Alexandra has been calling me for many years. I'm not sure exactly when the attraction started but I know it's been rekindled over the years, first when Rafal, Chester and Marta did it via South Rice Brook and again last year when Jason Wilcox and Anton Baser alder-thrashed their way up Lyell Creek and summitted from the South Alexandra glacier. Both routes sounded very 'involved', but the one thing that kept me interested was the remoteness of the location, the beauty of the surrounding peaks and the fact that most people don't bother with the tough approach and settle for a very short 20 minute chopper ride from Golden to get to the upper South Rice Brook bivy. If you summitted Alexandra via a heli-approach, you should know that you put in less than half the effort of a regular approach - maybe even less! The Alpine Club of Canada also likes to host camps at the South Rice Brook bivy because it's not in the park and they can chopper people and supplies in and set up massive base camp facilities easily. There's also a ton of objectives right around that bivy location so it's ideal for section camps where people are there to learn mountaineering skills. This makes 100% sense to me, but you still get an asterisk from me if this is how you climbed Alexandra. :)
(FYI - I really don't care how you get to a summit, you can chopper all the way up and land on the damn cairn if that makes you happy. You have to be OK with your methods of bagging and claiming summits and I have to be OK with mine. I just like to make a point every once in a while that flying into an objective does save a lot of time and more importantly, energy. I know this rankles people who fly into base camps, but I don't really care about that either...)
[Alexandra from the summit ridge of Mount Amery, Queen's Peak to the right.]
I've had some incredible views of Alexandra over the years, some of the best were from high up on Mount Amery, Monchy and Hooge in 2012. Most of my views were from the east, showing the steep walls of her summit with Queen's Peak, a very near 11,000er, right beside her to the north. September 2014 has been an incredible month for mountaineers around Alberta and British Columbia. After a brief taste of winter left everyone in a tizzy, the weather stabilized as it usually does, and the mountains dried off. Every weekend had spectacular smoke-free views for at least some of the days and this got Steven, Ben and I thinking about big objectives even though it was the last weekend of the month.
I have to admit that we flip-flopped a lot on this one. First it was Alexandra. Then it was Brazeau / Warren. Then it was Saskatchewan. Then it was scrambling in the south Highwood. Then it was back to Alexandra! The weather forecast improved enough by Thursday that we made a final decision that afternoon to attempt Alexandra via the South Rice Brook high line approach. Because we've planned it a few times already this year, we had most of the available beta already - it wasn't much.
Bill Corbett had done the Lyell Creek approach (and hated it) but he'd also written about the South Rice Brook approach. His words were correct (on hindsight) but also extremely brief. Basically he recommends driving up long switchbacks up the ridge past the last river crossing before parking at the crest of the road across from Mount Bryce. From there follow logging roads up the other side of the ridge on foot, go up a nasty cut block to ridge top and avoid heading into the bush while doing a highline traverse to the bivy. He's 100% correct, but a bit vague on the details! And there's a lot of details you need to complete this traverse in a timely manner and not get off route along the way.
I emailed Raf and got a photograph from him, with a route line drawn on it. Again, on hindsight it's kind of useful, but to be fair to Raf, he'd done the trip years ago and some of his route line went across some major cliff bands and is much lower than the highline traverse. Which was also the problem with Eric Coulthard's proposed route. Again, to be fair, Eric only proposed this route and it was close, just not quite close enough. Gravsports-ice.com also has a thread on Alexandra with some brief information on the highline approach. We tried to factor all of this this different beta into our memory banks beforehand and came armed with printouts and maps.
Armed with just enough route beta to be dangerous (!!) we set off from the Petro Canada on hwy 1 at around 03:45 on Friday morning for the long drive to Golden and 100 kilometers up the Bush River Forestry Service Road (FSR).
Sometimes the biggest struggle in climbing a mountain is simply getting to it. Clemenceau and Tusk are two 11,000ers that are remarkably difficult to get to, thanks to forestry roads and bridges deteriorating, decommissioned or completely gone. There are other 11,000ers in the wider area that are also in danger of becoming horribly difficult to access. These include King Edward, Bryce, Alexandra and the 5 Lyells. Any decommissioning of any of the bridges on the Bush River FSR would mean a logistical nightmare just to get to the start of the approach for these big peaks - never mind climbing them! Knowing this makes me a little more interested in these particular 11,000ers over the next few years. There's other logistical problems with these mountains. Due to the few people who do these peaks each year and even fewer who post beta, there is a very good chance a 5 or 6 hour drive could be a complete waste of time due to washouts or any other road changes that occur year to year. It's all part of the grand adventure that is mountaineering in the heart of the Rockies - just be prepared.
[An overview map - not accurate - gives an idea of the forestry service roads around Kinbasket Lake and some notes that are current as of September 2014. Conditions change yearly - usually not for the better...Note: the collapsed bridge to the Lyells can be driven around in a high clearance vehicle. ++]
None of us had ever driven the Bush River FSR and we were excited to be finally doing it. We made good time to Golden and proceeded 22km west to the old town site of Donald, turning up Donald Road, just past the weigh scale on hwy 1. We followed signs past the Chatter Creek base of operations and shortly afterwards turned left onto the main Bush River FSR. I've been on a LOT of back country roads from northern Ontario to north Saskatchewan to British Columbia this year and the Bush River FSR is probably my favorite. We cruised the first 44km pretty quickly at 80km/h up to Kinbasket Lake. This reservoir was formed in 1973 with the completion of the Mica hydro electric dam (one of the largest earth-filled dams in the world) which blocks the mighty Columbia River and flooded an immense area first known as McNaughton Lake and then changed to Kinbasket Lake in 1980.
Kinbasket Lake is huge. Really, really huge. It goes from just north of Golden almost all the way to Valemount which is west of Jasper National Park. Some of the more fanciful approaches for Clemenceau and Tusk involve canoeing stretches of Kinbasket before biking, thrashing and bashing many kilometers of wilderness to the mountain bases. Better make sure there's no wind in the forecast before crossing this expanse of water... ;) From a campground on the lake we followed the road as it took a sharp turn to the east, along what's known as the 'Bush Arm' because the Bush River drains into it at the end of a long, narrow valley. The road kept getting narrower and rougher as we drove around the arm. I came around one sharp corner and found myself staring right into the grill of a logging truck coming down the other way! I think I should get a 2-way radio if I'm going to keep driving these roads. I managed to yank the steering wheel to the right and avoid a collision but from that moment on I was hyper-alert to more trucks. I also switched into 4x4 because the road was narrow and pulling over meant going into a shallow ditch that was usually flowing with water or very wet.
