Friday, June 26 was a lot longer and involved a one day record amount of height gain for me at around 11,000 feet in total. It involved the entire approach to the Lyell Hut from the Valenciennes forestry service road and the subsequent ascents of Ernest, Edward and Rudolph peaks - three 11,000ers. We agreed to "sleep in" on Saturday and therefore didn't get up until 06:00. You know you're an alpinist when 06:00 is considered sleeping in... :)
[A gorgeous morning view from the Lyell Hut, looking over "Crampon Col" towards Rostrum Peak (L) and Icefall Peak / Rostrum Tower (R). The Lyell Hut is not as easy as many of the mountain huts (i.e. ACC) to get to and involves either exposed scrambling, rappels or steep skiing and lots of elevation changes on route.]
Obviously our goal for the weekend was to ascend all the Lyell peaks. This included Lyell 4, or Walter Peak, which is considered one of the more technical of the 11,000ers to climb. There are two main routes to Walter's summit. The 'easiest' route is over Christian Peak via the south ridge. The more sporting route is from the north ridge from the col between Walter and Ernest via a steep snow / ice climb followed by a 5.4 pitch and then some exposed low 5th class / steep snow to the top. There is, however, another route that very few consider nowadays. The first ascent of Walter was done via the west slopes of the peak, ascending to the Christian / Walter col and then following the south ridge to the apex over and around some very tricky pinnacles. This route is mentioned by Corbett in his guidebook as "no longer feasible" due to glacier retreat, but Rick Collier and his party successfully ascended it in 1992 and given our rapidly deteriorating snow conditions, we decided to try it as well. Our main concern were the pinnacles just before the summit, that many summit parties mention as being some of the toughest terrain on the route. Given our slurpee snow conditions we were also concerned about the heavily corniced ridge that we'd seen from Ernest Peak the day before.
I knew almost as soon as we kicked our way towards the glacier on the northwest side of the Lyell Hut that Lyell IV probably wasn't going to happen this day. Ben and I were not "feeling it". I was tired from the day before and the snow had not frozen over night and was a bit slushy already in the shade. We started up the west glacier, contouring around the west ridge of Christian before heading towards the west face of Walter for a look at the proposed route. Instantly I saw some issues in the form of objective hazards. There were two gaping 'schrunds which were dumping ice over our traverse line and many huge holes with sagging bridges lower down in the bowl and on the moderate ascent slopes to the col. With a solid freeze and cooler temperatures this route would probably still go, but in our conditions both Ben and I felt strongly that this was a risky proposition. Adding to our apprehension was the fact that if the upper route didn't go (and there was a good chance it wouldn't), we would have to come back down this bowl and expose ourselves to the objective hazards TWICE - and in much warmer temps on return! I know Steven was quite disappointed but he agreed with our logic and we decided to ascend Christian Peak first and see if the traverse via the south ridge would work for Walter. The odds were slim though.
[We make our way along the west ridge of Christian Peak towards the west face of Walter, which is straight ahead here. The route looks easy from this vantage. Lyell III just to the left of Walter and Farbus Mountain on the far left side of the photo - it can't be access from this side.]
[Now things look a bit more serious. Heavily crevassed, sagging snow bridges and a traverse between two large 'schrunds that are shedding snow and ice over the route. All on slurpee snow. No thanks! Lyell V at upper right, Lyell IV at center and Lyell III just to the left of Lyell IV. ++]
[More of what we'd have to deal with before accessing the west face of Walter Peak]
[Lots of sagging bridges visible (in sunlight) on the west face of Walter and lots of massive holes between us and that far slope! We just weren't feeling like dealing with all these hazards on a very hot day...]
[Nothing wrong with the views though! Looking off Christian's West Ridge towards Alexandra with Oppy and Farbus to the right and Columbia, South and North Twin clearly visible in the far distance. ++]
We trudged up and around Christian's west ridge to the regular south face route. Even this wasn't the "walk in the park" that many people probably expect. Again, I think rising temperatures may be putting the Lyell Peaks out of shape earlier in the season, or perhaps making them a wee bit tougher to climb thanks to open crevasses and 'schrunds. Lyell V had a pretty big 'schrund splitting across its entire south face. Steven found a bridge that held us, but due to its aspect and the warm temps, we didn't love it! As I crossed the bridge I looked into the darkness below and knew I didn't want to linger here long. The steep slope above the 'schrund was also not in the best condition. It felt like we were climbing up a giant slushy pile of snow that would slide completely off the mountain and into the 'schrund at any time. We didn't linger on this slope either. So far our decision not to mess with the heavily crevassed west face of Walter was looking like a good one.
