maybe not... ;)]


[Cirrus, or Mount Huntington, is an impressive massif to the southeast.]


[Sunwapta is an impressive peak at just under 11,000 feet high.]


[Mount Columbia - the highest peak in Alberta - is just visible through clouds on the Icefields. I finally stood on her summit on a beautiful April evening in 2015.]

 
[Another gorgeous view of the north ridge of Athabasca.]


[Mount Saskatchewan is another near 11,000er.]


[Mount Amery is another peak that was rumored to be 11,000 feet but Eric and I conclusively proved it is shy of that mark in 2012.]


[The Wilcox Meadows and Pass area between Wilcox and Nigel Peak looks like an alien landscape from here.]

 
[Sublime view of Nigel (L) and Hilda (R) with Hilda Tarn at center. ++]


[Carefully descending the loose terrain under the summit.]


[More loose terrain - hikers may not be comfortable here.]


[Gorgeous views past Wilcox.]


[Hiking beneath giants.]


[Tourists clogging the lower Athabasca Glacier, the heavy glaciated ramp and ice fall approach to the Columbia Icefields in the distance. The Snow Dome seracs are obviously threatening the route!]

 

An outstanding scramble with amazing views, done with my kids. What could be better than that? I highly recommend this outing!

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,420
Elevation Gain (m): 
880
Round Trip Time: 
5.00
Total Distance (km): 
8.00
Difficulty Notes: 

Mostly hiking and easy scrambling with some very loose terrain and minor exposure along the summit ridge. Only attempt if dry.

Brazeau, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Arthur P. Coleman in 1902. Brazeau, Joseph. E. (The mountain was named by Coleman in 1902. Hector had named the Brazeau River after an employee of the HBC. Mr. Brazeau served as a clerk and postmaster and was of great assistance as a translator to the Palliser Expedition.) Official name. Other names McGillivray

First ascended in 1923 by A. Carpe, W.D. Harris, Howard Palmer

 

(from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
YDS Grade: 
I

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, July 30, 2015 to Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mount Brazeau has been on my radar for many years already. I wasn't in a huge rush to do it however, because I knew it was a relatively easy 11,000er and could be done in almost any conditions and in any season, from full-on winter conditions to mid-summer ones. Or could it? Ben and I set out on July 30th 2015 from the Poboktan Creek trailhead to find out how Mount Brazeau and its neighboring peaks would behave in an extremely dry year in the Canadian Rockies. Considering other trip reports from around the same time, we wondered how different our conditions would be. I left Calgary at 04:00 and we found ourselves leaving the cars at a very non-alpine start time of 09:00 (!!) under a very warm and pleasant sun.

 

The Sunwapta Warden station and trailhead for Poboktan Creek ("Poboktan" is the Stoney word for "owl" which Arthur Coleman named the creek / pass after in 1892 after presumably spotting a number of these birds on his travels in the area.), sit on the north side of the creek, while the trail head parking lot is on the south side. This has caused confusion in the past. The reason for this strangeness is the removal of an old bridge from the south side access. It's almost as if Parks would rather you didn't find this trail, as the only sign on the highway indicating anything about a hiking trail here, doesn't even have the name "Poboktan Creek" on it... This trail is an old one, built in 1921/22 as an important warden route on the south boundary of Jasper National Park. The warden station is officially closed now, but a noisy generator running at the site hints at some current use by Parks Canada.

 

We were reasonably sure that a bear warning / closure on the South Boundary Trail didn't apply to our intended route and thankfully, upon examining the trailhead signage, we were right! After crossing the bridge on the highway, we turned into the warden residence area and found the understated trailhead near the creek by an old horse corral. My 55 liter pack was light and compact for a four day / three night alpine trip as we decided to leave our helmets and extra ice tool in the car. This would prove to be a bit of a mistake, but so far we were expecting pretty easy climbing this weekend. With no rock rating and alpine ratings of I or II at most, how hard could it be right? Right. ;) Ben carried the rope, but I had the tent / mid and we each carried stoves / fuel for redundancy as we'd be depending on the stoves to melt water on the icefield. We also carried our summer alpine sleeping bags and mats since the forecast was for warm summer temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Of course toques, gloves and Gore-tex were added, since we were climbing on a glacier all weekend.

 


[Our route is 'only' under a bear warning. The South Boundary Trail is a full closure thanks to two young grizzlies who have acquainted themselves with human food.]

 
[Our route on day 1 consisted of the Swan Pass approach to the normal bivy, crossing the Brazeau Icefield and ascending Mount Brazeau. A fairly full day! ;)]

 

Most folks approach the Brazeau Icefield in one day, but don't actually set foot on the glacier until the second day, choosing to set up base camp at an excellent bivy location at Swan Pass. Ben and I had other plans. After consulting with Steven, we decided that the approach day would be too short to stay at Swan Pass, especially with our plan to ascend both 11,000ers in the area (Brazeau and Warren) on this trip. Our original plan was to make it all the way below the east or even north face of Brazeau on day one, as close as possible to Mount Warren which we would climb on day two before moving camp back up the glacier and ascending Brazeau, Valad and Henry MacLeod on day three. The best laid schemes of mice and men!

 

The sun was warm on our backs as we made our way swiftly up the Poboktan Creek trail. Time passed quickly, as it always does on the approach, and soon we were passing the Maligne Pass turn off after about 6km of hiking. Just over 15 minutes later we were crossing two bridges near the Poboktan Creek campground and looking carefully for a trail heading north, from the left side of the main one. Sure enough - we found it after looking twice, it was not as obvious as I would have thought, given the popularity of this mountain. As we followed the faint track through the bush I was reminded once again of the beauty of the Rockies and how different it always is to imagine what a trip will be like and what it actually ends up being like when you finally do it. I knew the Swan Pass approach was supposed to be gorgeous, but as we climbed steeply up beside the rushing north fork of Poboktan Creek we were surprised by flowers, waterfalls and rock gardens, randomly scattered along our route. Shortly after ascending through a rock garden we descended slightly and came out at a surprisingly large open valley with the north fork stream running in braided channels towards us from a waterfall at the far end. We managed to keep our boots dry (ish) by sticking close to the right hand side and even ended up discovering a nice blue tarn before moving back into the middle of the valley. After crossing the stream to a cairn on the right hand side, just below the waterfall, we climbed up a steep, faint trail in the forest next to the falls (right side), curving left before coming out of the trees in the rocky creek bed above the falls. From here we could see a brilliant white glacier high above, reflecting the strong summer sun back at us and inviting us to continue our journey upwards.

 


[The Poboktan Creek trail is wide and easy to follow.]


[While easy to follow, the Poboktan Creek trail is kind of boring for the first 5 or 6km until you finally get this view looking back down stream.]


[It's a lovely day in the shade, but no camping allowed at km 6! You must go another km to the Poboktan Creek campground. The Maligne Pass trail branches off to the left here.]


[We walked past the decommissioned trail to the Maligne Pass area.]


[Near the Poboktan Creek campground.]


[After crossing two bridges immediately past the Poboktan Creek Campground, you must keep a sharp eye out for the faint, unmarked climbers trail branching left up the north fork of Poboktan Creek. Can you spot it? We passed it once before noticing!]


[Almost immediately a nice falls shows up on the left side of the trail.]


[Falls along the Poboktan North Fork (PNF) creek.]


[Don't expect a wide trail up the creek.]


[After some fairly bushy hiking along a faint trail, we came to a rock garden which we ascended following the only cairns on route.]


[Looking back at our approach valley, over the rock garden we just ascended along.]


[A delightful, open meadow with the PNF creek flowing through in braided channels greets us after the rock garden. The ridge high above Ben's head is the one we will hike 3 days later from the high bivy camp.]

 
[Ben crosses along a gorgeous tarn sitting just above the PNF creek in the valley. ++]

 
[Ben crosses the wide braided-channel valley on nice dry gravel flats. I could see this being a rather boggy and buggy area in wet years or at different times of the year. ++]


[Looking back at Ben as we near the end of the open valley.]


[The nice waterfall at the end of the open valley. There's a cairn here leading you to the climber's right side of the falls where a faint trail leads up steeply through the forest. If you go climber's left you'll be bushwhacking. You've been warned...]


[Looking back at Ben as we continue up the PNF creek above the waterfalls. The summit in the bg is an outlier from Waterfall Peaks.]


[The glistening, white glacier beckons us onward and upward from far above.]

 

Up we went! From above the falls to the high bivy it's a heckuva grunt up a mix of boulders and scree either right in the creek bed or above the creek on climber's right. We were briefly confused by the cliff band that must be traversed, but soon figured it out - the key is when you see a large waterfall coming off complex terrain, look up to the right and you'll see an obvious traverse above the cliff band. This is shortly after a perfect bivy site that is way too far below the objective to be used effectively. After traversing just above the cliffs on a trail worn into the scree, we turned steeply up old moraines on our right, trending slowly right and upwards to the high col / bivy site. A short walk across the upper col brought us in view of the bivy site - gorgeous views into the next valley over some tarns and a great stone corral made us wish we were stopping here already - but we weren't! It took us only around 5.5 hours to make the high bivy which meant we still had plenty of day light to traverse the Brazeau Icefield and hopefully camp somewhere close to Mount Warren. After leaving my bear spray and some garbage that I didn't need over the next few days tucked into a nook in the bivy corral, we continued over the moraine beside the bivy and descended to the lower icefield.

 

 
[Heading up past the lower bivy site towards the cliff traverse.]

 
[Looking along the traverse cliff band (R) and down valley from our approach (L). ++]


[Looking back down the moraines.]


[Ben grunts up the loose scree / moraines beneath the high col.]

 
[Great views opening up behind us including Sunwapta at left and Alberta at right.]


[Ben tops out at the col above me]

 
[Looking back at our approach from near the col]

 
[Ben walks towards the bivy site]

 
[The bivy site is awesome - the lower bivy corral has running water. ++]


[Looking over ]

 
[The view from just around the moraine near the high bivy as we traverse to the lower Brazeau Icefield. We crossed this ice and ascended the rock step on the right hand side of the ice fall before gaining the main glacier. ++]

 
[Gorgeous views over Swan Pass and the Brazeau Bivy site looking towards Bivy Ridge. ++]

 

It was pretty obvious that the glacier was melted back quite a bit as we crossed the lower icefield to the rock ledges that would take us up to the upper glacier and past the obviously impassible ice fall on our left. There were raging rivers of water winding their way down crevasses and chutes in the center of the ice - falling in one of these would be a wild ride! We managed to find a nice exit onto the rock and traversed up and left until we could step onto the main glacier which was melted completely bare at this lower access point. The temperature was very warm and the snow was excellent (!!) slurpee quality so when we started encountering covered crevasses our movement went from "efficient" to "very, very non-efficient"! Ben carefully probed in front of himself and soon we started encountering a great many crevasses, some of which were problematic to cross safely on the sketchy snow bridges. It was all good fun for a while but eventually we found a crevasse that didn't seem to have a way around. We spent almost an hour before finding a way across it! Summer travel was proving to be a PITA on this melted out glacier... We pressed on.

 

It was after the last problematic crevasse that I suggested instead of descending under Brazeau to camp near Warren, maybe we should reconsider our options and camp at the top of the icefield, near Brazeau and possibly even climb Brazeau this first day - to give us options on subsequent days, especially considering the rate of the melt going on around us. Ben agreed and we trudged on, probing carefully for holes and finding a good many all around us. Eventually Brazeau came into view and we could see the rocky shelf that delineates the upper Brazeau Icefield from the lower one going around to Warren. We trended towards Brazeau until it was obvious that we were close enough and we made the decision to set up camp. Setting up camp was a bit humorous. The snow was about 1 foot deep and then we were on the glacier already! After setting up the mid, I stepped into a crevasse that was hiding about 2 feet off our slushy snow wall. Ben decided to name this icy pit, "Charlie" and we used him as our biffy. ;) We had some second thoughts about ascending Brazeau but by 19:00 we were reattaching the rope and plodding towards the hulking mass of scree and snow, hoping to make it back by dark.

 


[The lower icefield as we crossed over it, the ice fall on the right.]


[Crossing a crevasse that's filled with slushy snow that won't support our weight in the strong afternoon sun.]

 
[Looking back over the lower glacier as we head up the rocks separating the lower and upper ice fields. ++]

 
[The lower icefield isn't visible as we start up the main glacier from the rock band. ++]


[On the main glacier now - note the slushy snow.]


[Steep roll on the glacier.]

 
[Looking back at our tracks - lots of crevasses hidden in this section. It was amazing how much of this snow was gone two days later. ++]


[The afternoon goes nuclear as we spot Brazeau peaking up on the left.]

 
[Looking back (south) from near our glacier bivy. ++]


[Mount Brazeau from our camp - we had to access it via slopes to the left, out of sight.]

 
[Looking back at our approach tracks from the bivy, showing how we skirted some slots along the way. ++]


[The sun and our slushy tracks as we head for Brazeau from camp.]

 
[Most of the snow you see on this shot will be melted 24 hours later, but it made for a nice ascent of the upper mountain. Mount Warren is just visible to the left of Brazeau and looks a LONG way off. Because it is.]


[A telephoto looking past Brazeau with Warren's summit ridge and Maligne Lake in the bg.]


[Looking back as Ben starts the height loss beneath Brazeau. This is a constant theme that we 'enjoyed' on this trip - everything is earned the hard way by descending BEFORE ascending and then re-descending and ascending on return.]

 

Climbing Brazeau itself was technically pretty easy from our high camp on the glacier. We gained the ridge between Brazeau and Valad Peak before dropping down towards the col and only then finally ascending scree and snow to the summit. The snow was much steeper than we thought, but it held good enough and we managed to make the summit within about 2 hours of leaving camp as the sun was starting to set in the west. We got some incredible views, especially looking south and west from the summit. As we descended in a stiff breeze the views only got better until the sun was completely set and the blue moon was out! We carefully retraced our steps and stumbled back into camp at after 23:00, very tired after a long day. I couldn't believe that I drove from Calgary, did the entire approach and managed to ascend Brazeau in the same day. It felt like a fairly long one - but it felt really good to be done our first 11,000er while conditions were still reasonably good. We prepared for Warren and tried to sleep on the cold glacier with an even colder wind determined to blow our mid away. The one big disadvantage of sleeping where we did was the cold wind that didn't make our summer sleeping gear feel like a good idea. 

 


[Finally descending to the last low point before ascending our mountain.]

  
[Great views over Coronet Mountain towards Mount Alberta and the Columbia Icefield peaks. Clemenceau on the right in the distant bg. ++]


[Breaking through the cliff bands, we see 'clear sailing' to the summit.]


[Poboktan Peak on the right with Brazeau Lake at lower left.]


[Looking back over Valad and Henry Macleod.]


[I'm not gonna lie - it was becoming a grunt at this point. ;)]


[Our peak casts a pyramid shadow on the valley below as we near the summit.]

 
[Great sunset views off the summit of Mount Brazeau looking back over Valad and Henry MacLeod. ++]


[Vern on the summit of Mount Brazeau with Brazeau's shadow behind him.]

 
[Huge summit panorama from the apex of Brazeau Mountain. ++]


[Mount Fryatt is another favorite 11,000er of mine.]


[The mighty Mount Clemenceau is a gorgeous 11,000er and one of only 4 above 12,000 feet high.]

 
[Peaks include from R to L, Tsar, Coronet, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Twins Tower, North Twin, Stutfields, Cromwell, Kitchener, Snow Dome, Athabasca and Sunwapta. ++]


[Poboktan Mountain.]

 
[Amazing lighting with the shadow, sun beams and even a blue moon thrown in! Brazeau Lake in the distance, is one of the largest wilderness lakes in Jasper National Park. ++]

 
[The North Face of Mount Alberta is intimidating even from this distance!]

 
[Starting our descent.]


[The big scree slope.]


[Capturing the gorgeous sunset.]

 
[Descending past a small cliff band (R) with Valad Peak catching the last of the sun.]

 
[The sun has now set and we are on our way back to the bivy. This photo shows the route line we thought looked safest for the following day's trip to Warren which would avoid the most crevasses.]


[The blue moon rises over Brazeau Lake.]

 
[I really like Coronet Mountain and it's on my list now. :) ++]

 
[Yep! Now we have to re-ascend part of Valad Peak before getting back to our bivy. ++]


[Sweet views towards Mount Fryatt]


[A last glance past Mount Warren over Maligne Lake in the dying daylight.]

 
[Avoiding crevasses as we navigate under moonlight towards camp which is on the shoulder above the slots on the left. At far left is our route for the next day.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,479
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,385
Elevation Gain (m): 
2500
Round Trip Time: 
15.00
Total Distance (km): 
24.50
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Depending on conditions this is either a snow trudge with some scree / glacier thrown in or a scree bash with crevasse hazards.

Catacombs Mountain

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by Arthur O. Wheeler in 1920. The mountain has an alcove formation, which Arthur Wheeler felt was like the recesses in an undergound burial tomb. Official name. 

First ascended in 1927 by W.R. Maclaurin, Alfred J. Ostheimer, J. Weber, guided by Hans Fuhrer. Journal reference CAJ 16-23.

(from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 13, 2013 to Sunday, September 15, 2013
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,330

On Thursday evening on September 12 2013, I met Liam, Eric, Ben and Steven in the Sunwapta Falls parking lot at 21:00 hours for yet another Rockies adventure. This year has been a good one for long treks, climbs and scrambles for me and in part this is due to my friendship with these crazy guys. On the long hike out of the Devon Lakes area, after summiting Mount Willingdon, we were already discussing our next trip! Eric had visited the Fortress Lake area years before, with his brother, and fell in love with the surrounding peaks. Ever since then he's had a hankering for the summits of Catacombs and Fortress mountain.

 

The issue with both summits is that they are so rarely ascended, there's very little beta on routes or approaches. As far as we knew, only the original ascent party had stood on Catacombs true summit (the grizzly group only summitted the lower, west peak) and we only knew of two previous ascents of Fortress Mountain (original party and the same grizzly group). Of course, this is the main reason we wanted to ascend these mountains in the first place! To be perfectly honest, when Eric first mentioned them, I'd never even heard of Fortress Lake before, much less any of the peaks in the area. But I like remote ascents and bushwhacking so he didn't have to ask me twice! Apparently I'm not the only (dumb?) one, because Ben, Liam and Steven didn't take much convincing either... We agreed to meet at the Sunwapta Falls parking lot on Thursday after work and get the 14.5km hike to the Athabasca Campground done in the dark - to give us more time for the Catacombs approach on Friday.

 

Eric is great at planning aggressive and remote mountain adventures. He spends hours on his web site, planning and scheming up new approaches, routes and summits to bag. This trip was no different. Using photos of Catacombs from other peaks, he scouted out a route up the south flank of the mountain that looked to be scrambling to the summit glacier cap. From there it would be a bit of an unknown to travel on the glacier to the summit - we had no idea if the glacier would be passable from our top-out point above the south face. We also weren't sure how to get into the valley between Fortress Mountain and Catacombs - we knew it would be a bushwhack but had no idea how bad it might be. Assuming we made it up and down Catacombs, we then planned on continuing on to Fortress Mountain via an unknown route over two cols between the two valleys. Awesome.

 

 
[Map of our trip. Blue line is Thurs night / Fri to Catacombs' summit. Orange Line is Sat, traverse two passes and Fortress Summit. Yellow is Sun, our exit. ++]

 

The 3+ hour long hike into the Athabasca Crossing campground was long but passed by fairly quickly thanks to the darkness and our fresh energy. I'm always amazed at how much shorter approaches seem than depproaches, even though they're the same distance and we're usually walking quicker on depproach! We almost stepped on a number of huge toads before arriving at the camp site under a brilliant star studded night sky. As we set up our bivy sacks for the night, Eric mentioned that hopefully the flying squirrels wouldn't get into our packs on the bear poles. I never knew there were flying squirrels in Alberta but Eric was proved correct when we saw one early the next morning right above our bivy (they're nocturnal).

 


[A raging Athabasca River - thankfully with a bridge over it at this point...]


[Brilliant star-lit night above our bivy at the Athabasca Crossing Campground.]

 

After only sleeping 5 hours we were up and at 'er early on Friday morning. We had a long day ahead, with a lot of unknowns. Crossing the Athabasca River on the old hanging bridge was interesting - we all wondered what Parks Canada is going to do when this bridge has outlived its life. Crossing the Athabasca River at this point would have been impossible without the bridge, but the water was very high for mid September so maybe some years it could be done. (UPDATE 2015: I guess the bridge really was old as it collapsed in 2014 and there are no plans to replace it. This is very unfortunate and makes the area outlined in this report very difficult to access.) We were hoping to gain the valley between Fortress Mountain and Catacombs via a bushwhack, roughly following a stream up from the Chaba River, not too far past Dragon Peak and the Athabasca River crossing. We followed the trail for a kilometer or so before plunging into the bush on our right and heading for the Chaba. 

 


[Dragon Peak from the small lake near the Athabasca Campground]


[Fortress Mountain glows in morning lighting from near the Athabasca River crossing.]


[The bridge over the Athabasca River. As you can see the river is not small here! I've heard of people crossing it further upstream later in September.]


[This bridge across the Athabasca River is getting a bit old, but it still worked for us in 2013. Less than a year later, it would collapse for good.]

 

The views of Fortress Mountain from the river flats were flat-out amazing! Eric had certainly picked a nice objective for our second peak! We were all very impressed. We weren't impressed with the Chaba though! :) Since we were just winging it - we had to wade up stream and down stream, trying to find the safest channels to cross. This meant more time in the frigid glacial runoff and more time meant more PAIN. I'm serious. My feet were so sore by the time we finally got out of the river that it took over 30 minutes of hiking to get the blood flowing properly in them again! Yikes! It was a great way to wake up though...

 


[Dragon Peak rises above the Athabasca River near the bridge crossing point.]


[We get our first impressive glimpse of Fortress Mountain from near the Chaba River flats]


[This was COLD! Crossing a small side channel of the Chaba. Quincy in the background.]

 
[Liam crosses the Chaba with Quincy on the left and Fortress Mountain towering above. ++]

 

After crossing the Chaba we headed up through the bush, trying to stay on a small ridge, climber's left of a rushing stream. By staying on the ridge we managed to avoid any real bushwhacking for the first half of the ascent to the valley. After that we paid our dues. For about an hour we were in pretty thick bush but after a final, steep grunt we found ourselves in the alpine with only small trees and scrub to contend with, between long stretches of delightfully open meadow. We also started getting our first glimpses of the looming bulk of Catacombs itself, rising steeply above us with an impressive cap of snow and ice.

 


[Entering the bush...]


[The bush wasn't too bad at first, while ascending to the valley between Fortress and Catacombs]


[It quickly got worse...]


[We got hopeful that the worse was over.]


[We ended up in some REALLY thick stuff for a short stretch - thankfully short!]


[Dramatic views of Fortress Mountain - our peak for the next day.]


[Fall is in the air.]


[Ben enjoying the fact that we're done the bushwhack.]


[Sticking climber's left of the stream coming down from Catacombs Lakes]


[A small falls along Catacombs Creek - the water was very refreshing after a hot bushwhack up steep slopes.]

 

We were planning to bivy near a small lake under the south face of the mountain and ascend from there. The views from the bivy location were astounding, especially the very impressive northeast face of Fortress Mountain and it's steep outlier. The haze from the warm weather was a bit depressing but of course the clear skies were a bonus. Our original plan was to ascend Catacombs early on Saturday but with 7 or 8 hours of daylight left (it was only 13:30) we decided to attempt the peak right away.

 


[Fall colors are coming out - my favorite time of the year.]


[Catacombs meadows and ice-capped summit come into view.]


[Some of the loveliest meadows I've ever walked through were beneath Catacombs. ++]

 
[The Catacombs Lakes are two pristine gems nestled between Catacombs and Fortress Mountains that must see very few human visitors. ++]

 
[Our bivy lake with Catacombs rising at top right. Our 'escape col' is just left of center in the distance. ++]

 
[Looking across at Catacombs from our bivy. The summit at upper left and our ascent gully just to the right of it. ++]


[Hiking beneath the impressive bulk of Catacombs Mountain.]

 

Ascending our chosen gully up the south side of Catacombs worked like a charm. Grassy slopes led to loose rock ledges on climber's right of a steep gully with water running down it. When the main stream diverged to the left (it is generated from the glacier high above near the summit) we crossed into the almost-dry gully, or stayed on the edges to avoid the worst rock fall. I'm really impressed that nobody got hurt from rock fall on this trip. Fortress was worse, but Catacombs had its share of really rotten rock and with 5 guys ascending and descending the same lines, we had to be very cautious with our hand and footholds. Huge slabs would shift when you pulled on them (you learn to push before pulling...) and many hundreds of smaller rocks would go hurtling down the gully with each few meters of height gain from the group. Climbing like this, you learn pretty quick to stay off the fall line of the guys above you and stick really close together so there's less velocity in any rocks that do end up hitting you!

 


[Starting up the lower slopes of Catacombs.]


[The grassy slope slowly got steeper]


[Loose and very steep terrain demanded careful attention with 5 of us ascending the gully.]


[Eric ascends.]

 
[Liam on some loose terrain - you can see the two Catacombs Lakes far beneath now and Fortress Mountain on the right.]


[Hot, dusty and very loose terrain.]

 
[What a view!! ++]


[Looking down our ascent gully.]


[Everything we touched, moved or came crashing down! We had to stay close to be safe.]

 

Eventually we found ourselves in a high rocky bowl with old glacier on our left and cliffs on our right. We could also spot an escape route through the cliffs on the upper left, just off the glacier and we headed for that break. The route worked out beautifully and soon we were standing next to an impressively sized ice field, steeply rising above our position on the upper ridge.

 

 
[Exiting the main gully into the upper scree bowl under the glacier. ++]


[Looking up the scree bowl to the exit gully under the glacier.]


[Grunting up loose scree.]


[A nice Trilobite fossil.]

 
[Incredible views already and we're not nearly at the top. ++]

 
[Finally on the upper shoulder of Catacombs looking south and east. The glacier is behind me on this shot. ++]

 

With no way to know if we could make the summit, we prepared for glacier travel and set off up the ice, Liam leading Eric and I with Ben and Steven as the 'rescue group' following us. Thankfully the glacial ice soon became snow (most of us only had light aluminum crampons) as we traversed over small holes and around to the north east side of the summit cap. Here's where we got a surprise! The ice field on Catacombs was pretty big! Liam had some careful navigating to do, winding his way through some pretty serious crevasses and a few big 'schrunds before we finally figured out that our route would probably work. We curved up a moderate slope and under a massive 'shrund before crossing it on climber's left and then following more snow slopes to the glacier-capped summit itself. Due to crevasses all over the narrowly ridged summit, we took turns taking photos while the others waited or held the rope tight!

 

 
[On the east ridge, getting ready to rope up for the glacier on the left. ++]

 
[The upper ice field is much bigger than we were expecting! We could hear seracs thundering down from the lower right. ++]

 
[Negotiating the north side of the glacier to the summit.]

 
[We had to be very careful crossing the large 'schrund. ++]


[The upper glacier on Catacombs is beautifully textured in the late afternoon lighting.]


[Ben and Steven were the 2nd rope team]

 
[Just under the summit bump, waiting for Eric to take photos. This is the view west, north and east. ++]


[Brussels Peak is striking to the north with Christie to the right.]

 

The views were incredible in all directions, even with a smoky haze over the western peaks like Clemenceau. Other peaks, like the 11,000ers around the Columbia Icefields were in perfect evening light. Incredible peaks like Quincy, Woolley, Diadem, Alberta, North Twin, Twins Tower, Columbia, Smythe and King Edward beckoned with their towering summits.

 


[Mount Fryatt with Edith Cavell just behind]


[Christie on extreme left with the Kerkeslin at center.]

 
[Looking west and south off the summit of Catacombs. Fortress is the mountain in the foreground with Quincy behind it. Our bivy valley in front. ++]


[Eric scopes out peaks from the summit of Catacombs Mountain.]


[The mighty Mount Clemenceau looms over Chisel Peak.]


[Gazing over the summit of Fortress Mountain towards the Chaba Icefield.]


[Gazing over Fortress Mountain at lower right towards Mount Quincy with Mount Columbia (L) and Kind Edward (C) in the background.]


[From L to R in the distance, North Twin, South Twin, West Twin, Columbia and King Edward.]


[The Stutfields and Mount Alberta along with North and South Twin.]


[Gong Glacier at left with Smythe, Thorington Tower, GEC, Mushroom Peak, Diadem, Woolley, Engelhard and East Stutfield from L to R.]


[Different colored mountains to the east.]

 
[Incredible summit panorama from the Endless Chain at left to the Chaba Icefield at right. ++]

 
[Pointing out peaks to the west and north. ++]

 

We couldn't enjoy the summit too long because the shadows were lengthening already and we knew it was going to be a very loose descent. Surprisingly, the descent went pretty quick and painless and we made it back to our bivy well before sunset where we enjoyed some good conversation, views and supper. We all turned in around 22:00 in anticipation of a long next day, but very content with our first major objective completed safely and well within our budgeted time / route.

 


[Leaving the summit in late afternoon.]

 
[A pleasant walk down the glacier. ++]


[Under some seracs]

 
[Nice evening light as we descend the ice field. ++]


[Liam takes off his crampons as we exit the glacier.]

 
[Looking down at the Catacombs Lakes and our bivy with Fortress behind.]


[Fortress Mountain looks huge from this angle!]


[Ben looks impressed with the loose descent gully. :)]


[Looking down the steep gully - thankfully there were lots of ledges to work our way down.]


[Evening light is fading as we descend.]


[Nice evening light]


[Fortress Mountain and the moon.]
 

 
[Evening light from out bivy looking east. ++]


[Dinner time at the bivy site.]

 

 
[The moon rises over Fortress Mountain in the evening light. ++]


[An amazing night sky above the bivy.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,926
Elevation Gain (m): 
2100
Total Distance (km): 
60.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg

Difficulty Notes: 

Loose, steep scrambling to a high ice field that contains many crevasses - bigger than you'd expect.

Cinquefoil Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Morrison P. Bridgland in 1916. Cinqufoil is a bright yellow flower with five petals, a species of which grows on exposed slopes at higher altitudes in the Rockies. Official name. (from Peakfinder.com)  

YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,259

After scrambling Pyramid Mountain in 6 hours car-to-car, So and I decided that we'd better not waste the rest of a perfectly fine day on lounging around in our campsite so we went up Cinquefoil Mountain instead! Cinquefoil is rated "easy" and the short time that Kane lists is around 4 hours. This is fine except it sets the expectation for the mountain pretty low. Most people seem surprised both by the difficulty and length of this trip.

 

We didn't find the mountain difficult by any means, but it's also not the same "easy" that Heart, Ha Lin, Fairview or St. Piran are either. The access to the mountain is also outdated, especially if you're trying to scramble it before September when the lake covers the trail.

 

I would suggest a new access rather than the parking lot at N53 3 58, W118 3 44. Park closer to where the north west ridge descends almost to the highway and bushwhack across a small ditch and directly to the ridge. You can't park right under the ridge because there's a small lake right there - park as close as you can while still being able to jump across the narrow ditch. This spot will be somewhere around N53 4 17, W118 3 7. Gain the north west ridge after a short bushwhack, either via the Kane access gully or much earlier, basically as soon as possible. We gained the ridge quite quickly and had to detour around approximately 20 sheep rather than disturb them too much. The young ones were a pleasure to watch. That's about the extent of the 'pleasure' on this scramble too! :)

 


[So starts down a promising looking path to Merlin Pass.]


[So narrowly avoids death by "sheep". No one says that scrambling is safe.]


[The sheep narrowly avoid death by scramblers.]

 

Cinquefoil is probably my least favorite Jasper scramble so far. It's easy enough and the trail is fun to follow (keep your eyes out for cairns) but the mountain just isn't much of a challenge and doesn't have a lot of interesting terrain. The crux is somewhat interesting if you stay climber's left but otherwise it's a scree slog. Of course, being our second peak of the day meant that we were starting to feel all the elevation gain, not to mention the 4.5 hours of sleep! :D

 


[So ascends the trail under a blazing blue sky.]


[The crux looks very intimidating from far away. You can either choose a moderate / difficult line on the left or go up one of numerous gullies on the right. I chose the gully about "1 inch" from the left on this picture.]


[I love this view to the east from the ridge on Cinquefoil. The two differently colored lakes are Jasper (left) and Talbot (right). Edna Lake sneaks into the extreme lower left corner of the photo.]


[The crux. It's loose and steep but nowhere near as bad as it looks from afar!]


[You can just make out So on the left side of the easy route on more difficult and exposed terrain.]


[Making our way to the summit under brilliant skies.]


[More awesome scenery on the summit ridge.]


[So at the summit of Cinquefoil Mountain.]


[Summit panorama looking east and south. ++]


[Looking west off the summit. ++]


[Vern on the summit of Cinquefoil Mountain.]


[The Colin range and Hawk Mountain.]


[Mount Greenock to the north is a very cool looking mountain!]


[We were up there a few hours ago! Pyramid Mountain from the summit of Cinquefoil.]


[Roche Miette.]


[Another view of Greenock Mountain on the way down.]


[The clear cut on the ridge is a bit weird but apparently exists as a fire break? For a pretty small fire though!]

 

The views were better than I was expecting so that made up for the heat and the trudge. I'm glad I did it but I would never repeat this one. Our round trip time of 5.5 hours made us wonder how fast you'd have to go to do it in 4. You'd be running the whole way! I think Kane's time of 4 hours as a minimum is stretching it a bit. 6-8 hours would be more appropriate for planning purposes.

 


[A view back up Cinquefoil from our exit point to the highway. This is where I'd park next time and just thrash to the ridge from here directly. ]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
7,412
Elevation Gain (m): 
1285
Round Trip Time: 
5.50
Total Distance (km): 
11.90
Difficulty Notes: 

Easy to moderate scrambling on the Kane route.

Columbia Ice Fields - Winter Camping Trip

Interesting Facts: 

Read more on this interesting area of snow and ice at Wikipedia.

YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
No
Trip Date: 
Saturday, February 4, 2012 to Monday, February 6, 2012

IMPORTANT NOTE: Almost five years later, in late 2016, I find myself updating this post and feel the need to put a huge disclaimer up front. First of all, since this humble beginning on the Columbia Icefield, I've managed to summit every major peak that necessitates traveling and camping on this impressive expanse of snow and ice including the two summits I was chasing on this particular outing - Mount Columbia and Castleguard Mountain. I've also reached the summit of every main peak on the Wapta Icefield, including some fairly technical winter snow climbs. This experience makes me shudder at some of the rookie mistakes we made on this particular trip that I want to "disclaim" before you read any further;

 

  1. Traveling on the Columbia Icefields before March / April is not the safest time of year to be up there. Most years it's best to wait until April or May for really good coverage and much longer days and warmer temperatures.
  2. We definitely played fast and loose with crevasses on this trip. There are huge, scary, deep, killer holes up there - including any of the ascent slopes on Columbia herself. Proceeding up that ridge unroped was a very silly thing to do!
  3. Thinking we could "bag" Columbia from our camp near Castleguard in February was very silly too. It's a huge distance, very crevassed through the trench, consisted of short day light hours and cold nights, not to mention crappy mid-winter snow conditions. On hindsight we were very lucky to escape with no summits and nothing worse happening.
  4. Skiing back to our camp from Columbia unroped in the dark was also not smart. I've skied many times on glaciers unroped and I'm questioning the sanity of this move - especially on the Columbia Icefields. It's not worth dying for. Is it?

 

The first week of February 2012 was looking pretty promising for weather and avalanche conditions in the Alberta Rockies. Since Hanneke wasn't on call for the weekend of the 4th I decided to send out the "who's in?" emails to start organizing at least one day of backcountry skiing - hopefully involving a summit of some kind.

 

After a few back and forth emails I found myself planning a trip to the Columbia Icefields with So and Ferenc for an attempt on Mount Columbia and a possible shot at Castleguard Peak. This would be a serious winter ascent of Alberta's highest peak (12,274 feet) which is infamous for being technically 'easy' when in good shape but with a serious bite of avalanches, hidden crevasses and temperamental weather conditions when not. Castleguard is a comparatively easy ascent, but has the same 'bite' as any peak on the icefields, you need a good weather window and good snow combined with a bit of luck or you're not going to summit.

 

I've heard a statistic that it takes most people several attempts to reach the summit of Mount Columbia and now I know why. When you add up all the factors that can prevent a successful summit bid on Mount Columbia I think we were a bit too optimistic about our chances of summitting, simply because we only concerned ourselves with two main factors, weather and avalanche conditions, and didn't consider some of the others;

 

  • Snow conditions on the glacier itself. i.e. are you breaking trail or is there an existing one? Is the snow surface hardpack or soft?
  • Snow conditions on the final 400-500m ascent slops regardless of avalanche conditions (normal east face or southeast ridge routes). Is it hard snow, ice or soft snow?
  • Condition of the 'schrund. Is it filled in? Barely covered?
  • Approach distance. Lines on a map look so easy! Skiing 20km with an over night backpack with winter and mountaineering gear is a lot of work.

 

We should have known that there's a reason Columbia is considered an April, May or June ascent and is rarely ascended in the middle of winter and even more rarely from the Saskatchewan Glacier approach in winter. I assumed that with the great weather forecast of light winds, clear sky and very reasonable avalanche conditions, the Columbia Icefields would be a busy place. Boy was I wrong!! To make a long story short, we ran into a trackless glacier (we broke trail all the way up the Saskatchewan Glacier and from our camp to Mount Columbia), snow that was up to our ankles and to top it all off, a 'schrund where there shouldn't have been one.

 

After 30km of skiing and nearly 2000 meters of height gain we found ourselves over 11,000 feet on Mount Columbia's Southeast ridge staring into a black hole with the sinking realization that this quest was over for us. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

 

Saturday, February 4 2012 - Big Bend to Base Camp

 

At the early morning hour of 03:30 I met Ferenc and So in front of Ferenc's house. We must have been excited because within 6 minutes the truck was loaded and we were off! I was just thankful that my migraine of the night before was gone - that was some bad timing, or really good timing that it didn't wait a day or two.

 

There are different options for the approach / egress to the Columbia Icefields. The safest / quickest option if you know where you're going is to ascend the Athabasca Glacier and exit via the Saskatchewan. The Athabasca approach is quicker for every peak on the icefield except Castleguard but has much more objective hazard from both icefall off of Snow Dome and crevasses on the headwall. Descending the Athabasca safely requires roped skiing which isn't easy even for good skiers. More accidents seem to be happening over the last few years - possibly due to the glacier changing or simply people underestimating the dangers of the headwall. Because none of us had ever been on the Columbia area glaciers before and due to the fact that Ferenc did not have a high comfort level or experience on back country skis, we decided to do the safest route possible - both ascending and descending the Saskatchewan Glacier. On hindsight I'm very happy that we erred on the side of caution!