The next 20km or so were a bit nerve-wracking. There simply wasn't room for me and a logging truck in many spots along the steep mountain on one side and hundreds of feet straight down to the lake on the other. There's pull-outs along the road so that when you hear a logging truck announcing itself on his radio (that I don't have) you can pull over and wait. Downhill (loaded) trucks always get right-of-way. It's quite simple. There are kilometer signs all along the bush roads. When you're between km 56 and 57 and you hear a trucker call "59 down", you'd better pull over at the next wider section of road and wait for him to pass or risk getting crushed like an insignificant bug. We had some good fortune to meet a pickup whose driver waved us down. I expected a bit of a lecture on not having a radio, but he was very friendly and asked where we were headed. When we said we were climbing Alexandra his face stayed blank. Then we said we were heading up the Bush River FSR and he nodded - "That's good, there's a lot of trucks coming down the Sullivan River Road today". He radioed the trucks in the area to let them know we were on the road and where we were going. It must have worked because the next truck we met was going a bit slower than the first one.
It was a relief when we finally passed the turnoff for the Sullivan River FSR - this road goes towards Clemenceau and Tusk. A critical bridge has been removed from across the Sullivan River Gorge and the road decommissioned at an earlier point on the lake, making for very difficult access to those peaks. We were essentially on our own now, and I could relax a bit more. Soon after crossing the end of the arm and heading north up the Bush River we passed a rustic campground on our right and the road leading to the Icefall Lodge and the approaches to the 5 Lyells.
With low clouds hanging over the surrounding peaks and valleys and fall colors everywhere, the scenery got wilder and more intense the further we drove. The mood was quiet in the truck as we approached km 89. Why the mood? Right at the start of the Bush River FSR there was a yellow sign stating that the road was not open past km 89 by order of the BC ministry of transportation. This made us a bit nervous the whole ride up. Was there a bridge out? Landslide? Logs across the road? The gentleman we met earlier didn't know when we asked him. The joys of 11,000er approaches - you never know if you'll actually get there at all! As we passed the 88th km marker sign the mood in the truck grew palatably tense. We knew we could turn back to km 73 and do the Lyell Creek approach-from-hell if we had to, but in the rain and damp weather nobody wanted to be thrashing through 8 ft alders and Devil's Club! We drove past km 89 and kept going. And going... Apparently the road must be no longer actively maintained after this point, but still remains drivable for now. There were no more km marker signs after 89 but the road was in fine shape.
[We drove 100km up the Bush River FSR through cloud, sun and rain with fall colors lining most of the route.]
Right after crossing the Bush River around km 94 there was a road going right. For some reason I ignored that road and the faint sign posted on it and kept driving. Soon we realized our mistake and turned back before going up the road which was signed (very faded), "Rice Brook". From here on the drive got much more technical. The road changed almost immediately from gravel to grass and small rocks / boulders. We gained height quickly up long switchbacks lined with brilliant fall colors, until the approach valley was spread out far below us. We stopped for photos before continuing, never quite sure if we should keep driving or stop and start our approach hike.
[High above the approach valley after taking the long switchbacks up the west side of the approach ridge. Click on the photo to enlarge and find the last critical bridge crossing the Bush River. ++]
[The road disappears into the clouds ahead of us. This is still the easy part of the Rice Brook Road.]
Eventually we got to the high point on the road and starting inching around the nose of the ridge we were on, just south of the mighty Mount Bryce which was looming thousands of feet above us across a steep, narrow gorge, it's upper slopes and summits buried in cloud and mist far above a raging Rice Brook. The road narrowed until it was barely wide enough for my xTerra. Impossibly steep scree and boulder slopes loomed above us on the right and equally precipitous slopes plunged hundreds of feet down to the raging torrent far below, to our left. To be honest, I have no idea why this road is still passable if it's not being actively maintained. One good rain or snow event and the road will be covered in a rock slide or simply vanish into the deeply chiseled canyon below. On hindsight it was a bit of a gamble to drive further than the initial switchbacks because if a slide happened while we were climbing, we'd have been completely stranded. Even calling for a rescue wouldn't get my xTerra back to civilization. Trust me - you are WAY out there on your own when you drive as far as we did. Especially being late September, there was nobody coming up that road behind us to thumb a ride from if we ran into any kind of car trouble. I wonder if we took enough precautions for our drive or if we just got lucky?
After crossing the narrow, sketchy traverse across the nose of the ridge, we were back on a more 'normal' decommissioned road - rough but safe. We passed a rock cairn that marked the parking spot for Bryce, but we didn't stop there. The road kept going up the other side of the ridge and we followed it. Why walk further than you have to right? So, up we went! The road was rougher now. Small streams cut channels across it and more and more rocks and debris lay across our path until we were very obviously past the end of the drivable section. And the truck was overheating... :( It was a few tense moments of backing down the very rough section of road we were on and turning around (not easily done on the narrow, slick and steep terrain) before we could finally park and I could pop the hood and let the engine cool down! I think I under-rev'd on the ascent and should have dropped into a lower gear. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when the temperature gage started dropping quickly in the cool mountain air. Once it cooled sufficiently, I turned off the engine and we sat there for a few minutes just listening to the ticking of cooling metal and breathing out the stress of the approach drive. It felt like we were already climbing and we weren't even out of the vehicle yet! ;)
[Final section of the drive - the sketchiest by far. I think stopping at the 'sensible' spot before the traverse is the wise thing to do, but it does mean more hiking and more elevation gain / loss. ++]
Some days feel longer than others. Most of my work days feel pretty long compared to play days. Friday, September 26th 2014 was one of the longest 'play' days I've experienced in the mountains - not by the hour, but by the feel. 2+ hours after leaving the truck parked on the rough track, high above Rice Brook, we found ourselves at the rock cairn (far below the truck) marking the parking area for Bryce. At the same level as Rice Brook. About 1km from the truck. Barely started. With 350 meters of height gain already behind us, and obviously some serious height loss too. And already soaking wet.
Oh my, this was NOT GOOD. On hindsight there's a simple explanation of our predicaments on the approach to the Alexandra bivy. We were too paranoid about the route, had too many conflicting bits of route beta and were thwarted by the clouds, rain and poor visibility to make sensible route choices.
After the intense drive, we left the truck and continued up a rough, overgrown road cutting up the ridge in thick, swirling mist and cloud with the occasional bit of rain. Brief gaps in the clouds revealed the lurking hulk of Mount Bryce across the steep valley, it's lower flanks covered in bright fall colors and it's upper rock, snow and ice covered in thick fog. We ran into lots of bear sign almost immediately. Shortly after leaving the truck we arrived at the cut block mentioned in Bill's book. As I mentioned earlier, Bill's route description is 100% correct, just a bit vague. This is not a diss on Bill as he climbed Alexandra via another route and can't be expected to know every route in great detail. Bill does say go up the cut block to the ridge crest, but we weren't clear on exactly which ridge or from which road, because he also mentions parking a lot earlier than we did. In this case, driving further than the Bryce parking spot screwed us. We thought maybe there was a road further down, on the other side of obvious wall of rock blocking our progress in the distance. Remember, we couldn't see where the Bryce approach went due to cloud and fog. Eric's route line went right along the cliffs - that wasn't going to work either. So when we passed a faint animal trail going up the cut block with some blue ribbons laying on the ground in front of it (cut blocks are full of random ribbons from the logging process so you can't just follow ribbons and assume they mean anything...), we decided to keep following the obvious wide road, rather than start ascending a narrow goat trail into the ominous clouds above. BIG MISTAKE number 1!