[Just finishing the West Ridge of Christian and transitioning to the South Face route. We briefly considered the rocky west ridge to the summit but it's not quite as easy as it looks and we didn't want to be tempted onto the snow right next to the rock as it would be even more unstable than the face.]
[Ben traverses towards the bridge over the 'schrund on the south face of Christian Peak, the west ridge on the right.]
[A steep snow climb on slurpee snow - sometimes sinking to knee deep without the 'shoes on.]
The summit views were stunning, naturally. We took photos and then started the descent towards Walter peak down the north ridge of Christian. We didn't get far. With hours of daylight and good energy / focus and cooler temperatures I think we could have gone much further than we did, but we didn't have those things. Sometimes you have to know when to turn back and this was one of those rare occasions for us. Bagging another Lyell, just for the sake of "bagging it" didn't appeal when weighed with the risks and the conditions we had and the way Ben and I were feeling. Walter Peak is the hardest of the Lyells to climb, but also the least spectacular. It isn't the highest. It isn't the sexiest. It doesn't have the best views. All of these factors combined with a sagging snow bridge still baking and weakening in the morning sun on Christian's south face, combined to turn our group around and call it a day. Walter will be climbed by us some day, on a cool, crisp morning when we're all feeling it. I'm pretty sure it'll be there for a while, just waiting for us.
[Amazing views down the Lyell Creek valley with Walter and Ernest on the right. The spine of the North American Continent (Great Divide) can be clearly seen marching away on the right side of the pano - including the summits of Walter, Farbus, Oppy, Alexandra, Bryce and Columbia. ++]
[A wider view with Lyell Creek on the far left and Walter, Ernest, Edward and Rudolph all visible. The south ridge of Christian on the far right with Erasmus, Sullivan, Arctomys and Forbes just a few of the peaks in the far distance across the Lyell Icefield. ++]
[This is as far as we got on our traverse to Walter Peak. Slurpee snow, lack of motivation and probably some tiredness all contributed to an aborted attempt. The mountain will wait for us.]
[That snow couloir on Erasmus is a nice line to the summit block. Not so easy by Rick's description.]
[The Amery / Monchy / Hooge traverse is still one of my all-time favorite days in the mountains.]
[If you can name every peak in this pano, you're probably named "Eric Coulthard". :) This pano looks west and north from Lyell V. ++]
[Mons Peak looks pretty tiny now. Other peaks in the area include Cambrai, Messines, Saint Jullien and Valenciennes. Mount Dent is almost 11,000 feet at over 10,740 and other giant peaks of the Freshfields are visible in the far background.]
[The twin summits of Division Mountain with Division Ridge running towards the camera in the foreground. ]
[Mighty Mount Forbes in all its glory. What a beautiful, majestic mountain!]
[One more view into the gorgeous (but hellish to travel through!) Lyell Creek valley - an approach route for Alexandra, but not a recommended one anymore.]
The descent down the south face of Christian Peak went quickly and soon we found ourselves near our traverse tracks from the previous day with many hours of day light left and nothing else to do. Ben wanted to go back to the hut and spend the afternoon reading, catching up on sleep and enjoying the beautiful weather. Steven kind of wanted the same thing, but knew he'd be bored after 3 or 4 hours. I also wanted to relax for a bit, but also knew I'd be bored after an entire afternoon of just sitting around. It was a hot day, but the sky was clear and the views were great. Steven pointed to a tiny brown bump, lower than our current position on the icefield and asked, "what about Arctomys Peak?".
[Descending the south ridge of Lyell V]
[Tricky terrain over the 'schrund on the south face of Christian Peak]
[The day has already gone 'nuclear' and it's only around noon as we trudge down the south ridge of Lyell V]
[Looking back at Christian Peak and our tracks up the south face]
[Our route track on day two of a peak bagging trip into the Lyell area. Note our route around the west side of Lyell 5 - this isn't necessary and we only did it this way to scope out the west face of Lyell IV.]
NOTE: Round trip time is from the Lyell Hut.