 

The drive went by quickly with stories from Ferenc about living in Hungary and Denver and before long we were parked at the Big Bend parking lot on highway 93 looking at a pair of ski tracks disappearing over the snowbank next to the parking area. This was a big relief since none of us knew exactly where the old bridge over the North Saskatchewan River was, and with all the snow next to the highway and the darkness (it was only just after 07:00) we had no hope of finding it easily either. As we struggled into our heavy winter camping backpacks and followed the tracks over the snowbank we could only hope that they crossed the river - and thankfully they did. We found and followed ski tracks up the old road around the canyon and back down the 75 meters back to the valley floor and the North Saskatchewan river.

 


[Crossing an avy slope on the way down from the road that accesses the Saskatchewan Glacial Valley.]

 

I've read some accounts on the approach to the Saskatchewan Glacier in spring and summer which include crossing a raging river over a bottomless gorge on a stack of loosely piled logs - but the winter approach is very easy in comparison! We simply skied up the valley a little on skier's left, crossed a lake or two and some pretty cool ice jams on the way and 'bumped' into the glacier at the end of it. Easy stuff so far.

 


[Crossing the lake, it's still early morning. On the right in the foreground is an outlier of Mount Athabasca. In the right background is Mount Andromeda.]


[Sunrise on Andromeda and Athabasca as we can now see the Saskatchewan Glacier in the distance.]


[As we approached the Saskatchewan Glacier the terrain became much 'wetter' - of course it was all ice now but I would think that in the late spring / summer / fall this makes the approach to the glacier MUCH more involved. Ferenc is crossing a glacial outflow lake here.]


[Another shot of the lake with more of Mount Athabasca on it.]

 

The glacier was easy travel for the first 2km on hard pack snow. It was quickly becoming apparent that all the peaks on the icefield move away from you as you approach them. They must be shy or something. As we slowly picked our way up the wide Saskatchewan Glacier, Castleguard and the Castleguard Meadows never seemed to get any closer! Eventually we shuffled slowly past the meadows and could finally see around the lateral moraine on our right at the crown of the glacier far in the distance above us. Just before the Saskatchewan Glacier runs into the main massif of the icefield (there are 6 main glaciers comprising the Columbia Icefields, the Athabasca, Saskatchewan, Castleguard, Dome, Stutfield and Columbia - see this map for more details), it steepens considerably. I think this is where So and Ferenc tired themselves out breaking trail. Since I was in the middle of the rope I got lucky on day 1 with little trail breaking duties. So's hip flexors started giving him problems and we decided to call it quits somewhere under the impressively rimed north face of Castleguard with views of Bryce, Columbia and Andromeda thrown into the mix.

 


[Now we're experiencing the full pleasure of the day! Straight ahead is Mount Castleguard, just barely showing up. To our left (out of sight) is Castleguard meadows and to our right is the lateral moraine that can be your 'hand rail' on the Saskatchewan Glacier in a whiteout. Don't go too close though, there are some holes near it.]


[So and Vern take a break just before stopping to set up camp. Doesn't Mount Columbia look close? Not after you actually try to get it from here! :-) (Picture by Ferenc)]

 

We dug out a nice, cozy little camp and set about making supper and staying warm. The temperature dropped to about -10 once the sun set over Mount Bryce. The sunset views to the east were crazy, with bright hues of purple-tinged sky below an orangish glow. With the almost-full moon it was a very impressive sight which we all enjoyed immensely. We were in bed by around 19:30 and I inquired about setting my alarm. Ferenc replied that he would "never sleep more than 8 hours" so we didn't have to worry about getting up early for an attempt on Mount Columbia. I must have been tired because I didn't set my alarm "just in case". Another mistake was not melting all our water for the next day. NEVER save this task for ascent day if you have a choice. ALWAYS boil water for the next day beforehand. Another lesson learned!

 

 
[Panorama of our cozy camp. On the left is Andromeda and on the right is Castleguard++]


[So eating supper with Mount Bryce showing up behind him.]


[Brilliant sunset colors on Mount Castleguard as seen from our camp. I think the ascent route from here would go up on climber's right and contour around the summit block to the left. Would be a great ski descent too!]


[Our approach tracks with the moon and a plane catching the setting sun.]

 
[Sun set panorama from camp looking south and east. Castleguard in the middle and Mount Bryce on the right. ++]

 

Sunday, February 5 2012 - Base Camp to Columbia and back to Base Camp

 

I slept pretty good in my new -20 sleeping bag, waking up every hour or so to shift around. I was sleeping with my boot liners in a mummy bag so there wasn't a ton of room in there! :-) This worked really well for drying them out over night and warming them up for the morning though.

 

It turns out that we all slept too good! Ferenc woke us up and informed the tent that it was already 07:00!! I was instantly quite angry with myself for not setting my alarm. I won't make that mistake again. We knew that we had a full moon and good avalanche conditions so we weren't too concerned with descending Columbia and returning to camp in the dark - we were actually counting on it. Another thing that sort of annoyed me was the hour or more that it took to leave camp after waking up. We had to boil water for the day and this took a long time even with two stoves going. Our late departure didn't ruin our summit chances on this particular day but it easily could have and I won't let myself sleep in again on a summit day!

 

About 1km into our day (a glorious bluebird sky and fields of snow all around us), So had to turn back to camp. His one hip flexor was still bothering him and considering the distance and the fact he had to ski out the next day, he wisely chose to save Columbia for another day. Ferenc and I decided to continue on. We could not risk a crevasse accident of any kind with only 2 people on the rope but the weather was so nice and the conditions so stable that we choose to accept that risk. (NOTE: On hindsight I'm not sure I completely understood the seriousness of this risk.)

 


[So is sad! :-) This is where he decided that he wouldn't be attempting Columbia. His hip flexors were shot from the 20km approach with the heavy packs the day before.]

 

The next 9 km were beautiful and tough. I think we were the only ski team on the entire Columbia Icefield! This was both awesome and tiring. Awesome because we were alone in a huge expanse of snow, ice, rock and sky and tiring because we were breaking trail the entire way. Just before reaching the trench I started running low on energy. I probably didn't eat enough and that, combined with the deep trail breaking just wore me down mentally. I wanted to turn around since I didn't think we'd summit anyway. Ferenc talked me into skiing "just a bit further" and by the time we were down the trench and had some lunch my energy levels were improved. The view of Mount Bryce and the Twins from the trench was very cool. There were a lot more crevasses than I was expecting on both sides of the trench and we carefully wove our way through them.

 

I broke trail up the 200m from the bottom of the trench. At one point Ferenc was asking me to slow down, so I think my lunch break must have helped! :-) Ferenc and I took turns breaking trail in boot top snow from the top of the trench slowly towards Mount Columbia in beautifully warm and clear weather with a very slight breeze cooling us off. Before you think the journey to Columbia is over once you're done re-ascending the trench - it's NOT. There's about 5km of traveling from the trench to the base of Columbia yet and by the time we were finally within striking distance of the giant peak we were both more than ready to kick our skis off and start kicking steps up the east face.

 

 


[Vern on the approach with the trench and Columbia. (Photo by Ferenc)]

 
[Approaching the trench. Columbia on the left (at least 6km away at this point) and the Twins on the right. ++]

 
[Another panorama from the east side of the trench. Bryce on the left, Columbia in center and the Twins on the right. The fighter jet we saw flew in from Bryce and dove into the trench just in front of us (we were above the jet on Columbia when we saw it) and disappeared below the Twins! ++]


[Vern breaks trail towards Columbia, which is slowly getting larger. Key word is SLOWLY... It's still about 5km away at this point. (Picture by Ferenc)]

 

The east face was looking very much like the same snow we'd been skiing on for the past 4 hours - well bonded (i.e. low avalanche risk) but reasonably deep. We knew that we'd be sinking for sure calf, if not knee, deep on the entire east face slope and the 'schrund didn't look completely filled in yet either. We hummed and hawed about it (mostly using the decision as a break from trail breaking), and eventually we concluded that trying the southeast ridge would be the most realistic shot at a summit for us. We reasoned that the west winds would have packed the snow on the ridge or at least blown it clear so we'd have a much easier time ascending it than the east face. The only 'problem' was that now we'd be on skis longer - more trail breaking! We skied up to the ridge, traversing underneath the south face of Columbia on the way - a giant brooding face of ice and snow with a 'grin' of a bergschrund splitting across it's entire width. We assumed that the 'schrund stopped at the southeast ridge...

 

As we gained height on the approach we heard a jet engine behind us to the south, near Mount Bryce. Passenger jets were flying overhead all day but this sounded a lot closer and a lot louder than those. Then we saw the coolest thing I think I've ever witnessed while in the mountains. A fighter jet came screaming in from the west, between us and Bryce, no more than 100 meters over the icefield, banked a hard left turn between Mount Andromeda and Columbia and dove down the trench (Columbia Glacier) under the towering walls of North and South Twin and vanished! We both stood there, not quite believing our eyes! What a cool thing to see. I'm glad we weren't underneath him though, it was LOUD.

 

Once off the skis, Ferenc regained his energy and began an enthusiastic charge up the steepening ridge. The snow was absolutely perfect, our kick steps were solid and just deep enough to give confidence. Ferenc shouted down to me that, "we might actually make the SUMMIT!!". I was starting to agree with him - I honestly didn't consider it before that moment - until Ferenc started to mutter to himself above me. I was going slow, taking pictures of Bryce and the cloud-filled valley as I ascended so at first I just though Ferenc was going through some soft snow but then I realized he was stopped and was doing weird gymnastics with his ice axe. We had run into the 'schrund, which apparently goes right through the southeast ridge rather than stopping at it. Oh well.

 


[A nice-sized hole sitting below the normal ascent route (east ridge) on Columbia. We decided the snow was too soft on this slope and went for the wind pack on the southeast ridge instead.]


[Vern with our approach track, the trench and mounts Andromeda and Athabasca - which I'd climb in 2014 with Ferenc - in the background. (Photo by Ferenc)]


[A zoomed shot of the Lyells. In 2015 I would climb 4 of the 5 Lyells in perfect summer conditions.]


[Mount Saskatchewan looks awesome from the icefields!]

 
[Panorama looking south from the southeast ridge on Mount Columbia. Note the clouds in the valley far below us. ++]


[Feeling good! At this point we thought we might actually make the summit! Ferenc kicks steps up the firm southeast ridge.]


[And that's the end of this attempt! Look carefully how deep this goes. Now remember, we're on a 35 degree slope with softening snow and there's another slot just behind this one. You can't jump 2.5 feet uphill on soft snow! Ferenc tried desperately to get across (see his ax marks) but the snow was too soft to properly anchor anything. Sometimes you just have to do the smart thing and turn around. With an hour of daylight left and facing this obstacle I knew our summit bid was over.]

 

I was amazingly OK with turning around. It's not that I was so tired I couldn't keep going, my energy was coming back now that we were off the skis. I just realized how lucky we were to be out in the middle of nowhere - two guys climbing high up on Alberta's highest mountain with 11,000 foot views all around us. Everywhere we looked there were waves of snowy mountain tops with cloud-filled valleys beneath. The sun was warm, the wind was light and the sky was a brilliant shade of winter blue. The only sign of humans was the faint winding thread of our approach track disappearing into a white void of rolling ice and snow. I'm glad that I get to back to that place again some day and feel privileged that I've been there in such great conditions.

 

 
[Panorama from our turn-around spot on the southeast ridge. Snow Dome, Athabasca, Andromeda, Castleguard, Saskatchewan, Lyells, Bryce and many, many other peaks are visible. ++]

 
[The southeast ridge on descent. You can see why we couldn't just traverse onto either side slope to get around the slots - they were both very steep and full of their own crevasses. ++]

 
[Ferenc skis down in front of me as the sun starts to set. ++]

 

The ski back to camp was great too! As I did little kick turns down the trench I tried to freeze the moment into my brain. The rising moon over Andromeda, the cool breezes blowing through the trench, the setting sun on Bryce and the Twins - it was a sublime moment for me. It was good to be alive.

 

Reality hit on the way back up the other side of the trench but after topping out it was a nice easy ski back to camp. So had his headlamp flashing near the tent to give us a 'beacon' and it was a nice touch! It was a little depressing to see the flashing light from over 3km away but... ;-) Ferenc got into camp shortly after me and we both agreed that it was a fantastic day even though we were denied a summit. We decided to get up at 03:45 on Monday morning for an attempt of Castleguard to hopefully garner at least one summit for our efforts! After boiling water and eating supper we turned in around 09:30 - my alarm was set this time! ;-)

 


[Looking back at Mount Columbia on retreat. I'll be back... ;-)]


[The Twins with the late day sun emphasizing their amazing forms. From left to right we have West Twin, South Twin, Twin's Tower and North Twin.]

 
[Panorama of Mount Bryce while re-ascending the trench going back to camp. ++]


[The moon rises as I come up the trench on the way back to camp.]

 

Monday, February 6 2012 - Base Camp to Parking Lot

 

I was up before my alarm, feeling pretty good and ready to tackle Castleguard. Ferenc was a bit tired but agreed to give it a shot. Before long we were making our way to the mountain. Clouds were hanging over various bits of the icefield but we weren't too concerned for the moment. This quickly changed about 1km from camp. As we were skinning up for the ascent we noticed a low bank of cloud coming in from the north between Columbia and Andromeda. I knew that our attempt was over. Any low cloud on the icefield means a complete whiteout and sure enough! Soon we couldn't see more than 20 or 30 feet in front of us! We reluctantly plodded back to camp, following our tracks.

 


[Our views are gone! Packing up camp.]

 

Ferenc dove back in his warm sleeping bag while I hung around camp for 2 hours waiting for sunrise. My new down jacket certainly came in handy for those hours! Eventually daylight came and the whiteout was even worse. We took down camp and shouldered our heavy packs for the ski out. Following our tracks back down the Saskatchewan Glacier proved quite difficult. We were in a world of white and gray - it was almost impossible to make out the little ridges of our ascent tracks! Eventually we started to dip under the clouds and soon we were back in a world of towering peaks and blue sky with puffy white clouds. The ski back out to Big Bend was relatively easy and fast.

 


[So skis out of the clouds on the Saskatchewan Glacier.]


[Looking back up the glacier on descent. The clouds are lifting.]


[So and Ferenc looking small against the terrain.]


[A rare section of the Saskatchewan Glacier that was steep enough to do turns on!]


[So and Ferenc come off the Saskatchewan Glacier with an outlier of Mount Andromeda towering above them.]


[So and Ferenc approach the Big Bend parking lot after crossing the North Saskatchewan river.]

 

My impressions of this trip are that we learned a lot about winter camping in general and traveling on the Columbia icefields in particular. It was a great time with good friends in one of the most spectacular areas of the Rockies. I'll be back!

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,000
Elevation Gain (m): 
2500
Total Distance (km): 
62.00
Difficulty Notes: 

The Saskatchewan Glacier approach to the Columbia Icefields is much safer than the Athabasca approach but is still a serious winter objective.

Columbia, Mount

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by J. Norman Collie in 1898. The mountain takes its name from the Columbia River. The river was named after the ship captained by Robert Tray who first ventured over a dangerous sandbar and explored the lower reaches of the river. Official name. Other names Gamma

First ascended in 1902 by James Outram, guided by Christian Kaufmann. The highest point in Alberta and second only to Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Columbia lies on the northern edge of the Columbia Icefield.

(from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
8
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Grade: 
II

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, April 18, 2015 to Monday, April 20, 2015

I've been waiting many years to climb Alberta's highest mountain and the 2nd highest peak of the Canadian Rockies. Ever since reading Dave Stephen's day trip report in 2004 and a trip by JW and Raf in 2006 it's been on my radar and in 2009 when a whole bunch of friends climbed it (but not without incident). I really thought I'd have done it by now, so what exactly was I waiting for? I was trying to be smart about it. While the "Big C" isn't technically a very difficult climb, there are many hazards that can seriously challenge one's summit push including;

 

  • Negotiating the icefall, serac zone and glacial tongue (aka the Ramp) on the Athabasca Glacier approach to the main icefield.
  • Whiteout conditions on the icefield itself - which are notoriously difficult to predict or anticipate.
  • Snow coverage over the many crevasses on the icefield and bergschrund on Columbia itself, and even the summit ridge of the mountain.
  • Avalanche concerns on the large and steep east face of the mountain.
  • Sheer distance and height gain from the parking lot to the summit and back - many people have underestimated the amount of effort, especially if setting a fresh track.
  • Wind and temperatures on Alberta's highest summit at over 12,000 feet is a concern for summit day - especially if you're a photographer like myself.

 

Complicating things was the fact that I wanted some views after all the work that ascending Columbia would entail. I have friends who have summitted in a whiteout, even when the weather everywhere else was mostly clear, and I knew I'd be cranky if that happened to me. Add in the details of finding partners with the same days available, a family and the small detail of a JOB (!) and you can start to appreciate why it took me nearly a decade to finally summit this highly desirable peak.

 

As the weekend of April 18th approached, all of the forecasts pointed to a strong ridge of high pressure building over British Columbia for at least 3 to 4 days. Making it a bit tricky was the fact that it wouldn't quite reach the Alberta side of the Rockies which showed some cloud cover lingering. Normally any clouds in the Alberta forecast mean an automatic whiteout on the Columbia Icefield, but in this case things were looking a bit different since the clearing was from the BC side. After much back and forth, Steven, Ben, and I decided that we'd go for it. We all booked Monday off too, just in case we needed an extra day. We figured with 5 windows of climbing opportunity, we'd get it in one of them. 

 

Due to the closure of the climber's parking lot (thanks to the Sno Coaches new starting spot where it used to be) we slept in the upper Athabasca parking lot on Friday night before getting up around 03:30 and starting our approach in the dark. With only around 3 hours of sleep (two noisy climbers parked next to my truck - next time I'll pick the far corner of the lot) I was feeling a bit sleepy as we trudged up the relatively flat glacier to the first ice fall. We could see the head lamps of the two climber's far above on climber's left on the approach for Asteroid Alley on Mount Andromeda. Eventually we passed beneath them and lost our sight line of their route, I'm not sure they made it up or not but I'm thinking not as they didn't have the best conditions in the world.

 

The big question for us was whether or not there would be a viable and safe route through the Athabasca Glacier icefall zones and beneath the seracs of Snow Dome and up the ramp to the main Columbia Icefield. In 2014 there was much concern and frustration in the climbing community about the condition of the ramp and approach and many were voicing the opinion that the route was officially gone forever. The only remaining (safe) option would be the Saskatchewan Glacier approach which is much easier but also MUCH longer and a PITA in the spring when the approach flats are melted out and muddy. On my trip up Mount Athabasca about 10 days previous, I'd noted that the ramp looked to be in perfect condition so we were very hopeful. As an FYI - I've observed that every few years the ramp doesn't form normally for various reasons and the same panic always sets in that it's "gone forever". I think it's going to eventually disappear, but we still have at least another decade before that happens IMHO. Don't panic - wait for better conditions.

 

As the sky got lighter we finally got personal with the lower icefall and I spotted a very nice line up the climber's right side. There were two possible routes, the first being a skiable ramp right up beside a large crevasse while the second was a very steep roll even further climber's right that could be ascended by kick steps. We skied up the ramp next to the crevasse and figured on descent we'd take the steep roll instead. The seracs were thankfully still quiet (in the shade) as we sped underneath them. The ramp was in perfect condition - wide and well filled - as we grunted up it with our over night winter packs weighing us down. As soon as the strong spring sun hit the seracs there was a large "CRASH" and chunks of ice and snow shed off above our route of an hour before! We also observed a large ice / snow avalanche from the opposite side of the valley beneath Androlumbia which went crashing violently down into the depths below. It was a stark reminder of the objective hazards one must pass before earning the right to many of the Columbia Icefield summits.

 


[Approaching the lower icefall on the Athabasca Glacier approach to the Columbia Icefield in early morning light.]


[Good coverage as we start up skier's right on the lower icefall - note the seracs coming off Snow Dome high on the right.]


[Looking back down the Athabasca Glacier and the long moraine that acts as a nice handrail when visibility is low.]

 
[Entering the first icefall with Andromeda rising at far left here. ++]


[Sometimes you have to get creative to get through the icefall. This ramp was perfect except the 40 foot crevasse just off to our left.]


[This is a view up at the seracs hanging off of Snow Dome that we ski under to access the icefield. Chunks the size of small cars regularly fall off and cover the ski track so we tend to ski quickly through this section.]


[Doesn't look like much until you see them collapse - looking nervously up at the seracs as we race underneath them.]


[Heading for the almost indistinct ramp - just above Ben and Steven in the distance and looking much smaller than it is.]

  
[Looking back at the Athabasca Glacier from the ramp with the seracs on the upper L, Nigel Peak in the center and the lower end of the Snow Dome seracs at left. ++]


[Good coverage on the ramp.]


[The sun starts to hit the Snow Dome seracs. You don't want to be under them when this happens as they usually set off at first sun.]

 

From the top of the ramp we started the long slog across the ice field to the trench. We seemed to have the entire place to ourselves - it was wonderful! I was a bit nervous that the clouds might start thickening, but they never really did. I was so tired at this point that several times I literally nodded off and only the rope tugging on my harness kept me from falling into a deep sleep - that was a new experience for me! ;) After what seemed like a pretty long time we finally started down into the trench. Here we had to wander about 1km south before there was a viable route through the crevasses that line either side of this geological depression that divides the ice field on the way into Mount Columbia and plunges down to the base of the Twins and Columbia Lake far below.

 


[It's a blue world of snow, ice and sky but at least we can SEE the sky!]


[Castleguard Mountain still looks like a mountain. In a few hours it'll look like nothing more than a bump on the ice field. I have fond memories of ascending it in a day from hwy 93 back in 2012.]

 
[Looking back at our tracks. Andromeda, Androlumbia, Castleguard and Bryce from L to R. ++]


[Mount Columbia is already peeking out of the clouds but it's many kilometers away at this point.]


[Our giant destination looms ominously in the clouds many kilometers distant beyond the trench.]


[South and North Twin loom thousands of feet into the sky, kilometers away to the north on our right.]


[Starting to trend south to avoid crevasses in the trench.]

 
[Skiing down the trench. ++]


[Looking directly south to Mount Bryce from the bottom of the trench.]

 

We had decided that in order to give ourselves a good shot at the summit over multiple days (if needed), we would deny ourselves the pleasure of setting up camp either on the near side of the trench or in the bottom of it, but instead, we would go about 2-3km further - up the west side and closer to our destination. We were all tired by the time we crested a low rise above the trench and shrugged off our packs at a nice level spot with great views of Columbia and a straight run down into the trench for our return. It took us roughly 8 hours to reach camp. Mount Columbia stared us down as we set up our camp under a warm spring sun and very little wind.

 


[Time to grunt back up the far side of the trench - our destination just peaking out above us now.]

 


[Grunting up the trench with winter camping packs.]


[Looking back down the trench - this is the icefall we avoided by going further south before descending the trench.]

 
[Looking back over the trench towards Snow Dome.]


[A blank, white canvas for another 5 minutes. This is where we decided to set up camp. Steven thinks 3 hours to the summit from here. It looks so close, but I think more like 5. Remember. I've been here before.]

 

As we set up camp, five snowmobiles came howling over the glacier from the BC side! We'd heard rumors of people snowmobiling to the summit of Snow Dome but never thought it possible. Well - after 6 years of attempting it these daring folks from Golden managed to navigate some pretty hazardous ice falls beneath Mount Columbia and spent the next few hours zipping all over the glacier. Obviously this wasn't our ideal scenario but I realize that it's a big world and there's all kinds of ideas of how humans should enjoy themselves so I'm not going to say much more about it here. We chatted and they were nice enough - and very surprised to see us - more surprised than we were to see them! They weren't doing anything illegal either as the park boundary runs from Columbia to Snow Dome and they stayed on the BC side of it. We were disappointed that 'our' perfect white canvas that we wanted for photos from Columbia was now full of tracks but c'est la vie!

 

In a clear highlighting of different mentalities, one of the snowmobilers offered to tow us the rest of the way to Columbia! We politely pointed out that just getting there fast and efficient wasn't really the point of our trip. ;) They did offer to break us a trail to Columbia and after bagging Snow Dome they did exactly that. Unfortunately the snowmobile tracks were useful for crevasse avoidance (if they didn't fall in chances were, we wouldn't either!) but for skiing they weren't ideal as they were too uneven to ski in and just as much work as the unbroken canvas right beside them.

 


[Our peace and quiet is shattered! Our clean white canvas is also ruined. Oh well. It's a small world after all, I guess.]


[Different kind of sport, but it required some level of bravery to get up here by snowmobile, I'll give them that!]

 


Sidebar: Routes & History of Mount Columbia

Mount Columbia is the highest peak in Alberta and the 2nd highest (next to Mount Robson) in the Canadian Rockies. I think that deserves a short side bar. Unlike Mount Alberta or the Twin's Tower, there aren't very many routes on Columbia, probably due to its remoteness and the plethora of other peaks that folks can find new routes on. Even so, I'm surprised there aren't any other routes than those listed here, considering how big and sexy this mountain is.

  • East Face II |  1902 James Outram guided by Christian Kaufmann. This is the standard route and is considered quite easy, technically. An excellent resource for the routes and history of Mount Columbia can be found on climbwild.net. First ski ascent by Rex Gibson, Striling Hendricks and Ken Boucher in 1937.
  • South East Ridge II | 1924 by O. Field, E. Stenton, C. Smith and M. Brooks. This route is very slightly more difficult than the East Face route due to more (rotten) rock blocking the route - circumvented by steep face climbing on snow or ice. Robin Tivy writes about this route on Bivouac.com.
  • West Face 5.5 | 1951 by George Ball and David Micheal. I couldn't find any more information on this route but it has been done by Rich Gebert as a pretty impressive solo effort in July 2004.
  • North Ridge V 5.7 WI3 | 1970 by Graham Thompson and Chris Jones. The first ascent of this route was very difficult and sustained climbing over 2.5 days. It isn't done very often, as I couldn't find very many trip reports detailing ascents of this remote and wild ridge. A modern version of this route was done recently by Colin Haley and Ian Welsted where they pretty much ascended unroped for most of the route, but did avoid some of the more serious terrain by traversing climber's right.

 

After the sound of engines died off and the smell of gasoline diminished we finished digging in camp and looked at our watches. I think we all knew this would happen because we've done it many times before including Cirrus and Joffre. We tend to get bored quickly and after sitting around camp for 15 minutes someone suggested that we probably had enough time to "at least break trail to the base of the mountain for the next morning". Yeah right! We were going to bag the peak on the first day and we all knew it. We dug a food cache to protect our dinner from the famous ice field ravens and packed our summit packs for a late afternoon / evening ascent. Steven figured 3.5 hours and having been there before, I was much more conservative at 5 hours. It was 15:00 when we left camp, so even 6 hours would be enough to get back in some day light. Off we went!

 


[Enjoying a pristine day in our camp kitchen.]


[Steven enjoys a break at camp. It's hard to get back on the skis after sitting down in the glorious, warm sunshine!]


[THIS is what skiing on the Columbia Icefield is all about folks. A wonderful winter camp and warm, spring sunshine keeping things nice and toasty. It really doesn't get much better than this.]


[Getting ready to tackle Alberta's tallest mountain - looking fairly insignificant from 5km away at distant right.]

 

The huge bulk of Columbia never seemed to get closer as we labored kilometer after kilometer towards it's huge base on the icefield. After an hour we were finally skiing up from a slight depression at its foot and after over 1.5 hours of skiing from our base camp, we were finally looking up at some avy debris on the east face and up our intended route to the summit. There were no tracks for us to follow here - it was time to break trail for over 600 vertical meters to the summit of Alberta's highest mountain. We abandoned the snow sticks and transitioned to crampons and axes for the east face snow climb.

 


[West, South and North Twin peaks from near camp.]


[Mount Saskatchewan.]

 
[Looking back towards camp along the snowmobile tracks with Snow Dome at distant left and Bryce at distant right.]

 
[The weather is perfect as we start our approach to the Big C. ++]


[Are we even getting closer?! The snow mobile tracks helped avoid crevasses, which was handy (hence no rope here) but they were actually harder to ski in than the supportive snow to the side of the tracks.]

 
[A panorama of Columbia, the Twins and Kitchener / Snow Dome (R) as we approach on a gorgeous afternoon.]


[The clouds didn't worry us too much as they came and went. You don't want a whiteout on Mount Columbia's lofty summit if you can help it. Note the crevasses to the right of our track.]

 
[A magnificent view of the group of "Twins". From L to R, West, South, Tower and North Twin. ++]

 
[Amazing views to the NW include Dias Mountain at distant right with Warwick Mountain 400m lower in front. ++]

 
[Looking NW to North with the Twins at center and the Athabasca River Valley running north to the left of them. On the left is Dias, Quincy, Catacombs, Massey and Blackfriars among others. ++]

 
[This is a damn big icefield compared to the tiny Wapta! Very happy to be here on such a clear day. ++]


[Looking south towards Mount Bryce over an intervening unnamed peak with the snowmobile approach tracks.]


[Soon we'll abandon the snowmobile track and start trending left towards the lower SE face which rises just right of center here. Last time I was here we traversed to the skyline south ridge.]


[Looking back at Ben and Steven as we slowly gain height to the base of Columbia.]


[Grand views of Bryce (L) with Rostrum Peak and Cockscomb in the background to its right.]


[The massive SE face awaits! Note the bergschrund clearly visible splitting across it's base and the rocky outcrop about half way up that is always a tricky spot for setting off slides.]


[Approaching the SE face directly now - it is very foreshortened and flattened in this shot.]


[Almost done the ski approach as we get near the bottom of the slide debris which would suck for skiing. Notice how 'small' the face looks from here? Well, an hour later it didn't FEEL small. ;) It took us over 1.5 hours to reach this spot from camp.]

 

The southeast face looked fairly easy up close, but as we started kicking steps we realized that this was a big bloody mountain and wouldn't give in quite as easily and quickly as we thought! The snow conditions were nearly perfect as Steven led masterfully upwards - one methodical kick step at a time. We went straight up climber's left on the face, just right of some rock outcrops. Hours went by as we worked upwards - we were all feeling tired from the approach and the altitude by the time we finally got above the outcrop and started traversing slightly left over some massive exposure down the south face. Do not underestimate this snow face - it's big and it's bloody steep. At least 40-45 degrees in spots, depending on your line, and obviously very prone to wind loading and avalanching. We were lucky to be ascending on old avy debris as it was firm and had already slid. The upper face was even more solid, since any recent windloading had avalanched off and cleared down to the settled base below. I can see why many people turn back after coming all the way in to bag this "easy" giant.

 

The biggest problem with climbing the highest mountain around, is that you start off well below all of its neighbors and as you ascend, you keep looking over at them, knowing that you eventually have to climb higher than their lofty summits! I kept sneaking glances behind us at the huge mass of Mount Bryce - it was a wee bit depressing that we would be higher than it before we could claim our current summit. Every time I looked back at Bryce it still looked huge. 

 

 
[Looking back down our approach skin track as we enter the avy debris field under the SE face of Columbia. Finally we are starting to gain height but we still have over half a vertical kilometer to go. ++]


[Off the skis and roped up for the SE face snow ascent. It's starting to look big again.]


[Looking back at the icefield from the lower east face of Columbia where the angle is still gentle. Extra points if you can even spot 'tiny' Castleguard now.]


[Perfect snow conditions on the SE face.]


[The slope begins to steepen as we approach the first rock outcrop to the left.]


[Looking over the King Edward approach meadows at lower center with some of the Chess Group peaks beyond.]

 
[Spectacular views over the east ridge next to the SE face and into BC, down the Bush River Valley at center. I've driven that road many times now. Bryce isn't looking so huge anymore, now that we're over 11,000 feet on Columbia. The snowmobiles came up from somewhere below in the valley - you can see why this is a challenging route. ++]

 

We knew there were crevasses all over the place on Columbia and as we transitioned off the east face to the hard, windblown section just under the summit we could see seracs above us on our right and even more exposure to the south face on our left. We picked a line in between and continued cramponing upward until Steven yelled, "crevasse" and progress halted for a bit while he figured out how to cross it. With a lunge he was across and soon it was Ben's turn. Except he found the crevasse a bit too friendly and soon Steven and I were both pulling hard on the rope while Ben worked himself out of the deep hole - thankfully he only fell half in!! Good thing we were roped...

 

Soon after finding the crevasse we ascended a final, steep roll and popped out near the summit of Alberta's highest peak to a wonderful evening view of countless other peaks - all of them lower than us. The wind was cool and clouds were starting to form but we were delighted to have the summit in the bag already on our first day. After a myriad of photos it was time to descend - while we still had enough daylight to do so safely. It was obviously going to take us longer than even my estimate of 5 hours since it was already 19:30 when we summitted and around 20:00 when we started our descent.

 


[Approaching the summit of Alberta's highest peak.]


[Excellent evening light on some giants of the region, including Mount Alberta (L), Twin's Tower, North Twin and South Twin. West Twin looks tiny from this angle even though it's also over 11,000 feet! Brazeau sneaks into the far right side of the photo.]

 
[Mount Alberta is a beautiful summit that I hope to stand on some day.]

 
[From L to R looking north towards Mount Alberta, Charlton, Unwin, Woolley, West Twin, Twins Tower, North Twin, South Twin, Warren, Brazeau, Stutfield, Stutfield East and Poboktan at far right distance. ++]

 
[Click this photo and start naming summits! This one goes west (L), north (C) and east (R) and includes Dias, Warwick, Massey, Quincy, Fortress, Catacombs, Dragon, Brussels, Mount Alberta, Charlton, Unwin, Woolley, West Twin, Twins Tower, North Twin, South Twin, Warren, Brazeau, Stutfield, Stutfield East, Poboktan, Sunwapta and Kitchener++]


[Late day lighting on Clemenceau (L).]

 
[Triad and Omega and Aqueduct Peaks at center in front of a distant Mount Tsar at distant center. Mount King Edward (which took me 3 attempts until summer 2017 to finally summit) at foreground center right with Clemenceau at distance to its right. The Chess Group of peaks at foreground left. ++]


[King and Queen Peak of the Chess Group at foreground with the Sullivan River Valley beyond at left and Tsar at distant right.]


[Kitchener (C) and Snow Dome (R) almost look like they're part of Columbia's summit block!]


[Sundial, Dias and Warwick in the foreground to the NW.]


[The long SW ridge of King Edward rises from the icefield to the summit at lower left to center with the east face at center rising directly to the summit. Tsar, Tusk and Clemenceau from L to R in the distance.]


[Bras Croche is a distinct peak at center catching some sun with Farrar and Mallory on the left.]


[Tsar Mountain is one of the least accessible of the 11,000ers thanks to a missing bridge over the Sullivan River gorge.]

 
[A view south includes (L to R) giants such as Rudolph, Edward, Ernest, Mount Forbes, Walter Peak, Christian, Oppy, Mount Alexandra and Bryce at foreground right. ++]


[Looking straight down the Bush River FSR, past Bryce on the left.]


[Mount Clemenceau is one of only 4 peaks in the Rockies over 12,000 feet (Robson, Columbia, Clemenceau, North Twin).]


[Mount Sir Sanford is another highly desirable summit for me and is the highest peak in the Selkirk Range at 11,545 feet high.]


[The lovely Adamant Range in the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia.]


[Rostrum Peak is huge! The Bush Group of peaks includes Rostrum, Bush, Icefall and the pointy Rostrum Tower on the R. Very, very few ascents are made of this impressive cluster of rock, snow and ice.]

 
[Distant giants to the SE and South (R) include Cirrus, Cline, Saskatchewan, Wilson, Amery, Chephren, White Pyramid, Howse and the Lyells at far right. ++]


[Mount Bryce's north face is a damn impressive aspect to climb - far beyond my reach! The peak looks a little small from this angle though, doesn't it?! ;)]

 
[Nice late day lighting as we start back down from the summit looking south (L), west (C) and NW (R) from Bryce to King Edward. ++]


[Leaving the summit as evening sets in.]

 

The descent went quickly - I managed to go down facing outward while Ben and Steven were more comfortable facing in. If the snow was any harder I would have joined them, but I'm heavier than those guys so my feet plunged into the slope no problems. ;) The ski run back to camp was fast and easy and we finally got back just as darkness was settling in around us for a round trip time of around 6.5 hours from camp. 

 


[The rope disappears over the edge as I approach the lip of the upper east face.]

 
[This photo makes the slope look shallow - it's not! Steven is crossing the open crevasse that Ben was half buried in on the ascent. ++]


[You can see the steep roll just under Steven here where we transition onto the steepest part of the face.]


[Same shot as previous, but now the angle is more apparent.]


[Soon the rope will come off as we get to the steepest part of the face and past the upper crevasses.]


[Looking back up and across the rock outcrop, showing the angle of the face as we descend.]


[Down climbing the east face. Note that the rope is off here. This is a conscious choice that balanced between the risk of crevasses and the risk of an avalanche on the steep east face. There are definitely crevasses (and a 'schrund!) here, but we didn't punch through anywhere on this section on ascent and were carefully down climbing our tracks. Being roped together on steep snow isn't safe. If one person slips, everyone is going down in a nasty tangled mess of crampons and rope. If the slope sluffs or avalanches it's the same scenario of falling bodies tied together. Balancing risk is always tricky - you have to decide what to do when you get there.]


[Ben downclimbs the SE face.]


[I'm catching up to Steven now, as I feel comfortable facing outwards and plunge-stepping down the lower face.]


[This isn't a slope to take lightly. It's not technically difficult but it's huge, steep and full of holes.]

 
[A final panorama as we exit the SE face of Mount Columbia, looking over the icefields to Andromeda at distance left and Bryce at center right. ++]


[Looking back at Steven and Ben as they ski down from the east face of Columbia in fading light.]


[Late evening lighting on the Twins.]

 
[What a view! After 17 hours on the go and 3 hours of sleep, I'm ready to hit the sack though. ++]

 

We finally stumbled back into our camp in late evening lighting after a 17 hour day, on 3 hours of sleep I might add! It felt really good to finally attain the summit of Mount Columbia after dreaming of it for so many years. I realize it's not the pinnacle of mountaineering difficulty, but it's a big, beautiful mountain and it threw up enough challenges to produce a nice summit-glow in all of us. We enjoyed some hot brews and supper before collapsing in our warm sleeping bags after a very long and tough day. Our plans for Sunday were to make our way over to Snow Dome, set up camp near the ramp and perhaps get me up Andromeda depending on conditions / energy levels.

 

On Sunday, April 19th we awoke in -15 degrees feeling pretty darn good with ourselves. There was a cloud cap covering Columbia as we struggled out of our warm sleeping bags and slowly started breaking camp. The sky soon cleared completely off - we were going to have a blue bird day on the ice fields. Even though our views would have been clearer on Columbia this day, we were still glad to have climbed the face with some clouds rather than a relentless spring sun heating things up. As we packed camp we made decisions on what to attempt. At first Ben and Steven were pretty keen on tagging both Kitchener and Snow Dome. I offered to follow our ski tracks to just above the ramp and set up camp for all of us while they did the peaks. My condition was that they had to assist me in breaking trail to the Andromeda / Androlumbia col so that I could safely climb it solo and get through the crevasses with a rope / team mates.