[Into the wild... Shortly after leaving the truck we continue up the old logging road, into thick cloud and light rain.]
[Apparently there's bears here too. Right by the truck. ;)]
[Looking back along the upper 'road'. The cut block is now above us and we should be ascending the faint trail along the edge of it. But we're not.]
[Yes - that's a blue ribbon. Why didn't we follow it? Cutblocks in BC are full of blue ribbons. You can't follow them all.]
At the end of the track we bushwhacked up the cut block. We were now externally soaked - at least our rain gear was still effective at this point. We cut across several slick boulder fields before a disagreement broke out as we faced cliffs directly ahead, rising into the clouds above and going almost to the valley bottom below. Steven argued that we should ascend into the clouds, up the line of cliffs. Ben and I weren't so sure. It was obvious that Eric's planned route line was right along impossible terrain and our GPS's were showing very close contour lines all the way around the false summit high above us, hinting strongly at impenetrable cliffs. I knew that Corbett mentioned a 'ridge top' and 'go up', and there was that animal track back on the cut block that we didn't follow... In one of the most frustrating hours I've spent in the mountains we kept changing our minds. We descended over 100 meters to see if there was a highline around the north end of the cliffs, only to turn back up the steep scree slope in favor of Steven's idea to ascend to the west of them and hope a route went around the south side of the peak we couldn't see above. We seemed incapable of making a firm decision - this is not normal for us!
[Crossing scree and boulder fields. Part of our confusion was due to the weather - we couldn't see very far except for very brief moments of clearing. We should have gone straight up here but eventually we went down due to cliff bands above that worried us.]
[The cliff bands loom ahead - coming off the first unnamed summit on the approach ridge. We're not nearly high enough for the highline approach here. We should be at least 200 vertical meters higher to our right.]
[A wonderful view of Mount Bryce across from the boulder / scree field. This was by far the best view we got on our approach. You can see the cliff bands that we descended along on the far right. We drove up the obvious road on the left. And then ended up descending all the way to the valley bottom on the right about 2 hours later... :( ++]
As we climbed into the mist on muddy scree, Steven suddenly turned around and exclaimed, "But what if I'm completely wrong?!". We broke into a heated discussion which ended only when Ben and I finally convinced Steven that the only thing we knew for 100% from our current vantage point, was that going down to Rice Brook would work. It wouldn't be pretty if there were no other roads, but we could bushwhack for a while before going above tree line further on. Bill mentions that approach too, and Raf also used it on descent. The gravsports thread also mentioned doing some bushwhacking. So we turned back downslope and descended all the way to the road we drove in on! How depressing it was to be within sight of the truck (high above us!) after more than 2 hours of bushwhacking, slipping across boulder fields and descending and ascending the same damn scree gully. We already had 350 vertical meters of height gain on our legs, we were soaking wet and hopelessly confused by the route ahead. Honestly, I was almost ready to give up at this point. Other than a few very impressive views of Bryce through gaps in the clouds, we were feeling trapped by the terrain, the weather and the route. But nobody said anything about giving up so we trudged silently forward on the decommissioned Rice Brook road. We were now left with only 8 hours to make our bivy before dark. We could have slept in 'til 06:00 and we would have been just as far as we were now...
[That's depressing. Over two hours later and we're right at valley bottom looking at the approach for Bryce. This is where the decommissioned bridge across Rice Brook used to be. At this point we plunged into the bush on our right.]
[It's always a bit depressing when the components of a perfectly good bridge aren't assembled anymore.]
Soon we arrived at the old bridge that was disassembled on the decommissioning of the road. At this point the Bryce route crosses Rice Brook and continues on the overgrown road before ascending (a long way) to the south glacier. We weren't lucky enough to have a road and instead, plunged into the bush on our right. The first hour wasn't too bad. Late September is actually a good time to bushwhack in the BC Rockies. The Devil's Club (Oplopanax Horridus) was mostly dead and soaking wet which calmed it down a lot. The alders had lost most of their leaves, meaning we could wade through them easier. Don't get me wrong - the bushwhack was still absolutely horrible. It just wasn't as horrible as it could have been. Within 5 minutes of bushwhacking I knew I was getting wet. Thankfully it wasn't too cold, but if rain wasn't being forced into any available opening in my gear, I was sweating enough to generate moisture from the inside.
[Good ol' BC bush!]
[Hours of this.]
As we contoured towards the South Rice Brook valley some of the route beta started to make more sense. The main valley you drive in on is not the valley you follow to Alexandra. Almost immediately upon bushwhacking up Rice Brook you have to contour slopes on climber's right before continuing up a drainage heading SE - the South Rice Brook. Traversing in the bush took forever. At one point I mentioned that according to the GPS, we should hit a stream in about 500 meters. 1.5 hours later we were still not across that stream. It was a very, very frustrating and demoralizing experience. We struggled on and on in the rain, over fallen trees, under fallen trees, through thick stands of alder and Devil's Club and across slippery stream beds. Pants ripped on stubborn logs and protruding branches, hands got shredded from lingering Devil's Club, clothing got soaked and heavy alpine packs slipped around on our sweating backs, throwing us off balance at the most inopportune moments - usually while trying to balance on slick rocks or logs. We tried ascending and traversing steep, loose and muddy cliff bands before getting cliffed out and back tracking back down into the bush. We even managed to piss off a huge Billy Goat - a magnificent white beast that wasn't too pleased when we kept climbing towards him on a cliff traverse (that didn't pan out). At one point I knew I was done with climbing mountains for a while. DONE.
[A magnificent Billy Goat - he's not happy with us though! Photo by Ben Nearingburg.]
[It took us over 1.5 hours to go 500 meters to this stream! Yikes. As you can see, we're thoroughly soaked at this point. Ben may look warm in his tshirt but he admitted later that he almost had hypothermia and was pretty worried when we stopped - he couldn't feel his own temperature!]
[Not as easy as it looks. ;)]
After hours of struggling and wading through the dense BC forest, we could finally spot an opening ahead - we were free!
