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.]
[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.]
[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.]