 


[Tele shot from camp the next morning, showing our tracks up the east face of Mount Columbia. On hindsight, this would have been a great ascent day too - although I don't like the obvious winds that will be loading the SE face with fresh snow.]


[Vern with his HMG 4400 packed to the hilt with winter gear.]

 

We followed our ski track back through the trench and up towards Snow Dome until Ben and Steven could continue on the snowmobile tracks to the summit while I would follow our ski tracks back to the trench. (Skiing the snowmobile track helped for crevasses but it didn't make the skiing any easier as the tracks were mixed and uneven and the snow was very supportive and easy to ski.) As we parted ways the plans changed slightly. Ben and Steven were starting to realize how big Snow Dome was and were hurting a bit after the 17 hour day on Columbia the day before. They agreed that they would only do Snow Dome while I set up camp. Then we would try to get me up Andromeda that afternoon from camp.

 


[Steven skis back to the trench with Columbia looming behind him.]


[Mount Bryce looks huge again as we pass through the bottom of the trench.]


[Looking back at our ski tracks descending the trench with Mount Columbia peeking over the edge.]


[An incredible view of South and North Twin Peaks.]


[Coming up over the edge of the trench.]

 
[Looking over the north end of the trench with our tracks and Columbia at left and the Twins at center right. Dias visible at distant center. ++]


[Warwick Mountain is barely distinguishable from the impressive Dias Mountain rising beyond.]


[The Chess Group rises behind Steven and Ben with the Adamants at distant left.]


[Sundial with Listening Mountain at left and Warwick / Dias at right.]


[Big terrain.]

 
[A panorama looking west and north off the icefield towards Dias, Warwick, Serenity, Sundial, Listening, Toronto, Apex, Chaba and Clemenceau (R to L). ++]


[Dwarfed by the terrain. Hard to believe that 12 hours ago we were on top of that beast!]

 
[A huge panorama looking south from Castleguard past Forbes and the Lyells including Farbus, Oppy and Alexandra before hitting Bryce at far right. ++]

 
[Looking down the Saskatchewan Glacier towards Mount Saskatchewan at distant left with Amery to its right and Castleguard at far right. ++]

 
[The huge terrain demands huge panoramas. Mount Andromeda and Androlumbia at left with Castleguard at right. The much safer and gentler Saskatchewan Glacier in between at lower center. ++]


[I was hoping to bag Andromeda via its south ridge (rising right to left) but we ended up bagging Androlumbia instead - the peak rising at center here.]

 
[Getting closer to our next objective (well, mine). Steven and Ben bagged Snow Dome while I set up camp somewhere at lower left here.]

 
[Camp and the biffy as I wait for Steven and Ben to come back down Snow Dome.]

 

Just to complete this trip report with our exit down the Athabasca Glacier headwall, I'll post the photos from our next day exit. We skied and boot packed Androlumbia the evening before and had another great night. Monday morning dawned cold but mostly clear. Andromeda was buried in a cloud cap so good thing I wasn't up there alone. We skied quickly under the seracs and then carefully down the steepest roll near the toe of the glacier ice fall. After that it was a fast ride to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and then a long trudge to the cars from there. As expected, Mount Columbia proved to be one of my all-time favorite mountains in the Rockies to ascend. Highly recommended for fit and prepared parties.

 


[Descending the ramp to the icefall below. We'll go left and avoid the obvious crevasse field below.]


[Through the worst of the icefall and bootpacking down some steep rolls to the glacier below.]


[Looking back at our escape ramp.]


[The AA icefall at left with Andromeda rising at center.]


[Looking back at Steven exiting the Athabasca Glacier.]


[Loaded up and ready for the 2km uphill trudge to the parking lot.]


[Heading for the lower lot - we're parked in the upper one of course.]

 
[A last glance back from where the glacier was in 1925.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,747
Summit Elevation (ft): 
12,294
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Round Trip Time: 
23.00
Total Distance (km): 
41.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Crevasses, avalanches and a remote location in the middle of a large ice field are the main difficulties when climbing Colubmia. Don't underestimate it just because it's not technically that hard!

Cromwell, Mount

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by J. Monroe Thorington (name suggested in 1967) in 1972. Cromwell, Oliver Eaton (Oliver Cromwell was an American who began climbing in the Canadian Rockies in 1928 and made many first ascents.) Official name. 

First ascended in 1938 by E. Cromwell, E. Cromwell jr., F.S. North, J. Monroe Thorington, guided by Edward Feuz jr.. Journal reference AAJ 3-61.

 

(from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, May 7, 2015 to Sunday, May 10, 2015
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,340

2015 was an interesting winter in the Rockies. Many ski resorts had to close early, thanks to low snow and temperatures that soared above normal. Calgary didn't even seem to get winter at all! In a strange twist, however, we started to notice that the glaciers and mountains along the Divide had plenty of coverage - even though valley bottoms were completely melting out. I'm still not sure what caused this, but one theory is that the snow that fell, stuck - more like a coastal snow pack than a regular Rockies 'crap' pack. Whatever the case, when Ben, Steven and I traveled up the Athabasca Glacier and to the summit of Mount Columbia in late April we were delighted to discover great coverage and a fully formed ramp to the main glacier. When schedules lined up and the weather started to look good for the second weekend in May, we made plans for another trip to the northern peaks of the Columbia Icefield.

 

When the dust settled it was four of us doing the trip in 2015. Kevin Barton was joining the 'regular' group of Ben Nearingburg, Steven Song and myself. Of course Ben and Steven were planning to bag ALL of the peaks in the area and even hoping to finish off the Columbia Icefield peaks completely with an ascent of Mount Kitchener on our exit! I only had two peaks left to chase on this trip, Mount Cromwell and South Twin Peak. Kevin had almost all of them to do, having only done West Twin two years previous with me and a bunch of our friends.

 

 
[As you can see - Cromwell (the peak on the left) is a bloody long way from the parking lot. ++]

 

Kevin and I slept in the Rampart Creek Hostel on Wednesday night and met Steven and Ben in the parking lot at the Icefields just after 05:00 on Thursday morning. (Another group from the Calgary Scrambling and Mountaineering Club - CSMC were slightly behind us and attempting the exact same peaks we were.) Thanks to a full moon and early sunrise we didn't even need our head lamps as we walked to the toe of the Athabasca and started skinning up to the first ice fall. There was even more coverage than 3 weeks previous and we skinned up the ice fall and the ramp, following another group that was heading into Mount Columbia. We were hoping for a skin track turning north to our destination but alas, there was only a blank white canvas going up the slight draw around the flank of Snow Dome where we had to go... Oh well! Let the games begin... Steven led the long trudge around Snow Dome and eventually down and up onto the long series of humps to North Twin. The sun was HOT and the snow started to stick badly to Steven and Kev's skins. Nobody had skin wax so this became a major issue. The CSMC group stayed behind us, so we didn't get the advantage of shared trail breaking either. We doggedly pushed on until the weather started closing in from the north. We were expecting this and started thinking about stopping to set up camp. The CSMC group finally caught up and passed us but they soon discovered that leading in the ankle to boot-top deep fresh, sticky snow was not much fun and within 20 minutes we passed them again. :) Unless you've made this trek on skis to the northern end of the Columbia Icefield before, especially in warm weather or bad conditions, you will always under estimate the amount of effort it takes. Rob (leader of the CSMC group) and I both only needed South Twin and Cromwell and we both agreed that making a camp near North Twin was paramount for success. We also both agreed that it was easier said than done to make this far camp.

 


[Leaving the toe of the Athabasca Glacier in perfect weather. Skyladder on Andromeda is lighting up on the left.]


[The same ramp we used to avoid the first steep roll on the first ice fall for our Columbia trip, now had much more snow on it.]

 
[Clear sailing between the two headwalls on the icefall.]


[Working our way up the steep (but wide!) ramp to the main icefield.]


[Now we've gained some serious height and are working our way around Snow Dome. This is looking back at Kev. The Saskatchewan Glacier trench is visible behind him. Androlumbia on the left.]


[It got really warm - Steven and Kevin eventually had some serious issues with snow balling on their skins.]


[The Giant]

 
[Trudging our way across the endless ocean of white. The Twins are at least visible now but still hours and hours of skiing before we get to camp. ++]

 
[A gorgeous sunset from camp, hiding the fact that we've just spent hours huddled in our mids in a gale force wind with snow falling like rain! ++]

 

Steven really wanted to push another 2km closer to North Twin, but Ben and I were sick of the heavy packs (I was loving how I spent hundreds of dollars getting my gear as light as possible and then carried the extra 60m rope... LOL) and leery of setting up a good winter camp in the rapidly changing weather. The CSMC group was already stopped about 300m behind us when we finally took off our heavy approach packs and set up camp in rapidly deteriorating weather. We ended up cooking and eating in the mids thanks to heavy snow and a gusty wind. In the late afternoon and early evening it snowed very heavily along with pretty strong winds that lasted all night. It always seems to be windy up on the ice fields, but considering we were camped higher than the summit of Castleguard, this should not be a surprise! I slept like a log after the exhausting approach and when I awoke to the sound of snow and wind on the mid at around 05:30 I turned over in my sleeping bag and dozed off for another hour or so before finally getting up and checking out the conditions.

 

The sun was up and other than a very stiff wind, the weather was looking perfect for an attempt of the Stutfields and Mount Cromwell. We forced down some breakfast in the frosty air and skinned towards the Stuts on fresh snow that went at least ankle deep - but at least nobodies skins were sticking to the snow in the cool morning air. I'd already skied both Stutfield and Stutfield NE but to get to Cromwell, you pretty much have to summit the main Stutfield Peak anyway, so I was going to repeat that one whether I wanted to or not. ;) Steven led up the steep lower roll on Stutfield and we trudged our way slowly but surely to the summit bump. We actually summitted a smaller bump to the north which gave us great views into the black hole and towards Mount Alberta and Woolley / Diadem. After a brief summit stay it was time to push on. Cromwell might look close, but we knew that it had taken Raf's party a long day to bag it back in 2013 and we were counting on the same.

 


[Morning dawns clear and COLD.]


[Tele shot of Cromwell peeking from between the Stutfields.]

 
[Making our way to the Stutfield col from camp. It still took an hour, even though we were relatively 'close'. ++]


[Twin's Tower is impressive from the Stutfield col.]

 
[The steep roll to gain Stutfield Peak is an avalanche hazard.]


[Looking back at Kev with South Twin, North Twin and Twin's Tower from L to R.]


[Kev on Stutfield Peak.]


[Mounts Brazeau and Warren.]

 
[Summit pano from Stutfield Peak looking west, north and east. ++]

 

I knew where to descend Stutfield to avoid the crevasses on it's east flank (head down on the south end) and soon we were trudging along the valley between the Stutfield peaks, heading north to Cromwell. The route was obvious and the views of Stutfield from the east were impressive. Mount Alberta and Engelhard also came into view. Eventually we had a choice to make. We could traverse a snowy avalanche slope across a large alpine bowl on the west face of Stutfield NE before descending it's north ridge to the Cromwell / Stutfield NE col, or we could go down the bowl (crevasses and avy terrain) and then ascend to the col. Raf's team was forced to descend the bowl due to conditions, but we had way more snow than they did and ended up traversing the west face of Stutfield NE before skiing down to the col where we gazed up at Cromwell's south ridge / face and wondered if we could ski the whole thing!

 


[Skiing towards the east face of Stutfield. Cromwell is visible on the L with Stutfield NE directly in front of us.]


[It looks so close... But consider the height loss!]


[Looking at Kitchener (R) and the hwy 93 corridor where I'm sure the tourists are in shorts and t-shirts.]


[Still skiing between the Stuts - Cromwell directly ahead now.]


[Thorington Tower is cool.]

 
[The steep avy traverse to the Cromwell / Stutfield NE col is obvious and has holes along it too. The other option is descending beneath the col and then climbing back up to it - but you're still exposed to avy slopes and there's even more crevasses on that route. Trust me - the terrain is much bigger and steeper than this photo implies. ++]

 

Ben and I decided it was worth skiing, so we skinned up the lower south ridge before taking the skis off and humping them up a narrow section just under the upper face. We switched leads up the south face until we got close to the summit. From here I took out my avy probe to make sure we didn't trespass too close to the edge. The views were awesome from the top. We could see the tiny bump of Little Alberta beneath us and the surrounding 11,000ers including Alberta, Stutfield, Stutfield NE, Woolley and Diadem. We could also see the tiny dots that were the CSMC group, faithfully taking advantage of our tracks once again - not that I blame them! I certainly would have followed their tracks if they got up earlier and led the way up Cromwell, or South Twin for that matter... ;) Interestingly, several devices only measured the summit of Cromwell at around 3340m - so not quite an 11,000er (50 feet short!) and not as close as other peaks that I've measured that are known to be close. Due to variation in devices it is extremely close, so who really knows? Raf measured it at 3351m with a very similar device in 2013.

 

 
[A bit more scale for you. Kev follows up the south ridge of Cromwell with the Stutfields behind him. Mount Alberta on the right. ++]


[Bootpacking the south ridge.]

 
[Another shot of Kev coming up the south ridge behind me. The Athabasca River valley is far below. ++]

 
[I love this view of the Stutfields!]


[Tele of the CSMC group following our tracks down Stutfield Peak on their way to Cromwell.]


[Woolley (L) and Diadem (R) from the summit of Cromwell.]


[Son of a Twin is a spectacular peak that I'm sure I'll never climb!]


[A distant view of Mount Athabasca.]

 

While Kev and Steven plunge-stepped the south face of Cromwell, Ben and I enjoyed the fast ski down it. I managed to ski down the entire south ridge to the col. It was fast and fun. I'm not sure how many people get to ski this slope, as it's often wind blasted and covered in sharp scree. My skis took a core shot on this slope, thanks to the shallow snow pack in spots. After greeting the CSMC group, I took off from our group, following our tracks back over Stutfield and to camp while the other three guys bagged Stutfield NE and joined me at camp 2 hours later. I really enjoyed Cromwell. I think it deserves more attention than it gets, but honestly I can see why it's not popular. It's literally the furthest summit from the Athabasca parking lot and when compared with its neighbors it's the "baby of the bunch". Without enough snow to ski it, I'm not sure anyone other than obsessive peak baggers would find it necessary to slog all the way to it's summit, unless you take one of the 5.7 routes up more challenging lines.

 


[Steven descends the ridge beside me, while I ski it.]


[Our 'ascent', descent tracks from Stutfield - you can barely spot the CSMC group at the col.]


[The CSMC group takes their turn on the south ridge of Cromwell.]


[Mighty (loose!) Mount Alberta.]


[I love Dias Mountain and want to climb it some day.]


[Looking back as the boys follow me back up to Stutfield NE.]

 
[Stutfield is impressive from this angle as I slowly follow our tracks back up over 11,000 feet.]


[As I set a track up Stutfield I glanced back at the boys ascending Stutfield NE. The CSMC group is tiny on top of Cromwell.]

 
[Back on Stutfield, ready for the ski down and then another ski UP to camp! Damn. This is a long day... ;) ++]


[Everyone at camp, drying out gear and prepping for a big day on the Twins.]

 
[Evening on the ice fields. ++]


[Tele shot of the other camp and a tiny Castleguard with Forbes and the Lyells looming over in the far distance.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,958
Round Trip Time: 
10.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Glacier travel in an extremely remote location and some avalanche risk to the Cromwell / Stutfield NE2 col make this a peak to be taken seriously. No technical difficulties to the summit - beware the cornice!

Curator Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Morrison P. Bridgland in 1916. The mountain is adjacent to Shovel Pass and Morris Bridgland felt that it was the "custodian" of the pass. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com)

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,622

Curator Mountain was a very enjoyable scramble. Next to Tekarra it's the one I would recommend most for a side trip off of the Skyline Trail backpacking route in Jasper National Park. It is just off of the Big Shovel Pass to the west and there are several routes up. The most obvious may not always be possible if the snow isn't melted enough. If there is no way up through the snowfield you can get to the summit by tracking back a bit and going up through some steep scree and cliff bands to gain the summit ridge.

 

This summit is mostly a strenuous hike but does get somewhat steep in sections. The view from the top is absolutely fantastic with a view of the Skyline Trail along Curator Lake with the steep route up The Notch along with a host of other peaks to the south and the east including Centre, Excelsior and others.

 

If you get to Big Shovel Pass and you think you have the energy, it shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours to go up and down and that includes some good quality view-time at the top.



[Curator Mountain from Big Shovel Pass.]


[Vern coming up Curator.]


[Vern and Kev coming up just above the snow patch.]


[Kev coming up the final ridge before the summit.]


[The cairn at the summit.]


[View from the top of Curator Mountain looking south towards Amber Mountain.]


[Vern and Kev on the summit.]


[The Skyline trail winds it's way across this picture, far below the summit.]


[The summit of Curator Mountain.]


[The Notch with Curator Lake just visible at center.]


[Coming down past the snow patch on the east ridge above Big Shovel Pass.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,603
Elevation Gain (m): 
400
Difficulty Notes: 

An easy ascent from the Skyline Trail which passes right past the mountain on its east ridge.

Diadem Peak

Interesting Facts: 

Named by J. Norman Collie in 1898. When Collie, Stutfield, and Woolley reached this summit they found that, a "'diadem (crown)' of snow proved to be about a hundred feet high, set on the nearly flat top of the rocks." Official name. First ascended in 1898 by J. Norman Collie, H.E.M. Stutfield, H. WoolleyJournal reference AJ 19-461. (from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
8
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
5.0-5.2
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 6, 2014

Once we descended the North Ridge of Mount Woolley to the col, we found ourselves staring up at the easy, snow and scree covered South Ridge of Diadem Peak. There wasn't much in the way of difficulties or route finding to the summit of Diadem. It was one tired foot in front of the other! As I crested the snowy summit bump, I immediately noticed what looked to be a slightly higher, rocky summit tower to the Northeast of us. I remembered a discussion on the old RMBooks forum about this summit and wondered if we should wander over to it, to give it a look.

 


[Starting up our second 11,000er of the day.]

 
[A wonderful shot of Mount Woolley and it's North Ridge. ++]

 
[Ascending snow just below the summit.]


[A panorama from what the majority of climbers consider the summit of Diadem Peak. The slightly higher - and much more difficult - rocky summit at right. ++]


[A great shot of the Northeast Ridge of Alberta. The North Face is in deep shadow.]

 

Steven was way ahead of me, already tramping his way towards it! Ben and I somewhat reluctantly, followed. Why were Ben and I dragging our feet? The rock didn't look easy. Covered in snow and ice and surrounded by steep walls, we were hoping to avoid having to ascend it. When we got a bit closer we knew we were out of luck on that one...

 

Steven was gung ho to ascend the scary looking crux to the summit cairn first, so I handed him my GPS and asked him to take a few measurements at the top. If the measurements were higher than what I'd measured on the snow bump that most people call the "summit", I'd have no choice but to follow Steven's footprints up. I had measured two readings of 3370 and 3372 on the snowy bump. Mr. Song made the scramble look fairly easy, but very exposed and when he took a few readings and shouted down the number "3375", Ben and I realized we were going up too!

 

 
[Crap. Looks like we have to at least check that rocky summit with a cairn out.]

 
[Double crap. Do we really have to follow him up there?! A wee bit of exposure. ++]


[Yep. It sounds like it's higher.]

 

I gingerly traversed the first part of the climb to the summit on a snowy ledge before coming to a short knife-edge arete. This arete looks extremely exposed from the east side (and it is), but when I got right up to it I was relieved to note that I probably wouldn't die if I fell off the west side... ;) A few short, exposed moves on snowy rock and I joined Steven on the rocky summit of Diadem. I traversed to the summit cairn and started rooting around for a register. Eventually I realized that there was too much snow and ice to find the register and gave up. When I stood up and looked over at the snow bump on Diadem I could tell right away that this rocky summit was higher. I could clearly see over the snowy summit, something you can't do with a higher or equally high apex. I also measured the altitude with my watch and a few more readings with the barometric altimeter on the GPS and every single reading was over 3374. (On my way back over the snow summit, multiple readings never went over 3373.) I'm sure some people are going to be grumpy about this, but if you skipped the rocky summit of Diadem you probably did not stand on her true apex, unless you were there in a very high snow year! ;)

 

The views from the summit did not disappoint and were much the same as Woolley's views. We could see slightly more of Mount Alberta's North Face and obviously of the mountains directly north of the area. Mushroom Peak looked quite high to me, I wondered how the heck I was going to have the energy to even attempt it, but it looked fairly easy from Diadem. The toughest part would be traversing it's lower glacier on our way to her south scree slopes and East Ridge.

 

 
[Now that is a summit panorama!! ++]


[Mount Warren and Brazeau on the left side are 11,000ers that I did the next summer with Ben.]


[Poboktan Mountain is 10,893 feet high.]


[I did Sunwapta in April of 2006 with Kelly Smith and Sonny Bou in lots of snow - we didn't even have views of Woolley and Diadem at the time. I don't think I expected to be standing on Diadem Peak 8 years later.]


[Mushroom Peak looks tiny - but we have to descend many hundreds of vertical meters before we can even start up it!]


[Looking past Mount Kitchener towards Athabasca.]


[L to R, Andromeda, Kitchener, Snow Dome, Cro]

 
[The impressive summits of the Stutfields with Bryce rising behind them and Cromwell and Engelhard in front at left. North Twin and Twin's Tower just left of the summit of Woolley. ++]

 
[Clearly I am higher than the snowy summit of Diadem (R) here - not much higher, but higher, nonetheless.]

 
[Mount Alberta's North Ridge and part of the North Face impress with their vertical relief from the lower north glacier.]

 
[Serenity and Hooker in the distance at left. Catacombs on the left over Mount Palmer, Geikke in the far distance, Robson, Fryatt and Edith Cavell all visible far away over Thorington Tower. Mount GEC is a unique summit right of Thorington Tower. Nelson and Smythe at right. ++]

 
[Steven takes in the wonderful view over Mushroom Peak and our bivy tarn, far below. ++]

 

After enjoying the amazing summit views on Diadem it was time to descend the long and potentially hazardous terrain through the two couloirs to the lower glacier. The first part of the descent, after the crux summit rock, was easy and fast. Soon we were back at the second (steeper) couloir. It had certainly melted out during this long, sunny, warm day and we were a bit apprehensive about the descent. There was no guarantee it would even have snow to our traverse point, or if it was now bare ice. Oh well. No time like the present... As the occasional rock zipped past us, we quickly started down the couloir on stable but slushy snow. Our crampons bit into the ice beneath the snow fairly well and we made good time to the rock traverse point. 

 

 
[Don't slip on the crux! ++]


[Steven Au Chavel on the crux, Ben is descending the upper crux, you don't want to slip anywhere here.]


[Vern on the snow summit of Diadem Peak.]


[Walking down the easy summit slopes of Diadem to the col.]


[Descending to the Woolley col.]

 

If was steeper than I remembered from that morning, but with two axes and firm steps we just managed to avoid any ice in the gully and transitioned to the rock, happy to be away from the rock / ice that was occasionally plummeting down on top of us. The rock traverse went much better than I was expecting. We managed to swing far to skier's left before going back right to avoid most of the down sloping, crumbly slabs. Soon we found ourselves approaching the lower angled first couloir - which we assumed would be fairly easy. We even kept one hiking pole and used it with our alpine axes. This was a mistake. The gully had been a breeze in the morning, but the snow was pretty much completely melted out on this lower section. Rocks were zinging past much more regularly than the upper couloir - and there was evidence of a LOT of rock fall coming down over the day. Our plan was to traverse this couloir towards the glacier between Diadem and Mushroom Peak and follow this glacier to the south face and west ridge of Mushroom. As Ben traversed the couloir he started looking really awkward almost right away.

 

Pure, hard ICE. No snow. Crap!! We very gingerly made our way down the gully - way too slowly for my liking - remember the rock fall issues? We eventually managed to get our second ice ax out and this made things much safer and faster. Steven led the way out of the gully and we breathed a huge sigh of relief. There's nothing like random rock fall to keep you on your toes! I don't really enjoy the randomness of these kinds of objective hazards. I don't mind exposure or things that I can control but hearing the sounds of rocks coming down a steep mountain slope above you and cringing as they careen either past you or over you is NOT my idea of a good time...

 


[Our tracks down Woolley. ++]

 
[Couldn't ask for better weather.]


[A steep, slushy down climb in the second couloir.]


[Down climbing, near the rock traverse. We ran out of snow just as we transitioned to rock - very good timing!]


[Camera lens is wet from the 2nd couloir but we are now downclimbing the ledges to the first couloir.]


[Looking up the down sloping slabs that we went up in the morning and largely avoided on descent.]

 
[Traversing the slabs back to the first couloir - where's all the snow?! ++]


[Now we're pretty much out of snow completely. That little bit that exists isn't helping. At least we have both tools out now. We're trying to transition to the left side of the photo and out of danger of falling rocks and ice.]


[Trying to escape the rockfall in the first couloir as quickly as possible!]


[The sun disappears over Woolley's summit as we prepare for our third and last summit of the day - Mushroom Peak.]

 
[Looking at Mushroom Peak (L) which isn't looking quite as easy as we'd hoped. ++]

 

Now, with daylight already starting to fade, we had to somehow cross the lower Diadem / Mushroom glacier and then slog up at least 500 vertical meters to the summit of 10,500 high Mushroom Peak.

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,371
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,060
Elevation Gain (m): 
1200
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Steep snow or ice couloirs to 45 degrees. Glacier travel and steep, wet, scree covered rock in between the couloirs. A final rock step to the true summit may catch you by surprise - many avoid it.

Edith Cavell, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1916. Cavell, Edith Louise (An English nurse, Edith Cavell was executed by the enemy during WW I.) Official name. Other names La Montagne de la Grande Traverse, Geikie, Fitzhugh First ascended in 1915 by A.J. Gilmour, E.W.D. Holway Journal reference CAJ 7-63. (from peakfinder.com

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
9
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
5.3
YDS Grade: 
III
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, August 2, 2013
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,363

Scott Berry and I completed a east-west traverse of the impressive Edith Cavell on a glorious summer day on August 02 2013. Edith Cavell has been tempting me for years already, ever since I started seeing trip reports from friends who swore up and down that the east ridge has some of the best hands-on scrambling / low 5th class climbing to be found in the 'chossy' Rockies. They weren't kidding!

 

There is some minor discrepancy on the rating of the east ridge when doing research on the internet. I've seen it rated from a hard scramble to a 5.5, alpine III climb but the official rating is 5.3, alpine III and I think in dry conditions this is a fair rating given my limited alpine experience of course! :) Scott and I had first brought up the idea of Edith Cavell while hiking up Numa Mountain a few weeks previous. Scott had a few days off to "dirt bag" and I'd been looking for an opportunity to climb Cavell's east ridge with someone who knows rope work for a while already. Of course we couldn't control the weather or conditions on the mountain so it was a bit of a hail Mary to plan this climb so far in advance.

 

As the day approached the weather didn't look very good at all. I kept waffling on whether we should go for it or not and finally on Wednesday evening we decided to go for it and see what would happen. On Thursday morning TJ shared a guide report from the day previous which indicated good conditions on the east ridge with the caveat that ax and crampons would be necessary to ensure success. The rumor on the east ridge of Cavell is that a short ice / snow slope near the summit is actually becoming the crux rather than the steep rock on the upper ridge. Armed with this recent conditions update and feeling rather optimistic about the improving weather forecast, I drove the 5 hours to the Edith Cavell parking lot on Thursday evening and met Scott in the parking lot just as the last of the (hordes of) tourists cleared off.

 

I'd never actually been this close to Edith Cavell before, never having hiked the Tonquin Valley or even the Cavell Meadows. As I drove up the long, winding road to the parking lot I was thinking two things. First of all I was thinking of all the many meters of height gain this delightful road was saving me and second of all I was in awe of the way the north face of Edith Cavell kept getting bigger and bigger as I kept driving closer towards it! It started with a "meh - I've seen bigger" and ended with "holy crap this thing's big!!". :)

 

The mosquitoes were brutal in the parking lot but they were swarming more than biting and I struck up a conversation with another climber who was sleeping in his van beside us - Leif from Canmore. Leif (sp) was planning to solo the east ridge and exit via the west and was also planning on getting up around 03:00. He'd scouted out the approach trail already that afternoon and claimed to have reached the col in about an hour rather than the stated two from the guide books. I should have done the same that evening but was tired from 5 hours of driving and since Scott had already done the first half the east ridge I assumed the way would be really obvious. I should know better by now - nothing is obvious at 03:00...

 

After gazing at the north face and musing about the various intimidating routes up the various buttresses and couloirs on it we turned in for the night around 21:30. I don't sleep that well in my truck and the few mosquitoes that managed to sneak in didn't help any. By the time my alarm went off at 03:00 I think I dozed off for about 3-4 hours at most. Leif was determined to be the first on the ridge and set off from the parking lot around 03:15 while we took a bit longer and were gone by 03:45. Almost instantly I realized that I should have taken the 30 minutes to scout out the approach the evening before. We got to the end of the obvious tourist trail and didn't know where to go from there! It was pitch black outside and Leif was so far in the distance he was of no help. I really don't like getting 'lost' on the approach, especially when bothering with alpine starts. A similar thing happened on Mount Assiniboine when we left early and didn't find the highway approach trail until we were on the ridge. The approach is never as obvious as you'd think when you are relying on head lamp to find it.

 

I'm still not 100% sure where we went wrong but I think we should have been much more climber's left, but instead we ended up at the lake shore until we trended up left straight to the col at the east ridge. We were never on a real trail and never saw any cairns so I know we weren't anywhere close the regular route which is probably a highway! Oh well, the approach route was obvious enough even without a trail and we probably only wasted about 15-20 minutes or so - not a huge deal but I was a bit grumpy about it for a few minutes. ;) As we gained the col on a steep snow slope we were catching up with two other climbers. We spoke to them at the col - they were two young guys from Jasper out for a day of practice with the rope. They couldn't have picked a nicer day or a better objective to practice on! They got ahead of us on the scramble to the upper shoulder as we took our first break at the col. The weather was beautiful and the views were already stunning as we started the scramble up to the shoulder on the east ridge. I especially liked the view of Mount Fryatt to the southeast in the morning light.

 

The scramble to the shoulder is longer than it looks - like usual on large mountains. I was feeling the heavy pack by the time we finally topped out to the exciting view of the east ridge.

 


[The early morning sky above the truck at 03:00]


[Scott approaches the col beneath the east ridge after ascending a steep snow slope on crampons]


[Looking up at the scrambling route to the shoulder from the col. We stayed to climber's right of the snow gully. Remember, there was two guys climbing above us here and we didn't want to be right in line with any rocks coming down.]


[Looking south from the col. Fryatt is just barely showing up here but we're already well above tree line. The short approach on EC is glorious compared to the approaches for most of the 11,000ers.]


[Scott scrambles to the col in early morning light]


[Looking south down hwy 93]


[The Watchtower looks cool from the ridge!]


[The views towards Fryatt keep improving as we get higher on the ridge. ++]

 
[Scott takes in the views. ++]


[The sun rises over the ridge to the east]


[The scramble section is still over 500 meters of height gain - don't under estimate it. He's hard to spot but you can see one of climbers ahead of us on this photo near the top, against the snow slope.]


[The scrambling section is steep and very loose.]

 


[The sun is now up. ++]


[The tarn under the Angel Glacier and Cavell Lake are already far below us.]


[Cavell Lake]


[Scott comes up the snowy section before the shoulder. You can spot the two climbers below him now. We passed them as they put crampons on for this section.]


[Scott comes up to the upper shoulder - we're already far above the valley floor.]


[Scott comes up the shoulder on the east ridge - notice how high we are already and still have 500 meters of climbing to go yet!]

 
[Great views off the top of the scrambling section as Scott traverses towards me. ++]


[The exciting view of the upper east ridge of Edith Cavell!]


[Oh yeah! We're going up that.]

 

When I finally saw the upper east ridge from the shoulder I was delighted to NOT see snow or huge amounts of ice greeting us. We ate our breakfasts under a windless sky and warm sun, trying to spot Leif on the ridge above us and trying not to be intimidated by the steep and narrow ridge itself. I was feeling great and looked forward to getting my nose into things and soon we were off and climbing onwards and upwards to the summit.

 

The ridge was steep almost right away. The exposure down the north face was fairly intense but the solid quartzite lived up to it's good reputation and the climbing was fun. It reminded me a bit of Assiniboine's north ridge. We managed to climb most of this upper ridge solo. The first 5.3 section almost brought out the rope but I suggested we "get our noses into it" first and this proved a good call. We solo'd up this section with no issues and kept going. The climbing goes on for quite a while with some really exposed sections but nothing I found too ridiculous. I'm not saying I'd be delighted to down climb this ridge but going up it on dry rock was a pure delight.

 

Eventually we got to the upper 5.3 section and decided to pull out the rope since I'd hauled it all the way up this far! :) Technically we didn't NEED the rope here but it felt steeper than the first pitch we solo'd further down and was again, very exposed so neither of us minded the comfort of some protection. After half a pitch we took the rope back off and solo'd the rest of the way up. Near the top of the east ridge the rock suddenly becomes much looser than lower down. I had one incident where a ledge I was traversing actually came completely off the mountain and thundered down a steep gully below! I guess Edith Cavell is still in the "chossy" Rockies after all...

 

 
[Pano from the shoulder ++]


[Mount Fryatt is still one of my favorite 11,000ers and Rockies peaks due to it's gorgeous surroundings and fun climbing on the SW face.]


[Mounts Brown and Hooker show up - I think this is probably the best view I've ever had of these two mountains.]


[Approaching the steep ridge]


[Scott starts up the upper east ridge - the shoulder section on the left behind him.]


[The Angel Glacier tarn and Cavell Lake from the ridge.]


[Oh yeah! This is fun stuff - just don't slip.]


[The ridge looks intimidating but there's always an 'easy' way when you need it.]

 
[Another pano off the ridge looking south at Fryatt and Brown, Hooker and many others. ++]


[Exposed free solo'ing on the ridge]


[You should probably like heights and exposure before attempting the east ridge of Cavell. Note the great holds directly under me here.]


[Great holds, sunny, warm weather and tons of exposure made this an instant favorite.]


[We decided to pull the rope for about 35 meters here.]


[Looking down at the two guys behind us as they wait for us to clear the section we roped up for.]


[This was probably the steepest part we encountered on the ridge but the climbing was easy here. Snow or ice would make this spicey.]


[Robson shows up in the distance]


[The steep stuff doesn't stop after the crux but the holds are great and when dry it feels relatively easy - but exposed.]


[Taking a break before continuing up. I think Kane took a break here when he did it too... ++]


[Close up of Brown and Hooker]


[Another view of Fryatt with Belanger and Lapensee to the right.]


[The ridge has lots of small benches on it. Spot Scott coming up one behind me here.]


[Another view of the terrific exposure down to Cavell Lake far below]


[The upper ridge has amazing color in the rock.]


[Traversing another ledge system back to the ridge.]

 

At the top of the ridge we encountered what's becoming more of a crux on the route than the rock - an exposed snow / ice traverse that leads to the cornice on top of the summit. This traverse is very short and only involves 4 or 5 exposed steps but if you slip here it's not going to be pleasant. I had to use my steel crampons and plant a firm ax in order to over come this piece and so did Scott. I don't recall if this section is very easy to protect but I could see some folks not liking it. Soft or loose snow would be even more of an issue here than ice, IMO.

 

​We topped out on the summit about 7 hours after starting from the parking lot. It was windless and gorgeous with views forever in all directions and clouds just starting to build in the valleys below us.

 


[Just under the snow traverse looking south west to the Verdant Meadows.]

 
[In some ways this was the crux - 4 or 5 exposed traverse moves on snow / ice just under the summit. It's much more exposed than it appears here because we're over the steepest section. ++]


[The Tonquin Valley and Ramparts from the summit.]

 
[A great pano looking west over Verdant Pass and peaks like Chevron, Black and Throne. ++]

 
[Looking over Cavell Lake to the north. ++]


[Dramatic views into the Tonquin Valley, Oldhorn on the right and Throne on the left.]


[Gorgeous Jasper colors north of Cavell.]


[The clouds are starting to build already.]


[Mount Fryatt in the distance]


[Looking towards Brown and Hooker again.]


[The Angel Glacier, tarn and Cavell Lake from the summit.]

 

We weren't 100% sure which of the summit ridge 'bumps' was the true summit so we ended up traversing to the westernmost one before realizing that the first one (easternmost) is the highest point. This is when we also realized that most scramblers probably don't attain the true summit, since it is covered in snow and ice and has some tricky traverse sections on the upper ridge if there's snow. There's also a huge cairn on the lowest summit and nothing on the highest so if you're scrambling up the west ridge, make sure you traverse all the way east. 

 

We stopped for about 40 minutes on the lower summit and I was amused to find I had full cell service at the top of Edith Cavell - a useful thing to have if you get into trouble on this mountain. I used the privilege to book a tee time and text my wife that I was OK and not to expect me home for supper. :)

 

 
[Pano from the lower summit showing many surrounding peaks and areas from Verdant Pass to the Tonquin Valley. ++]


[There's a lovely lake just north in the valley far below. There's lovely lakes all over the place up here! ++]


[Vern, the "angry moose" on the summit of Edith Cavell. (I forgot to switch my sleeping shirt for my climbing shirt at 03:00 and ended up climbing in my cotton t-shirt instead!)]


[Hard to believe that some routes come up this face...]

 


Sidebar : Various Routes on Edith Cavell

As I've done in several other trip reports (e.g. Woolley), I thought it would be interesting to do some basic web research on the various climbing routes on Edith Cavell and try to link some armchair mountaineering trip reports for my readers.

  • West Ridge, 3rd class | 1915 by A.J Gilmour and Edward Holway
    •  
  • East Ridge, III 5.3 | 1924 by Joseph Hickson guided by Conrad Kain 
    •  
  • North Face, Main Summit, IV 5.7 | ? by 
  • North Face, East Summit, IV 5.8 | ? by
    •  
  • North Face, Colorado Spur, IV 5.7 | ? by
    •  
  • McKeith Spur, IV 5.7 | ? by 
    •  

 

After a nice summit break we headed down the west ridge. A few reasons made us decide against rapping the east one, I was exhausted and worried about concentration for the whole way down, we still had a party of two coming up the east ridge, the clouds were building and we didn't want to get into any weather issues while on the exposed ridge. I also wanted to scout out the Verdant Pass hiking trail / area.