We weren't free. Not even close. We went from tall hell, to short hell. Alders and Devil's Club transitioned to a vast forested slope of Krommholtz. Foolishly (we were getting a little desperate at this point, due to our incredibly slow progress), we assumed the slope would get better and charged headlong into the tangled mess. BIG MISTAKE number 2! About 5 seconds in we already knew we were not going to like our new version of hell. But we didn't care anymore. We stubbornly continued traversing the slope until we were so tangled in the thick of things there was no turning back - we had to continue on. After realizing the slope was much bigger and nastier than anticipated, we engaged in the new sport of krommholtz-swimming uphill towards a line of cliffs we could spot through gaps - high above us. After way too much time wasted in the gnarly, twisted, stunted krommholtz-crap we finally burst free and found ourselves above tree line and free of the forest for the first time in over 4 hours - still kilometers from our bivy and still under a rainy, gray sky.
[FINALLY above tree line! We came out of a dense Krummholtz field at lower left and are traversing right - out of the picture. The main Rice Brook valley is on the left, we've turned the corner south - up the valley directly in front of us here.]
I'm not sure about the other guys, but I was feeling the hard approach at this point. I'd done a lot of weekend trips in September and I'm not 20 years old anymore. My knees were not happy with the abuse I insisted on heaping upon them. We agreed to never enter that forest again (well, maybe on descent...) but rather we were going to make the highline work from this point forward, no matter what. So, up we went. The next 4 hours were spent racing the clock, trying to make our bivy before dark at around 20:00. We scrambled across a high alpine bowl and then up a steep scree gully, side-hilling on exposed muddy terrain to a high col where we got our first nice views since looking at Bryce hours earlier. The clouds were still low but the rain was sporadic and light as we descended a loose, muddy scree slope and crossed a large alpine meadow to the far side where we ascended yet another ridge to avoid the bush. After this ridge we crossed another meadow and the grassy nose of our 3rd ridge. It was getting dark as we rushed our descent into the final valley above the steep headwall in South Rice Brook and our gorgeous bivy near a rushing stream.
[Ben isn't sure how much fun he's having today.]
[Finally at camp.]
[Four hours later we're finally at our bivy. None of us can believe we made it by dark.]
We couldn't believe we made it by dark! It only took us just over 8 hours from the Bryce parking spot to our bivy. We pushed ourselves very hard to make this time. In good weather, with more daylight we would have easily taken 9-10 hours. (Counting our wasted time up front, we did take almost 11 hours total.) The rain stopped long enough to make supper and set up tents and sort gear. Just as we began to eat supper it started raining again and we all bailed into our tents for the night. We were soaked, our gear was soaked, our boots, packs and socks were all damp or sopping wet. We looked and felt like drowned rats! I fell asleep at 21:00, not sure I'd even be in the mood to climb Alexandra the next day. I was wiped! And we do this for fun. Right?! ;)
[Overview of our approach and egress route from the truck to the summit of Alexandra. Where the two lines deviate, the northerly one is the approach and the southerly one is egress. You should never follow the northerly route. EVER. :) ++]
[Satellite image of the same routes clearly showing the treed approach and the highline route that avoids most of the bush. ++]
[Close up of the first part of the route from the top of the approach road. ++]
[Close up of the route to the summit. ++]
After a long and brutal approach, half of it spent in the thick bush along South Rice Brook, we awoke at 06:00 on Saturday intending to be pumped about climbing Alexandra. It was made a little harder by the thick fog rolling through our camp. We slowly got ready, hoping the clouds would dissipate and eventually, by around 07:15 they were thinned out and it was light enough to start our climb. (More than one non-repeatable comment about heli-approaches was made as our poor bodies struggled to adjust to yet another day of significant elevation gain. ;))
We followed cairns across both streams coming out of the nearby lakes, including one set of nice stepping stones and one very slippery double-log bridge. After this there were more cairns until the lower headwall next to the obvious square island of trees that Bill mentions in his book. On ascent, we lost the trail and cairns for a while and picked our own route up the steep lower headwall. The rock was very grippy and pocketed on this section so climbing it was fairly easy. I didn't think descending it would be as trivial - some parts were fairly steep and exposed. Above this section we came on the scree cone leading to the 5.2 crux.
[Fog and clouds on the morning of our ascent. This is looking up at Coral Peak. The ascent line goes up the right side of the 'tree island' just to the right of the stream on the left. Then it goes climber's right and starts near the other, smaller stream on the right. Then it traverses left up the gray slabs / cliffs. If you're not following cairns or trail you're not on the easiest terrain.]
[Crossing a pretty fast-flowing outlet stream from the Alexandra Glacier that becomes South Rice Brook. These logs were very treacherous!]
[Ben is ready to start the scramble to the crux.]
[Steven on the grippy scramble beside the stream.]
[On ascent we pretty much went straight up and didn't bother with trails or cairns.]
[The lower cliffs aren't difficult, but they're exposed enough to urge some caution. Slippery when wet!]
[Grinding up the scree pile above the lower cliffs.]
[View from the top of the scree cone looking back along our approach valley and over our bivy at the lakes on lower left. Includes from L to R, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey, Fried Rice and on the upper right is the unofficial Rice Brook Peak. ++]
There was a highway worn into the scree, which we gratefully ascended. ACC camps have their benefits! We were worried about snow or rime on the crux rock step but it looked clean. Even better - it looked pretty easy for 5.2. We could clearly see a viable ascent route to climber's left of the rap route and Ben proceeded up it with little hesitation. Steven and I followed and other than some exposure and friction moves, it wasn't much more than difficult scrambling. We all agreed that we were happy to rappel on descent - especially given the bolted chains making it safer than down climbing the exposed slab that we ascended. We were delighted that our 30m rope would be (just) enough for the rappel. Fresh snow and rime coated the rocks right about the crux, once again we had lucked out big-time on conditions. I can save you a lot of pack weight at this point. You shouldn't need 2 axes or any rock or ice pro other than crevasse rescue gear and a 30m rope / rap gear to climb Alexandra. We brought way too much climbing gear. I hate carrying extra weight when it's not needed, especially as much extra weight as we did. It's good to be prepared but too much preparation works against you in the form of weight.
[Great views back towards Rice Brook Peak and along the headwall that forms the 5.2 crux, just out of sight on the right here. ++]
[Ben tackles the terrain around the 5.2 crux. It didn't feel like 5.2 on ascent but we were glad for a rappel on the way back.]
[Vern climbs the crux. Photo by Steven Song]
[Great views back from above the crux now showing Rice Brook Peak, Queant with the Cowboy Couloir and Spring-Rice at far right in the distance.]