 

Some people have told me about issues either they, or their friends have had, with getting lost on the west ridge descent. If you have visibility this really shouldn't be an issue anymore. There's a highway beaten into the scree for most of the way - if you're not following it or obvious cairns you're off route. We briefly went skier's left before cutting back to the right staying above a snow patch and then following the ridge almost to the Sorrow col. At this point the trail is obvious down the south bowl from the west ridge and we spent an hour or two working our way down on ledges, loose scree and waterfalls. This was a long, moderate scramble and wasn't difficult but did require a certain amount of concentration to be safe. I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck with more parties here - it was very, very loose and we kicked off quite a few rocks while descending.

 

There is only one 'easy' way down this south bowl so if you get off route you'll have to find it somehow. The key is to traverse almost all the way to the Sorrow col before descending into the bowl. From there you should be fine. You can even go right over the first summit after the col and then descend very easy slopes to skier's left down to the Verdant Pass trail but this involves some more ascent and isn't really necessary. You could probably also bag Mount Sorrow quite easily but this seems to be a let down after such a gorgeous climb and we didn't have the will or energy anyway.

 

 


[Verdent Pass from the West Ridge of Cavell]


[Looking down the west ridge]

 
[Looking back along the summit ridge and over Cavell Lake. ++]


[Looking towards Throne Mountain and down our route to the meadows below.]

 
[Getting back onto the west ridge proper, the snow patch we traversed above from the left is on the left. The Sorrow col is above Scott's head. ++]


[Clouds are building in the Tonquin Valley]
 


[I love the colors of the area north of Edith Cavell]

 
[Scott descends the west ridge proper. ++]


[Somehow you have to find your way down this bowl. There's trails and cairns to make this task quite easy - thank goodness!]


[Looking back up the west ridge of Cavell. The upper triangular section is by-passed to the right - staying above the snow and then taking the upper ridge back left again to the summit ridge. If you're ascending this way remember that the true summit is the third one along the upper ridge and an ice ax and crampons will be needed to attain it in most years.]


[Easy scree if you're on route]

 
[A special place - looking over Verdent Pass. ++]


[Looking down the south bowl towards Verdant Pass and Chevron Mountain.]


[Typical terrain on the south bowl descent. Not easy but not hard either.]


[We are delighted to be down the south bowl and off the mountain finally!]

 

The walk out from the bowl along the Verdant Pass and then the Astoria River trail is long - much longer than we expected. Scott was having some knee issues so I went ahead in order to save him 2km back up the highway to the parking lot. I was so tired by the time I was on the pavement that I had a few halucinations including a bear and a dog on the road in front of me! That was wierd but kind of fun too. I always seem to halucinate dogs when I'm really tired. No idea why...

 


[Back on easy terrain]


[Nice alpine meadows, looking back where we came from.]


[Blackhorn Mountain, Throne and Oldhorn (L to R)]


[A last look at the west ridge / south bowl exit.]


[These pine cones were unique - black and oozing a sugary substance. The weather was beautiful for the hike out but the bugs were annoying.]


[The trail was in great shape considering it's decommissioned.]


[The Verdant Pass trail is easy to follow but was a bit overgrown in spots and hasn't been maintained recently. It's also unmarked from the Astoria River trail so make sure you know where it's supposed to be or you'll miss it.]


[Finally on the main trail to the highway!]


[I was all alone on this final 5 or 6km stretch and with a thunderstorm booming in the background and hallucinations for company it was a bit spooky. :)]


[On the final 2km back to the parking lot with our objective towering 1700 meters or so above. It's hard to believe we completed a traverse from left to right and all the down and around Sorrow but we did! And my feet can feel it at this point...]

 

Edith Cavell proved to be worth the wait for me. I'm glad I waited so many years to catch it in perfect condition and to have a climbing partner like Scott to celebrate with on the summit. This was a deeply satisfying climb for both of us - not too difficult but lots of fun hands-on stuff and incredible views and environs to explore all around the mountain. The history of this mountain is also facinating and interesting to contemplate while on it. The upper mountain has enough spice and exposure to keep almost any climber happy and the final snow / ice traverse adds a bit of kick just for good measure.

 

Many people wonder if the east ridge really is "just a scramble" or not. After climbing it, I can say that in dry conditions it can be solo'd by experienced and confident scramblers or climbers - assuming they're comfortable with ax / crampons for the final traverse under the summit. That being said - this is certainly NOT a scramble and if you go up without rope or protection you are taking significant risk if you run into conditions en route that require you to back down it or climb on in less than ideal conditions. Even a rain shower or short t-storm could ruin your day big time on the quartzite rock. The west ridge is a scramble unless you run into snow before the true summit which will require ax / crampons. This is not the same section as above the east ridge, but is just after the middle summit when traversing to the far east (true) summit. Be warned though - the west ridge is a SLOG compared to the fun and exciting east ridge!

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,034
Elevation Gain (m): 
1700
Round Trip Time: 
13.00
Total Distance (km): 
21.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

An easy climb or climber's scramble up the east ridge. A moderate scree bash up the west descent route. Wait until it's dry!

Evelyn Peak

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Located in the Maligne Range, about 1.5 km west of the lake at the head of Evelyn Creek, and 3 km south of Evelyn Pass.

 

(from bivouac.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 5, 2015 to Sunday, September 6, 2015

Of course when I started my two week vacation in September, the weather turned for the worse in the Rockies. And when I say "worse", I mean way worse... First of all was the dump of snow that covered the entire range of the Alberta Rockies from north of Jasper to Waterton Lakes National Park. While a bit of snow isn't a huge issue, especially in the fall - it definitely limited my choices for peak bagging. I had to dial down my ambitions from lofty 11,000ers to trips that involved more hiking and backpacking. I didn't mind, to be honest. I was in the mood for more reflective trips anyway - sometimes the intensity of larger peaks can distract from the beauty and peacefulness of the area that you're traveling through. Not a terrible thing necessarily, but it's nice to stop and smell the roses every once in a while.

 

The weather was dismal all over the Rockies but Jasper was looking like it had the best chance of not sucking too bad. Ben was keen to join me and in the end we settled on a peak I'd never heard of before - Evelyn Peak. Evelyn is tucked in behind a very impressive mountain as seen from highway 93 - Mount Kerkeslin. I was worried about the snow but Ben assured me that Evelyn was a "smaller" peak and wouldn't have much snow on it. Ben had attempted Evelyn years before when looking for a good route up the back side of Kerkeslin. He remembered that there was some "bushwhacking" but didn't really remember too much more. He didn't make the summit on his last attempt, getting turned around part way up thanks to snow and slippery slabs. This time we would attempt a different route - ascending from Kerkeslin Lake after first hiking along a decommissioned trail - last in official use back in the 1970's!

 

 
[The route to Kerkeslin Lake and then up Evelyn Peak]

 

We started from an old pullout along hwy 93 and followed Ben's GPS track from his last trip down the valley when he'd discovered an old trail after bushwhacking for hours without it. Apparently it has been roughly maintained over the years by Jasper residents and we soon saw evidence of this in the form of a faint track along the forest floor and fresh blazes on the trees, with sap still dripping from the cuts. This was a pleasant surprise! At first I was thinking that Ben's memory of bushwhacking must be faulty but after a few kilometers I realized just how accurate his memory was. After crossing a couple of logs spanning a raging creek, the going got rough.

 

The thick underbrush was soaking wet after the recent rains / fog / snow and the trail was extremely narrow. The trail is an old design and sticks very close to the creek which means that thick alders and bushes are in great supply. The soaking wet leaves soon left us dripping wet and even soaked our boots clean through. Ben wrung out his socks 4 or 5 times during the day, he got so much moisture in them! My Gore-tex eventually gave up too and I ended up with soaked clothing. Thankfully the weather was cooperating for the most part. By the time we finally broke free of the thick underbrush we were casting faint shadows under a thin cloud cover above. We were surprised to see fresh pink ribbons once we hit some rocky drainages and thinner alpine bushes. I'm not a huge fan of bright pink plastic dangling all over nature but in our case it did help us keep to the faint trail - which only got fainter as we got closer to Kerkeslin Lake.

 


[A faint trail along the not-so-small-afterall Kerkeslin Creek]


[The trail is obviously not rigorously maintained anymore]


[Even though it's not maintained very well, there were dozens and dozens of blazes on the trees. If you get off trail just look for blazes!]


[The trail is "old school", in that it parallels the creek very closely. One good flood in this area like the 2013 floods further south and this trail is gonners.]


[The bushes were soaking wet on the approach. By the time we realized this, we were already soaking wet which made us pretty chilled before we got to the lake.]


[Finally we break into the alpine meadows before the lake. Still lots of travel though moderate bush but the worst is over now.]


[A large bruin has been here fairly recently... The entire approach valley was full of these overturned rocks.]


[Our first good views of Kerkeslin]


[A nice trail through the lush alpine - note the water on the lens!]


[Immediately at the lakeshore we notice this.]

 

Finally, after hours of struggling up a wet, narrow, undulating, muddy trail we arrived at the Kerkeslin Lake outlet. I have to say that the struggle to get to this remote, back country lake was entirely worth it. We started traversing along the lake shore - unsure exactly where we'd be heading up Evelyn, which looked pretty accessible from anywhere on the southwest side. We were following some pretty fresh and large grizzly tracks which was copasetic until there were a set of small grizzly tracks trotting along beside them! That wasn't very encouraging, but we figured if we yelled enough they would at least get out of our way. We could see from the odd deposit along the approach that they were well fed on berries so smelly hikers wouldn't be too appealing. When we arrived at a sandy beach we knew we couldn't pass this opportunity for a perfect bivy spot and settled in there. On a hot summer day the bugs would be nasty here, but the sandy beach was amazing! The sand even extended into the lake so swimming here would be amazing. I was gazing up a steep gully behind camp and asked Ben why we couldn't just go up there? He didn't have any good reasons not to ascend it, so after setting up camp we shouldered our packs and headed on up.

 


[Lovely, remote, wild Kerkeslin Lake]


[Heading up the extremely foreshortened gully behind camp.]

 

The gully was massively foreshortened. Every time I looked up I thought we must be getting close to the upper ridge and each time I was very disappointed to notice how far away it still was - it was one of the most fore-shortened slopes I've ever been on. We knew it was around 1000m of height gain from the camp thanks to our GPS units but to be honest we doubted our units were entirely accurate. Well - they were! Initially the gully was steepish, grippy slabs which could be avoided on climber's left. Higher up it transitioned to loose rock and boulders. Ben kicked steps up the deepening snow pack as we finally neared the ridge line. Evelyn has two summits which show as the exact same height so we threw the dice and picked the westernmost one to be ours. From the top we had great views of Kerkeslin's main summit and subsidiary summits. We were astonished that Evelyn was so close in height to Kerkeslin. Good thing I didn't know that when we started! Ben was flustered too, as he assumed Evelyn was a minor summit, not a prominent one in the area. Mount Fryatt and Edith Cavell looked huge off in the distance. The east ridge of Edith Cavell looked very scary with copious amounts of snow plastered all over it. We saw many ponds, tarns and lakes from the summit, everywhere we looked we saw more of them. The wind was bitingly cold so we didn't linger long, choosing to plunge down to our cozy, warm camp at the base of the mountain.

 


[I wondered if the slabs in the gully would be an issue but we could avoid slick parts on climber's left.]


[Pretty decent views already part way up the gully looking back at Kerkeslin and Kerkeslin Lake.]

 
[More expansive views as we approach snow line.]


[We finally reach snow line! Man - it was way longer than it looked to get to the summit at upper left than it seemed.]


[The never ending slog continues, but the summit bump is finally visible now!]

 
[Views looking towards Mount Kerkeslin on the left and Mount Hardisty on the right. ++]

 
[A lovely couple of tarns show up just to the SE of the peak. In the far background lies the Maligne Lake peaks. ++]

 
[A massive pano looking west and north at many, many Jasper peaks. ++]


[The brilliant tarns to the SE]

 
[Note the small tarn underneath Kerkeslin SE5 or "Windy Castle" Peak on the left. Mount Fryatt looms directly behind Kerkeslin showing how "small" the massif of Kerkeslin actually is compared to an 11,000er. :) ++]


[The very impressive Brussels Group, Christie, Brussels and Lowell from L to R.]


[The very scary looking east ridge of Edith Cavell on the left and also scary face of Mount Geike at center background.]


[A tele of Windy Castle or "Kerkeslin SE5" with its tarn]


[Descending to camp]

 

We spent a delightful evening in camp, eventually even some stars came out and the Milky Way was visible over a portion of the sky. The next day we were originally planning to ascend Empathy Peak at the head of the Kerkeslin Lake valley but our motivation was lacking thanks to the dreary weather. We decided to descend instead and made a fairly quick exit which was thankfully MUCH drier than our approach! (But still very bushy for a trail...) Overall I can't say that Evelyn Peak is a major objective that should be on everyone's list, but I will say that Kerkeslin Lake is a wonderful back country lake and the views from Evelyn are certainly excellent and worth a try if you're in the area.

 

 
[Paradise]


[I'm sure Windy Castle hasn't been photographed this much in a long, long time!]


[I did what I could with the cloud cover...]

 
[Exiting our lovely lake]


[I have no idea what makes these prints but I've been told it might be a cougar or bob cat.]


[Fall is in the air]


[A nice walk in the woods. At least for a short while!]


[Lots of pink ribbons. Helpful but I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of using plastic all over the place to mark routes in the wild.]


[Getting close to the trail "bushwhack"]


[Crossing a log bridge that rests on the old bridge from the 1970's]


[Lovely colors starting to come out]

Summit Elevation (m): 
2,855
Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,367
Elevation Gain (m): 
1700
Round Trip Time: 
13.50
Total Distance (km): 
20.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Remote travel up a rarely visited valley with tight, dense bush that's a challenge even with a faint trail.

Fortress Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Arthur P. Coleman in 1892. The mountain resembles a fortress. Official name. 

First ascended in 1896 by R.L. Barrett (alone)Other reference Wilcox Pg. 174.

(from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
4th Class
YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 13, 2013 to Sunday, September 15, 2013
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,020

After a successful summit bid on Catacombs Mountain we woke up on Saturday with lots of energy to tackle our next objective - crossing two passes before attempting to summit Fortress Mountain via her southwest slopes. [UPDATE 2015: The bridge across the Athabasca River, near the Athabasca Crossing campground collapsed in 2014 and there are no plans to replace it. Rumor has it that the Athabasca River can be crossing roughly 1km upstream of the old bridge location but I haven't verified this yetThis renders accessing the Fortress Lake area very difficult on foot. :(]

 

The first order of the day, after packing up camp, was heading over a completely unknown col / pass to the valley just northwest of Catacombs and Fortress. This first pass had no beta that we could find, so we were taking a huge chance that it would go. If it didn't work out we'd have to descend all the way to the Chaba before attempting a bushwhack back up under Fortress Mountain's SW face - a prospect we weren't looking forward to at all! The slopes to the col looked intimidating, but as usual in the mountains you have to get your nose in things before you really know what to expect.

 

In this case we found out pretty quickly that we should expect tons of rock fall (literally, tons) and very steep, hard slopes to the top of the gully. I choose the left hand lower gully while the other 4 choose the right hand side. I struggled up some VERY loose boulders / chock stones / gullies before topping out way above the other guys who had even looser, steeper and crappier terrain than I did. I could hear the rock fall and see clouds of dust coming up from under the guys as they climbed - even though I couldn't see them! Eventually they made it to my position - dusty but safe.

 


[The morning haze was very thick each day.]


[Looking ahead to the col - we took the left branch and I took the left side while the other 4 took the right side of the branch. The right branch had ice in it.]


[Under the steep and loose gully to the pass]


[The other 4 guys head up the right side of the left branch of the gully]


[The very steep, loose and hard-pack slopes to the col]

 

Above this position we tried to climb up the center of the gully on hard dirt, but this proved too difficult - there was simply no way to gain traction! 4 of us bailed onto steep (loose) rocky ledges on climber's left while Ben tried to go a bit higher on the dirt. Before he knew it, Ben was completely stuck - unable to move for risk of falling all the way down the gully! Eric, Liam and Steven carefully traversed above him on the ledges (almost knocking him off balance with unavoidable rock fall) before lowering a rope and assisting him up. I followed up the ledges and we found ourselves breathing a huge sigh of relief while gazing down gentler terrain into the pristine valley to the north of the pass.

 


[Liam comes up from the left side of the photo - I ascended the right side of the buttress in the gully. Note the clouds of dust from rock fall caused by the 4 guys coming up!]


[The guys come up to my position]


[The guys prepare to lower the rope to Ben (out of sight on lower right of photo)]


[Ben is stuck! He had to balance there while a rope was lowered - even braving a rock fall event caused by the guys getting into position to help him!]


[Almost there!]


[Looking back to our bivy lake in the distance from the col]

 
[The gorgeous valley on the west side of the col. ++]


[Mount Fryatt (L) is still a favorite 11,000er]


[The gang starts down into the valley west of Catacombs.]

 
[Gorgeous lake in the valley behind Catacombs]

 

Now we had to contour climber's left to gain the lower part of Fortress Pass and then cross this pass under the sw face of Fortress Mountain's nw ridge. This was much easier than our ascent of the Catacombs Pass! There was even some old sn'ice that we cramponed up over, before heading through the narrow, rocky pass itself. Here we found our first sign of other humans since crossing the Chaba to Catacombs - a cairn. The alpine meadows under the pass were gorgeous and the sun was hot as we traversed under the nw ridge to our planned ascent gully.

 


[Heading up to the Fortress col in the hot sun]


[Hiking towards the second col under the west ridge of Catacombs]


[Ascending loose terrain to the second col.]


[The moraine / loose scree that we ascended to the second col. Catacombs on the right.]


[Grunting up to the second col]


[A short but steep ice / snow slope to the col]


[Another look back as I gain the col]


[The guys come up the narrow pass behind me]

 
[First glimpse across the pass.]


[We traversed well around this lake and slopes to the right. ++]


[Coming down the pass - thankfully a lot easier than the first one!!]


[Looking back - the pass is just out of sight to the right]


[Asters thrive everywhere.]


[Back on grassy meadows at the Fortress Creek headwaters.]

 
[A panorama of the pristine and very beautiful valley between Fortress Mountain and Fortress Lake. ++]

 

Here we had to make a decision. We were almost completely out of water (all water sources were dried up along the meadows under the ridge) and starting to worry about daylight since it was after 14:00 already. We decided that we could melt snow at the summit if we had to and after ditching all our heavy gear and taking just the basics (including a stove, fuel and climbing ropes / harnesses) we started up the sw slopes in an obvious gully system.

 


[Working our way into the major gully that would take us right up to the summit ridge on Fortress. Note the two 'devils horns' above.]

 

The rock on Fortress made Catacombs look solid - it was brutally loose once we got into it. We stuck close together and even managed to find a tiny trickle of water half way up to satiate some of our thirst (I was getting dehydrated in the heat and seriously needed some liquid at this point!)

 


[Looking west over Fortress Lake up the Chisel Creek valley to Mount Clemenceau. The fishing lodge keeps a trail open up Chisel Creek which can be used to access Clemenceau. Chisel Peak at right.]


[Looking over the valley we descended from the col that is out of sight at center right.]


[In the lower, loose gully]


[There were some solid sections on either side of the gully that were fun - but they were short lived]


[Back to kicking rocks down on each other!]

 
[Looking back.]

 

Near the top of the sw gully we had a choice - go straight up some steep and difficult scrambling (very exposed on the nw side) or traverse very loose gullies to our right before going up to the summit block. We chose to take the steep and solid rock up to the summit ridge, which was probably the best 'climbing' (other than the glacier) we had all weekend. 

 


[A steep snow slope in the gully, near the top out before the difficult scrambling]


[Just before the difficult ridge, looking back at the Fortress Lake Lodge with Clemenceau rising behind. The Chaba River at left. ++]


[Popping out on the ridge, looking over a Catacombs and the valley we bivied in.]


[Starting the difficult section (moderate section out of sight to the right.]

 

From the top of the scramble, the traverse to the summit of Fortress Mountain was about 1/2 a kilometer with glorious views in all directions in the late afternoon sun. There was a lot of haze, but just like on Catacombs, the views to the north and east were very respectable too. The huge summit cairn was a surprise until we read the register and realized that the 2nd ascent party was composed of a lot of people who must have spent some time building it. We signed the register, took photos and headed back down.

 

 
[Ben tops out from the difficult section with gorgeous views into Catacombs valley. ++]

 
[Steven approaches the summit of Fortress Mountain. ++]


[We've been told that 'lots of parties' ascend Fortress Mountain but frankly, I don't buy it. The summit register had one entry and we know that this group built the summit cairn - why no more signatures? And sure, some people don't sign registers but there was ZERO sign of human traffic on this mountain and I've ascended enough peaks to know that even one ascent party / year is enough to make small human signs / trails on a mountain. I think maybe people are confused with The Fortress in Kananaskis. :)]

 
[The gorgeous Catacombs Mountain with its lovely meadows and lakes far beneath us now. ++]

 
[Summit panorama from Fortress Mountain looking north and east (Catacombs on L and Quincy on R in foreground). ++]


[Mount Quincy is an impressive and rarely climbed peak to the south of Fortress. ++]


[Quincy's glacier doesn't look like an easy ascent route!]


[Looking over Gong Lake towards Gong Peak and Glacier with Sunwapta and Smythe to the right and Confederation, Weiss and Mitchell to the left.]

 
[Panorama from Diadem / Woolley on the left to Alberta, North Twin, South Twin, Columbia and Quincy to the right. ++]


[The Chaba Icefield and peak on the left, with Listening Mountain is the foreground summit at center (wolf's ears) and Somervell in the background on the right. ++]


[Too bad this is the best views of Clemenceau (R) and Tusk (L) due to haze in the atmosphere.]

 
[Another view, slightly below the main summit from the east end of the ridge. ++]


[Vern on the summit of Fortress Mountain with Catacombs in the background.]

 

For descent, we traversed the loose gullies rather than down climb the difficult and exposed rock (we were all tired and didn't want to make any fatal mistakes). The gullies were crappy but we made it back to our ascent gully. From there we very carefully descended - sticking close together while releasing tons and tons of rock down the gully below. It was getting dark as we got to our packs and Ben and I quickly kept descending to the valley below - hoping to find a nice bivy spot by Fortress Creak. Unfortunately we didn't find a great spot, but we managed to get a reasonable site before darkness settled in.

 

 
[Descending under the difficult summit ridge, Fortress Lake stretching out below. ++]

 
[Liam waits for us after doing the moderate traverse back to our main ascent gully.]


[Late day light as we descend Fortress.]


[Looking up the Chisel Creek valley at Mount Clemenceau with Chisel Peak on the right.]


[The 'devil horns' are lit - a key landmark to finding the scramble gully on Fortress.]


[Quincy and Sadlier with the Chaba River and Fortress Lake under the rising moon. ++]

 


[Looking back up at our ascent route (gully rising L to R under the devil's horns to the R. It's much darker than it appears on this photo - almost completely dark.]

 

On Sunday it was time for the long trek back to Sunwapta Falls via Fortress Lake and the trail along the Chaba River. The first order of business was the descent to Fortress Lake via Fortress Stream. This looked pretty easy on the map but was far from easy - it ended up being the toughest part of our trip! It took us over 2.5 hours to descend the 2.2km from our bivy to the lake through alders, fallen timber and thick spruce. By the time we finally stumbled out at the Fortress Stream campground along Fortress Lake we were tired, dirty and a bit grumpy. A swim in the perfectly clear and cold lake cured us of all memories of that bushwhack - most of them anyway. After our swim and scouting around the delightful camp site we very reluctantly started the long trek back on a good trail along Fortress Lake.

 


[Starting the long walk back from our bivy]


[There were brief openings in the bushwhack descent where I could snap a photo!]


[A nice shot of Quincy and our descent valley.]


[Dense bushwhacking begins...]


[Sticking to Fortress Steam was a good idea for navigational purposes but a bad idea for terrain / bushwhackiness. :)]


[Bushwhacking over and around Fortress Creek.]


[The occasional views were stunning - Quincy at upper left and Chaba in the far distance.]


[Hours of this...]

 
[Gorgeous Fortress Lake with Sadlier on the L and Chisel on the R. Serenity off in the distance to the R. ++]

 
[An incredible campsite on Fortress Lake. Doesn't get better than this!]


[The trail has been recently maintained on this end (by the lodge?)]


[Another hot late summer day.]

 

When we arrived at the junction to the first camp site on the lakes east end we made a little detour to go check it out (it's slightly off the main trail). This camp site is another awesome one - it really is worth back packing to the lake for these camp sites - if the weather is good. While we were getting ready to leave, two boats from the fishing lodge came up to us. We spoke to two guys from the lodge who were there to pick up fishermen hiking in from Sunwapta to save money on the normal flight to the lake. The lodge guys gave us some good beta on Chisel Peak, Sadlier and even access routes for Clemenceau from behind the lodge. They indicated that they have picked up more than one backpacker or climber and ferried them across the lake with advance planning - an interesting option and one we filed away for future use.

 

 
[View of Fortress Lake with Sadlier, Chisel, Serenity and Fortress from L to R. ++]


[Serenity Mountain looks impressive at the far end of the lake.]

 

We crossed the Chaba at the recommended place (marked with metal triangles on trees on either side of the braided river) in knee to mid-thigh deep water. The river was very fast and quite deep for September. I wouldn't want to cross it in July or August based on how fast it was going for us - water scares me when I have a huge pack on! The rest of the trudge back to the cars took a long time but we eventually waded our way through the tourons at Sunwapta Falls and collapsed on the pavement near our cars before eagerly getting out of our heavy boots.

 


[Walking back from Fortress Lake before the Chaba crossing.]


[An excellent trail for the most part - surprisingly so but probably deteriorating since the Athbasca River bridge collapsed in 2014 and JNP is not planning to replace it any time soon making the entire Fortress Lake area very difficult to access by foot. :(]


[Muddy in spots before we get to the Chaba.]

 
[Getting ready to cross a wide, deep, fast and COLD Chaba River! Stunning views define this entire valley. ++]


[It's tricky to find all the most shallow channels to cross.]


[Quincy is a very impressive peak when seen from the Chaba River.]


[Finishing up the almost 1km wide river channel crossings!]


[Fortress Mountain seen from the Chaba crossing]


[A long walk back with some questionable sections that could be problematic in higher water.]


[A glimpse of Catacombs from the trail]


[Recrossing the Athabasca bridge - on hindsight we're lucky it didn't collapse while we were gone...]


[Back at the Athabasca Crossing campground.]


[One last glance back at Catacombs]

 

I really enjoyed this trip. It was tough and my toes barely survived the combination of the icy Chaba and my very uncomfortable mountaineering boots but the area around Fortress Lake is a wild and beautiful place that makes the pain of getting there, worth it. [UPDATE 2015: The bridge across the Athabasca River, near the Athabasca Crossing campground collapsed in 2014 and there are no plans to replace it. Rumor has it that the Athabasca River can be crossing roughly 1km upstream of the old bridge location but I haven't verified this yet.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,909
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Total Distance (km): 
60.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Avoidable crux on ascent involved some very steep and exposed scrambling - avoided on descent by traversing under the summit ridge instead of on it but this increases risk of rockfall incidents.

Fryatt, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1920. Fryatt, Captain Charles Algernon (Capt. Fryatt was a British merchant seaman who was executed during WW I.) Official name. Other names Patricia. First ascended in 1926 by J.W.A. Hickson, Howard Palmer, guided by Hans Fuhrer. Journal reference CAJ 16-44, App 16-430. (from peakfinder.com

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
9
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
5.4
YDS Grade: 
II
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,361

On August 25/26 I joined Kevin Barton and Eric Coulthard for a trip up Mount Fryatt in Jasper National Park. This mountain has been on my radar for a number of years due to its remoteness and the beautiful bivy site that was rumored to exist under the SW face. When Raf climbed Fryatt back in 2009 I was quite disappointed that I couldn't join him. I waited patiently for three years and made my ascent in perfect conditions. Sometimes I get the sense that I'm rushing to complete peaks - this trip proved once again that it's the journey that counts - not the summit. The hike in along all the Geraldine lakes was also very appealing to me. I've never done the other route up the Fryatt valley but the Geraldine Lakes route is just that - more of a 'route' than a 'trail' in places, but much shorter distance-wise and extremely scenic.

 

We approached the base of the SW face on Saturday, August 25. After a long drive to the not-so-obvious trailhead we geared up and started up a muddy approach trail to the first Geraldine Lake. The entire route past the five Geraldine Lakes and up to the alpine meadows north of Fryatt was gorgeous, but a bit under-developed (not really a bad thing). The two images that stand out most in my mind from the approach hike is "boulders" and "mud". It's one of the most beautiful areas I've been to in the Rockies. Wild flowers were still blooming but a month ago it must have been stunning with carpets of endless flowers everywhere! Towering peaks reflected their brooding faces in the crystal clear lakes while loons and bubbling streams added a symphony to an image that is truly remarkable and unique. Like anything worthwhile though, you have to work for it. Reaching the fifth and final Geraldine Lake takes determination, some scars (from boulders and trees) and route finding. Not making our lives any easier was the recent snow / rain that continued to fall on the first half of our approach, making the quartzite boulder hopping around the third Geraldine Lake very slick and somewhat disconcerting.

 


[A wet trail to the first lake.]


[At the first lake the trail follows the lake shore closely.]


[A wild stream at the inlet to the first lake.]
 


[After the first lake we arrive at a much smaller lake - presumably the "second" lake. This is the view of the waterfall at the end of it, coming down from the third Geraldine Lake.]


[The terrain to the waterfall draining the third lake is already less traveled than around the first lake.]

 
[Looking back along the 2nd Geraldine Lake. ++]


[Avalanche debris has been cleared up to the second lake. From there you're on your own!]


[Heading up beside the large waterfall draining the 3rd Geraldine Lake.]


[Looking back over the 1st from near the 3rd Geraldine Lake.]


[Looking along the 3rd Geraldine Lake, you can see rain drops on the water surface which made the rock-hopping very treacherous]

 
[Looking back over the 3rd Geraldine Lake with Geraldine Peak rising on the left. ++]


[This might have been fun for about 5 minutes. I sucked after that though. Note the cairn in the foreground.]


[Heading up wilder terrain to the fourth lake.]


[Thank goodness there's a trail in this stuff!]


[Just don't expect an obvious trail all of the time. ;)]


[Steep grunt to the fourth lake.]


[The gorgeous fourth lake where we crossed the outlet stream. Fryatt in the clouds - we're hoping it's drying off!]


[Hiking along the shoreline of the fourth Geraldine Lake with Fryatt looming in the bg.]

 
[Looking back at the fourth lake. ++]

 

We were a little bit disappointed in the weather. Light rain showers made the boulders slick and worse, there was a considerable dusting of fresh snow up high on the local peaks. The sun started to shine more and more throughout the day and our spirits lifted with each ray of its warmth. We hoped that the snow up high was melting fast enough to ensure dry pitches of climbing the next day.

 

As we made our way up to the fourth Geraldine Lake the wild flowers started coming out in full force. We had a few moments of searching for a route across the outlet stream of the fourth lake, but we all managed to cross without taking our boots off. (Some were drier than others after this effort...) Hiking around the fourth lake with Fryatt looming above us was quite spectacular. With fresh snow, the north face / ridge looked fairly intimidating but it was exciting to know that I'd finally be up there in less than 12 hours after waiting many years for this opportunity.

 


[Having a trail between the 4th and 5th lakes was nice.]


[The gorgeous environs of the fifth Geraldine Lake]


[The fifth lake is the second largest and beautiful. Wild flowers are everywhere and Mount Fryatt looms in the distance. ++]


[After the fifth lake we went through carpets of wild flowers to reach the alpine meadows beyond.]


[A small waterfall along the way to the alpine meadows above the fifth lake.]


[Looking back to the 5th lake and the small stream feeding into it.]


[Looking back over the fifth Geraldine Lake.]


[Back on an obvious trail now - heading into the alpine meadow section.]

 

We wanted to reach "Iceberg Lake" directly under the SW face of Fryatt before settling in for the night. After the fifth and final Geraldine Lake we made our way up to the alpine meadows north of Fryatt on a surprisingly clear trail that seemed to come from nowhere (!) and made our way up and around the west ridge of Fryatt. For some reason the bugs were relentless up in the alpine meadows here! We hardly noticed them down by the lakes but at the meadows they swarmed us. Not a lot of biting, but a ton of swarming - we were breathing them in there was so many. Raf's team bivied in these meadows and it wasn't fun due to the bugs - I would suggest going further into the alpine if you can, even though the meadows are a perfect place to camp.

 

 
[The alpine meadows above the 5th Geraldine Lake provide great views of the north ridge and east face of Fryatt.]

 
[Amazing views confronted us as we hit the alpine meadows beyond the fifth lake. Mount Fryatt is most impressive with the right skyline ridge the West Ridge alpine route.]

 
[Looking back over the fifth, fourth and third Geraldine Lakes. ++]

 
[The alpine meadows are a magical place. ++]

 
[Pano of Fryatt with Mount Belanger and Lapensee just peaking (pun intended) out on the right. ++]


[How many bugs do you count? :) Gorgeous alpine meadows and great views of Fryatt - note the north glacier.]

 
[Geraldine S4 is the prominent peak from the alpine meadows, looking north, just before we traverse above Divergence Lake (to the left). ++]

 

The west ridge looks like a good route - even if you bypass the 5.8 climbing at the top to join up with the SW face route. It would likely have much less rock fall issues than the face. We contoured around the steep slopes above Divergence Lake (gorgeous but painful on the feet) before using as much snow as possible to hike up underneath the headwall protecting Iceberg Lake and the SW face. We made our way past a scenic waterfall coming down the wall and found a decent route on the south end. I could see this headwall being a pain in the dark - I would suggest bivying above it if you can. Via head lamp you'll probably end up doing more difficult climbing than necessary to get through it - it should only be a scramble. Again, I've heard of folks rapping here and this is completely avoidable if you just go far enough south.

 

Eric kept talking about skiing up "Fat Bastard" - the bump to the west of Iceberg Lake. I think he just liked the name!

 

 
[Looking over at Fryatt (L) and Fryatt SW2 (C) and "Fat Bastard" (R) before we start the traverse above Divergence Lake. ++]


[This is the painful side-hill traverse that brings you under the final headwall to access the SW bowl / face of Fryatt. We traversed all the way to the third snow patch to cut through the headwall. Lots of sheep here, Divergence Lake is out of sight to the right and Fryatt SW2 is the prominent peak visible here - you can ski or walk up from the other side.]

 
[Upper Divergence Lake with the lower one just visible and Curl Peak rising in the distance at center.]


[Looking back at the meadows as we start the grinding traverse.]


[Gorgeous Upper Divergence Lake.]


[Can't get enough of these views!]


[Looking ahead to the flatter bowl between Fryatt (L) and Fat Bastard (C). This area is understandably heaven for goats!]


[Using snow patches to gain height to the headwall guarding Iceberg Lake.]


[We take a break before heading for the sliver of snow in the background (first one - barely visible) which we'll follow through a break in the lower cliff band.]


[Routefinding through this terrain can be problematic in the dark, so I recommend bivying up at the lake rather than below it.]


[Finally breaking through the headwall, Fryatt towering over Eric here.]

 

Once through the headwall we were presented with a head-on view of Fryatt's SW face and Iceberg Lake sparkling in front of it - complete with an 'iceberg' - sort of. We didn't like the fresh snow on the upper slopes but the sun was starting to finally warm things up so hopefully some melting could take place over the next 2-3 hours before dark. We contoured around the lake on it's northern shore and found a perfect bivy under the SW face on top of several waterfalls plunging into the lake far below us. This is probably a top 2 bivy spot for me, and I've bivied in some pretty gorgeous places in the Rockies. With plenty of running water, towering peaks, protection from the weather and a nice flat area this lake front property is an extremely excellent bivy! We spent the beautiful late afternoon / evening scouting out the SW face and our nice location, taking many sunset shots of Iceberg Lake.

 

After some consultation we decided to take an obvious scree slope to the NE of our camp up to the Fryatt / 9900' col before traversing north to the SW face of Fryatt. This would avoid some of the more serious rock fall hazards on the lower SW face and would be an easy exit once the climbing was done. It took us just over 7 hours to reach the bivy. We were in bed by 21:30 with a wakeup time of 04:00. 

 

 
[Iceberg Lake and the slope we used to access the SW face rising on the left. Fryatt SW2 on the right. ++]


[Eric eats supper at our delightful bivy. Iceberg Lake is about 40 feet below us here.]

 
[Looking at our bivy with Fryatt SW2 on the right and peak 9900' rising on the left. ++]


[It doesn't get any better than this. Waterfalls run down all along our bivy above the lake, providing us with an endless supply of fresh, cold water.]


[Water pours over the steep cliffs dropping into Iceberg Lake near our bivy site]


[Looking at our bivy from above. I put rocks around mine (left) because of the 40 foot drop to the lake right by it!]


[Setting sun on Iceberg Lake. ++]


[More sunset - looking west over Divergent Lake at Elephas and Mastodon Mountains in the far distance with the Elaphas Glacier.]

 

I slept great (I love my Exped with its down warmth and goodness... ;)) and woke up 10 minutes before my alarm, psyched to start the climb. The Milky Way was in full display above us and I took a few photos as the other guys got ready. I saw 3 shooting stars which made me optimistic for the long day ahead of us. I was excited rather than nervous, I get this way more often on bigger objectives. I can be nervous the day or week before the climb, but on the morning of the action, I get really psyched and can't wait to get moving.

 


[Waking up early to a nice night sky reflected in the lake.]

 

We had made the decision the evening before, to traverse the SW face from the col with peak 9900' before ascending obvious gullies to the west ridge and then to the summit block. We made good time up the endless scree slope to the col, under head lamp, and popped out at the col at 06:30 - just as the sun was starting to rise. This was perfect timing as we needed daylight for the SW face. The morning views, especially to the west, were absolutely mind blowing already. It was shaping up to be one of the most special days I've had in the Rockies. The SW face looked reasonably dry as the sun rose, which was a relief after seeing the fresh snow the day before. There was some snow, but we were hoping it would help instead of hurt our chances of success.

 


[The SW face of Fryatt looms ominously in the pre-dawn dark as we gain height to the 9900' col. There's still fresh snow, but hopefully not enough to be an issue.]


[It's still very dark as we make our way up the first scree slope.]

 
[A gorgeous sunrise to the east as we pop onto the 9900' col.]


[Incredible lighting to the southwest including Belanger (L) and Lapensee (R). The north face of Serenity Peak at center.]

 
[Morning panorama from the 9900' col includes from L to R, Belanger, Serenity, Lapensee, "Fat Bastard", Scott, Alnus, Divergence, Evans, Oventop Ridge, Beacon and of course many, many others in the far distance. ++]

 

From the col we followed cairns and the odd bits of trail up the SW face. It's impossible to describe the route perfectly - basically go up and traverse towards the west ridge (climber's left). We used solid snow in the gullies to gain quick elevation but this did involve some steep snow climbing with sections of pretty hard ice for good measure. Aluminum crampons felt a bit under-tooled for the icy sections. We didn't protect any of the snow climbing, but we all feel comfortable on steep snow. I think some of the moves we made on the ice / snow were the trickiest part of our day. There was one section in particular where both Eric and I were clinging to the tiniest little holds on our front points and the tip of our axes thinking, "why didn't I bring ice tools?!". Of course Barton made it look pretty easy. ;-)

 

The rock was pretty loose lower down on the face too. A large climbing party could be an issue here. Route finding is key to keeping the lower face within the realm of 'scrambling'. If you stick to the ridge from the 9900' col you will be on 5th class terrain pretty quickly. 

 


[Traversing easy scree from the col before heading up the SW face.]

 
[The sun finally rises on the surrounding peaks - notably peak 9900' on the left, with Belanger and Lapensee catching alpine glow over Fat Bastard. ++]


[The mighty Mount Clemenceau rises in the morning sun with Mount Shackleton to the left.]

 
[Gorgeous sunrise on 9900' peak, Mounts Belanger and Lapensee with Fat Bastard in front. ++]


[Some of the scrambling on the rising traverse was exposed and steep. And LOOSE.]


[The odd cairn was a nice touch but we certainly didn't follow a line of them to the summit - it was more that we accidentally stumbled on them as we climbed.]


[The SW face wasn't terribly difficult but it was loose and exposed enough that care was needed, especially considering my climbing partners coming up beneath me - another benefit of a rising traverse...]


[We took the most obvious 'easy' route and usually found cairns approving our choices.]

 


[Kev front points across an icy gully. Thankfully there was a few inches of fresh snow on top or my aluminum crampons and single mountaineering ax may not have been enough to cross some of these sections.]


[This little tiptoe over a short section of ice was far trickier than it looked!]


[Eric enjoys the confidence-inspiring snow climb up a gully on the face.]


[You know you're becoming a mountaineer when you start looking for snow lines up faces instead of scree lines.]


[Looking down at Eric as we ascend another steep snow gully on the face.]

 

We were just nearing the top of our final snow slope before the roped climbing started, when I thought I heard yelling from slopes to the east! Sure enough - there was Ferenc traversing towards us on crampons from the south ridge!! I had a feeling he might join us after he sounded bitterly disappointed earlier when it didn't seem like he would be able to make it. He was extremely lucky that he caught up with us where he did - namely just before the roped climbing sections where he could benefit from our rope. After greeting him (this was his first time meeting Kev) we continued upward, soon arriving at a crux, with a party of four now, instead of three. It was nice to have Ferenc since both he and Kev are more experienced with roped climbing.

 


[Ferenc crosses a steep snow gully (we climbed it from below-right) to join up with our ascent party. He came up the southeast ridge on rock straight above the col before traversing over to us and claimed this was 5th class terrain.]


[Getting much higher now, looking over peak 9900' towards Clemenceau and Bras Croche (R)]

 

Most trip reports that I could find (including the linked ones up above) mention or show pictures of a notch in the west ridge with a chock stone plugging the top of it. We didn't traverse over this chock stone on the ridge (like Rick Collier did) and we didn't ascend to the left or to climber's right of it either (like Dow Williams group did). I think, based on photos from Raff's trip report, that we ascended just to climber's right of this gully / notch along the rappel route. Ferenc actually tried ascending the notch route but it was plugged with ice near the top and he didn't want to risk the one move that he had to make - probably the same 5.7 move that Dow's group made. I noticed a possible route to climber's right of this chock stone gully from below and suggested we try it. Some difficult scrambling led us up a short section to a ledge / crack running under a bulge to climber's right, away from the notch route. Just past this bulge was a nice platform to belay a climb up some 5.4 terrain. At the time I didn't know it was the rappel route, but after Kev led it he stopped at a large rap station so it became rather obvious that it was.

 


[Looking over the difficult looking north ridge. The 5.7 chockstone route visible in a steep crack.]

 

Once again, my "scrambling nose" saved us from climbing terrain above our comfort level. I have found on numerous 11,000ers that having a scrambling background and mentality is really nice for finding the easier routes that others can miss because they're too focused on using the rope they've lugged all the way up. Of course there's nothing wrong with climbing harder terrain, but on a big mountain I believe that speed and efficiency are the key to being safe and with one rope for the four of us, we were going to be slow enough on the unavoidable terrain and on the descent rappels. We didn't need to make things harder.

 

From this section on the face, we passed several well-used rap stations and did some short pitches of 5.2 to 5.4 climbing. The rock was surprisingly stable on the climbing pitches - it was horribly loose everywhere else! We topped out on the West ridge just before the scree traverse under the summit block. We had no difficulties on the ridge from our ascent line. The summit was easily gained via a narrow scree gully on the east end of the summit block. 

 


[Eric comes up the first pitch (5.4) which is also the rap route. Iceberg Lake and our bivy spot far below him now.]


[Looking north towards the Ramparts (Tonquin Valley) and even Mount Robson in the distance!]

 
[Ferenc gets ready to lead the second pitch (5.2). ++]


[Might be 'easy' but it's still 5th class...]


[What a belay perch for Kev!]


[Looking up as Kev nears the end of the last climbing pitch before the summit block.]


[Kev follows me up the west ridge.]

 
[The scree traverse around the summit block, east of the topping out point from the face. You can see Ferenc standing on the final summit ridge.]


[A final, easy, scree chimney to the summit ridge.]


[Eric is pretty darn pleased with himself as he strides to the apex of another 11,000er with views for miles in every direction.]

 

We spent half an hour enjoying spectacular views in every direction including some very impressive summits - even Robson was visible. We didn't linger too long due to concerns about melting and rock fall on the face. It took us 6.5 hours to the summit from our bivy site which included two pitches of climbing. The second pitch could probably be free soloed by competent parties - we certainly could have soloed it if we knew how easy it was going to be.

 

 
[Incredible summit view over the Geraldine Lakes towards Edith Cavell and Geraldine Peak. Kerkeslin on the right. ++]

 
[Looking southeast over Kerkeslin (L). Many familiar peaks around the Columbia Icefields to the right, including Alberta, Woolley and Diadem. ++]


[Mount Unwin at left with Brazeau looking quite sharp at right. Warren to the left of Brazeau with Monkhead on the left end of it's long ridge.]

 
[Incredible summit panorama includes from R to L, Edith Cavell, Ramparts (Geikie, Paragon and more), Parapet, Simon, Scarp and others. Robson is the snowy giant in the far distance, just right of center. ++]


[Looking west towards the Monashees. Hallam Peak at center-left, Mallard and Pancake to the right.]


[One of the highest peaks in the Rockies - Mount Clemenceau with Shackleton and Tsar to the left.]


[Tsar at center left.]

 
[Looking down on Iceberg Lake with Fat Bastard a tiny bump now! ++]


[The north face of Serenity Peak (left of center) is impressive!]

 
[Looking south (L) and west. Catacombs is at distant left with the northern Columbia Icefield peaks visible beyond. ++]


[Mount Edith Cavell from the summit. Robson to the left.]


[Mount Geikie is the striking peak on the center left (scene of the tragic Rick Collier incident a week or so ago) and Mount Robson is the massive peak in the distance.]  


[A Hans Gmoser register! Becoming rare these days...]


[Remembering Rick Collier. His name is in so many registers on so many obscure peaks through the Rockies. I don't think his accomplishments will ever be repeated.


[Vern on the summit of Mount Fryatt!]


[Traversing back along the spectacular summit ridge towards our descent route.]


[Reluctantly leaving the sublime views to descend the face before things heat up too much and rock fall becomes an issue.]

 

We rapped 3 times on the descent and then picked our way back down and across to the col and down scree / snow slopes to the bivy. From there it was a long (long!) trek back to Ferenc's bivy under the Iceberg Lake headwall and then all the way back to the parking lot, past all the Geraldine lakes. The boulder hopping was the most unpleasant part of the hike out - thank goodness we didn't have rain or heavy dew to make things even worse on those blasted lichen-covered, Quartzite rocks. :)

 


[Eric on rappel.]


[Finishing a rappel.]
 


[Cleaning up the first rap - note the chock stone gully to the left? We ascended just above Kev (in the green jacket) to climber's right, ducking under that bulge he's standing by.]


[Finishing another rappel on the SW face of Fryatt. ++]


[Ferenc waits for his turn to rap - enjoying the incredible weather and views. ++]


[Another rap.]


[A 5th class section that we climbed on ascent / rapped on descent.]


[A careful descent down the SW face of Fryatt now that the raps are complete.]


[Pretty good rock steps on the face if you look for them, but still exposed and loose for a group of four.]


[Careful not to kick rocks!]


[Downclimbing the face as we traverse skier's left to the 9900' col.]


[The SW face from near the 9900' col, looking much drier after another warm day in the sunshine. We couldn't have timed our climb better.]


[Off the hard stuff! It's a great feeling as we scree ski back to our bivy.]


[Last look back at our bivy with 9900' rising above.]


[Back to the side-hilling above Divergent Lake! Back to the incessant bugs too!]

 
[Looking ahead to the long march in front of us. The 5th Geraldine Lake visible here from on top of th alpine meadows.]


[A very satisfied Kevin Barton takes a well-deserved rest break in the alpine meadows above the Geraldine Lakes.]


[Descending the meadows with the dry north ridge of Fryatt rising at left.]


[Shadows grow long as we make our way beneath the north face of Fryatt. We've been on the move for 15 hours at this point.]


[Still a beautiful trail to distract our sore feet and minds. Soon we were too exhausted to enjoy it. ;-)]


[Fryatt is reflected in the 5th lake as the sun gets low in the west.]

 

We managed to do Fryatt in 36 hours instead of the more standard 3 days, but I wasn't home until 04:30 on Monday - and the drive wasn't so pleasant after being awake for over 24 hours either!  A long and tough mountain, Fryatt is never going to be a popular peak but for those willing to do some "quality suffering" in gorgeous surroundings it should be very high on your mountain list. It's setting in the back country of Jasper couldn't be more sublime and the bivy by Iceberg Lake is a top 5 for sure.

 

Fryatt has to be one of my top 10 peaks up 'til now. Maybe even a top 5 if I think about it long enough. Whatever it is, I miss it already and will almost certainly be back to climb some of the surrounding summits or back pack through some of the amazing terrain nearby.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,027
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Round Trip Time: 
36.00
Total Distance (km): 
30.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Typical Rockies 11,000er with loose access slopes, some decent 5.4 climbing on grippy limestone and then more loose rock to the summit. :)

GR660745 - Mount King Edward Approach

Interesting Facts: 

The approach to the Mount King Edward bivy site has always interested me. What's not to like? Stories of raging rivers, choked up logging roads and sublime alpine meadows with incredible views of some of the Rockies most striking mountains had me salivating to experience this for myself. Even though we didn't get the King, we did manage to summit a small rise on the edge of the icefield that was adorned with a small rock cairn and amazing views.

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 3, 2016 to Sunday, June 5, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,500

On Friday, June 3rd 2016, I found myself in the back of Ben's SUV, turning off the Trans Canada Highway just past Golden at the Donald weigh station, onto the now familiar road leading to Kinbasket Lake and eventually the Bush and Sullivan River forestry service roads. Our destination this time was the very end of the Bush River FSR followed by a trek into the bivy site for Mount King Edward. Of course, our original intent was to also climb King Edward, but for a variety of reasons this didn't happen as I'll detail a bit later in the account. 

 

The weekend was a fantastic backpacking trip with river crossings, bushwhacking, snowshoeing, sleeping on snow and incredible views of huge peaks including the incredible west face of Mount Columbia and north face of Mount Bryce. I think that deserves a trip report even if it didn't result in a 'real' summit. I am 100% comfortable with claiming the grid reference on my summit list, considering how much darn effort it was to attain!

 

 
[An overview map - not accurate - gives an idea of the forestry service roads around Kinbasket Lake. Conditions change rapidly on these roads but as of early June 2016 the Sullivan River and Bush River roads are good to their end points. The Valenciennes FSR is washed out at km 6 and the South Rice Brook road is good up the initial switchbacks and unknown from there. ++]

 

The drive to the end of the Bush River FSR was excellent with no issues whatsoever. Neither Ben nor I have experienced the road in such good conditions. Josh and Mike were Bush River Road 'virgins' and got spoiled on their first trip. ;) Two points to note about the drive;

 

  1. The last bridge over the Bush River, just before the South Spring Rice Brook spur leading up to the Bryce and Alexandra trail heads is starting to wear on the east end. The last 1-2 feet of decking is rotting and the road abutting that end of the bridge is eroding. This could become a very large issue for accessing four of the 11,000ers, namely Bryce main and center, Alexandra and King Edward.
  2. The road after the last bridge over the Bush River is narrower and rougher than before the bridge. Don't be tempted to drive up any spurs - stay left at any junctions sticking closer to the Bush River.

 


[Great travel conditions on the approach roads - this is the split between the Sullivan River FSR (l) and the Bush River FSR (r).]


[A section of road that was thankfully cleared by the snowmobilers or locals before us.]

 

After getting up at 03:00 in Calgary, I felt pretty exhausted already when we stepped out of the truck around 09:00 just short of a fast-flowing Bryce Creek. The rumors about the creek crossing vary almost as much as each person who's crossed it. We noticed right away that the further downstream of the old bridge you go, the wider and easier the crossing seems. Folks have winched an old cable from the bridge and crossed via a Tyrolean traverse, but I found this comment on Gravsports from 2015 which may or may not still be relevant;

 

Our plan was to cross Bryce Creek where the bridge is out by a tyrolean traverse, using the cable attached to a stump on the other side of the creek (which was the way I crossed the creek last year and it worked well). We tried pulling the cable(using the winch hook on my SUV), however, it was wedged under a rock close to the other side of the creek and we couldn't get the cable out of the water.

 

We followed a snowmobile path about 30m downstream of the truck where the crossing looked reasonable. On approach the water didn't come much past our knees at 10:00 in the morning of a cloudy day (rain the day before). We were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the crossing but I wasn't going to let that stop me from being cautious on return. I knew that given 2 days of nuclear conditions and no solid overnight freeze, this creek could be quite a different beast on Sunday than on Friday! Despite my best intentions, we also forgot to bring the chainsaw across with us in case of a raging torrent on return. We would now not be able to easily build a makeshift bridge... Hopefully that mistake wouldn't cost us later.

 


[The infamous Tyrolean traverse cable that people have used to cross the river and is now probably not usable.]


[Mike and Ben step out of the river crossing - it was much faster and deeper on return.]

 

After putting our hiking boots on, we followed the snowmobile track back to the old logging road and started up. It was very humid and warm and we were quickly sweating buckets beneath our loads. Our packs weren't super light, thanks to 2.5 days of food and supplies combined with snowshoes strapped to the outside, an alpine ax and ice tool and various bits of rock gear, avalanche gear and two ropes. The main issue when planning King Edward this early in the season was whether we'd be on mostly snow or rock near the tricky bits and whether or not we'd have more or less difficulties with camp - i.e. would we be on snow or dry ground? Could we use local water sources or would we have to melt snow (needing much more fuel)? I honestly thought I was DONE with snow after Forbes, but here I was over a month later and back at it. ;)

 

The logging road was initially very easy to follow as it switchbacked up the nose of the 'handrail' ridge that leads all the way to the alpine beneath the western end of the Columbia Icefield. The basic navigation to the bivy is actually very simple. Once up the nose of the ridge, follow the road and navigate a marked trail through the forest after the road ends.

 

 
[A hot trudge up the lower logging road as it switchbacks up the end of the 'handrail' ridge.]

 

After a few easy kilometers which had us gain a lot of height and lose a lot of sweat, the road started to deteriorate. It was still very easy for BC bushwhacking, but not necessarily what you'd expect on a "road" either. ;) There was a rushing stream that left its own comfortable ditch for some reason and decided to run down the middle of the road instead. Then there was a delightful patch of alders that decided to use the road as their own personal back yard. A few bits of gear were sacrificed to the alder gods before we got through the far side of that section! Josh had the most fun of any of us, thanks to a split board strapped on his pack. No regrets there!

 


[Yes. This is the road. LOL.]

 

It was along the first (old, overgrown) clearcut that we started to get a bit confused on ascent. We were looking for the so-called "ATV track" that Corbett mentions, and also looking for blue tape. We knew that the book description was old, but I had forgotten to read the new one (I had a preview copy that I was proofing for Bill) and so that's all we had to go on. The new book is more accurate. Instead of looking for ribbons, the trick is to continue on the road, past the first clearcut as it takes a sharp turn uphill left and then straightens again to the right, continuing north. Soon you enter the second clearcut and encounter a small rock wall to the right of the road which is pretty much disappeared at this point. Immediately opposite this wall we had a small stream coming down the clearcut, muddying things nicely. After diving into the shrubs there are some orange ribbons that mark a very old track rising left to the NW upper corner of the cut. On ascent we missed this track and went to the far end of the cut before bushwhacking uphill to the NW corner directly - there's a faint trail here too, so we're not the first to do it.

 

 
[Detail of the logging road section of King Edward's approach. ++]


[For some reason the stream decided to utilize the road here.]


[Josh comes up the edge of the second clearcut. We missed the trail angling through the center of it on approach.]

 

There's an old board nailed to a tree just inside the cut near the top of the NW corner. Following along a small stream into the forest soon resulted in finding orange ribbons and cut logs, signaling a trail of some sort. From here to the alpine we followed a pretty obvious line of orange ribbons that angled up reasonable terrain in a slight right to left rising traverse under the ridge above. A few times on approach we were tempted to head up the ridge directly, but this would have been a horrible idea on hindsight. We were quite surprised to run into continuous snow at around  the 1650m contour line while still in the forest and strapped the snowshoes on from here to the bivy. The snow was extremely supportive at this point and we were delighted to hike easily on top of it. One thing we did not like, however, was the cloud cover. We were depending on a sunny day to set off avalanches / cornice failures the day before our climb and this wasn't happening.

 

 
[Great scenery already from the NW corner of the second clearcut looking back. Unfortunately it's clouding over which isn't good for triggering the fresh snow on King Edward. ++]


[This is the old sign that indicates the route through the upper forest to treeline. Head into the forest to the right!]

 

Near treeline we lost the ribbon highway but it didn't matter at this point. Even with clouds, we could see where we wanted to go and kept in a rising traverse left, eventually getting into beautiful rolling terrain that must look sublime in the summer and fall with vegetation. It was nice with snow too, but I found myself wanted to revisit this area, even if we managed to summit King Edward on the first try. We followed the rolling terrain until spotting a small melting tarn with a nice dry rock ledge nearby that we could dry gear and lounge on. The snow cover was amazing, considering how dry the Forbes area was a month ago already at higher elevation! The west side of the divide sure does get a TON more snow than the dry Alberta side.

 


[We started running into snow almost immediately in the trees. For a while we were content to hike on it with boots but eventually we put on the snowshoes - if for no other reason than to make our packs a bit lighter.]


[Thanks to the snow cover we did get off trail a few times. Without snow the route should be obvious - just follow the orange ribbon highway and cut logs!]


[Breaking out of the forest and traversing very interesting gully features to the alpine.]


[Looking back as we break into the alpine meadows (note Josh and Mike) with Cockscomb Mountain at center and part of Whiterose at left. The start of the highline traverse col to Alexandra is visible here too, click the photo for an approximate route line.]

 
[This is the view from the high col on the previous photo looking towards King Edward. Not too shabby... GR660745 is the center, highest rocky fin stretching into the glacier at center, beneath King Edward. ++]


[Another photo from the Alexandra highline route, showing the upper part of the King Edward approach, approximate bivy location and GR660745 - which is 2km from the bivy and 400m higher. I would use our route to access the west Columbia Glacier too - it's much less crevassed on that side and will nicely lead to the south ridge from there.]

 
[Ben comes up into a world of white and gray behind me as we gain the alpine.]


[Our delightful kitchen and small tarn. The tarn disappeared on the first night and then grew twice as big the next!]

 

We set up a nice camp at the tarn and enjoyed a leisure supper with the view slowly opening up. There was enough blue sky starting to show up that we decided to go to bed early and try to get up around 02:00 for an attempt at King Eddy - hopefully under a clear, cold sky with firm snow. Alas, this didn't happen. Thick cloud cover at 02:00 and a very slushy snow pack drove us back to our tents. Mike and I woke up around 05:45 for some sunrise shots - the clouds were finally dissipating but it was now very warm and far too late to make an attempt. After some discussion about whether to head back already before the river could rise too much, we decided to wait another day and hopefully get an attempt very early on Sunday before hiking out to the truck. We were left with an entire day with nothing to do, so Ben, Mike and I decided to head off to Toronto Peak, 8.5km (one way) from camp across the west Columbia Icefield. Josh decided to hang back and do some "telemark split board skiing" - don't ask, but it looked fun! ;)

 

 
[Sunrise from camp on Saturday. Mount Columbia at left, Bryce at center and the Chess Group at right. ++]

 

We worked our way further left as Ben remembered the right (east) side of the glacier being quite crevassed. This worked great and within an hour from camp we were looking across the icefield at King Edward and Toronto Peak - which looked very far away. The snow was already slushy at this point and we could see a lot of crevasses on our route. Mike and I weren't feeling it - I knew if I did a 17km day on crappy snow I wouldn't have good energy for a King Edward attempt the following day so we called it and ascended a nice viewpoint immediately east of the col we were at instead. The views from this lookout were amazing! The sky was clearing nicely and we had our first great view of King Edward, Columbia, Bryce, Cockscomb and the Chess Group to the west. We spent an hour in the warm morning sun, chatting and laughing about various topics and generally enjoying our incredible vistas.

 

 
[The sky is clearing fast as Ben leads towards GR660745 (c). King Edward in clouds at right. Lots of folks access the glacier to the right which is much more crevassed. We have a rope on here but don't really need it - we're nowhere near the glacier yet. ++]


[We accessed the col before the glacier via this nice draw between two minor high points. GR660745 at left here.]


[Our elusive prize! Mount King Edward looks spectacular from GR660745's summit. As you can see, access via the left hand side is much easier than negotiating through the crevasse fields at center and right.]

 
[The awe-inspiring north face of Mount Bryce. Believe it or not, this face has been skied! In May of 2012 Chris Brazeau became the first person to solo down it on snow sticks. There is also a climbing route up the North Face, rated at IV, 5.7 it is not for the faint of heart. ++]

 
[A sublime summit panorama including (l to r), Bryce, Cockscomb, Pawn, King, Bishop and Queen. ++]

 
[A unique view of the area around Mount Columbia (l), including her west face, west access glacier (c) and Mount Bryce (r). For an approximate view of the ski route up the west side of the Columbia Icefield (part of the Great Divide Traverse) click here++]


[An eagle soars in the valley beneath the incredible hulking mass of Cockscomb Mountain.]


[Heading down from our minor summit back towards camp.]

 

The rest of the day was spent doing absolutely nothing. We wandered about camp, slept and dozed on warm rock outcrops and enjoyed cups of coffee, schnapps and various other delights while enjoying the amazing area, which we had all to ourselves. Ben pointed out the route that he and his group used on their Great Divide Traverse to gain the main Columbia Icefield from the west. I was amazed that a group of snowmobilers managed to find a route up this side - we saw them on our Mount Columbia climb! I still don't know where they went. I can see why it took them years to find a route up there though - it's gnarly enough on foot.

 

 
[I can't get enough of the gorgeous Mount Columbia. I thought it looked nice from the east but I prefer the west side now. The gorgeous west face is a tempting line... I've been up to 11,000 feet on the south ridge too - back in 2012 when I hadn't summitted any of the Columbia Icefield peaks yet. ++]


[Looking down at our delightful bivy spot from a nearby vantage point.]


[Josh skis up to my vantage point with our camp below.]

 
[Gorgeous Mount Columbia. I was on the ridge descending to the right at about its center point in 2012 when we ran out of daylight and hit the schrund. In 2015 I finally managed to stand on her towering summit.]


[King Peak is part of the so-called 'Chess Group' of peaks just west of the Columbia Icefields and King Edward approach meadows.]


[Pawn Peak is another summit in the Chess Group that towers over the alpine meadows beneath. There is a moving account of a rare ascent by Jason Thompson on Bivouac.com. It's his only trip report and it's too bad because he's a great writer and he's a great climber too. He completed the 11,000ers in 2005.]


[Other mountains tucked into the Chess Group.]

 
[The gorgeous form of Mount King Edward beckons strongly. Once again, Trevor Sexsmith has skied the face on the right. The normal climbing route comes up from lower left to the summit block before traversing under it and then ascending the right hand slope through low 5th class rock to the summit. ++]

 
[Another shot of our wonderful bivy site, looking down valley to the south. ++]

 

We decided that we'd get up at midnight to check out conditions for a climb. I'm not going to lie - I was a wee bit nervous at this point about two things. I was nervous about the steep and loaded south and east faces of King Eddy. The slopes hadn't slid as much or as big as I was hoping they would. We were triggering very heavy and wet slides near camp and getting caught in one of these 'concrete' slides high up on the east face would be unpleasant. Another concern I had, was the river crossing waiting for us back down near the truck. After disappearing over night, our tarn was now filled fuller than the day before and this was from local snow melt. The river would be funneling water from a huge area that was now cooking in very hot temperatures. If we managed to climb King Eddy in 10 hours we still wouldn't be at the river until mid afternoon putting us in a situation where we might have to wait until Monday morning to cross. This wasn't a great option for those of us with jobs. ;)

 

Once again, when we got up at midnight the snow was slushy and very soft. The sky was clear and the snow would harden eventually, but the question was, how long would we have to wait and how long would the snow remain hardened? The east face would obviously get sun right at sunrise and would soften very quickly in it. Reluctantly we turned back into the tents for another 3 hours of sleep. At 03:00 we got up and slowly made breakfast and packed up camp.

 


[By 04:30 our local water source had grown instead of shrunk like the night previous. Note the hole we'd dug to access water at lower center, just off the tarn - it's now being filled from the top instead of the bottom.]

 

By 05:00 we were plodding down the alpine meadows to treeline. We enjoyed a nice sunrise on King Edward's east face before plunging back into the forest leading to the logging road below. We had no further issues to the river, which was visibly higher and certainly flowing faster than on approach, even though it was only 09:00!

 

 
[Looking back at Mike exiting from the alpine meadows with King Edward at left and Columbia at right.]

 
[A gorgeous morning sunrise on Bryce and Pawn Peak. ++]


[Ben and I descend one of the many cool terrain features in the alpine meadows. There were many ramps and low cliff bands with trees and shrubs that must look incredible in the fall.]


[Looking past a small island of trees towards Mount Columbia from near treeline in the alpine meadows.]


[At around 05:50 the entire east face of Mount King Edward is lit up with warm morning sunshine.]


[Continuing to follow ramp-like features into the forest.]


[On descent we found the flagged route down the "ATV track" running diagonally down the clearcut to lower left.]


[Still in the clearcut, the tip of Bryce at upper left.]


[The incredibly beautiful Mount Columbia stretching into the heavens like a sharks fin. It's hard to believe I was high up on the south ridge (l) in 2012 when a fighter jet screamed over the Icefields below us and dove into the Columbia Trench before disappearing - one of the coolest moments I've experienced in the mountains.]


[Once again we were faced with Alders on the road. Good times!]


[A last glimpse of Columbia (r) and our 'handrail' ridge at upper left.]


[Hiking down the steep switchbacks on the handrail ridge's nose, looking deep into a gorgeous, untraveled valley possibly leading to some of the Chess Group but likely impossible to actually hike through.]


[Nearing the river now with the Alexandra highline route access col rising many hundreds of meters above us in the distance.]

 

Ben and Josh simply crashed right through the river with all their hiking gear on! Mike and I were slightly more civilized than that but eventually we were also in the fast-flowing water. The crossing wasn't too bad, but right near the shore  it was just over crotch deep with a strong current. Any faster or deeper would have started to get interesting. I can imagine that at 15:00 this crossing would have been sketchy at best.

 


[The water is almost waist deep at 09:00 already and much faster than on ascent as Mike nears shoreline. Note the splash marks on my camera lens - I actually hiked it up to my chest and it still got a bit wet!]

 

With a full day ahead of us, Ben asked if we minded exploring the Sullivan FSR. We agreed and spent the next 2 or more hours driving logging roads and scouting to the end of the Sullivan FSR where folks park for the Clemenceau heli-approach staging area. We even followed a rough track down to the Kinbasket Reservoir where we brewed up some coffee and enjoyed the beautiful warm and still morning. After this nice break it was time for a 5 hour trip back to Calgary which went smoothly in the 30 degree heat.

 


[Driving back this is looking up at the South Rice Brook access canyon leading to both Bryce and Alexandra's trailhead. The road runs along the cliff face visible here.]


[Looking back at Bryce and the turnoff to S. Rice Brook road (r).]


[Driving across the Bush River inlet to Kinbasket Lake on the first section of the Sullivan River FSR.]


[The east end of the Bush Arm from the Sullivan River FSR.]


[One of the many bridges / streams that we crossed on route to the end of the Sullivan River FSR.]


[It's corners like this (there's many of them) that make you want a radio. Running blindly into a logging truck in places like this is a scary experience.]


[A perfect day for a drive!]


[The muddier waters of a side stream meet the aqua colored Kinbasket Reservoir.]


[The Sullivan River FSR gets pretty narrow near it's end.]


[The Clemenceau heli-staging area and the end of the Sullivan River FSR.]

 
[A gorgeous Kinbasket Lake near the Sullivan Arm at the end of the Sullivan River FSR. ++]


[Many sections of the logging road are overlooked by delicately balanced boulders and loose gravel slopes that can easily collapse at any time blocking the road.]

 
[Back near the Bush River FSR, looking at the Bush River running into Kinbasket Lake on the left. ++]

Elevation Gain (m): 
1600
Round Trip Time: 
12.00
Total Distance (km): 
22.00
Difficulty Notes: 

Crossing the Bryce River is by far the hardest part of the approach and should be done with caution. Know that it increases in size very quickly during the day - especially with day time heating.

Geraldine Lakes

Trip Category: 
TL - Trail Hiking
Interesting Facts: 

The Geraldine Lakes are a group of 5 lakes located one valley east of the Whirlpool River Valley in Jasper National Park. A rustic trail / route can be followed up into the alpine north of Mount Fryatt where a paradise awaits those who perservere. 

Technical Difficulty Level: 
4
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Attained Summit?: 
No
Trip Date: 
Saturday, August 25, 2012

On our trip to climb Mount Fryatt we passed through the Geraldine Lakes hiking route. I thought the area deserved a separate hiking trip report - it's that beautiful! Like anything worthwhile though, you're going to have to pay to enjoy the benefits of the Geraldine Lakes. Although it's a mind-blowing experience of alpine lakes with loons giving their haunting calls, waterfalls plunging down rocky faces, acres and acres of wild flowers and peaks soaring over 11,000 feet it's also an area of relentless bugs, mud, boulders and bears.

 

For families with young or inexperienced kids I wouldn't bother with this hike at all. The first lake isn't really worth it on its own and already had plenty of tree roots and slimy muck on the approach - and this is the best maintained part of the trail! Save your vehicle the rough 5.5km approach road from the highway and enjoy other hikes in Jasper that are more suited to runners and day packs.

 

If you have good hiking footwear (i.e. not flip flops or runners!), a keen sense of adventure and a nose for directions this trail is for you. Make sure you bring a good camera and flower lens - you'll need them.

 

Start up the trail for the first lake. This trail will have some muddy sections - possibly even VERY muddy. Quickly you'll reach the first lake (2km) and start around it's right edge on a root-filled rolling 'trail'. The first lake has fish in it and is worth it as a fishing destination - but not as a hiking endpoint. The views from the shoreline are mediocre at best. You need to go much higher and further to really enjoy the scenery.

 


[As we approach the first lake the trail is already deteriorating a bit.]


[Traversing on climber's right along the first lake.]

 

After the first lake you'll get to the second one via some scrambly bits though bush and some boulder hopping / mud. This is just the very beginning - if you don't enjoy boulders you should NOT continue. We had to deal with avalanche debris just before the 2nd lake. The 'lake' is just a small pond so don't expect anything too dramatic yet. You'll spot a large waterfall coming down from the 3rd lake and this is the first worthwhile endpoint IMO. But you have a ways to go before you get to enjoy it...

 


[Boulder hopping begins after the first lake already!!]


[Some nice falls in the stream coming from the 2nd to the 1st lake.]


[Looking back at the first Geraldine Lake from the ascent to the 2nd.]


[Here's where you cross the outflow of the 2nd lake to climber's left, on avalanche and scree debris following signage.]

 

Skirt over to the climber's left side of the 2nd lake, following yellow labeled signs on metal poles across the outflow boulders. More boulders lead into trees / bush / avi debris and a fairly decent trail towards the waterfall and a steep hill guarding access to the third lake.

 


[Telephoto of the large waterfall coming down the headwall from the third lake - taken from the 2nd lake. The hiking trail goes up on climber's left on scree slopes.]


[The second lake is quite small. The trail is rough on rocks and boulders and through some bush.]


[Panorama looking back along the 2nd Geraldine Lake. Click for full size.]


[Uncleared avalanche debris between the 2nd lake and the waterfall. This would be a very tough section for kids or inexperienced hikers with large packs! It reminded me of canoe trips I've been on. Imagine lugging a bloody CANOE through here!! :-)]


[The waterfall starts looking smaller when you gain the hiking trail up the headwall on it's left side.]

 

After checking out the waterfall you owe it to yourself to check out the 3rd and largest lake. This isn't free access - you have to gain over 100 meters of elevation on a steep, hard scree track running up climber's left of the waterfall. This track is rough but very obvious and even marked with a few marker signs. Remember, you have to come down this way too. This is the first place where improper footwear will really hurt you on the way down. After grunting up the scree trail you'll top a small rise through stunted trees and get your first glimpse of the 3rd lake. It's a gorgeous setting with Geraldine Peak rising across to your right. Once again though - this isn't the best that Geraldine Lakes has to offer.

 


[Looking back from the top of the scree grunt. The first lake is just visible far below. Geraldine Peak rises out of sight to the left.]


[View of the 3rd lake from the near-end. It's a LONG way to the far end which is where the campground is.]

 

You're going to hate boulder hopping after this (remember you have to come all the way back!) but to enjoy really sublime views you have to continue all the way around the 3rd lake on climber's left - this is also the route to the campground at the far end. Take it from me - boulder hopping with an overnight pack is not easy... The boulders get long after awhile but eventually you will end up at the far end of the 3rd lake. Now the trail becomes difficult.

 


[Boulder hopping isn't SO bad under this beautiful sunshine but when the rocks get wet the green lichen makes them very treacherous and almost impossible to hike over safely. Remember this when planning your trip or attempting the traverse along the 3rd lake.]


[Getting near the end of the lake.]


[Gorgeous Geraldine Peak on the left and the 3rd lake. Click to view full size.]

 

The terrain between the 3rd and 4th lake is not for the faint of heart. Downed trees, mud, raging streams and very faint trails make this an adventure! You should always be on a trail of some sort or following cairns, but you will be in such thick growth that your feet will have to feel out the trail in places! Don't discourage though. The final complication to the 4th lake is re-crossing the stream to climber's right at the outflow - not easy with high or fast water but it can be done with judicious use of hiking poles and rock / log hopping! :-)

 


[See what I mean? Not for the faint of heart...]


[Getting an impression? :)]


[It's a little bushy between the 3rd and 4th lakes... ;-)]


[Thankfully there's lots of water on route - we drank from the streams with no issues but you have to decide for yourself if you trust the water. It's cold and fresh and tastes so good on a hot day!]


[Re-crossing the stream at the outflow of the 4th lake. See how the terrain is opening up as you approach treeline? Mount Fryatt looms in the distance - over 11,000 feet high!]

 

When you finally get to the 4th lake you have arrived at a paradise on earth. Wildflowers start showing up in earnest and towering peaks, including Mount Fryatt and Geraldine are reflected in it's blue waters. Since you've come this far you might as well check out the final and most impressive gem - the 5th lake.

 


[The fourth lake is simply awesome. Click for full size.]


[Panorama from the end of the fourth lake (looking back). Click for view full size.]

 

Follow the trail around the 4th lake and eventually work your way up to the 5th and 2nd largest of the Geraldine Lakes. Greenish blue waters shimmering in the sun along with carpets and acres of wildflowers will take your breath away. The reflections of surrounding snow-covered peaks and towering rocky cliffs adds to the scene. To experience the best part of this valley you must continue around the 5th lake and work your way up the end valley until you spot a small waterfall as you walk through a paradise of flowers along a small stream (some hints of a trail but not always obvious).

 


[Arriving at the fifth and final of the Geraldine Lakes.]


[THIS is what you came for! In July the flowers would be even more stunning. Mount Fryatt in the background.]


[Pano of the 5th lake. Click for full size.]

 

If you have the energy you should continue up open slopes above the small waterfall (trail on climber's right) - don't bother following trails above the waterfall, simply work your way above treeline through meadows of the most concentrated expanse of wildflowers that I have ever seen - truly remarkable! Once up these slopes you will have views of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Geraldine Lakes and epic panoramas of the alpine areas all around you. The major downside of the alpine will be BUGS. Unless it's September and you've had a hard freeze they will likely be absolutely relentless above treeline.

 


[The meadows upstream of the 5th lake are remarkable and unique. Treat them with respect - not a lot of folks make it back here and it's a wild and beautiful place with hardly any signs of humans - let's keep it that way.]


[The waterfall at the end of a small draw is the icing on the cake.]


[Looking back down on the 5th lake. Geraldine Peak on the left.]


[Once again - the alpine meadows above the 5th lake are an amazing place. I have to come back in July for the flowers (this is taken in late August...) Mount Fryatt in the background.]


[Looking back at the 3rd, 4th and 5th lakes from the alpine meadows.]


[The alpine meadows are a lovely spot to have lunch - just beware the bugs!]

 

After enjoying all this goodness you are a LONG way from you car (10+km) and have an epic hike back - but also a camera and mind full of great memories and views. I've done a lot of hikes around the Rockies and for hard-core hikers this one's a winner for sure.

Elevation Gain (m): 
900
Round Trip Time: 
8.00
Total Distance (km): 
20.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Wet trail to the first lake, boulder hopping around the third and potential deadfall / avalanche debris to the fourth. Not an easy hike!

Hawk Mountain

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Morrison P. Bridgeland in 1916. A hawk was flying around the summit when this mountain was named. Official name. First ascended by Joe Weiss. (info from peakfinder.com

YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,544

After bagging Roche a Perdrix and Morro Peak the day before, we were ready for an easy day out. So, naturally we chose the 5.5 hour trip up Hawk Mountain. Of course we knew that the 5.5 hour time is actually only ONE WAY but still, it sounded short. :-)

 


[A friendly neighbor likes my morning cup of mocha.]


[Mount goats on the road to the trail head.]

 

After negotiating our way through the usual hordes of sheep (!!) at the Overlander's Trail head we were on our own. I was feeling very tired. Our friendly teenage neighbors from the Whistler's Campground had done their best to thwart our sleep and in my case it worked wonderfully. I had maybe 4 hours of restless sleep. Good thing Hawk is a long and difficult outing.