From the crux it was a pleasant traverse up and down ledges crossing the cliffs on Coral peak's south face. It's a simple route, but you would never know it was there from a distance. Our views of Whiterose, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey, Fried Rice and Fool's Gold across the South Rice Brook valley were getting better and better as the fog slowly lifted and we were left with friendlier, puffy clouds. When we got our first view of the West Alexandra glacier we noticed it was heavily crevassed. We donned crampons and started up the left side, eventually weaving our way around some massive holes as we worked higher to the col. I don't like crevasses. They scare me. I've punched through a few bridges in my adventures over the years, and the feeling you get when you look behind and see a hole descending into the cold icy blackness, is not something I enjoy. The snow was frozen rock hard and we knew any bridges were stable enough to last the summer, but some of the narrow icy lips we traversed over led us to don the rope before continuing above the neve, where fresh snow could be hiding a deep, icy trap.
[Traversing Coral Peak with great views. ++]
[Traversing the trail on fresh snow. Whiterose still in cloud.]
[First glimpses of Alexandra (L)]
[From the traverse we dropped down almost 100 meters to the glacier which we ascended from the left side and then over and around a myriad of crevasses. It may be possible to swing very wide around the left side but it looked like crappy rock on that side.]
[Lots of holes to avoid as we start up the glacier. Our approach valley at right. ++]
[Steven on the glacier.]
[We stayed unroped on the section of glacier where the holes were obvious, but on return we kept the rope on here thanks to deteriorating snow conditions. Even a slip or trip could be fatal without a rope on.]
[I think maybe he's contemplating jumping in rather than bushwhack back out tomorrow! ;)]
[Above the worst of the holes now, looking back at Coral to the right and the Alexandra / Whiterose col at left. ++]
[On the neve, the rope is now on in case of hidden holes]
[Ben and Steven crest the Whiterose / Alexandra col.]
The climbing from the col was vastly different than I was expecting. For some reason, I expected a short snow / ice gully leading to an upper 35 degree glacier which we would easily climb up to the summit block before cutting right and then back left, up to the summit. Reality was nothing like that! (We did climb in very late season conditions, so it may be different for most folks...)
I led up a scree gully on climber's right from the col - almost on the edge of the SW ridge where it drops off sharply to the valley and glacier on Alexandra's SE side. No trip reports mention this start - they all go up either a steep snow gully (snow covered rocks for us) or ledges to the left (snow covered and slick for us) of this gully. Our route was easier. We ascended about 100-150 vertical meters on steep scree before cutting across the slopes to our left, across the 'snow' gully and on top of the slab section which was now transitioning to more blocky, and much easier terrain. We ascended this blocky terrain for another few hundred vertical meters in another shallow, gully before finally getting enough snow in a gully to our right to utilize properly. From here we scrambled up to an upper plateau on hard snow (max 35 degrees).
[Looking back at Ben and Steven as we climb up from the col - on a scree slope.]
[Great scenery off the right hand ascent ridge. The Lyell Creek approach comes in from the left. ++]
[Ben on the blocky terrain.]
[Steven traverses left on blocky terrain, looking for the easiest route up.]
The next section of the climb was also much different than expected. I thought we'd see a nice 35 degree snow-covered slope rising to a summit block. Nope. Directly above us was a pretty easy looking steep, snow covered rocky slope. To the right was an obvious snow slope but accessing it looked a bit complicated and it looked fairly steep. It also topped out to more rocks - but not 'nice ones' like the left slope. Needless to say, we didn't complicate things and ascended the snow covered rocky slope on the left. It was a good climb in crampons, weaving around and over large boulders and small bands of rock, using the snow wherever we could. At the top of the slope we continued straight up a snow hump. I noticed Ben and Steven were stopping ahead of me and wondered if they were cold or something. I yelled ahead, asking if the remaining terrain looked good. They laughed and said, "No! We're on the summit!". Weird. I really expected another 100+ meters of height gain yet. But I was pretty happy to be done the climb - that's a fact.
[The snow climb route is on the right, we took easier snow-covered rock on the left.]
[The terrain was snowy, but it didn't really make it any harder.]
[We're far above most of the surrounding peaks now. This is looking back towards Whiterose and our approach valley on the right. The Lyell Creek approach comes in from the left. ++]
[It was a bit scrambly in places.]
[A steep, narrow gully on the SW face.]
[Steven leads the way up into the clouds along the west ridge and above the steep north face.]
[Views off the west ridge looking down the Alexandra Glacier into South Rice Brook. Whiterose at left, Coral, Rice Brook Peak and Fresnoy on the right. ++]
[Wild scenes over Lyell Creek.]
[Warm enough for t-shirts at 10,500' in late September. Not bad.]
[Steep, slick, exposed scrambling on the west ridge. Queen's Peak now visible to the right of Fresnoy and left of the west ridge. ++]
[Finding another chimney to ascend along the west ridge.]
[Looking over our tracks off the west ridge and down the South Rice Brook valley over a small Coral Peak.]
[Spectacular scenery as we climb into the clouds. ++]
[Our track disappear down the west ridge from near the summit.]
Thanks to the clouds, it was much colder on the summit than during the climb (we did most of it in short sleeves) and the views were mostly a whiteout. We got incredibly lucky with some brief, amazing views down the Alexandra River valley to the east and over to the Columbia Icefield to the north. These views included giants such as Amery, the Lyells, Saskatchewan and Andromeda. We tried to linger on the summit in case the clouds cleared off, but soon it was obvious that they were thickening instead.
[Looking directly over Queen's Peak and Fresnoy (L) towards the cloud covered Columbia Icefields. The Alexandra River valley marches off to the NE at right. ++]
[Views down the east face to the Alexandra River lying far below.]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Alexandra.]
[Very nice views looking down the Alexandra River. Terrace Mountain and the Castlets are to the left of the valley and Willerval and Amery lie to the right of it, all buried in clouds. ++]
[Summit views down the Alexandra River valley. This was as clear as it got - but it was a pretty cool experience nonetheless. Amery, Willerval on the right, Columbia Icefield on the left. The peak in the foreground is Queen's Peak - very near 11,000 feet. To the east of Queen's is Terrace Mountain and the Castlets. ++]
[Mount Saskatchewan over the Castlets and a ridge on Terrace Mountain]
[Cloud prevents from seeing the summit of Mount Amery - but she's hidden in there somewhere and I have some fine memories of that day.]
[Mount Andromeda just shows up to the north of Alexandra. ++]
[A telephoto looking far to the NE down the Alexandra River towards Mount Coleman across hwy 93.]
[Descending in thick cloud]
On our descent we got glimpses of the Lyells, Whiterose and other peaks to the south such as Arras, Valenciennes, Icefall, Kemmel and Lens. A surprising number of peaks around Alexandra are over 10,000 feet and with the clouds, snow, rock and ice the scenes were very dramatic and changed rapidly as we descended. We managed to get a good look at the Lyell Creek approach, which looked fairly manky this late in the season. Queen's Peak, at 10,971 feet and right beside Alexandra, looks larger than it's more popular neighbor from certain angles. It doesn't sound like an easy climb either.