 

Kane mentions a creek that you cross about 40 minutes in from the trail head. Then there is a trail on the right side of the creek heading up towards Hawk. At about 35 minutes you will cross a trail that comes down from the left side of the creek. There is a ribbon on a tree about 10 meters up the hill. I suggest you take this trail. This trail is much more traveled than the one Kane references and should take you across the stream near a waterfall and back up the other bank to the right side. Follow this trail to the crux - you may get slightly confused by all the sheep trails on the lower mountain but this main trail is pretty obvious. A pleasant diversion exists for anyone who wishes to look down at the canyon separating Hawk and Morro Peak. Good thing we didn't traverse into it the day before!

 


[Looking back at Wietse on the very well traveled Overlander Trail with the Athabasca River at left.]


[Looking up the SW face of Hawk - our route is somewhere up there.]


[Neat canyon terrain between Morrow and Hawk.]


[Wietse follows me up to the crux with the long Palisade Ridge in the bg.]

 

I'm not sure what I think about the crux on Hawk Mountain. On the one hand it's pretty tough but on the other the real 'Kane' crux is by-passed quite obviously on climber's right. Most people mention that the by-pass is 'easy'. This is a bit misleading IMHO. The by-pass is easier to get up than the crux, but it's much more exposed. A slip on the crux would hurt. A slip on the by-pass would probably kill you or hurt even worse! I'm calling it "class 3" but there are more than one no-slip zone on and around this crux.

 


[Looking down at Wietse coming up the crux bypass - note the sling that assists greatly with one move.]

 

The other thing that I don't think is clear from other trip reports that I've read is how nasty the terrain above the crux is. I actually think that this terrain is getting worse, the more people that use it. Instead of just loose dirt and rocks (like the guidebook says), you now have hard-pan dirt, basically dried clay with sand on it, and very loose scree and larger rocks. I knew already on the way up that this was going to be a much harder section to come down than the crux, simply because one tiny misstep and you would plunge down the SW face of Hawk - there is no room for error on this section, which makes it 'difficult' in my books! It's also quite sustained. There are trees to hold on to for some of the moves, but even they are showing signs of stress with all the traffic. We sent some pretty big rocks down this section on the way back so I would not ascend this part of the route without a helmet, or if anyone else is coming down it. I prefer crux's that are steep, exposed rock to ones that are loose and sandy slabs!

 


[Bearberries on route.]


[Loose, no-slip zone above the classic crux section.]

 

Once above the crux section, you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of the trip up the spine of the mountain. We knew that Morro Peak was around 700 meters so we weren't surprised when we realized we still had a long ways to go once on the ridge. It was good to look back at Morro getting smaller and smaller and we continue on. There are lots of flags and cairns the rest of the route - no worries about getting lost! Where the first ridge ran out we spotted two mountain goats on the west face, scampering around. It was pretty cool the way they handled the exposure.

 


[Done the tough stuff - for now - pleasant hiking from the top of the first ridge to the second one.]


[Wietse on the surprisingly treed SW ridge.]


[Looking back down the second ridge at the first one with views opening up to the west.]


[Finally getting above tree line but a long way to go yet!]


The upper mountain still had a fair amount of snow. I was quite nervous about our chances of making it and I knew that Wietse wasn't so sure either. Thankfully, the closer we got the more confident we became and as we gazed up at the final 300 meters we knew we would most likely make it. (Yes - the top is almost 300 meters vertical, even though it looks like nothing from the road!) The steep snow-filled gully was bypassed on climber's left. The terrain here is loose and steep but we made it through no problem. If you need them, there are cairns guiding your way up this section too. The final section was knee deep snow, but didn't pose any significant problems for us.

 


[Looking back over our ascent route and Wietse coming up to the summit ridge. The Snaring River is at far left and mountains visible include Esplanade, Cliff, Whitecap and Gargoyle.]


[There is still over 300 meters of elevation to go at this point. The snow was starting to concern me here.]


[Looking down steep terrain near the summit ridge.]


[The snow wasn't an issue up close - note the old tracks.]

 
[Looking down the summit ridge - note Wietse below me here - the Snaring River at center joining the mighty Athabasca River. The Victoria Cross Range at left and towards center. ++]

 

The summit view was awesome! We spent almost an hour enjoying our success.

 

 
[Summit view looking south and west includes, Colin, peaks of the Maligne Range including Center, Excelsior and Tekarra (L to R). On the right is Mount Edith Cavell in the far distance with the Trident Range to its right. ++]

 
[Looking further west than the last panorama (Edith Cavell now on the far left) over the Athabasca River towards Marmot, Indian Ridge, Pyramid, Zengel, Buttress and many others including the large peaks of the Tonquin Valley - Geike and others. ++]


[Wietse enjoys the views on the way up to the summit.]

 
[Looking up the Snaring River towards the Victoria Cross Range and peaks such as Pyramid, Zengel, Buttress, Oliver, Snaring and Chetamon along with many others. ++]

 
[Vern on the summit of Hawk with Colin in the bg. ++]


[The always impressive and somewhat terrifying view of the Ramparts.


[More impressive summits up the Snaring River - rarely climbed almost certainly.]


[Mount Colin is a striking peak next to Hawk.]


[Edith Cavell looms over the Jasper area and even Mount Fryatt shows up at far right.]


[Incredible colors of the Palisade Tarns across the Athabasca River.]


[Another shot of Fryatt (R) and surrounding peaks. The peak that sticks out like a sore thumb is Brussels Peak with Mount Christie to the right of it.]

 
[Massive panorama of the surround area from south to west to north and even east to the front ranges. ++]

 

The trip down was largely uneventful. The crux section was steep and nasty but we made it through. We took the alternate trail through the creek on the way back and I put my head under the small falls in the creek - boy did that feel good! I highly recommend this trip if you're comfortable with difficult terrain. The ridge section is long, but fun.

 


[Looking back on descent.]


[Back in the trees, traversing ridge lines.]


[Flowers and limestone.]


[A cairn marks the way back across to the western ridge.]


[Typical terrain down the SW face of the ridge to the top of the crux.]


[Wietse descends the crux - don't slip!]


[Another shot of the crux.]


[Back on easy terrain and a large trail.]


[Descending to the creek.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
8,348
Elevation Gain (m): 
1550
Total Distance (km): 
17.00
Difficulty Notes: 

The crux can be bypassed which makes this more of a 'moderate' scramble but the terrain above the crux involves a lot of 'no slip' zones.

Henry MacLeod, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Arthur P. Coleman in 1902. MacLeod, Henry A.F. (Henry MacLeod was a surveyor under the direction of Sandford Fleming of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1875 he was the first non-native to travel up what is now the Maligne River from the Athabasca and see Maligne Lake. Official name. 

First ascended in 1923 by A. Carpe, W.D. Harris, Howard PalmerJournal reference AJ 36-103.

 

(from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Thursday, July 30, 2015 to Sunday, August 2, 2015

I don't think either Ben or I really cared if we summitted another peak on the Brazeau Icefield or not, after two grueling days spent ascending Brazeau and Warren in marginal conditions. We already had the two 11,000ers and obviously the best views, but did we have ALL the best views? We suspected that there were still a few more good views we didn't have yet. Most people traverse from Brazeau to Valad and Henry MacLeod on their way back to the high bivy. We had already noticed that there were a number of crevasses on Valad and we didn't feel like traversing back over them, but Henry MacLeod looked dead easy from our camp. Since we were already at 3,000 meters, MacLeod should only be around a 300 meter height gain and my GPS put it at only around 2km distance. After a leisure breakfast (still in that infernal cold west wind), we set off for one last peak before getting off this melting icefield for good.

 

Immediately on leaving camp we were reminded where we were when I found "Charlie Two" - another crevasse on the opposite side of camp from our first crevasse - "Charlie One"! We shrugged that one off and continued on heightened alert up the glacier. I kept glancing back at camp as we climbed because I'd spotted a large black raven that morning, flying past camp. I needed my food and we didn't have enough snow to bury it. Ravens are infamous for stealing climber's food while they're gone and I didn't trust this one...

 

The climb was easy and soon we were on the final bit of snow before the scree to the summit cairn. Wouldn't you know it, we found some more crevasses just before the scree but eventually we worked around them and started up the scree. The summit views didn't disappoint. We got great views of Coronet Mountain and Brazeau. We weren't tempted at all by Valad as it was lower than MacLeod and we needed to get off the glacier before the snow bridges weakened further.

 


[Henry MacLeod is above us already near camp.]


[Nearing the scree ridge]

 
[Summit views from Henry MacLeod with Poboktan in the center bg and our route off the glacier at lower left. ++]

 
[Great views north and west include Mary Vaux, Unwin, Charlton, Maligne Lake, Warren and Brazeau. ++]

 
[Henry MacLeod is quite a tall mountain - even towering over Coronet to the west. The snowy summit in the distance here is Catacombs Mountain which I was the 2nd ascent party to climb. ++]

 
[Looking west over at the Columbia Icefield. ++]


[The impressive west face of Mount Warren]


[The easy south face of Mount Brazeau which we climbed with much more snow two days previous.]


[Mounts Unwin and Charlton are on my list for some day...]

 
[Incredible views down a very calm Maligne Lake with Unwin / Charlton on the L and Warren on the R. ++]

 
[Tele pano of distant giants including from L to R, Stutfields, Cromwell, North Twin, Twins Tower, Woolley, Diadem, Alberta, Clemenceau and many more. ++]


[A tele of South, North and Twins Tower, Diadem and of course, the north face of Mount Alberta on the right.]

 
[A tele pano of the Columbia Icefields peaks along with Diadem and Alberta. ++]

 
[Looking down our escape route off the melting glacier.]

 

After snapping a ton of photos in the clear morning air, we descended the mountain to camp. Thankfully the raven hadn't visited and we packed up camp quickly before heading off the glacier trying to follow our melted out footprints from a few days previous. Overall the descent went well. We took our time avoiding weak snow bridges and even belayed each other over one problematic crevasse, using ice screws as anchors and swimming over the bridge on our stomachs! Finally we were descending the last bit of ice on the upper glacier towards the rock traverse to the lower icefield. We crossed the melted out lower icefield and were finally completely off glaciered terrain. It felt great! We could finally just relax and take the crampons off. In a funny twist, we walked into our excellent rock bivy site about 3 minutes before I noticed someone else walking down towards us from the col and realized it was Rob Maiman who we'd run into on our Twins trip earlier in the spring. He was apparently going to follow our footsteps again!! :) We had a good laugh about the odds of meeting Rob again and we updated him on conditions. Vickie and a friend were with him, so at least they'd have 3 on the rope. They set up their bivy right at the col, just above us. There were three more excellent bivy corals at the lip of the moraine above us, but they didn't have water access and were even windier than our location.

 


[Descending the Brazeau Glacier with the stunning form of Sunwapta's north face in the bg.]


[Setting up an ice screw belay for the sloppy bridge in front of me.]


[Ready to get off the glacier, careful probing ahead!]


[Another deep crevasse.]

 
[Near the rock traverse to the lower glacier with the tarns over Swan Pass visible on the lower left. ++]


[Descending the main glacier to the rock traverse -the lower glacier visible at top.]


[Heading down the rock to the lower glacier.]

 
[Ready to cross the lower glacier to the far moraine. The icefall to the right is the reason you must go up this rock. ++]


[A raging river on the ice! We had to go upstream to find a way around this.]


[Finally off the glacier, climbing up a snow patch to the moraine above the rocky bivy coral.]

 
[Looking back at the glacier with the obvious rock traverse around the ice fall.]

 
[Ben is visible at lower right near the rock bivy coral in this view from the top of the moraine. There were 3 rock corals just to the left here. ++]


[Our lovely home for an evening at the high bivy / rock corals.]

 

After sitting around for a while, we decided that we were getting cold (that darn west wind again!) and so we would take a jaunt up a ridge just south of our camp which we dubbed "Bivy Ridge". 

 


[Just before I crawl into the mid, a last bit of color in the sky overhead.]

 

After a much warmer night on the rock rather than ice of the glacier, we awoke to light rain and clouds on Sunday morning. The rain stopped as we packed up camp and started the trek back to Poboktan Creek. The return trip was quick and uneventful under a sky that grew sunnier with each passing minute until it was a warm summer day in the valley bottom. Four hours after leaving our high bivy we were back at the parking lot where I met Alan and Jen and gave them a lift to Banff. They kept me awake with entertaining stories of their last 40 days on the Great Divide Trail and I kept them awake with stories of the many peaks along the way that I'd climbed. As I drove back to Calgary alone, I contemplated the last four days and how lucky I was to experience the Rockies the way I have this year, with many remote peaks and gorgeous, wild terrain.

 


[The morning view from camp looking over Swan Pass]


[Nice morning lighting over camp]


[Vern enjoys a cup of Starbucks before packing up camp.]


[Ben descends steep scree under Swan Pass]


[Finally out of that cold west wind and back in shorts! Looking back along the cliff band - the col out of sight at upper right.]


[The perfect bivy site that's below the cliff band on approach, and too low to use.]


[Tons of River Beauties along Poboktan Creek]


[Descend the North Fork of Poboktan Creek]


[A quick break at the Poboktan Creek CG]


[A beautiful, warm Sunday morning stroll along Poboktan Creek!]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,288
Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,788
Elevation Gain (m): 
230
Round Trip Time: 
2.50
Total Distance (km): 
3.50
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 2 : you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: 

Travel on a very crevassed glacier - much easier with a good snow base.

Indian Ridge

Interesting Facts: 

Named by E. Deville (Director of the Geological Survey of Canada) in 1916. The mountain is named after the hoary marmot, also known as the whistling marmot. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com

YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Monday, June 30, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,752

I decided early on in 2008 that it was time I bagged a few of the Kane peaks in Jasper National Park. In the span of two weeks I've now completed over half of them! Indian Ridge and The Whistlers were my latest Jasper peaks. I shared the pleasure with two nephews and two brother-in-laws on June 30 2008.

 

Part of me hesitates to claim The Whistlers as a summit on my summit log, but since I down-climbed the whole trail and ran into an aggressive bear for all my efforts, I'm claiming it. I've done a lot less work for a summit in Jasper before! (Amber Mountain is a simple hike up about 20 meters and off to the side of the main trail when you're already on the Skyline trail. Signal Mountain isn't much more of an effort than Amber.)

 

We were the first ones at the tram and soon were rocketing up the first part of The Whistlers. I hate trams. It didn't help that there were only teenage summer students running the thing and they seemed very fresh at it. I also happened to know that the week before, the tram was shut down for maintenance so I wasn't in the best of spirits as we rode the 1" cable up the mountain!

 

We stepped off the tram station at around 9:30 AM and began the trudge up The Whistlers (about 200 meters height gain). The weather was beautiful with mostly clear skies and only a bit of haze off to the south. My two brothers-in-law were doing pretty good and my two nephews didn't seem to have any issues with the first part of the ascent either. We were all huffing pretty good by the top of Whistlers but we made good time (25 minutes) and the views were great in all directions - especially Mount Robson off to the Northwest. It wasn't that strange to think that there were some people just stranded for 18 days on that mountain - it looks pretty intimidating from 80km away!

 

After some drinks and photos on The Whistlers (named after the numerous Marmots up there), we descended into the tranquil valley between The Whistlers and Indian Ridge. This height loss is important to note, as you have to regain it on the way back! It's about 180 meters and it feels like it. I was looking at the snow on Indian Ridge, just before the summit, and thinking that we were going to have to be lucky to summit in those conditions, but I kept silent about it. Sometimes things look a lot easier when you're a bit closer, especially mountains. As we went higher the route became a bit more exposed to climber's right. One of the boys began to get a wee bit nervous and even my brothers-in-law were getting a bit overcome with the views and the airy feeling that comes with ridge walking. I love scrambling with people who have never done it because it helps me remember why I do it!

 


[Harold hikes up from the tram station to The Whistlers.]


[Indian Ridge looks fantastic in the clear morning light. The peak is on the upper left of the photo. The entire traverse is visible here.]


[Looking back at The Whistlers summit. We lost about 180 vertical meters before going back up Indian Ridge.]


[Calvin coming up Indian Ridge. Pyramid Mountain in the background just left of The Whistlers.]

 

Eventually we came up to the snow. It was actually a cornice that hung out over the north face of the ridge - not a good place to fall down. I thought the snow was pretty bomber and would most likely hold but there was no way I was letting my two nephews take that kind of risk! My sister would kill me if anything happened to them. They were done anyway as the route steepened considerably above this point. We agreed that I would tag the summit and come back to the group before heading back down. I quickly went over the ridge, trying not to stray onto the cornice. The last part was the best in terms of scrambling with good holds and pretty solid rock. I still think this is more 'low-moderate' than 'easy', especially when compared to other easy scrambles I've done. At the summit there were great views in every direction. The mountains to the west were especially colorful and Edith Cavell and Robson tried to steal the show in opposite directions. When I peered down at the group waiting below, my one brother-in-law yelled that he was coming up. I went down a bit and helped him up some of the steep stuff which made him a bit nervous but also exhilarated. Now my sister's really going to hate me - when her husband decides to bag peaks! :-) He was really blown away by the views and the feeling of a summit - his first real Rockies summit ever! (He's done Tunnel Mountain but that hardly counts...)

 

 


[Summit view from Indian Ridge looking North. Robson is tiny dot in middle...]


[Mount Robson.]


[Mount Edith Cavell.]


[The Ramparts.]


[Beautiful valley behind Indian Ridge, looking west.]


[Harold and Vern on the summit of Indian Ridge.]


[Another look at the beautiful valley.]


[Summit panorama. ++]

 

The way back was without incident. When we got to the tram there was a huge backup of people. Apparently something wasn't quite working with one of the cars. This made me VERY anxious since I hate those things at the best of times. When we were told it would be "at least an hour", I mentioned that I was hiking down the Whistlers hiking trail and they could meet me at the bottom.

 

 


[Descending the ridge. Not that easy...]


[There is some risk here - that's why I went first! :-)]


[Coming back down the ridge.]


[Typical terrain on the ridge.]


[Clouds add drama to the Indian Ridge valley.]


[Looking over the north end of Indian Ridge.]


[Another shot of Robson as we descend.]


[The colors are amazing as is the terrain!]


[Awesome lighting created by moving clouds. |]


[More drama.]

 


[The namesake of The Whistlers.]


[The tram station with the descent trail clearly visible.]

 

Of course, my nephews didn't want to sit around for 1.5 hours either so they right away volunteered to come with me. Now my two brothers-in-law weren't going to be out-hiked by a couple of youngsters so they also decided (reluctantly) to follow me down! Ooops. The Whistlers trail is not a great one. Don't say I didn't warn you. The views are very limited. There are mosquitoes and water on the trail and after descending quite quickly the trail drags on and ofor way too long. It got very annoying the more east (away from the parking lot) we got. I knew that the trail head was different than the tram parking lot but didn't think it was that far away.

 

Right before getting to the trail head (we could see the vehicles in the parking lot) I brought up my nephews with a shout. Just below us, on the trail was a rather large black bear! We had been yelling for bears the whole way down, and even ran into some people going up, so I was surprised when the bear just looked at us and started coming up the trail - straight for us!! This wasn't cool. I expected the bear to run into the bush - I knew that an aggressive bear isn't to be trifled with so I coaxed my (nervous at this point) nephews back up the trail towards my two brothers-in-law who were a bit behind us. I knew that it would take an insane bear to challenge 5 people. Once the brothers-in-law caught up to us we all slowly went down the trail to the parking lot with no more signs of the bear. We did hear an air horn and someone yelling though. As we trekked the trail from the hiking parking lot to the tram parking lot I conjectured that the yelling and the air horn was some idiot trying to scare the bear away from the road. I wondered why they didn't just shut up and leave the bear alone.

 

 


[Descending the trail that never ends!]


[Some sections were easier than others.]

 

As we got closer to the hostel (it sits between the two parking lots) the air horn and yelling got louder and louder. We were all yelling because we knew the bear was close by and soon the yelling started over-lapping. "Get out of that bush", someone yelled at us. "What the heck do you think we're doing?", we yelled back. The most bizarre sight greeted us in the hostel's back yard. Some dude with no shirt was standing on a pile of logs with an air horn in his right hand and both hands raised above his head! When I asked him what the heck he was doing he replied that we had scared no less than 4 bears into the hostel area on our way down The Whistlers and he was busy scaring them right back up the trail!! I told him that he was not doing the single girl or the two Japanese tourists (with a yippy little dog) any favors but he didn't seem to care that he was disturbing 4 bears back up a popular hiking trail towards unsuspecting hikers. What an idiot. I really do hope that no-one else ran into those bears because that's why they were so aggressive. It was either some hikers or a dude with an air horn - most smart bears would take their chances with the hikers. That is why the bear we saw wasn't scared of us like he should have been. The good news is that yelling while hiking definitely works, the bad news is that sometimes you end up chasing the bears right down to the parking lot where they have little choice but to come straight back up at you!

 

The short hike up the highway in 32 degree heat almost killed us but we made it. A highly recommended scramble but I would suggest waiting till the snow clears and doing the whole traverse of Indian Ridge on a clear day. That would be a much better use of your energy then hiking down the Whistlers trail!

 

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,059
Elevation Gain (m): 
460
Total Distance (km): 
20.00
Difficulty Notes: 

Moderate scrambling on the Kane route.

King Edward, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Mary Schaffer in 1906. King Edward (King Edward became the King of England in 1901.) Official name. Other names Manitoba. First ascended in 1924 by J.W.A. Hickson, Howard Palmer, guided by Conrad Kain. Journal reference AJ 37-306. (from peakfinder.com

Trip Category: 
MN - Mountaineering
Technical Difficulty Level: 
9
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
5.0-5.2
YDS Grade: 
II

Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, August 27, 2017 to Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quick 'n Dirty Beta

 

This is a long trip report that you should only read if you're very, very bored. Here's the quick 'n dirty for those looking for beta without the novella. blush 

 

  1. Drive the Bush River FSR from Donald (just past Golden), past the base for Chatter Creek and all the way down the Bush Arm of Kinbasket Lake and almost 100km to the unnamed creek. This road deteriorates for the last few kms but is very drivable right to the end by almost any vehicle with some clearance.
  2. Cross the creek. Remember that it tends to rise dramatically even in summer and fall due to daily glacier melt. 10 or 11 in the morning are the best times to cross. If you can't see at least 5 or 6 rocks on the surface, or just below it at the crossing site, be prepared for a dicey experience or better yet, don't bother crossing at all.
  3. Follow the route outlined in my detailed trip reports and GPS track to your desired bivy location. I'd recommend GR660745 if it's calm and clear. This puts you right on the glacier. The glacier takes much longer to cross than you'd expect thanks to many deep and hidden crevasses. Following our GPS track will take advantage of some nice benches and good terrain unless it's 20 years later. Than you're on your own. 
  4. Near the bottom of the south face, you can either go climber's right up wet, slick and steep ledges and cliffs or left, up lower angled slab. We went up left (unroped) and down right (rappel).
  5. The south face is straightforward. Up, through the middle cliff band (low 5th) and to the summit block on scree.
  6. You have choices on the summit block too. As you traverse on the east side along an obvious scree bench you'll hit a steep gully. This is the rappel gully we used and is mid-5th class climbing. There's another gully after this one that usually has a stubborn snow / ice patch blocking your progress along the scree bench. You can ascend this gully (likely mid-5th) or keep going past it on the scree bench. You'll need a few screws to protect this short but exposed traverse. Two axes is nice here too, and obviously crampons.
  7. Now you can go up reasonable terrain on your left or continue for even easier angles. We continued across a second snow / ice couloir. This one was much narrower and we soloed across before ascending steep, crumbly rock immediately on climber's right of the couloir.
  8. We followed another scree bench along the east face for a few hundred meters before the terrain mellowed out a bit and I could see a line trending up and left to the summit ridge. This was exposed 4th class climbing and took us right to the easy summit ridge.
  9. For descent, we rapped the first gully which has two stations. If you look for the lower one, your 60m or 70m rope might just reach the bottom. It's a stretch. We built another station half way down since we used the higher rap station, not realizing there's a lower one and being around 10m short with a 60m rope. This is likely around a 40-45m rap.
  10. We rapped the middle cliff band too - it was safer than downclimbing it. We also rapped the lower cliffs off an interesting anchor built from several small boulders balanced on the edge of the cliff with a backup piton. Your call if it's safer to rap or downclimb the easier slab that we ascended.

 

Call of a Mountain

 

Despite the odds that seemed to be stacked against us, and lingering doubts, Ben and I finally completed our Sisyphean Odyssey to the summit of Mount King Edward on a beautifully clear and pleasant summer day on August 28, 2017. After three attempts, driving a total of approximately 36 hours, hiking 105km and climbing over 6,500m of elevation in pursuit of this peak, it was supremely rewarding to finally stand on the top. Ferenc Jasco joined us in our quest and was a valuable contributor to our eventual success. As any follower of this blog will know by now, Mount King Edward has been a thorn in my side for a few years now. There aren't many trip reports available, but Raf Kazmierczak's September 2007 and  Eric Coulthard's September 2011 reports both stoked my desire to stand on King Eddy's summit. After first glimpsing it myself from peaks on the main Columbia Icefield such as North Twin Peak in May of 2012, I've been even further intrigued and called by this gorgeous mountain, rising as a pyramid of black rock, from the shining white glacier below. 

 

Mount King Edward is described by Bill Corbett as, "the forgotten 11,000er of the Columbia Icefield area". It is indeed a remote and lonely giant, sitting isolated on the extreme western edge of the massive sheet of snow and ice which contains some of the highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Ben and I aren't the first ones to be both enchanted and thwarted by the formerly named "Mount Manitoba". The first serious attempt in 1920 was made by Howard Palmer and Allan Carpe from the Athabasca River Valley and Ontario Glacier up the west face to a few hundred feet of the summit. Palmer was back with copious numbers of horses and gear in 1924 for another attempt. This time he and Conrad Kain were successful via the now-standard south face route. Words that were used to describe these first ascents include niceties such as, laborious, disagreeable, loose, rotten, slippery, unstable, snow, and ice. Sounds fun doesn't it? For some reason we thought so, and I can tell you for a fact that all these words (and a few others I won't mention) still apply. Alan Kane also took three attempts to finally bag this obtuse mountain!

 

Consider the following trip report from the 1976 American Alpine Journal;

 

Nevermind attempting the same mountain multiple times - THAT is hardcore! surprise

 

A Sisyphean Odyssey

 

In June, 2016, Ben and I made our first serious attempt on King Edward. On hindsight I think we underestimated how difficult it is to climb this mountain as a snow ascent. Sure - Trevor Sexsmith and Ian Button had not only climbed King Edward's east face on snow, they had also skied back down it - but one has to realize that this is next level stuff, not for weekend warrior mountaineering hacks such as myself! blush Due to a lack of overnight freeze, we had to abandon this first attempt without even setting foot on the glacier, nevermind the south face. Of course, Ben and I are both not used to being turned back on serious mountain attempts, having been pretty spoiled over the years with successful first attempts on most of our objectives. Our first trip gave us some valuable beta and gave us even more reason to go back sooner than later - the photos of Mount King Edward taken from atop GR660745 were a siren song to our mountaineering hearts.

 

 
[A very snowy and dramatic King Edward seen from GR660745 on our first attempt. Click for some route lines. Red is our ascent, green is our descent. Purple is the route Steven took on snow a year later. ++]

 

We were back early in 2017, again in May and again, attempting a snow ascent. This time we were planning on ascending the regular route up the south slopes and upper east face instead of trying the east face direct from the glacier, like Trevor and Ian had done. Ben had dreams of skiing the south face. Steven Song joined us this time, and once again Ben and I were forced to walk away from the mountain without standing on its summit. Despite learning some valuable life lessons, it was a very tough experience, especially considering that Steven tagged the summit. Even worse, Ben and I were left with a gnarly bushwhack down the Bush River at the end of it all thanks to a raging creek that Steven barely made it across. This attempt got us much closer to the summit than our first one as we not only crossed the glacier but even started up the face. Once again I got some great photos of King Edward and surrounding peaks, but they were bittersweet to look at after pouring so much time and effort into two unsuccessful attempts. frown 

 

We tell ourselves we don't care, but of course we all do. If we truly didn't care we wouldn't go back for more, would we?

 

 
[Another great perspective on a very snowy King Edward, this time in May, 2017 while waiting for Steven to finish his ballsy solo snow climb (he's visible on this photo on the mid-mountain as a tiny dot). Ben and I felt that climbing on these snow conditions were reaching a bit too far into the luck jar for our comfort. ++]

 

Ben and I both knew that after failing to summit earlier this year, we'd be making another very serious fall attempt. In early August the emails started flying around and when the electronic ink had dried, it was going to be a 2 day attempt by Ferenc, Ben and myself on August 27th and 28th. The wx jumped around a bit but settled on a fantastic forecast that got us pretty stoked for the climb. One fly in the ointment was the extremely warm temperatures and the possibility of no summit views thanks to many out-of-control wildfires that had been ruining summit views for many climbers and scramblers all summer.

 

A Summer Approach

 

We knew from our two previous approaches exactly where to go and how long it would take us to approach the bivy, so we didn't leave too early on Sunday morning, August 27th. We wanted to camp as close as possible to the glacier, as we knew already from our 2nd attempt and other trip reports that it was very fractured and takes much longer to cross the ~2km than most folks expect. I proposed that we set up camp right on top of the flat scree summit of GR660745 and Ben agreed. Ferenc and I left YYC at 05:00 to meet Ben around 07:00 in the Lake O'Hara parking lot. We timed it perfectly and soon we were bombing down the TCH towards Golden in Ben's SUV. After a quick stop for breakfast in Golden, we continued to the now very familiar Donald turnoff and gravel road towards Kinbasket Lake and the Bush River FSR - obstacle #1 to any climbs in this remote area of the Rockies. It was with a curious mixture of excitement and dread as we pointed out familiar landmarks to Ferenc, who had never been down these roads before.

 

 
[Recycling a map I put together for our Alexandra trip in 2014. Conditions change rapidly on these roads but as of late August 2017 the Bush River road is good to the King Edward parking spot at the unnamed creek. The Valenciennes FSR is washed out at km 6 and several other spots, and the South Rice Brook road is good up the initial switchbacks and unknown from there.  ++]

 

I was feeling apprehensive as we drove deeper and deeper into the wilderness along the Bush River. It wasn't the mountain that worried me, it was the dang creek crossing right at the start of the approach. I'd just read of another party being turned back from their objective the day before due to "river crossing issues". With hot weather back in the forecast, I was very nervous to tackle a wild, unpredictable glacier-fed stream that had already resulted in a serious near-dunking and subsequent bushwhacking adventure along the Bush River, only a few months previous. I sent Hanneke a quick text, letting her know that I could be a day late due to possible high water on our return the 2nd evening. The road was in great shape, but still lengthy enough to necessitate a pee break before reaching its end. As he walked back to his vehicle, Ben noticed that air was escaping the rear driver's side tire! Apparently even our third attempt was going to be a bloody adventure...surprise Naturally this was just the start of things to come. One should never underestimate the more remote 11,000ers for generating obstacles and tons of type II fun. This is the exact reason we do these peaks, but it can be frustrating as heck while it's all happening! We managed to change the tire - thank goodness for full-sized spares - and continued a bit more cautiously towards the end of the road as we couldn't afford a second flat on this remote road. As usual, Bryce looked huge and intimidating as we crossed the large bridge over the Bush River. The water looked clear and blue instead of the murky grey runoff color we'd seen in May. I allowed myself to get a bit more hopeful for our upcoming stream crossing.

 

The road from the Rice Brook junction slowly deteriorated until Ben's SUV was scraping against thick bush on either side. There was much more growth along the final few kilometers than we had seen before, on our spring attempts. Thankfully the road base was in great shape and before long we were parking a very familiar spot. Without even talking, both Ben and I open our doors and walked towards the unnamed creek (Note: some sources label this stream as "Bryce Creek" - it's not). I immediately noticed the color. Blue - not grey or even greyish. Excellent. Even better - we could see rocks and boulders all the way across to the far side - the water level was very reasonable. Obstacle #2 was looking pretty tame and our excitement levels notched up a few spots. Looking back at my previous crossings of this creek, I now realize that if you can see at least 5 or 6 boulders on or near the surface, the crossing will be easy. If not? Good luck.

 

After finalizing our packing and wrapping the truck in chicken wire to stave off the huge local porcupines (seriously they're the size of a baby grizzly back there - I've seem them), we turned our attention towards the creek. My pack felt pretty heavy with the rope and other climbing gear that I haven't been carrying very much this summer. We marched straight through the creek with no issues - the current was strong as usual but it felt pretty easy compared to the other 3 times I'd crossed it. After changing out of our wet crossing gear we shrugged back into our packs and set off on another 11,000er pursuit. It was hot as we started the long grind up the old decommissioned logging road. It is approximately 15km from the parking spot to the summit of King Edward. Seems pretty reasonable right? It is - but it's also 2500m of height gain! That's 500m more gain than its huge neighbor, Mount Columbia - which is also hundreds of meters higher.

 

This was my first time doing the King Eddy approach in summer conditions and it was much different than in the spring. The obvious difference was the amount of growth both on and along the road. Ferenc was quickly distracted by bushes of huge, ripe raspberries and we had to wait for him to finish stuffing his face more than once. Ben and I were mentally prepared for the on-road bushwhack but Ferenc was pretty surprised by the lack of a clear path for the two choked up sections along it. It was even worse with the summer growth - thank goodness Ben didn't bother with freaking skis this time around. I'm sure he thought of bringing them as he likes to flirt with the edges of type III fun every once in a while. laugh

 


[Ben wades into the very benign creek - note the water color and the boulders visible all the way across.]


[This is a shot from an earlier attempt, showing a deep and angry version of the creek!]


[Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberries) lined the first few kms of the decommissioned logging road and tasted pretty darn good.]


[A hot, gorgeous approach day.]


[The road was even more grown in than we were used to from our spring approaches.]


[No one has ATV'd this road in a long while.]

 

We wondered how bushy the cutblock would be as we approached the end of the old road. It was about as bad as we expected. A few familiar ribbons guided us up in the right general direction but the old ATV track was mostly overgrown and hard to follow. We got off route very briefly in the initial stretch of forest after the cutblock but I traversed up and left and soon stumbled on a very obvious ATV track cut through the trees and undergrowth. Obviously this was the first time we'd been on the track, as both previous excursions had been on several feet of snow. I'm amazed at how well defined the track still is. It has to be years since anyone rode at ATV through this forest - as the approach road is completely impassible with growth and so is the cutblock. Perhaps it's a combination of the elevation and tall trees blocking sunlight that keeps the track so fresh through here? Either way - without the track or some sort of trail, this forest could be a major obstacle as Corbett hints in his book. The ATV track loses height a couple of times while traversing up to the alpine meadows, but overall it was a pleasure to follow through the cool forest. Thank goodness I made a last minute decision to carry a liter of water, despite my heavier-than-usual backpack. In a very surprising twist compared to our spring ascents, there wasn't a single drop of drinkable water from the creek crossing at the start, to the toe of the glacier near the end of our approach! Even the road, which is a rushing stream in May, was completely bone-dry. Considering all the greenery and flora in the alpine meadows, the water must have fairly recently vanished in the terribly dry summer we've been having this year.

 


[Starting up the cutblock.]


[Looking back down the cutblock, which is looking more and more like regular forest as time passes by.]

 

As we grunted up through the deeply shaded forest, I was growing increasingly concerned about my knees. I'd put a lot of big days in the mountains on them over the past few months and usually while carrying minimal gear and wearing my light approach shoes. Now that I was wearing full shank mountaineering boots and carrying a proper alpine pack with climbing and glacier gear, rope, steel crampons and ice ax, not to mention camping gear, my knees were not happy with me. Every 2nd or 3rd step was painful in my left knee and this was going to be an issue if it continued. I knew it was around 1500 vertical meters to our bivy and we had a long way to go from there yet. sad I decided to suck it up and keep going. On Alexandra I had a similar issue just before doing the highline traverse back out of our bivy, and eventually it seemed to loosen up a bit and stop hurting. Sometimes you have to tell your body to HTFU. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't but I didn't have much choice at this point. Vitamin "I" is pretty handy for this type of pain too, but I don't like using it unless I'm really desperate.

 


[Interesting how the ATV track stays so obvious after all these years.]


[Following a nice terrain feature out of the forest and into the alpine meadows.]

 

We were looking forward to the rumored beauty of the alpine meadows between the forest and the glacier and as we finally exited from the cool, green canopy of trees, we were not disappointed. The high meadows were absolutely stunning. Of course Mount Columbia's impressive west face and summit was right in our faces, but the real captivating scenery was the flora and rock patterns at our feet. We had to frequently pick our jaws up off the thick, soft carpet of heather and moss as we hiked higher and further towards Mount King Edward, which was now looming somewhat ominously on the horizon. I found myself curiously avoiding eye contact as we walked towards it. One area of the meadow in particular, stood out. It had a very planar surface with a distinctive square pattern like an angled checkerboard. None of us had ever seen anything like it before in our many mountain wanderings. Ben and I were delighted to see all the textures, tarns and landscapes that were buried under many feet of snow during our past visits to the area. Seracs thundering off of the Columbia Icefield next to Mount Columbia kept us glancing over to our right as we entered the boulder field and rock shelves before the glacier leading up towards our bivy site.

 

 
[Now we're cooking with gas! Dramatic views of Mount Columbia from the meadows. The winter route up this side of the icefield is from the left, down past the trees at center distance and then up via the steep ramp at far right - obviously very exposed to all sorts of objective hazards. Ben's done that route twice now. ++]


[Special with snow, even more special without. Looking back at Ferenc and Cockscomb Mountain rising in the distance at center.]

 
[King Edward finally shows up (L). The interesting pattern in the foreground rock is something I haven't seen before. ++]


[Gorgeous views back to the north face of Mount Bryce.]


[The meadows are full of interesting patterns.]


[Flowers and our mountain. Our bivy is on the rock outcrop at left.]


[Ferenc takes a break in the shade. It was a hot approach.]


[Interesting desert terrain as we leave the land of trees and flora for a harsher land of snow, rock and ice.]

 
[Looking back from a moonscape. Columbia at left with Bryce at center. Pawn Peak at distant right. ++]

 

Initially I thought the rock shelves and boulder fields would slow our progress significantly, but this wasn't the case. The boulders were fairly stable and the rock shelves were fun and interesting terrain to traverse. There weren't many impassible spots despite appearances and soon we were standing at the edge of a water-shedding glacier, just below and southeast of our bivy destination on top of GR660745. As with everything along the Columbia Icefield, destinations are always bigger and further than they may appear. After donning crampons and taking a short breather at the bottom edge of the glacier, it was still a few hundred vertical meters to the top of the GR. Thanks to the hot weather, the glacier was weeping furiously as we ascended it.