[The Alexandra Glacier lies far below as we walk in the clouds down the west ridge.]
[Great views on descent looking over Whiterose on the left, the approach valley at center, and over Coral, Spring Brook Peak and Spring-Rice on the right buried in clouds. ++]
[Wild scenery as we follow our tracks back down.]
[La Clytte is another impressive peak lying to the south of Alexandra.]
[Careful steps next to the north face - you don't want to slip here!]
[Descending in front of Whiterose.]
[Lens Mountain is very impressive to the SE. Part of the Lyell Glacier plunges down its NW face. ++]
[Ben descends under the distant gaze of Lens Peak.]
[Looking over Coral Peak at the unofficially named 'Rice Brook Peak' that Rick Collier et. al. summitted via a new 5.8 route in 2011.]
[Vern descends the rocky upper slopes - photo by Steven Song]
[The beautiful Whiterose Mountain tempts you the whole time you descend Alexandra, luring you into strange thoughts that maybe if you rushed you could combine the two summits... ;)]
[Ben and Steven look small in the big terrain - we are now lower than Whiterose again. ++]
[The Lyell Creek approach doesn't look bad from 3000 feet higher... In reality it's at least 10 hours of alder-bashing and Devil's Club hell! ++]
[Looking towards Lens Mountain again, with the Lyell Icefield hidden behind it at left.]
[Descending the upper part of the first slope from the col]
[Lots of slipping and sliding on rock / snow but not too bad. The views helped...]
[Ben crosses the top of the slabby section from the col, coming back to our initial scree ascent slope which was easy and fast on descent. ++]
From the col we again roped up, very aware of the huge holes we navigated around and over on ascent. The snow was noticeably softer and presumably weaker as we navigated down the broken glacier. I punched through one bridge as I stepped off of it, which was enough to make me nervous for the next hour as we slowly negotiated our way back along our tracks. We wanted to keep the rope as tight as possible but with the three of us winding comically down the mountain, it was a pretty slow process! Oh well. Better safe than sorry in this case. Some of the ice bridges between holes were less than 12 inches wide, so we had to be very careful when balancing along these. You really don't want to snag your crampons on your pants when you're staring down into dark abyss on either side!! The views of Coral, Fresnoy, Queens and Whiterose kept us distracted from our painful blisters caused by wet boots the day before. Queens looks to be the hardest of these ascents, the others looked fairly straight forward depending on route choice of course.
[The west glacier just under the col. Fresnoy, Queen's and Alexandra from L to R. ++]
[Descending the upper west Alexandra Glacier with the awesome bowl from Coral to Fresnoy in front of us. ++]
[It was a few hours of delicate travel through the heavily crevassed lower west Alexandra Glacier. Bridges that were bomber in the morning were significantly "less bomber" now.]
[Not a lot of room for error here.]
Once we finally got back on rock our pace quickened. Soon we were back at the rock step where we set up a rappel and quickly got down the crux. 30 meters of rope was just enough for this section, I wouldn't want to try with less. Down climbing the headwall section was interesting. Mostly it was easy to moderate scrambling, always looking for the easier way down - usually following bits of trail or even cairns. Towards the bottom we descended some steeper terrain but managed to get down reasonably. We found the main approach trail on descent (that always happens!) and noted that it went right through the 'tree island' on climber's right, before following cairns back to the creek crossings. It felt good to be down safely from Alexandra and we enjoyed a few hours of day light eating supper, talking about the various objectives in the area and already planning a much longer return trip to the area (5 days at least) before night once again settled over our bivy. We were tired and I wondered how the next day would go. We talked about traversing the highline to the mythical "four lakes" before taking to the bush, but we still didn't really know where exactly the highline route went after the point we gained it on ascent. And there was no bloody way we were going back in that Krommholtz mess...
[Just off the west glacier, looking back one more time at this special place.]
[Pano from the traverse along Coral looking back at Alexandra (l), Whiterose, Rose Petal, Whirlwind, Osprey and other peaks that lie along the highline traverse back out to our truck which seems a million miles away at this point! ++]
[The destiny of every glacier... ++]
[Cockscomb Mountain is another impressive peak in the area, lying to the south through a gap between Whiterose and Rose Petal.]
[What an incredible place! We are so lucky to experience views like this almost every weekend. I can't imagine life without this kind of peace.]
[Pano off the traverse along Coral. Ridiculous views to the south over base camp and South Rice Brook along the entire highline traverse back to the truck. ++]
[Heading down to the rap.]
[Spot Ben and Steven in the lower left, they are preparing the rap. The prominent peak is unofficially called "Rice Brook Peak" or Spring Rice S2. The so-called 'Cowboy Couloir' on Queant is to the right of it and Spring Rice is the snowy summit far in the distance on the right.]
[Ben on the short 5.2 rap]
[Having fun on the rap - photo by Steven Song]
[The headwall isn't 'easy' but if you're careful it's only scrambling. Photo by Steven Song.]
[Getting down the headwall to our bivy]
[It always feels so good to be off the tricky stuff and back in a warm valley bottom, knowing that you've accomplished something that certainly didn't seem possible only 8, 10 or 12 hours earlier.]
[Late afternoon sun reflects Alexandra and Whiterose in one of the small tarns near our bivy.]
[The log bridge isn't so slick anymore thanks to the warm sunshine during the day.]
[Stepping stones across the smaller creek with Coral in the background.]
[Feels so good to be back at our sublime bivy camp. Bryce looms far in the distance down valley.]
[Our beautiful valley includes (l to r) Bryce, Rice Brook Peak, Coral Peak, Queen's Peak and Mount Alexandra. ++]
[Fading light on the Alexandra Glacier headwall.]
[Tele shot of the main summit of Mount Bryce in the dying daylight.]
[Compressed telephoto of Queen's Peak (l) and Mount Alexandra (r) with their melting glacier and the evening sun.]
[Tons of fossils around camp]
I awoke at 04:00 and took some photos of a spectacularly clear Milky Way directly above my tent. These are the moments that live on in memory, long after the bushwhacking scars have faded.
[The Milky Way rising above Queen's and Alexandra at 04:00 makes even 11,000ers seem pretty darn insignificant. The Andromeda galaxy is obvious about halfway up the night sky here.]
[The night sky was obviously quite impressive in this remote location. It's hard to motivate yourself out of a warm tent at crazy hours after two days of hard work, but it's worth it when you get shots like this!]
[Coral Peak at left with Queen's and Alexandra at right and the night sky making everything underneath look small.]