 


[Ben describes the route up to the main Columbia Icefield from this side of the valley. He's done it twice as part of the Great Divide Ski Traverse.]

 
[The terrain is much bigger than it appears at first glance and on photos. ++]


[Tiny in a huge landscape. The huge west face of Mount Columbia looms many thousands of feet over us.]

 
[Looking back as we near the glacier.]


[Starting up the weeping glacier beneath our bivy, which is located out of site at left here.]

 
[Looking back over our approach from the edge of the glacier. ++]

 

At the Bivy (GR660745)

 

Thankfully we managed to find perfect bivy spots on the relatively flat summit of GR660745, with easy access to nearby pools of melting snow. Also thankfully, there wasn't a breath of wind beneath the huge high pressure system we were in. I'm sure this would be a terrible bivy location either in windy or inclement weather conditions, as it's very exposed. With the conditions we had, I'd have to say this was a top 10 bivy spot for me. I wish we had an extra night here. The views were stunning, as usual for this area. Ferenc wanted to know all the names of the Chess Group and lesser known local peaks. More familiar mountains in the area such as Cockscomb, Bryce, Columbia and of course, King Edward, all beckoned with their alpine siren songs which any mountaineer will recognize upon seeing these beautiful, crumbling giants of snow, ice and rock.

 

 
[A very respectable bivy site - as long as the weather is stable.]


[Relaxing in perfect weather at camp.]

 
[Looking south off our bivy site. Bryce, Whiterose, Cockscomb, Pawn, King, Bishop and Knight (L to R) in the distance. ++]

 

We had three hours to setup our bivy camp and chillax in preparation of a big day. I was nervous as I looked across the glacier, 2km towards our dark objective rising impassively from the snow and ice skirting its lower rock cliffs. It looked deceptively close and deceivingly straightforward from our little perch. I noted a patch of snow and ice slicing through the infamous scree ledge around the summit block that looked to be problematic. I also noted that the glacier abutted the south face very nicely, thanks to the copious amount of snow it got over the past winter. I knew from my research on the mountain that routefinding and conditions were absolutely key to keeping it low 5th class and reasonable for a hack climber such as myself. Much more talented alpinists than I have reported back that they experienced more difficult climbing than they expected. Rick Collier had a cautious tone in his trip report - and he didn't have to wade the unnamed stream (to be fair, he didn't have the ATV track);

 

As well, "once on the rock, the climbing was demanding - the slabs were crazily cantilevered, soaked with running water, and frequently greasy with moss." It was not the kind of climbing either of us enjoyed.

 

There are three cruxes on King Edward, and depending on conditions and route choice they can be trivial or they can seriously suck. The first crux is the glacier and the exit to the south face, including a lower set of cliffs and ugly, wet slabs covered with moss and debris. The trick to keeping things reasonable, is to traverse further west than you initially want to. You have to get lucky with the exit from the glacier, if it's melted back from the rock you might have moat or schrund issues. The second crux is the middle cliff band. This can be ascended either directly up a steep 4th class gully or possibly scrambled around on the west end as per Rick. The third crux is the  main one that everyone worries about - the summit block. Here's where there are wildly different reports. Some say it's relatively easy 5.0-5.2 terrain, while others swear it's 5.6 and mixed climbing on snow, ice and choss! In my research I decided that many people don't traverse far enough east around the summit block, instead climbing up gullies on climber's left too early, encountering harder grades. Armed with this beta, I felt like we had a good chance of success, but I also knew full well that with alpine climbing on big, remote peaks, nothing is ever guaranteed. Another thing not guaranteed and weighing on my mind was the smoky conditions that were slowly building to the south of our bivy. We could easily smell the smoke from wildfires as we turned in for the night. It would be a shame to finally stand on top of King Eddy, only to have zero visibility. We were here now and nothing was stopping our third attempt at this point. indecision

 

 
[The sun starts to set after supper. Visible peaks in the Chess Group include (R to L), two unnamed peaks, Rook, Queen, Knight, Bishop, King, Pawn. ++]


[A lovely sunset on Mount King Edward. The glacier looks so straightforward doesn't it? It's not. It's over 2km and takes at least 2 hours to cross in these conditions with careful routefinding and probing. Some of the crevasses here are pretty big.]

 

Our alarms were set for 05:00 as we needed daylight to travel the broken glacier. Although the shorter daylight hours of late summer were a bit of a pain, it was nice to go to bed at 21:00 and have darkness settling in already. On our previous trips to the area, it was still light at 23:00 and even later, making good sleep very difficult. 

 

The Mountain

 

Despite the darkness and total calm, I had a restless sleep. I was both nervous and excited. I was tired of waiting to finally climb the mountain - I wanted to be on it already! Just as I was drifting off again, two sets of alarms went off and sleepy voices announced that the day of reckoning was nigh. A curious mixture of dread and anticipation forced me out of my warm sleeping bag and into the cool morning air. We set about making some coffee and eating breakfast as daylight tried to break around us revealing a surprising lack of smoke. Our day was certainly starting on the right note. After breakfast we slowly prepared the rope for glacier travel, triple checked our gear and packs and donned crampons before starting off for the glacier just below our bivy.

 


[The tail end of the Milky Way just shows up at left with our mountain sitting pretty in very early morning light - it's much darker than it appears here.]


[Starting out from camp with just enough light to spot crevasses.]

 

It was light enough to see the two snow benches on the glacier that we wanted to initially follow, starting on the same route we used earlier in May. We were expecting a pretty horrendous crevasse maze closer to the peak and were delighted to see a reasonably clear route through the worst section as we got closer and closer to the south face. Ben did start finding a few more crevasses as we traversed a gentle rise along the face. These holes were parallel with our travel direction which complicated avoiding them but Ben wisely did some zigzagging to avoid a situation where the whole team would fall in the same slot. As we worked our way west along the bottom of the face, I asked several times if we should try the rocky ledges on the southeast end of the face instead of the angled slab we were aiming for. Ben and Ferenc both answered that this terrain was sloped and nasty - and they were correct. On hindsight the SE corner of the face proved to be an excellent spot to rappel, but would have been very tough to ascend thanks to wet, sloping slabs and steep little cliff bands.

 

 
[A very lovely early morning sunrise back over the glacier to the south and over our bivy. ++]

 
[Sunrise on our mountain, rising like a black beauty out of the snow and ice.]


[KE looks so easy from this angle! Remember - the summit block is almost a vertical kilometer above us here. That distance tends to "flatten the bumps" a bit... The close end of the face is where we rapped, we ascended about half way along it.]

 

We'd spotted an inviting slab west of the south ridge, about half way along the south face that looked promising from camp, and we aimed directly for this spot. It was the lowest angled slab intersecting the glacier and there was a nice snow slope angling up and abutting it - no moat or schrund issues. After taking off our crampons we started up mixed slab and loose debris. There were a few routes up this section, we all tried slightly different lines to avoid each other's rockfall. Yes - it was very loose in sections. This wasn't exactly easy scrambling, but mostly third with some short fourth class moves to wake us up. This terrain was almost impossible to protect but we soloed quickly up this section and soon exited onto the loose scree slope that sits between the lower and middle cliff bands. We traversed right (east) towards the south ridge and the best line up to the middle cliff band, avoiding as much manky slab as possible ("manky" being defined as "not fun"). This was the sloggiest terrain of the day. I could tell that I've been scrambling way too much shitty scree this year, as I separated a bit from Ferenc and Ben on the treadmill slope. To be fair, they were also carrying more weight than me as Ben had the rock gear and it was Ferenc's turn to carry the rope - something my knees were very grateful for.

 


[Note the white line in the rock just over Ferenc's head - this is approximately the route we followed above the first cliff band which is wet and slick with running water and moss.]


[Not as easy as it looks, but fast and soloable terrain.]


[Ferenc on the slabby terrain - note all the scree covering it. Yuck.]


[Mostly 3rd and 4th class scrambling up the slabby terrain.]


[Ferenc on the slab.]


[A nice clean section of slab - these sections made short work of a few hundred vertical meters.]

 
[Ben chooses some steeper, but more solid terrain. We're still only climbing above the first band here and note how far below us the glacier is already. ++]

 
[Ferenc climbs up some slabs with the Chess Group across the glacier in the background.]


[Grinding our way up the south face scree slope now. Below the mid-cliffband it's a heckuva scree grind.]


[It's steep and we tried to avoid the slick, wet slabs that dotted the center of the face.]

 

By the time I started up a steep weakness punching through the middle cliff band, Ben and Ferenc had pretty much caught up to me and we decided to take a break shortly after getting through the band. I was hungry by this point and forgot to take photos of the steep, but short, scramble. We spotted a good rap station just off the entry to the gully which I was sure we'd use on descent. After a quick break, we turned our attention upwards, still many hundreds of vertical meters to go. We noted that we were making excellent time - it was only just after 09:00 or three hours into our day at this point. I think we all thought that we were in for a much shorter day than the 10 hour round trip time that we'd estimated from camp. But of course this was foolish thinking - nothing is ever that easy out here. cool

 


[On the south ridge proper now, looking way up to the summit block.]

 

Two things escalated my mood a few notches as we kept climbing, now up the eastern edge of the south face. The first was the nature of the scree above the middle cliff band. It changed from very loose treadmill scree to a flatter, firmer type of broken scree that is good on both ascent and descent - my favorite scree type. The second was that against all odds, we noted that not only was there very little smoke interrupting our views, but it seemed to be getting slightly clearer and even less smoky as we climbed! The idea that we might get good views from the summit was a real motivator for me, as I was initially expecting to be shrouded in a grey veil of smoke. Like all 11,000ers, King Eddy's upper mountain looks a lot smaller and simpler from below (1km away) than it is up close. As we approached the summit block I was marveling at how quickly Steven had moved up the south face back in May, while kicking steps in snow the whole way up! Truly an amazing feat, even if it was hard to watch at the time.

 


[This is much better scree! Above the middle cliff band with some pretty great views.]


[A shallow track even appeared in the scree as we approached the summit block.]

 
[Ferenc ascends easy terrain on the south ridge with incredible views of Mount Columbia to the south and the Chess Group to the southwest. ++]


[Slowly we gain hight and distance on the summit block.]

 

The summit block was where I knew things would prove interesting. I'd read as much beta as I could find, indicating everything from easy low 5th class to mid 5th class, or even a bit higher. Collier mentioned a snow / ice gully that didn't sound too easy. Eric seemed to have no troubles and mentions going "around to the east face" several times - but his photos indicate lots of snow, ice axes and roped terrain. Raf cautioned me to make sure we "traversed the whole way" before going up. He also used two axes, ice screws and more gear than "easy" alpine climbs usually require. I had a feeling from looking at Corbett's route photo that the gully that Steven had ascended in May (on snow) was likely the same gully that Collier and others have found significantly harder than 5.0-5.2. Collier mentions only traversing 100m on the scree ledge before ascending a gully on climber's left, and this correlates perfectly with the gully that Steven ascended with snow. From camp we could clearly see that there was still a fairly large patch of snow / ice at the base of this gully that I knew we'd have to cross in order to find the easier terrain further along the scree bench. 

 


[Ferenc starts up the infamous scree bench running along the east face of the summit block. Our bivy is far below at center.]

 

We started out along an obvious scree bench running up and across the SE side of the summit block. As we traversed beneath the first gully I noted that it looked pretty tough. Ben and Ferenc are much better rock climbers than myself, so naturally I wanted to find the easier terrain - figuring it would also be quicker than belayed climbing with 3 people and one rope. As we arrived at the snow patch and second gully along the SE face, we noted that the terrain above the second gully looked slightly easier than the first, but still didn't seem to be low-5th class. Ferenc tried to ascend the terrain near this gully but decided that we could probably find easier stuff a bit further along. We thought about ascending this gully but with snow / ice at the bottom it wasn't that attractive - and we knew the easier terrain was likely a bit further along the scree bench. Ben started soloing across the exposed snow and ice patch but quickly backed off due to the exposure and very soft snow conditions. After thinking on it a bit, I suggested we belay off a couple of ice screws. This worked great but obviously took some time to set up and execute. I belayed Ben across the slope and he even managed to put in another screw half way across this gully before exiting back to the scree bench on the far side and building another anchor there. Ben belayed Ferenc and I across the gully and I started looking for the route up from there. 

 


[Not as easy as it looks thanks to a very exposed runout down to the bottom right. This is the snow / ice traverse that I think is almost always present and should be expected. It is located at the bottom of the second major gully splitting the east face of the summit block.]


[Belaying Ben across the icy gully, which is very runnout at bottom right and extends upwards into a steep, chossy gully at upper left. I think this is likely the same gully Rick Collier climbed and definitely the gully Steven ascended on snow.]

 

I noted another much narrower snow / ice coulior just ahead, splitting the scree bench again. On the far side of this coulior was some very loose, steep terrain that went up the summit block about 25 meters to what looked like broken cliffs that could be our ticket to the summit. I yelled back to Ferenc and Ben and they told me to "check it out". Ferenc had a lot of faith in my scrambling route finding skills and insisted I find us the easiest route up to the summit. No pressure!  I crossed the narrow gully quite easily and proceeded up alonside it's right edge, still wearing my crampons because there wasn't anywhere stable to take them off. The terrain was a bit harder, looser and more exposed than I was expecting but once I was committed there was no easy way to turn back, so up I went! surprise I really hoped we'd find a way up at this point, because descending here would have sucked.

 

Ben and Ferenc were looking pretty skeptical of my route choice, as they followed me up the manky, exposed rock. I was very happy to find a much narrower, but well defined scree bench running along the east face of the summit block at the top of the coulior. In typical scrambler fashion, I kept going - my routefinding senses have been pretty honed this year, and I could see a possible route up ahead, cutting up to climber's left from further along the east face. I had to cross another few snow patches (kept the crampons on) before finally getting to the bottom of the line I'd spotted. Ben and Ferenc hung back a bit, asking themselves (and occasionally yelling over at me) where the hell I was going?! I encouraged them that I had the route spotted and was heading up. They followed along the narrow ledge - clearly skeptical but willing to find out for themselves. At this point we all thought that we were likely too far along the summit block for the standard route and quite honestly I was getting very worried that we'd just wasted another hour - and the hours were ticking by annoyingly quick since the first icy gully. After all the monkeying around with belays over icy gullies and tricky scrambling, it was now looking like we'd be over 6 hours camp-to-summit and were in for a very long day. Originally we were hoping to drive back home that evening as I had to work the next day! (After coming home and doing some thinking and research on our route, I believe this is the low 5th route up to the summit and we were 100% on route.)

 

 
[Ben and Ferenc follow me across a narrow, icy couloir and up the loose rock to climber's right of it. There's a hint of exposure here. ++]

 

Despite the lingering doubts on our team, I was weirdly confident in my route choice, and yelled over at the others to come join me. To their credit, Ben and Ferenc decided to trust my instincts and ambled over with concerned looks. As they approached, they agreed that there did seem to be a line up the east face and started up behind me. We climbed the face very close to each other as it was horribly loose. There were multiple lines up, and all were not much more than difficult, exposed scrambling. No mistake about it though - it was horribly loose and pretty exposed. We knew we didn't want to rappel this crap. As we ascended past the steepest section, I got pretty excited;

 

We're actually going to make it boys!

 


[There might be a route directly above the second couloir (L), but I traversed another scree bench along the east face (R) before ascending the broken east face to the summit ridge.]

 
[Ben comes up to the narrow scree bench that I continued following along the east face of the summit block with Mount Columbia at center and other giants of the Columbia Icefield now showing up at left. ++]


[My camera sensor got a bit wet while cross the second icy couloir and I didn't notice right away. This is looking down at Ben and Ferenc as we start up the steep, broken terrain on the east face leading to the summit ridge. Slipping here is not an option.]


[Looking up a steep, but relatively solid crack that we used to ascend the bottom part of the east face.]


[Still pretty darn steep and exposed, but I'm strangely confident that it'll go.]


[Finding a 'reasonable' line up the face.]


[Ben near the top of the east face of the summit block with Mount Alberta, Woolley and the Twins in the distance. What a view and what a place to be on a gorgeous summer day!]

 

As we approached what was now clearly easy terrain to the summit, I was filled with elation and positive energy. I realize that King Eddy isn't Mount Robson or Alberta, but remember the blood, sweat and tears I'd put into this freaking mountain?! I don't remember a sweeter feeling in the mountains as the one I got when I swung over the east face and planted my feet on a simple scree slope leading to the easy summit ridge above. Damn that felt good. The best part? The smoke had cleared significantly from a few hours earlier and we had billion dollar views as we ambled slowly up to the highest point. I was whooping aloud with elation and relief as I approached the cairn. The relief was my realization that the north summit was clearly lower than the much easier south one - despite what the maps might show. It's impossible to convey the feeling that I had standing on the summit of King Eddy, remembering all the suffering and commitment Ben and I had poured into this small patch of broken rock sitting among so many other giants and above nearby oceans of snow and ice at 11,329 feet.

 

 
[Billion dollar views from the summit of Mount King Edward with Ben and Ferenc coming up along the easy ridge. Thank goodness the north summit (L) is clearly lower than the much easier south one. ++]

 
[Summits include Columbia, Bryce and the Chess Group (L to R). Mount Columbia's impressive west face route goes at around 5.5 and has been soloed++]


[One of Ben's remaining 4 11,000ers - Mount Tsar rises to the west and is nearly impossible to approach without mechanical assistance nowadays.]

 
[Stunning views west include Mount Sir Sanford at center distance with the Adamant Range to its right. ++]


[Mount Bryce looms to the south with the Lyells and Forbes in the distance beyond.]

 
[One of the best summit views I've ever had includes Mount Alberta, Woolley, Twins Tower, North Twin, West Twin, South Twin, Kitchener, Snow Dome, Andromeda and of course, Mount Columbia (L to R). Columbia Lake just visible as a sliver of aqua green. ++]

 
[The original ascent party came up this part of the extreme western edge of the Columbia Icefield, accessing it via the Athabasca River Valley at far right and the Ontario Glacier at center bottom. Toronto Peak is at center foreground here. ++]

 
[Looking at some pretty wild terrain to the northwest include Toronto Peak (foreground left). Clemenceau, Chaba, Bras Croche, Hooker, Sundial, Dias, Quincy and Catacombs (L to R) with many other peaks visible in the far distance. Even Mount Robson just barely showed up on some of my telephoto shots! ++]


[Dias, Sundial, Quincy, Catacombs, Dragon, Massey and Warwick (L to R) are north of the King Edward and difficult to access.]

 
[There is some haze to the south and west but many peaks are still visible, including the Chess Group at center which includes Pawn, King, Bishop, Knight, Queen and Rook (L to R). To the right of Bryce (L) are giant peaks such as Rostrum and Cockscomb. At far right is Mount Sir Sanford and the Adamants. ++]


[Mount FryattDias, Sundial, Quincy and Catacombs (L to R).]


[Bras Croche is a very distinctive summit around 10,800 feet high.]


[Tusk Peak with Duplicate Mountain in the foreground.]


[Mount Clemenceau is one of four peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 12,000 feet high. Ben has done this peak twice, unassisted, approaching on skis.]


[The awesome west face of Mount Alberta has only been successfully climbed once. By the indefatigable Rafael Slawinski, of course.]


[Little Alberta lies in front of Mount Woolley - it's aesthetic south couloir route visible here.]


[Mount Brazeau lies well to the northeast.]


[The east corner of Chaba Lake just barely shows up beneath Toronto Peak.]


[The Lyells and Forbes.]

 

We didn't have a ton of time to enjoy the stunning summit views as it had taken us 6.5 hours from camp to summit - much longer than we were hoping for. But those views!! I would have to elevate the views from King Edward to top 5 or even top 3 of all time for me. I'm sure my struggles with attaining the summit have something to do with this rating. wink I am thankful to the weather gods that I don't believe in, that the smoke stayed away for the one extra day that we needed it to. From the always impressive Mount Alberta (albeit it's more rarely seen west face) to a stunning angle on Mount Woolley to the Twins, Columbia Lake and Mount Columbia's west face to the Chess Group and so many other giants like Clemenceau, Tsar, Tusk and many others, we couldn't tear our eyes away from the endless views. Thank goodness for digital cameras as I left nothing to chance and figured I could enjoy every aspect of the summit on my monitor at home afterwards. I searched pretty hard for a summit register and was disappointed not to find anything until I spotted a tiny film canister laying on the rocks near the summit. When I opened it, there was two entries. One was quite faded and either from 1971 or 1991 and the other was from Raf's group a decade previous in 2007. I added our names and stored the cannister back in the cairn where it belonged. Way too soon Ben was giving us the 5 minute warning and we reluctantly started packing up for a long descent.

 


[The only legible ascent record from a decade previous.]


[Summit shot. Ben only has 4 11,000ers to go - all unassisted (and one of them is directly behind us here).]

 
[Reluctantly leaving the summit as we descend to the southeast end of the summit block to find a rappel station. ++]

 

We all agreed that descending our ascent line was not a great idea if we could avoid it. Rapping the gullies on the SE face of the summit block would be steeper and safer with less rockfall, and it would also be more direct and faster. We scouted out the SE end of the block before Ferenc found a rap station with a couple of fairly fresh looking cords wrapped around a big boulder. At this point we should have kept looking a bit further down the end of the ridge, but hindsight is 20/20. We added a cord of our own and Ben rapped down first. We couldn't see the bottom of the rap and  I thought it looked very far for 30m. I was proven correct when Ben yelled up that we were at least 10m short to the bottom! (This is why you knot the end of the rope and use a backup prusik folks. enlightened) There was another issue too. As Ben climbed back up the rope, he realized that the knotted end of one strand was now stuck below. Jeez. King Eddy was quickly proving to be the mountain that just likes to keep giving. I had a difficult time hearing what Ben was trying to yell up, so I descended a bit further down the ridge past our rap station to hear him better. That's when I noticed another, larger rap station, about 10m lower than the one we were using. Crap!! That one would likely have worked with our 60m rope, but on hindsight it still would have been a rope-stretcher. A 70m would likely work better here.

 


[Ben raps the first station we found down the SE end of the summit block. We should have gone a bit further down to a slightly lower station that may have worked better for a 60m rope.]

 

Ben yelled up that he could build another station below ours, but obviously Ferenc and I would have to rap to it before we could use it. I also had to bring down the cord we'd used to back up the other two so that Ben could use it to build the new station. It took a while to get everything sorted out, but Ben did a great job setting up another station part way down while Ferenc and I rapped down to join him, balancing carefully on pretty steep and loose terrain. We very carefully tied the stuck strand of the rope to the new station before pulling it through the upper station and reorganizing it through the middle one. Dropping the rope would have been a really bad idea at this point. I was a bit dubious about the single cord half-wrapped around a sharp-edged boulder that was set up for our second half of the rap. Ferenc was much more confident than I and quickly rapped down it, freeing the stuck bottom of the rope and getting to the scree bench we'd traversed hours earlier. As he weighted the cord, it had slid part way along the boulder, not cutting it, but definitely wearing the sheath a bit. Rappelling kills more climbers than anything else, so I'm personally very anal about trusting my life to my rap stations if at all possible. The way I look at it, my life literally depends on it, so why take chances? This is also the reason I use a backup prusik under my rap device no matter how uncool that might be to hardcore climbers. It literally takes me less than 10 seconds to do a quick Klemheist and can save my life. I told Ben that I wasn't loving the look of the now slightly worn cord. He agreed to try backing it up with a shorter piece of 6mm cord that I still had left - always bring more cord than you think you'll need in the Rockies.

 


[Rigging a mid gully rap station as Ferenc pulls the rope from the upper one.]

 

After re-rigging the two cords and piling some rocks behind the boulder in hopes of preventing a slip (the cord couldn't go around the boulder completely), I delicately weighted the rope before committing to it and descending to the scree bench below. Ferenc was waiting there, having retrieved our ice screws from the gully that we'd crossed earlier. Ben descended quickly behind me and we quickly packed up the rope and continued down as the hours were ticking by quickly now. We would have saved at least another hour on the upper rap if we'd noted the slightly lower station or had more rope. Ferenc commented that Corbett's "45m rap" is likely correct for the line we descended. Oh well. Adventure is a learning experience and nothing is ever as easy as you expect on big mountains.

 


[Descending the scree bench under our first rappel.]

 

The descent to the middle cliff band was quick and easy on loose scree. I was feeling tired and voted to use the good rap station down this obstacle. Ferenc was concerned about time and said he'd downclimb it while Ben and I rapped. We made very short work of this rappel, and both Ben and I were off the rope just as Ferenc stepped out of the steep gully beside us. Once again we quickly packed the rope and kept going down the south face towards the glacier, still far below. As we descended, I mentioned that I'd rather rappel the lower cliffs directly off the south face than traverse all the way back to our ascent line and spend another hour or so downclimbing tricky 3rd and 4th class slabs and debris. We knew people rapped these lower cliffs so were 90% confident we'd find a station there. Worst case scenario we still had some pins and webbing to build our own, or we could traverse to our ascent line if things got truly desperate. Ben and Ferenc agreed with this plan, so we all descended straight down to the SE corner of the south face, avoiding the wet, slick cliffs in between the corner and our ascent slabs.

 


[This terrain was very fast to descend.]


[Ben does the short and quick rappel down the middle cliff band.]


[Ferenc chose to downclimb the middle cliff band to save time on our raps. You can just spot his helmet here - the terrain is fairly steep and of course, loose.]

 

I was in front of the others and yelled back with relief as I spotted a station below. This was great news! As I approached the station I noticed it was very creatively built. The main anchor was a piton fairly solidly embedded in a crack, while the backup anchor was creatively piled, smallish boulders that were loaded and wrapped with cord so that they acted as one bigger boulder. Yes - it was certainly an interesting concoction! cheeky Once again I had to ask myself if I trusted my life with this oddly built station. The one thing I didn't love was that if the boulders shifted or moved, they'd come right down on the rope and the climber. Even with a pin to back it all up, this would only mean you'd be dangling there with severe injuries from the boulders that came off on top of you - assuming they didn't cut the rope on the way down! Hmmm. Ferenc once again was willing to test the system and thankfully it held up fine - weighting the boulders more than the pin but still sharing the load. I swung over the edge and committed myself to it. The ledged terrain below the station was much more vertical than it appeared from either above or from the glacier below. Climbing up this terrain would be difficult, downclimbing would be impossible. On hindsight, our ascent line further along the face was definitely the driest and most reasonably angled. If you're not up to the rappel or climbing slick 5th class rock, this is your safest line both on and off the south face.

 


[The south face has some interesting steps as you approach the lower cliff band. Also note how wet and slick the rock is, thanks to the large patches of snow that hang around.]


[Looking down the SE corner of the south face. Our bivy at center.]


[Broken terrain.]


[Looking north along the problematic lower cliff band. It's not as easy or simple as it appears thanks to running water, tilted slabs and low, vertical cliffs.]


[Looking back up as Ben collects the rope from the bottom of the rap. Note the ledges and rubble. Some of the ledges were over 15 feet of sheer cliff - perfect for rapping but not so easy to ascend.]

 

From the bottom of the final rap we easily exited back onto the glacier and slowly started back to camp. Ben had the hard job of probing for crevasses - and there were quite a few of them! Our morning tracks were pretty much melted out and even when we found traces of them, the snow was soft enough that we couldn't just blindly follow them without some careful probing. At one point Ben fell in a hole up to his waist, but thankfully it was narrow enough that he easily rolled out of it. Even a small crevasse could be a huge issue if your crampons catch awkwardly on the ice while plunging a leg into it. It took us several hours to re-cross the 2+ km of glacier but finally we were ascending snow towards our bivy. PHEW! That was a much longer and more involved day than any of us were expecting! It was already after 18:00 as we quickly made a cup of coffee and started packing up camp for our egress. It was obvious that we would be exiting in the dark and we were already getting a bit nervous about the river crossing at the end of it all.

 


[Looking back at the south face and our routes - green is ascent, red is descent. Obviously everything is much higher and steeper than it appears here.]


[Lots of holes to avoid on the glacier.]


[Ben carefully probes for the edges of another crevasse.]

 
[Finally back on bare glacial ice and just off our bivy. Shadows are already lengthy. ++]

 

Egress and High Waters

 

At 18:45 we finally started out of camp. We had two hours before sunset and at least 1.5 hours of hiking in the dark afterwards. I was glad we'd exit the sublime alpine meadows while there was still enough light to enjoy and photograph them. We easily descended the glacier beneath GR660745 and exiting onto the rock ledges leading towards the meadows. We quickly followed our ascent line through the interesting mixture of moraines, tarns and boulders and were soon tramping happily over the heather and copious flora of the alpine meadow. I took way too many photos through this section - but I knew I'd likely never be back and was enjoying the summit glow and the scenery too much to ignore it. As I gazed back at the last full view of King Edward from the meadows, I remembered the bitter disappointment of the past two attempts when I looked back those times. It was a very bittersweet moment for me when I finally turned around and whispered a farewell to my brooding, silent friend.

 

 
[Darkness is already setting in as we exit camp and start our 1500m descent to the stream.]


[We found a few cairns along the route.]

 
[Traversing a dry moonscape.]


[Mount Columbia reflection.]


[Bryce and the setting sun.]


[Tons of Indian Paintbrush in the alpine meadows.]

 
[Gorgeous terrain.]

 
[The sun keeps sinking lower as we are still above treeline.]


[The first trees appear.]


[A last bittersweet glance at my most challenging 11,000er to date.]


[Lush meadows as we start to walk among the trees again.]

 

Ben led us towards the forest and soon we were hiking along the ATV track as darkness wrapped us in its relentless embrace. I was the first to give up and switch on my headlamp while Ben lasted all the way until the very last bit of forest to the cutblock. I guess his younger eyes are better then mine and Ferenc's! We knew the cutblock would be challenging in the dark, but it wasn't actually that terrible. Ben and I have been through it enough that we knew the general direction and Ben even found the old ATV track buried in the undergrowth for the last half of the descent. We hit the road right after the cutblock and proceeded down it trying to ignore our hurting bodies which had now been going hard for well over 15 hours. The bushwhacking down the road was an interesting experience. Moths were attracted to my headlamp and buzzed my face relentlessly for a long section through the thickest bush, which was not a joyful experience. Finally we exited the bushiest section of road and started the final 2km clear stretch towards the unnamed stream.

 


[Now it's dark. surprise]


[Bushwhacking in total darkness is always an interesting and character building exercise.]

 

Our final obstacle sounded fierce to me, even from a long ways off and I was very reluctant to approach the stream as we exited the final curve in the road and started walking towards it. indecision As soon as I laid eyes on the swirling, angry, murky waters I knew we were screwed. There was simply no way to cross that raging beast in pitch darkness. It was much higher than even earlier this year when Steven barely made it across and Ben and I bushwhacked along the Bush River after trying unsuccessfully to cross. Ben and Ferenc took one look and agreed with me. We dejectedly turned back and walked the short distance back to the road where we started setting up camp. It was now 23:00 and we were tired after a full 17 hour day. We talked anxiously about the likelihood of the river dropping enough overnight to cross. It was quite shocking how much higher and faster the water was only 36 hours after crossing it on approach. I mentioned that with our very low food supplies and my work schedule, I couldn't afford to wait much longer than noon the following day before initiating a rescue. Bushwhacking was absolutely out of the question with barely any food and summer growth now blocking any realistic chance of getting out that way.

 

It was difficult to fall asleep as I lay there nervously listening to the angry water raging just past our improvised camp site at the end of the road. Ben's vehicle was literally within eyesight - he could have unlocked it from where we were now stranded! One darn bridge, only about 10m long makes such a huge difference on this mountain. The unnamed stream had shown itself to be very unpredictable once again. On our first trip it was also much higher on return after a few warm days. On our second trip the exact same thing happened, and now it was happening yet again. I guess the lesson here is to expect the stream to rise rapidly and predictably with warm weather - whether from snow or glacier melt it really doesn't seem to make much difference. I was surprised at this, considering we were now there at the end of August when I thought alpine rivers were normally at their lowest flows. I was initially feeling so happy to have summitted, and now here we were - stuck at this damn stream again. I hoped Hanneke got my SPOT message and thanked myself for being proactive and sending her a warning text on the ride out, that I could be delayed due to high water. 

 

I had a restless night and woke up at around 07:00 to a reluctant dawn. I thought the river sounded lower and couldn't wait any longer to check it out. Ferenc joined me as we walked to the crossing and gazed across at the far side - so close and yet so very far away. It was certainly much lower and slower than 8 hours earlier but I wasn't convinced it was low and slow enough. It was still much higher and faster than on our approach. We spent some time scouting around and fretting about the situation we were in, before walking back to camp and getting back in our sleeping bags for another hour. We hoped the extra time would give the water some more time to drop a bit and calm down before we attempted a crossing. Ferenc must have had a productive sleep because he was full of interesting ideas for the river crossing including ropes, wrapping himself with a sleeping pad (as a floating device) and other creative ideas. My canoe trips have taught me a thing or two about fast water and I know that most of the more common ideas people have - such as tying into a rope or trying to swim across - can be extremely dangerous. As I dozed back off I was 80% certain we'd be calling in a rescue.

 


[Nervously packing up camp the next morning. The truck is just visible left of center. So close, and yet so far away!]

 

At 08:00 we were back at the river. It wasn't any lower or slower. sad and a bit of angry. There wasn't much to do but pack up camp and decide whether or not to attempt a crossing in the conditions we had. After camp was packed we unofficially decided that we'd be trying to cross - nobody really decided this out loud. Off we went, slowly walking to the crossing and hoping for the best while trying to stay calm and focused. Thanks to a lack of food and the previous days immense calorie burn, I was feeling pretty weak which didn't help my confidence any. I was fortunate enough to have my fishing waders along, which allowed me to do some scouting of potential routes while Ben and Ferenc waited on shore. I looked at where Steven had crossed but other than a few easier channels there was one raging torrent that looked bad on the far shore. Ben and I even waded towards it but turned back when our poles started vibrating violently in the strong current! We went back to the normal crossing point, not sure what to do. I waded in part way and hesitated at a strong seam of water about 1/3 of the way across. Ferenc was behind me and decided to go for it. I let him pass me and then followed him into the strong current, Ben following behind me. It was do or die time, I supposed.

 

It only took a few moments, but the current was desperately strong and we had to lean into it without letting our feet lift off the bottom - harder than it sounds! With the noise of whitewater all around and the hungry river trying to suck us in, it was quite an intense few moments before I noticed that the water was getting slowly shallower and easier to navigate. Ferenc picked a great line that angled very slightly upriver from the standard launch point, which happened to be shallower than it first appeared. As Ben took the last few steps to shore behind me I was overcome once again with elation - similar to how I felt at the summit but even better. We were FREE at last! We half expected a flat tire as we approached the SUV, but thankfully King Eddy was officially done trying to thwart us. The rest of the day went smoothly and roughly 7 hours later I was finally pulling into my driveway in YYC, hardly believing it was finally over.

 


[The creek still looks feisty this morning, but a LOT better than last night.]


[We made it! Note how many less rocks are visible than on the approach photo. If you see this on your approach, I'd recommend turning back. Any higher and you aren't crossing safely.]


[This is the condition of the last few kms of the Bush River FSR near the unnamed creek (taken on return).]

 

King Edward is forever going to be a very special mountain for me. It threw everything it had at both Ben and I - it was nice to share the suffering with someone else. devil We didn't give up though. Going back three times within 14 months for the same middle-of-nowhere peak takes some silly level of commitment. Whether or not it's a healthy commitment is up for debate. I learned some very valuable life and climbing lessons in pursuit of this 11,000er, and I walk away from it with a plethora of great photos and great stories. If that's not what our obsession with getting up loose piles of rock, snow and ice is all about, then I truly don't know why I bother with it.

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,453
Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,329
Elevation Gain (m): 
2500
Round Trip Time: 
21.00
Total Distance (km): 
30.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 5 : you fall, you are dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Not particularly difficult climbing but a mix of everything alpine. Wild stream crossings, routefinding, glacier travel, snow / ice gullies and low 5th class climbing on loose terrain.

Kitchener, Mount

Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1916. Kitchener, Horatio Herbert (Viscount Kitchener was a British Field Marshall who organized the British armies at the beginning of WW I. He was lost when HMS Hampshire struck a mine in 1916.) Official name. Other names Douglas, Mount (see summary) First ascended in 1927 by Alfred J. Ostheimer, guided by Hans Fuhrer. Journal reference CAJ 16-21. (from peakfinder.com

YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,505

The day after our exciting ascent of West Twin and attempt at South Twin (including a crevasse incident) we were in the mood for a slightly easier approach and summit.

 

Since TJ, JW and I were 'only' looking for one more day on the Twins, we'd set up our camp much closer to the exit on the ice fields and on the southwest side of Kitchener instead of going the extra 5km closer to the Twins / Stuts area. This was fine for our group but didn't work out for the other group of Anton, Ian and Kev. I think if they were closer they could have at least gone for the Stutfield Peaks and still managed a few more of the northern ice field summits. As it was, they were feeling to tired on Sunday to go all the way back to the Stuts.

 

Anton, TJ, Ian and I had never done Kitchener and Anton, TJ, JW and I had never done Snow Dome so the decision for Sunday was to get up on time and first ski up Kitchener. Then we would pack up camp and carry the heavy packs up and around Snow Dome's west side. From there we would drop the packs and take just the safety gear on a short ski to the summit. Ian and Kev would join us about 1 hour later at the bag drop location and we would all head home. If the conditions were too nuclear we were prepared to hang out for a bit above the headwall and ramp on the Athabasca Glacier until the snow (hopefully) firmed up a bit.

 


[A gorgeous sunrise on South and North Twin]


[The west side of Kitchener rises right behind our camp - providing easy access to her summit]


[Sunrise on the Columbia Icefield. ++]

 
[Note the shadow that Mount Columbia is throwing towards King Edward? ++]

 

The night was very warm but the snow was still supportive as we worked our way up Kitchener. We avoided any unnecessary height gain or loss and managed to make the summit from camp within about 1.5 hours of leaving camp! No fuss - no muss but it was HOT at the summit. I'm not talking 'warm' - the sun was actually burning down and there wasn't a breath of wind either. TJ very cautiously probed around the summit area and we stayed well back of any possible cornices / ice falls on the edge. This is not an area to play cute with and we didn't.

 


[Ian skiing up Kitchener with Mount Columbia in the background. It's only 09:00 but very warm already.]


[The north side of the Stutfield Peaks have some impressive cliffs]

 
[TJ skis to the summit block of Kitchener with South, North Twin and the Stuts on the left. ++]


[Looking past Snow Dome towards Athabasca and Andromeda]


[Getting higher. As you can see - the terrain is very gentle here.]

 
[TJ probes carefully around the summit area while the rest of us enjoy the fabulous views and HOT sun! ++]


[Mount Athabasca with the Silverhorn route showing ice and the AA route visible too.]


[Mount Andromeda's impressive Skyladder route also shows quite a bit of ice for this time of the year.]


[The Adamant Range and Sir Sanford are clearly visible.]