As we sat eating breakfast in the early morning light I think we were all wondering what our third day on Alexandra was going to be like. It felt like we'd already spent a week in this isolated place and it was only around 45 hours from the truck! We agreed that we should come back for a week some time. There are a lot of sexy peaks around the upper South Rice Brook bivy location including, Spring Rice, Spring Brook, Queant, Coral, Fresnoy, Whiterose and others.
We struggled back into our heavy approach packs and set off from camp, up the moraines to the south, towards the trees on a faint trail hammered into scree. We couldn't help but sneak glances over at the now-familiar peaks behind us. When would we be back? This is a special place and it was going to be hard to forget about it. It was going to be hard not to come back sooner rather than later.
[Mighty Mount Bryce catches the early morning sun.]
Our original plan for egress was to retrace our approach across the first three ridges using GPS and our memories before groveling up and over yet another ridge, by-passing the Krommholtz forest and descending to the rumored lakes that we'd read about in several trip reports. From these lakes we'd hit the bush rather than risk getting cliffed out further on. At least we'd by-pass a large amount of the worst bush we encountered on approach. And unlike the approach, everything was relatively dry this time - other than a hard frost in shaded areas.
The day was gloriously sunny and the breezes were gentle and cool. As we gained height over successive each ridge, the views kept improving in all directions. It almost made up for the height gain / loss on my poor knees! We crossed the first few ridges, no problems. When we ascended the third one on loose scree we topped out to a frozen solid descent gully on the other side.
[Heading up a moraine above camp and under Rose Petal and Whirlwind.]
[Steven grunts up our first ridge - the grass is frozen solid. Bryce catches the sun in the far distance. That's where we gotta go today!]
[Looking back at the entire ascent route up Coral, the traverse and of course, Alexandra herself.]
[Hiking up frozen grassy slopes with Bryce stealing the morning sunshine.]
[Mounts Rose Petal and Whirlwind reflecting in a small tarn.]
[Gorgeous views down the South Rice Brook valley.]
[Mighty Mount Bryce with it's south gully looking huge compared to the upper face. King Edward just peeking over the shoulder of Bryce at left.]
[...and back down the other side! This is a very common theme on the highline route. Rice Brook Peak is now catching morning sunlight.]
[Looking ahead to another shoulder we have to ascend on the traverse.]
[Traversing on frozen terrain but high above the nasty creek below.]
[The terrain is always trickier when you're in in than it looks from afar. We had to cross many rushing streams on our exit.]
[Whirlwind (L) and Osprey (R).]
[A beautiful morning for a hike.]
[Looking back over the grassy meadow towards Alexandra.]
[Across the first ridge, looking at the first major valley and col we have to gain in the far distance between the two summits in the sun light. We will traverse as high as feasible to keep the height gain / loss more reasonable. ++]
[Great views of Queen's Peak and Mount Alexandra from the traverse.]
[Traversing on loose slabs.]
[A brilliant, sunny morning as we finally exit the shadows and I glance back towards Alexandra.]
[This is the always impressive Cockscomb Mountain.]
[We come up some lovely alpine meadows in beautiful sunshine - so much better than clouds and rain for this route!! Mounts Spring-Rice, Queant, Rice Brook, Fresnoy, Coral, Queen's, Alexandra and Whiterose are visible in the distance behind us. ++]
[Ben grunts uphill with his large alpine pack - but nobody's complaining about the warm sunshine.]
[The huge 'Bush Mountain' through gaps in the mountains to the south of our route. Sounds like a really fun approach! ;)]
[To the north is Mount Spring-Rice.]
[Not for the faint of heart with large alpine packs - you have to cross at least 3 of these high cols and a number of smaller ones. We gained over 1100 meters on DESCENT... ;)]
[The scree is more mud than rock.]
[View from the top of our first big col - the third ridge from the bivy. You can see all three route choices from here. The obvious 'red' col at the center left, the not-as-obvious 'steep' col to the right of the peak which is right of the red col and finally the lower traverse to the right of the slabby terrain, just above tree line. Mount King Edward, Columbia and Bryce are also showing up now. ++]
Now we had choices. There was two couloirs to choose from and a traverse above tree line. The 'red' south couloir to our left was easy but further, and we had no idea what the other side looked like. The north couloir (on our right) was closer but looked steep and slabby near the top. Again, we had no idea if the other side (where the lakes were supposed to be) would go or not. We decided to traverse the slopes above the Krommholtz field instead. We knew this route would work and were planning to bushwhack down from the end of that traverse - maybe after at getting a glimpse of the lakes. First we had to descend from our col - and this proved interesting! On ascent we'd traversed sketchy muddy cliffs up to this col - there was no way to do this on frozen mud! We tried to descend anyway until Ben lost his grip and narrowly avoided serious injury. We plodded back up to the sunny col and decided to go up and around a small summit on the north end of the ridge. I remembered that there was a large ledge we could probably descend from there, that I'd spotted on ascent. Thankfully this worked and we managed to work our way into the alpine bowl just above the Krommholtz field.
The traverse above the Krommholtz and beneath slabby cliffs, worked well. We found ourselves at a pretty steep drop off into a gully coming out of the 4-lakes area. We scrambled to the edge and were delighted to see two sparkling tarns beneath us - the lakes weren't just a myth after all! As we looked down at the unappealing forest below us, someone wondered out loud why we couldn't just ascend the ridge we were on and then descend back to the lakes and try the entire highline route back to the truck?
[One last look back at the Alexandra area.]
[The south glacier route on Bryce doesn't look so 'easy' now does it?! Mount Columbia and King Edward lie to the left. ++]
[Steven enjoys the views towards Bryce.]
[I'm just guessing here, but I assume the Lyell Creek route doesn't have views like this! We enjoyed these views all day on egress which helped distract sore and tired muscles. Peaks include King Edward and Columbia on the far right and the Chess Group at center and left. ++]
[Looking back over the highline traverse from where we came, towards the Alexandra area. South Rice Brook at lower left.]
[Views from the summit at the north end of the ridge were stunning! These are clearer views than we had from Alexandra. ++]
[The huge bulk of Mount Bryce with the south couloir clearly visible at left and the east ridge at right. ++]
[Big and beautiful Mount Alexandra.]
[Heading down to tree line beneath the hulk of Bryce. The South Rice Brook valley exit is visible under Bryce but don't be tempted to go there! It's NOT a nice place...]
[More traversing - now we're headed for the four lakes.]
[Grunting up and down shale / mud slopes near tree line. You can clearly see our icy descent slopes from the high col behind us here.]
[South Rice Brook marches off to the right, branching from the Rice Brook at lower left.]
[Our first glimpse of the two lower pocket lakes. From here we could have dropped into the horrendous forest on the right but we chose to try ascending the sharp ridge to our left instead. ++]
So, up the ridge we went! ;) The scrambling here was moderate / difficult on steep scree-covered slabs and required some intricate route finding. I'm not sure I'd recommend it for descent - I'd take the 'red' couloir instead. Soon we were traversing onto a ridge running between the two cols from the two couloirs. This ridge looked worse than it was up close, and when we got to the end of it we were treated to stunning views of the lakes below - there were three obvious ones, the largest one situated in a upper alpine bowl separated by a steep drop down to the other two smaller pocket lakes. (Some people drop down to these two lakes on ascent and then go back up to tree line to avoid either of the two afore-mentioned cols and the scrambling we did.) We traversed the larger, upper lake on it's southeast shoreline following a nice goat path before taking a well deserved break along a small stream feeding into the west end of the pond. The warm sun and cool breeze, combined with the sparkling surface of the lake and fresh water from the stream was the complete opposite of what we experienced on our difficult approach. It was a lovely few moments in a lovely setting. We all commented how nice it would be to bivy at this spot.
[Ben and Steven on the steep ridge above the pocket lakes.]
[The ridge wasn't easy but we managed to find a route up it by traversing left and then back up right.]
[Now we can see the upper lakes too. Wow. ++]
[Descending the ridge to the upper lake that would be consider two tarns in low water.]
[An amazing high alpine paradise. ++]
[The route you want to take, avoids any of the lower bushy hassles. ++]
[Bryce reflects in the upper lake as we traverse along its shoreline. ++]
We still had a long drive ahead of us (assuming the truck started and the road wasn't washed out...) and soon we were trudging up the final easy slopes to the col just south of the minor summit that stands above the ridge we drove up on approach. Without clouds obscuring it's summit, we could see that the peak was entirely surrounded by steep cliffs. We crossed our fingers and hoped for a ramp leading through on the opposite side, presumably to the ridge and eventually back to the truck. First things first - we ascended to the col and proceeded down a lovely, wide high alpine meadow to an even lovelier high alpine tarn. This is the mythical "first lake". Mount Columbia and King Edward reflected off it's still surface and the views we got from it's west end were stunning! Our views the entire egress were stunning. This makes the highline approach a no-brainer compared to any other approach to Alexandra, IMHO. At least on a clear day you are distracted from your suffering by amazing views in every direction.
[Trudging towards what we hoped was our "col to freedom" - all we needed was a ramp through the cliffs guarding the summit on the upper right lower down.]
[Not done gaining height on loose terrain just yet.]
[Looking back at the upper lake from the col. There are a few choices on ascent, you can go left and work your way across tree line beneath the two lower lakes (ugly) or take our route (may have tricky route finding) or take either of two cols, the one on the left or the one on the right. Both will work.]
[Another amazing sight - the high mountain pass with the cliffy summit on the right.]
[WOW! What a view! The first small lake comes into view along with many peaks, including King Edward and Columbia on the right and the Chess Group to the left. ++]
[Mount Columbia looks very different from this angle.]
[Mount King Edward was very high on my list after seeing it from this angle - it took me three attempts to finally stand on its summit in late August, 2017. ++]
[Amazing day in an amazing place. ++]
[This tarn is shallow and muddy - we crossed at the very mouth of it before it plunges down to our approach road on the other side.]
[Looking over the Bush River FSR and our hopeful escape route on the right. We hope this scree bench leads to our ridge where the truck is parked. This view goes right up the King Edward approach valley. This view also shows how much elevation gain you must do immediately on the highline traverse. ++]
[Mount Columbia in all her glory. Even South Twin, Twin's Tower and North Twin show up in this shot.]
[Giants in the area include King Edward just right of center and Pawn Peak (L) and the rest of the Chess Group including King, Bishop, Knight and Queen Peak to Pawn's right and left of King Edward. Columbia and the Twins on the far right. ++]
We nervously traversed to our left (north) along a wide scree ramp, hoping against hope that it wouldn't cliff out. It didn't! Hallelujah!! We were absolutely delighted to see a clear route to the ridge we drove up from the scree ramp we were on! Further down the ridge we passed a large rock cairn - the first human sign we saw on the whole highline traverse (don't expect any trails or cairns from the ridge onwards until the bivy). We were so relieved to have made it down to the ridge, we forgot to look for an easier way down and simply took the ridge crest through the bush to the top of the clear cut. I think we could have cut down near the cairn to our right and avoided the bush almost completely, if not completely. When we finally waded out of the thick bush on the ridge to the top of the cut block there was a faint animal trail running along the top of it. I was sure that this was the trail we ignored on ascent. It was. When we arrived back at the approach road, we built a cairn and made the flagging more obvious. Take this trail on ascent! Follow it up and then along the top of the cut block until you hit scree / boulder slopes. Follow this slope up to ridge top and then the ramp to the first lake.
[Giants of the Chess Group include The Pawn at left and King Mountain at right. ++]
[We begin a nervous traverse, fully expecting to be cliffed out at some point. ++]
[Now we're laughing! Our final ridge is directly below! Easy scree ramp access. You can't ask for better. The highline is officially going to work for us.]
[Terrace Mountain is remarkably free of snow this late in September. Won't be skiing it any time soon! ;)]
[Another grand view of Mount King Edward.]
[Nearing treeline again and bailing off the highline route.]
[Looking back up the scree ramp that skirts the upper cliffs and starts the highline route.]
[One of the only cairns we spotted the entire traverse is right at treeline. The scree ramp at right and the cliffs that forced us to go too low on ascent at center. The key is that bloody scree ramp that you don't see until you're here. ++]
[Back in the suck - thank goodness only temporarily this time!]
[We break out of the bush and onto the cut block]
[From the road, without clouds the access to the highline route is obvious at upper right. The cliffs that forced us to the lower valley are obvious too. Dang it.]
[Looking up at the cut block and the large cairn we built to show the way initially. This is about all the help you're going to get on route though. It's goat tracks and land marks from here!]
[Arriving at the truck after our bear encounter. Now let's hope it starts...]
[The lower cutblock that we drove up with the upper scree ramp access just out of sight at left - to the right of the obvious rock wall.]
Just before arriving back at the truck we spotted a large black bear on the road! Thankfully it slowly moved out of our way and even more thankfully, the truck started no problem and didn't have any flat tires. :) The ride home went smoothly and pretty quick. Needless to say, Alexandra was an amazing adventure and not one that will fade any time soon.
We're already planning our next trip to the area.
[My truck meets Mount Bryce - we'll be back.]
[Just past the sketchy traverse along the nose of the ridge, notice the unstable slopes above? It's much narrower about 100 meter behind us and the slope to the left plunges down hundreds of feet.]
[This bridge is critical for access to Alexandra, Bryce and King Edward. Bryce in the background.]
[Looking back along the Bush River arm of Kinbasket Lake. This is just a tiny little inlet compared to the size of the lake! You can see the type of drop off the road traverses on the right. ++]