[Columbia and Edward]


[Looking over at Snow Dome from part way down Kitchener]


[Mount Alberta shows up over the Stuts as I ski down Kitchener]

 
[Panorama from part way down Kitchener showing much of the Columbia Icefield to the west. ++]

 
[Panorama looking south towards Athabasca and Andromeda from part way down Kitchener. ++]

 
[I can't get enough of these views! This shows the route from Kitchener to the northern end of the ice fields. It's much further than it looks and more work too - it's not flat! ++]


[Edward with Tsar in the background]


[Looking back up at the summit of Kitchener - you can barely see the others from my group and another group just above them.]


[Looking down on our camp. What an impressive piece of real estate!]

 
[A pano showing the context of our camp. ++]

 

The ski back down to camp was fast and easy - a glorious morning with so many peaks all around it was impossible to count or even take notice of all of them. There is nothing quite like skiing down an easy-angled glacier on such a day. Those moments tend to stick with me through the years as snapshots of pure happiness. This is why I enjoy skiing summits and take the risks to do it!

 


[Time to pack up camp. Another glorious blue bird day!]


[Our shelter with Columbia]


[Nobody is in a hurry today...]


[Putting the skins back on the skis for the trek up Snow Dome]


[Raf's team is also packing up]


[TJ's enjoying the spring weather]


[JW's trying to fit all his gear!]

 

Kitchener is not a difficult peak if you ski it from the west side but don't get too casual with the crevasse hazards either. Like any area of the ice fields it demands attention and respect and then it'll give back amazing views and a nice ski run back down.

 

After packing up camp it was time to head over to Snow Dome and then home.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
11,500
Elevation Gain (m): 
1900
Total Distance (km): 
40.00
Difficulty Notes: 

Columbia ice fields route includes severe crevasse issues and snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.

Little Alberta

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1984. The mountain was named for its proximity to Mount Alberta. Official name. First ascended in 1924 by , guided by Conrad Kain. (from peakfinder.com

Technical Difficulty Level: 
6
Endurance Level: 
Extreme
YDS Class: 
3rd Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, September 5, 2014
Summit Elevation (m): 
2,956

For my last weekend off at the end of the summer holidays, I was joined by Ben and Steven for a shot at some peaks in the Woolley / Diadem area just north of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. Obviously Woolley and Diadem were the main objectives for us, but we also had some other summits in mind - naturally!! :)

 

Planning the Trip

In May of 2012 I took a photo of Twin's Tower with a party inching it's way to the summit. This is one of my favorite photos and hangs above my kitchen table in a glorious black and white 24x48 inch panoramic print.

 

 
[One of my favorite photos of all time - a party ascends Twin's Tower just before we do it. Little Alberta is clearly visible to the right of Mount Alberta. ++]

 

One thing I noticed right away while staring at this photo as I sat at the kitchen table was an easy looking route to the summit of Little Alberta, the peak just to the east (right) of Mount Alberta in the photo. I couldn't get this summit out of my head, I figured the views from it must be absolutely mind blowing considering it's massive neighbors. The mountains around Little Alberta include 7 impressive 11,000ers and others including;

 

  • Mount Alberta
  • Mount Woolley
  • Mount Engelhard
  • Mount Cromwell
  • Stutfield NE2
  • Stutfield Peak
  • Twin's Tower
  • North Twin
  • King Edward

 

How could one go wrong with a list of neighbors like this?! Immediately this minor summit blasted near the top of my "list". It took a few years for everything to come together but when we started chatting about a Woolley / Diadem attempt while descending Smith Peak, I immediately brought up Little Alberta as another objective in the area. Steven and Ben were interested so we agreed to try it.

 

The Trip

(Click here to read the approach TR to the Woolley / Diadem bivy site)

 

I had time to relax and have a leisure breakfast (bacon and eggs, if you can believe it) before Ben and Steven finally poked their heads over the final rise of the approach trail to our bivy site on Friday morning around 10:00. They didn't believe my pack rat battle story so I had to show them the evidence. They were kind of surprised I think. ;)

 

After setting up their tents it was time to decide what to do with the rest of our day. We had three choices. Woolley and Diadem were relatively free of clouds but had quite a bit of fresh snow, a good thing for the couloirs but not the rock cliff traverse between them. Mushroom Peak was an obvious choice but we were worried about it being too short and wanted to save it for Sunday morning before heading out. So that left Little Alberta.

 


[And then there was two tents sitting under Woolley and Diadem.]

 

"Little" is not an apt description for what it takes to summit this relatively minor (compared to its neighbors) peak. We did some rough calculations in camp and guestimated it to be around 2000 meters total elevation gains from the bivy site! This meant that Ben and Steven would be doing around 2600 meters total height gain the day before attempting Woolley and Diadem - another 1500 meter day. I was quite nervous about doing almost 2000 meters of height gain before another big (and higher priority) day but we agreed to give it a shot anyway. The weather wasn't forecast to be a perfect blue-bird day (which would be ideal for Little Alberta) but Saturday was, and a clear sky was even more important for views from the 11,000ers.

 

The approach from our bivy site over Woolley shoulder was much more rustic, crappy, loose and steep terrain than we were expecting. Don't underestimate this route! Of course, most people going over the shoulder are hard-core climbers attempting the mighty Mount Alberta or other massive routes near the Black Hole, so Woolley Shoulder is nothing more than a warm-up for them. It reminded us of Quartzite Col except you go up the crappy side first, rather than down it on the way in. As we slogged up the shoulder we were all wondering what the heck we were doing this for, just before a day climbing two 11,000ers! While approaching the gully it's not marked where to go. There's no cairns until near the top and it's too loose to form a permanent trail so we simply slogged up to the obvious weak point up the center until we spotted a cairn above us and went for it.

 

There's a pretty easy (technically) route through the upper cliffs to the top of the shoulder if you're careful about route finding. Simply bashing your way up is not a great idea as there's rock fall danger if you end up in the wrong gully. I think the height gain from camp was around 600 vertical meters to reach the top of the shoulder. We also noticed that we weren't much lower than Little Alberta's summit at the col, but had hundreds of meters of height loss before we could even think of her summit! The views were stunning as we crested the col! Mount Alberta was covered in a cloud cap, it's massive black east face towering over the Lloyd MacKay Hut. North Twin and Twin's Tower's north faces rose impossibly steep into the heavens out of a deep, dark valley beneath, known as the "Black Hole". The Stutfield peaks and Mount Cromwell also impressed with their glaciers diving down steep north and east aspects. Mount Engelhard rose directly above us to our left, while Mount Woolley surprised us with a nice couloir running steeply to it's cloud covered summit on our right - this is the South Face route and is rated alpine II.

 

 
[Looking back at Woolley Tarn and our bivy area from the moraines above camp as we head for the Woolley shoulder. From L to R, Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak. ++]


[Ben and Steven look pretty small in the huge terrain under Mount Woolley. The route to the shoulder is at center distance.]

 
[Steven comes up the moraine behind me with Mushroom Peak towering over him. Diadem to the left, you can see the fresh snow plastering the rock we need to traverse between the two couloirs. Tangle Ridge is clear of snow in the distance at right. ++]


[An unexpectedly rough slog up to the shoulder - and where the heck does the route go anyway?!]


[Looking back down the loose approach to the Woolley Shoulder - Sunwapta now showing up with a fresh coat of snow at her summit.]


[Rock fall kept us alert - especially coming down from the gully to our right.]


[Traversing to find the best line up - we could see a bench traversing through the cliffs above us.]


[Ben and Steven checking out the views and wondering why we're expending all this energy the day before Woolley and Diadem.]

 
[Great views back towards Tangle Ridge and Sunwapta Peak over Engelhard's shoulder.]


[We're through the bench and getting closer to the crest of the shoulder now.]


[It's steep near the top! Engelhard towering over us here.]

 
[Views from Woolley Shoulder are incredible! Little Alberta at center. Engelhard, Cromwell, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of Twin, King Edward and Mount Alberta from L to R. ++]


[Mount Alberta looms over a tiny, insignificant Lloyd MacKay Hut and biffy.]


[Twin's Tower and North Twin rise thousands of feet from the deep valley beneath them, known as the "Black Hole". Believe it or not, these impossibly steep and dangerous walls have been climbed a handful of times over the past 40 years! The prominent tower to the right of Twin's Tower is known as "Son of a Twin" and was first climbed (via the west ridge) by Al Spero and Dane Waterman in 1979 (they also made an FA of the east face of Central Howser in the Bugaboos in 1974). Mount King Edward is on the far right of the photo.]

 


Sidebar re: climbing the North Pillar / Face / NW Ridge of Twin's Tower.

Originally this sidebar was supposed to be a one-liner about various climbs of the North Face of Twin's Tower but as I dug I came up with more and more articles and discussions on this amazing wall of rock and ice. So have fun browsing these links and be warned - there's a few hours of serious armchair mountaineering here! ;)

You can read about Jason Kruk's two attempts on the North Face of Twin's Tower on his blog here or Climbing Magazine's summary here. You can read John Walsh's account of their attempt in 2011 here. Following are the various routes and ascents of the North aspect of Twin's Tower;

  • Abrons Route V 5.6 A0 | 1965 by Henry Abron et al. This was the first ascent from the Black Hole to the summit of Twin's Tower and was done via the Northwest Ridge. The 2nd ascent of this ridge was done in May of 2012 by Brandon Pullan and Ian Welsted (2014 NatGeo Adventurer of the year). The route and other discussions about the various ascents of Twin's Tower from the Black Hole is detailed by Brandon in an interesting write up on his blog. (Welsted almost climbed the North Pillar route up Twin's Tower with Chis Brazeau in 2005 but a rock shattered his elbow near the top and they had to rap the entire route back down on a single 50m rope (it was cut on ascent) and a 5mm pull cord! Ian writes about this experience in the 2005 CAJ in an article dubbed "Dead". Slawinski also writes an excellent article on Mount Alberta in this issue.) 
  • Lowe-Jones VI 5.10 A3 | 1974 by George Lowe (Lowe also completed a first ascent of the North Face of Alberta in 1972) and Chris Jones over 6 days from August 6-12. This is the first ascent to the summit of Twin's Tower via the North Face. I've archived the first hand accounts from Ascent Magazine and the American Alpine Journal. Also read this awesome mountaineering discussion thread at supertopo.
  • Traverse of the Chickens VI 5.10 A? | 1982 by Urs Kallen, Tim Friesen and Dave Cheesmond. The party had to bail due to wet conditions part way up the Lowe / Jones route but still completed their climb to the summit of Twin's Tower via a ridge rather than the face. Cheesmond himself possibly did not consider this a successful ascent of the North Face. Afterwards he wrote: "We believe this is the most difficult face yet climbed in the Canadian Rockies. It still awaits a second ascent eight years after the first."
  • North Pillar or Blanchard-Cheesmond VI 5.10d A2 | 1984 by Barry Blanchard and Dave Cheesmond. This is the first ascent of the North Pillar that runs down the steep North Face of North Twin. Read a trip report and first hand recollection by Barry on supertopo in 2009. Cheesmond died in 1987 while attempting the Hummingbird Ridge route on Mount LoganJohn Walsh and Josh Wharton finally completed a second ascent of the humbling North Pillar route in September 2013. Read more about this ascent here.
  • House-Prezelj VI 5.10 A3 | 2004 by Steve House and Marko Prezelj in winter conditions via a 5.9 A2 variation to the first half of the Lowe-Jones route. Read their account of this first ascent in these conditions. (Brandon Pullan notes in his blog on his climb of the Northwest Ridge of Twin's Tower, that House and Prezelj did not actually summit Twin's Tower in their bid in 2004 but rather they hit the North Twin / Twin's Tower col and immediately climbed North Twin.) 

 


[Another view of the north face of North Twin and Twin's Tower.]

 

After sucking in some of the most awe-inspiring views anywhere in the Rockies, we reluctantly started down the obvious trail in the snow covered scree over the Woolley shoulder, heading towards the tiny Lloyd MacKay hut in the far distance. The key word here is "down" the trail. We lost at least 350 vertical meters to the hut - all which had to be regained at the end of the day. The route to the hut from Woolley shoulder is pretty straightforward, but be forewarned, there is some crevasse issues if you're not careful. We had a number of ankle biters along the way.

 

 
[Traversing the glacier on the north side of Woolley - there are holes in here. ++]

 
[A panorama from just below Woolley Shoulder with Little Alberta in the center, surrounded by giants on every side. Note Steven and Ben traversing the snow bank? ++]


[Huge terrain in the area around Little Alberta - it's hard to put into photos. Here Ben and Steven trudge up the final glacial bump just before the hut with Mount Alberta looming in the background being all moody, as usual.]

 

It was cool to spend some moments in the Lloyd MacKay hut before continuing on to the business of summiting Little Alberta. Ben and I were both questioning our motivation at this point anyway, so we stopped for some food in the hut and ended up reveling in some of the history surrounding it. We tore ourselves away from the comfort and relative warmth of the hut but hoped we'd have some more time to browse the register on the way back through. At this point we only had 5 or 6 hours of daylight left and had no idea if our proposed route to the summit of Little Alberta would even go. I have to admit my levels of enthusiasm were low and I was remembering how pleasant my book was the day before. But the views were stunning and kept me going.

 


[The Lloyd MacKay Hut with Little Alberta looming over it and the Stutfields in the background.]


[The hut sleeps 6 but one person is on the floor!]


[The biffy with the north face of Little Alberta not looking so little anymore.]


[A lot of world-class climbers have stayed here on their way to conquer the nearby giants - Mount Alberta being the most sought after of course.]


[How many nervous feet have gone out this door on the great adventure that is climbing Mount Alberta? Hopefully mine will join that group some day.]


[Interesting plaque in the hut.]


[Stunning views towards Warwick Mountain over the SE shoulder of Mount Alberta from the hut.]

 

We knew the scramble route on Little Alberta would involve traversing scree slopes on her west aspect before contouring around the south ridge and up easy scree from there. What we didn't realize (and never seem to!) was how far this traverse was, how much height loss it involved or how tired we'd be while slogging it out!! To make a long story short - it's a long way from the hut all the way around to the south slopes of Little Alberta and drops at least another 300 vertical meters (remember the 350 we already dropped to the hut!) before finally ascending again. I can see why Alberta is a 22 hour (or much more) slog from the hut - it's a bloody long distance and many vertical meters gained and lost just to get to the upper 5.6 climbing sections.

 

After almost giving up several times (remember, we're planning on climbing two 11,000ers the next day) we finally broke through the cliffs guarding the west aspect and came around the south end of the mountain. From here it was simply one foot in front of the other to the obvious summit block. It was too bad that the clouds thickened throughout the afternoon, but it did make us glad we weren't on the 11,000ers and our views were still mind blowing in every direction. Thankfully the register was in the first summit, the two summits on Little Alberta are the same height. The register was busier than I expected but by no means was it "busy". We were only the 9th or 10th party to sign it in over 34 years, it's probably only seen a few more ascents than this ever. After snapping obligatory summit photos and cramming some food, we started the long journey back to the Alberta Hut and from there, our bivy site under Woolley.

 


[The terrain right under the hut was surprisingly difficult - certainly no simple walk due to slabs and loose rock.]


[We've already lost hundreds of vertical meters from the hut at this point and are traversing on the west aspect of Little Alberta]


[The Japanese Route (FA 1925) goes somewhere up this east face. I suspect the roped climbing probably doesn't start until the ledge just under the clouds on the left side - that's where the walls rise up pretty steeply but until that point it looks 'scrambly'. I know a lot of parties start climbing too early and end up spending way more time on the mountain as a result. This usually means getting trapped by bad weather because at almost 12,000 feet, Alberta easily generates or attracts clouds, rain and snow.]


[I ended up going right to the bottom of the valley between Little Alberta and "Big" Alberta rather than traverse scree. I hate traversing scree - mostly because I've done WAY too much of it over the past decade! Note the cliff band we're trying to get around on the upper left.]


[The dark and scary north face of Twin's Tower and Son of a Twin.]


[Traversing high above Habel Creek to the south end of Little Alberta now.]


[Finally around to the more southerly aspect. Giants to the clouds next to us!]


[Staring the Black Hole and NF of Twin's Tower straight in the face from the south ridge.]

 
[The view behind us looking down Habel Creek as we grovel up the southwest slope. ++]


[I have never stepped on or seen so many Trilobite fossils in my life. They were everywhere in the area including Little Alberta, Woolley Shoulder, Mount Woolley, Diadem Peak and Mushroom Peak. It was nuts. And I only noticed Trilobites - no other soft bodied fossils or even plants.]


[Lots and lots of dinner plating on the south ridge. I suspect this crappy rock is the main thing holding Mount Alberta up too.]

 
[The views from the south aspect of Little Alberta were some of the best I've ever had. From L to R, Engelhard, Cromwell, Stutfield NE2, Stutfield Peak, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of a Twin and King Edward. ++]


[Grinding up the summit block.]


[Register, page 1]


[Register, Page 2]


[Register, Page 3]


[Register, Page 4]

 
[Summit views from L to R include, Woolley, Mushroom, Engelhard, Cromwell, Stutfield NE2, Stutfield, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of Twin, King Edward, Sundial and Warwick. ++]

 
[Too bad Mount Alberta is covered in cloud, but hopefully we can see all her glory tomorrow from Woolley - a better vantage point anyway. ++]


[The entry to the Black Hole goes under the impressive North and West faces of the Stutfields]


[Mount Engelhard (L) and Cromwell (C) are very near 11,000 feet with Cromwell possibly just sneaking into the 'club'. I have a friend who measured it at only 1 meter shy of the magical 3353m, but that puts it at the same height I measured Harrison so who knows?]


[The south couloir route on Woolley is rating Alpine II and looks fun.]


[Mushroom Peak is no slouch either at over 10,500 feet.]


[Impressive glaciers plunge down from the Stutfields towards the Black Hole]


[I love that little tarn that sits beneath the huge north face of Twin's Tower.]


[Looking west towards Warwick (L) and Sundial (C).]


[Dias Mountain shows up west, over the south shoulder of Mount Alberta.]


[Thorington Tower and Mount Smythe show up over the west shoulder of Woolley.]


[Ben and Steven on the summit of Little Alberta with Woolley and it's South Face route in the background.]

 
[One more view east off the summit showing the depth of the valley between Little Alberta and Engelhard.]


[Descending the south ridge of Little Alberta with Twin's Tower in the background. Note the tarn at the base of the north face?]

 

The descent down the south ridge went really quick, the long traverse along the west face and back up to the Lloyd Mackay Hut didn't go quite as quick. We spent some time in the hut again, this time we read some very interesting entries in the hut register. I need to spend a few hours going over them all! Alas, we still had a lot of distance to go and wanted to beat darkness, so we didn't linger as long as we wanted to.

 

The grind back up to Woolley shoulder wasn't too bad thanks to a good track in the snow but it seemed to take forever to get back down to the bivy from there. We dragged ourselves into camp around 21:00 after a long day of over 2000 meters height gain for me and over 2500 meters for Steven and Ben! All-in-all, Little Alberta is a pile of crappy scree in a mind-blowing scenic area of the Rockies. Does this make the long and tiring trek worth it's rarely visited summit? Only you can decide that!

 


[More impressive views of the 1500 meter north face of Twin's Tower and Son of a Twin to the right.]


[Traversing ledges around to the west aspect on our way back.]


[Back at the hut, dark clouds are swirling and I'm expecting a snow storm at this point.]

 


[This is what it's all about! The register is a fascinating read. ;)]


[Still a grind to Woolley Shoulder from near the hut.]


[My favorite shot of the Black Hole and the North Face of Twin's Tower. What a magnetic pull this wall has! I have to quote H. L. Abrons here from 1966; '.So dark, sheer, and gloomy is the North Face of North Twin, like a bad dream.']


[Looking at the bottom of the South  Face / Couloir route on Woolley]

 
[Grunting up the shoulder in fresh snow.]

 
[A glance back at the brooding giant behind us. ++]


[Almost there!]


[OK - not quite there yet. Shadows are growing long as we crest the Woolley Shoulder.]

 
[An incredible early evening view south and west from Woolley Shoulder, including Little Alberta. ++]


[The sun sets on Woolley and Diadem as we arrive back at our bivy.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
9,700
Elevation Gain (m): 
2000
Round Trip Time: 
9.50
Total Distance (km): 
18.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

This is a long bloody slog from the Woolley bivy site, over 2500 meters total vertical from highway #93. Isn't that difficulty enough?!

Morro Peak

Interesting Facts: 

Named by Morrison P. Bridgland in 1916. Morro is Spanish for "round hill." The name probably is derived from the feature's castellated appearance and is related to a structure in Puerto Rico. Official name. (info from peakfinder.com

YDS Class: 
Hiking
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 20, 2008
Summit Elevation (m): 
1,678

After scrambling up Roche a Perdrix it was time to try Indian Ridge. We drove all the way back to Jasper and to the Tramway station only to find that it was closed for maintenance! That was a bugger. Time for a new plan. Since we were all psyched up for another peak we thought we'd give Morro a try. Wietse had come across it while perusing onBivouac.com. I remember seeing it on there a while back and wondering if it was worth a shot.

 

Morro looks tiny compared to it's big brother, Hawk Mountain. I thought it only looked about 400 meters high. We set off with the route description in hand, but quickly decided to do a 'variation'. As you probably know, variations are not always a good thing when you're on a mountain that you've never been up before...

 

I decided that the Northwest ridge looked like more fun than the west ridge so we headed up on sheep trails. (There are way too many sheep and goats in Jasper - the tourists like them but I think they're not the brightest animals around which is a nice way of saying that I think they're dumb!) Eventually we hauled ourselves up the final bit of ridge before traversing west to the summit block. We had already gained over 500 meters at this point, much to my surprise!

 


[As you can clearly see, there are a lot of options here! We already well off route at this point, not 10 minutes from the car! We kind of knew that but decided we wanted to explore. Morro Peak on the upper right of photo.]


[Not sure what these are. Not in my flower book... ;-)]


[Shrubby Cinquefoil. (Belongs to the rose family.)]


[The ridge was easy to ascend.]


[Looking back down our route, towards the northwest.]

 

We weren't done with the surprises just yet. We continued around the southeast side of the summit block, looking for an easy line up. The problem was that the line never looked easy! It was comprised of steep slabs with small, ball-bearing scree, the worst kind of scrambling terrain. Eventually we had a choice. Turn around, drop way down on the south side of the mountain or go up.

 

We choose the latter option. Half way up the slabs it was obvious that we'd better keep moving or risk sliding right off the backside of Morro! The terrain was steep and unrelenting - the toughest terrain of the entire weekend and it's on a minor Rockies bump! That figures though. The small peaks are the ones that get you because you underestimate them. Or anyway, I do. We hauled ourselves up to the trees on the southeast side of Morro but the battle wasn't over yet. We could see very steep terrain immediately above us and it wasn't trivial to work our way up and to the south side of the peak before finally overcoming the last cliff band and breathing a huge sigh of relief at being done that 'route'!

 

 


[From here it still looks possible to ascend the northeast ridge of Morro. It's not as easy as it looks!]


[Hawk Mountain in upper left, goat trail straight ahead, Morro Peak out of sight on the upper right.]


[Steep, slabby terrain. A slip would really hurt here - it was steep enough that you'd slide a ways.]


[We ascended steep cliffs through the trees on the southeast slopes of Morro Peak to reach the summit.]

 

The views at the top were actually quite good, and the way down (the right way) was pretty straightforward. We figured we'd claim an "FT" of Morro Peak - First Traverse! (There was no sign of human activity on the last part of our ascent...) As long as you take the Overlander's trail to the "Don't Turn Left" sign you should have no trouble on Morro. Just make sure you DO turn left here and follow an obvious trail up and around the west and then southwest side of the mountain. I would rate this scramble as easy/moderate if you don't do our 'variation'.

 


[A dramatic summit view. Pyramid Mountain is the white one just to the right of the cross.]


[Summit in B&W.]


[Hawk Mountain to the left.]


[Summit panorama. ++]


[Vern on the summit of Morro Peak.]


[Gorgeous colors in the Jasper valley. Highway #1 snaking through the picture along with the Athabasca River. Jasper town site in far right distance. Pyramid Mountain just out of sight to the left, Hawk Mountain just out of sight to the right. Edith Cavell in far distance, center.]


[View to the northwest from the summit of Morro Peak.]


[The climbing cliffs on the way (proper) down.]


[Wietse coming down the trail on the southwest side of Morro Peak.]


[The trail is easy to follow through open forest lower down.]


[A last view of Morro Peak as the skies begin to clear. Scrambling route goes up the climber's right and around to the back of the summit before completing at the top. You can see the climbing cliffs (lighter grey) on the right side of the mountain.]

Summit Elevation (ft): 
5,506
Elevation Gain (m): 
500
Total Distance (km): 
4.00
Difficulty Notes: 

Easy hiking and light scrambling - this trail is very well travelled and should be obvious from the parking area.

Mushroom Peak

Interesting Facts: 

Named in 1947. When N.E. Odell completed the solo first ascent he found that the summit rocks, "...were carved out of dark limestone into fantastic, mushroom-like forms." Official name. First ascended in 1947 by N.E. Odell. (from peakfinder.com)

Trip Category: 
SC - Scrambling
Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
High
YDS Class: 
4th Class
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, September 6, 2014

I have to admit that I was not feeling 'it' on Mushroom Peak. I was ready for some warm soup and a few hours lounging around our excellent bivy site, maybe even reading my e-book for a bit. But there were a few factors that made it sensible to attempt Mushroom while we were half way up it already;

 

  1. We were half way up it already.
  2. The lower glacier on Woolley was very crevassed and very slushy. Any snow bridges that held us in the morning were no longer guaranteed to be safe. Rock fall and serac fall were an issue on this route as well.
  3. We were half way up it already.
  4. Steven and Ben were ahead of me already - I had to follow them!
  5. We were half way up it already.
  6. It would make Sunday more pleasurable - we wouldn't have to re-ascend from our bivy before depproaching all the way to hwy 93.
  7. We were half way up it already.

 

Plus, we were half way up it already so we figured what the hell, might as well get it done and over with! Personally I hate climbing mountains when I'm just in it for the summit. I used to only climb that way but lately I've given much more thought to actually enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Nobody ever enjoyed the journey up Mushroom Peak unless they were on mushrooms - I guarantee you that! In that regard, it was a good thing that we just went for it after Woolley and Diadem. It wasn't going to be any better doing it the next day!

 

The glacier was fairly crevassed but we managed to find a safe route through it. From there it was a scree slog to the west ridge which was mostly still a scree slog, but at least it had some exposure and some great views down to the north side of Diadem. Apparently there's a route up the north face of Diadem - Humble Horse, IV 5.7 W4 | 1984 by Jim Elzinga and Jeff Marshall. 

 

 
[Traversing snow covered scree to the Diadem / Mushroom Glacier. Mushroom Peak towers over us now at left. ++]


[The glacier was pretty crevassed but we could avoid the dangers pretty easily.]


[We didn't rope up on the fairly benign glacier.]


[Believe it or not, we have over 500 vertical meters from here to the summit.]


[Ben contemplates ending the slog by leaping into a crevasse. He changed his mind shortly afterwards when he realized the rope was in his pack. ;)]


[Just like on Little Alberta, Woolley and Diadem, there was a ton of Trilobite fossils on Mushroom Peak.]


[The endless scree slope above the glacier was as much fun as it looks. NONE. :)]

 
[Looking off the west ridge of Mushroom at the north glacier of Diadem towards Mount GEC. ++]


[Ben is high on the summit block. You can see the mushroom that is the apex of Mushroom Peak above him on the left.]


[Great exposure off the west ridge, looking towards the Rockwall across hwy #93.]


[This shot makes the West Ridge look like way more fun than it actually is...]

 
[The infamous rock 'mushrooms' that are the namesake of Mushroom Peak.]


[Ben on the summit. Shadows getting long already and we have to descend unknown terrain to our bivy yet.]

 

The scree never seemed to end, and it was the kind that makes you take a giant step and then you lose half the step before you even complete it. It's hard to explain but anyone who's been on that crap will instantly know what I'm talking about. The summit was a mushroom-style peak, very unique! I found a lightening blasted summit register buried deep in the cairn. The register was blown in half and the booklet was burnt. I took the book down since there was nothing protecting it anymore. Most of the entries are unreadable thanks to the fire. The second entry is 1987 and I can read that Liam Harrap was on the summit in 2003 but that's about it... Not many entries due to the slog nature of the ascent and two esthetic peaks right next door. I'd be very surprised if anyone's ever done Mushroom along with Woolley and Diadem on the same day. I know for SURE nobody has done Little Alberta, followed by Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom on the next day! But that's because we're idiots, not because other's are missing any great opportunities! ;)

 


[Vern on the summit of Mushroom Peak.]

 
[Summit views west include Alberta, Woolley and Diadem. ++]


[Looking towards the Columbia Icefields, L to R, Athabasca, Andromeda and Kitchener.]


[Stutfield with North Twin and Twin's Tower on the right.]

 
[Looking west off the summit towards Sunwapta and Tangle Ridge (R) across hwy #93. ++]


[Lightening and summit registers don't mix well.]

 

With daylight fading way too fast, we didn't linger on the summit. After a very quick descent down the loose scree south face we had to find a way down the cliff bands to climber's right (east) of the main glacier. It was pretty risky to leave it 'til the last minute to find a route down this terrain but we ended up getting away with it. Eric Coulthard had given us a route photo that came in very handy to find a key traverse through and over a waterfall (literally through it!) to traverse out of the cliff bands. Do NOT under estimate this route, it's not very easy to spot. The only cairns were right in the waterfall / stream - there were no other signs of a trail anywhere we could see. Another key was Steven finding a way down another cliff band which involved stemming over another stream / waterfall - thankfully we could stay pretty dry there.

 

We walked into camp just as darkness settled in for the second night in a row. We were very satisfied with another full day in the glorious Rockies! I can't say I'd recommend Mushroom Peak for anyone other than hardcore peak baggers. It's not really a safer exit than the Woolley Glacier and the views aren't nearly as good as Little Alberta or of course Woolley and Diadem's views. One reason Mushroom makes sense is for parties who go in to do Woolley and Diadem and end up with no other peaks to do in the area. ;)

 


[Heading down past one of the rock 'shrooms'.]


[Shadows are lengthening and now we have to get down the cliff bands next to the glacier.]


[Traversing scree ledges between cliff bands on descent.]


[This is the terrain you have to get through - a key traverse is getting skier's left through a waterfall before you can walk off, down a steep scree cone.]


[Home free at last! Only a slog left to camp, no more technical terrain at this point.]


[Woolley and Diadem catch the last rays of sunlight as we make camp.]

Summit Elevation (m): 
3,210
Summit Elevation (ft): 
10,532
Elevation Gain (m): 
1000
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 4 : you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: 

Our route involved crossing the Diadem Glacier but this can be avoided if ascending from the bivy site on climber's right. Steep, loose rock through the lower cliffs to access easy slopes to summit.

North Twin Peak

Trip Category: 
MN - Ski Mountaineering
Interesting Facts: 

Named by J. Norman Collie and Hugh M. Stutfield in 1898. "The Twins" is a double headed mountain, the northern one known as North Twin Peak and southern as "South Twin Peak." Official name.  First ascended in 1923 by W.S. Ladd, J. Monroe Thorington, guided by Conrad Kain. Journal reference CAJ 14-40. (from peakfinder.com)

Technical Difficulty Level: 
7
Endurance Level: 
Extreme

YDS Grade: 
I
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Yes
Trip Date: 
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Summit Elevation (m): 
3,730

After 2 full days of constant wind in the 50-80km/h range we were ready for a calmer day on Saturday, May 12th. Luckily when we woke up around 0600 the wind had indeed calmed down somewhat, probably in the 30km/h range.

 

Due to the constant wind threatening to tear apart our tent all night and my cramped sleeping bag I was more than ready to get out and stretch my legs when the sun started peeking into our front door on Saturday morning. I resolved to try not sleeping with so much gear the next night. Sleeping with wet gear works wonderfully to dry it out but I'm 6 feet tall in a 6 foot mummy (not barrel) bag so there's not a lot of extra room in there. I ended up having one boot liner near my feet, one liner tucked in my stomach (yes, I'm spooning with my boot liners now! :)), one heavy winter mitt behind me and one in front of my chest. Add a few finger mitts and my down booties along with the fact that I'm sleeping in most of my clothing (i.e. 2-3 layers) with my avy beacon and camera battery in my chest pockets to keep the batteries warm and some granola bars (so that they're thawed enough in the morning for breakfast) and you may understand why I was getting restless sleep and slightly claustrophobic at night...

 

Another trick I have yet to master is the "pee bottle". The pee bottle is a technique whereby you don't have to get up (or even out of your sleeping bag if you're any good at it) to pee at night. Because high altitude is a diuretic, pretty much no matter what you do, you're going to have to pee several times at night. This gives you the wonderful opportunity to get out of your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night in a raging wind storm, trying not to lose any of that c_ap you're sleeping with, put on the down jacket, stumble to the biffy and do your business. Then you have to re-assemble your sleeping bag with all the afore-mentioned stuff in it and try to fall asleep. Hopefully your partner has ear plugs or is a good sleeper or you just woke them up too. So the pee bottle is a nice technique to master. JW was ticked off because he took a Gatorade bottle of fuel for his pee bottle, hoping that we'd empty it the first day and he'd get to use it after that. Instead, we were consuming so little fuel that he had to wait until the 3rd night to get his precious pee bottle! :-)

 


[Nice and warm in my sleeping bag! TJ Nault photograph.]

 

Ferenc didn't seem to be doing well at all on Saturday morning. As we skied out of camp Ferenc prompted a hilarious moment (that I'm sure he didn't think was very funny at the time) when he insisted that we "go around the 50 meter high bump" in front of us rather than over it. The funny part was that we could easily see over that "50 meter bump" - meaning it was around 6 feet high at most! Obviously we were in for a rather long day...

 

Raf's team was just ahead of us on the slope. TJ insisted, to my slight dismay, on breaking his own trail up the south ridge. I do have to admit that TJ's track certainly switch backed far less than Raf's and was probably less work as a consequence. (Sorry Raf!) TJ set a very slow pace up the south ridge which made for a nice easy ascent in the thin, cold air.

 


[Raf's team skis beside us in the early morning light. Mount Columbia is unreachable across the Trench]


[TJ breaks a nice gentle trail up North Twin.]


[TJ points out his next objectives as we take a break on the way up the south ridge.]


[Panorama from the ascent of North Twin showing the long approach to Mount Columbia from the trench (around 6km) and the summit of South Twin on the upper right. ++]


[Getting higher on the south ridge. You can just make out the other ascent party near the summit ridge.]

 

Ferenc simply couldn't maintain any sort of pace and by the time we reached the summit shoulder he was hyperventilating while trying to catch his breath. Not cool.

 

TJ emphatically stated that Ferenc was too spent to continue to Twins Tower and almost too spent to even make the summit of North Twin. Ferenc must have been a little bit delirious at this point. He began unclipping from the rope to "walk the rest of the way", but we were only 100 meters (horizontal) from the natural ski drop point and definitely standing on more than one crevasse. Finally he seemed to grasp that he could ski 20 seconds more to the ski drop and walk from there. As TJ, JW and I prepared for the final 150 meters along the summit ridge and an ascent of Twins Tower, Ferenc lay over his skis, completely blown out.

 


[Raf, Adam and Jay make their way, on foot, to the summit of North Twin]


[At the ski drop just under the main summit.]

 

As we began to the summit I noticed that Ferenc didn't have crampons on. I asked him about it and he said we could take a break after the summit to put them on. I responded that he wasn't going on (to Twins Tower) after the summit and that his day was over. He seemed a bit surprised by this. "All I need is 10 or 15 minutes to breathe through it and then I can continue", he insisted. We looked at each other and TJ once again asserted in very clear language that this wasn't happening. 

 

"This always happens at high altitude to me", was Ferenc's response. Say wha' now?!?!

 

"When I climbed the (Colorado) 14ers I would lay there gasping for air and then continue on. Climbing high mountains was always quite the tough experience for me because of this", he continued.

 

This was surprising news and I thought that maybe Ferenc should have shared this affliction with us before the trip, or at the very least before leaving camp that morning when he was obviously not feeling 100%. Three full days above 11,000 feet including the exertions of our approach day, now climbing a 12,000+ foot peak and two 11,000+ foot peaks the day before was obviously having a very negative effect on Ferenc.

 

Ferenc mumbled something about "going home tomorrow" to me. Notwithstanding a bit of gloom, the views from the highest peak completely in Alberta (Columbia is on the border with British Columbia) were simply outstanding!! We had clear conditions, not too much wind and an endless sea of snow clad summits in every direction, the vast majority of them underneath us. One of the most amazing summit views I've ever had.

 


[TJ on the final summit ridge of North Twin - note the nice drop to our right and Twins Tower visible at the center. About 20 seconds after this photo TJ stepped into a crevasse right under the summit bump. We were ready for it so it wasn't a huge deal - but be warned that there are a lot of holes in this area of the ice fields.]


[TJ on the summit ridge of North Twin, looking down at Twins Tower - our next objective! Notice how every visible peak is lower than us?]


[Ferenc on the summit of North Twin with Columbia, South Twin, West Twin and King Edward visible. ++]


[Summit panorama from North Twin showing a myriad of peaks including Columbia, South Twin, West Twin (tiny bump!), King Edward and many, many others. ++]


[Summit panorama looking off the east side of the summit ridge on North Twin includes from left to right, Twins Tower, Alberta, Little Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Thorington Tower, Stutfields, Cromwell and Kitchener - and of course hundreds more in the far distance. We're higher than all of them! ++]


[Looking over South Twin at Mount Columbia - one of only a very few Rockies summits higher than North Twin.]


[West Twin looks tiny from North Twin's summit ridge and even King Edward looks small.]


[The Adamant Group on the left with Clemenceau on the right (fourth highest in the Rockies).]


[Mount Alberta is almost as high as North Twin.]


[Mounts Warren and Brazeau in the far distance with Little Alberta in the lower left foreground and Woolley and Diadem at center. Mushroom Peak right of center.]


[Looking south towards Castleguard (tiny!!), Forbes, Lyells, Farbus and Alexandra]

 
[Great shot looking down 2 vertical kilometers into the Athabasca River Valley. ++]

 

Ferenc untied from the rope at the summit and turned back to wait for us at the ski drop while the rest of us started down the very steep north east slope of North Twin to the Twins Tower col.

Summit Elevation (ft): 
12,238
Total Distance (km): 
42.00
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Columbia ice fields route includes severe crevasse issues and extremely steep snow slopes. Don't minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.

Panther Falls

Interesting Facts: 

Panther Falls are a series of waterfalls in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. It is developed on Nigel Creek and its waters originate in Nigel Pass, between the slopes of Cirrus Mountain and Nigel Peak in the Parker Ridge of the Canadian Rockies. (from Wikipedia.org)

YDS Class: 
Hiking
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