Ernest Peak (Lyell III)


Trip Details
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Trip Date: 
Friday, June 26, 2015 to Monday, June 29, 2015
Summit Elevation (m): 
Summit Elevation (ft): 
Elevation Gain (m): 
Round Trip Time: 
Total Distance (km): 
Quick 'n Easy Rating: 
Class 3 : you fall, you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: 

Remote glacier travel with some bergschrund / serac fall hazards depending on the route and time of year.

Trip Report

After a gorgeous 8 hour approach via Icefall Brook / Canyon, we found ourselves at the small, tidy Lyell Hut around noon with many hours of beautiful sunny weather staring back at us. I think it was Ben who initially started musing that perhaps we should "go for Lyell 1, 2 and 3 (Rudolph, Edward and Ernest) today yet". Wait, what?! When I first overheard his murmured suggestion I thought I must be dreaming. I'd never heard of anyone doing the entire Lyell Hut approach on foot and then 3 of the 5 Lyells on the same day. As we thought about it though, it started to make a bit of sense. The snow was still holding up quite well and this was the coolest day in the forecast. Why not take advantage and go for a few summits already? Why not indeed... cool


[The day goes nuclear as we descend to the Lyell hut after a 12km approach and 2,000 meters of height gain from the Valenciennes FSR. Icefall Peak at center and Rostrum / Bush at left with Rostrum Tower in the distance at center.]


Sure enough! Within an hour we were headed away from our cozy little hut and back down to the icefield below. Steven led us eastward around and then over the south ridge of Christian Peak (Lyell V) and then slowly down to the main Lyell Icefield leading up to the 5 Lyell peaks to the north. We had to avoid some holes, but most were obvious at this point in the season. I was very glad we'd lugged the snowshoes up - there would have been seriously slow trudging in ankle deep, soft snow without them. The day went nuclear (very hot) in the afternoon with an extremely intense sun baking the icefield and us along with it. It was impossible to escape the glare and over the next few days this would give me some eye issues. As we descended to the icefield below, I started feeling the approach and the 3.5 hours of sleep from the restless night on the Valenciennes FSR far below us now. The Lyells looked close at this point, but 2 hours later we were still slogging slowly up the icefield and I was now falling asleep while walking! I've had a similar experience while traversing to Mount Columbia - and I still ascended Columbia after that experience so I guess I was OK to ascend the Lyells at this point too. cheeky


[I can't believe it, but we're heading back down the slope leading up to the hut. This slope became the bane of our existence when we had to ascend it each evening after a long day out! Christian Peak can be accessed by the obvious icefield directly ahead of us here, or by contouring either left or right around the ridge the hut is perched on.]

[Forbes at left with Mons at right. ++]

[Forbes rises over the cooking icefield - it was very hot already on day one and only got hotter each subsequent day.]

[Mons Peak rises over our approach bench along the cliffs at lower right - approx route in red. Mons Hut is out of sight on the left somewhere and its access route can be seen where the cliff band deteriorates above the access ledge at center left of the photo - approx route in orange but others would work too.]

[Looking back down the Icefall Brook drainage at center right. 10 hours ago we started somewhere near the base of Arras Peak at center right - a long ways off!]

[Avoiding a crevasse on the  lower south ridge of Christian Peak which rises in the far distance over Ben's head at center.]

[Rounding the south ridge of Christian now and descending to the main Lyell Icefield. The five Lyells all visible now.]

[We've already come up and down Christian Peak's south ridge (L) and turned north. Now we're trudging towards the Three Lyells - it's much, much further than you'd think based on this photo. Hours away at this point. Remember - these are 11,000ers.]


Eventually we slowly passed Christian (V) and Walter (IV) and started gaining height on Ernest Peak (III). Looking over at the Edward (II) / Rudolph (I) col, it looked more crevassed than I expected. There were two 'schrunds and a steep ice fall off the southeast face of Edward where Corbett has a route line going straight up. I'm pretty sure that line would have to wait for a big snow year now - perhaps it is no longer feasible at all. We crossed the obvious 'schrund on Ernest on a pretty decent snow bridge although I thought maybe we should have taken a bit more care in this area. Steven, Ben and I have been on a lot of glaciers this past year and gotten pretty darn lucky with bridges / crevasses. On Forbes, Ben and Steven got even luckier considering how warm it was, and I think some level of personal caution might have been dulled due to all this good luck. It happens. The thing about mountains is that they don't necessarily reward good luck with more good luck. Luck and crossed fingers are not a good way to deal with snow bridges! 


[Looking back down the main Lyell Glacier at Mount Forbes. Our tracks come in from the right - in front of the visible bump on the lower right that is part of Division Ridge.]

[Inching closer.]

[4/5 of the Lyell peaks in front of us, slowly but surely getting larger and larger.]

[Finally getting close enough to Ernest (L) and Edward (R) that they are looking like real peaks.]

[The snow is getting a bit slushy as we head for the 'schrund crossing.]

[On a steeper slope to the Ernest / Edward col. The 'schrund visible just ahead of Steven here with obvious crevasses to our right.]

[Looking east past Edward - our second of the Lyells.]

[Spectacular view of Walter Peak, showing why nabbing its summit would have been challenging in the nuclear conditions we had - note the corniced upper ridge and gaping 'schrund.]

[Almost at the col, starting to trend climber's left towards Ernest.]

[Spectacular views back down the Lyell Glacier from the Ernest / Edward col with Christian and Walter on the right. You can see the south ridge of Christian Peak that we had to cross over from the hut, which is out of sight behind the two most spectacular of the Lyells - but not the highest. ++]


Once at the Ernest / Edward col we were treated to some pretty remarkable views in all directions. The weather was perfect as we trudged towards the northeast slopes of Ernest. We could see a pretty large 'schrund breaking our ascent slope, and small bits of ice were showering down our route from a strong summit melt as we donned crampons and started up a snow slope towards the summit. Corbett mentions "steep snow" or a traverse around to climber's right and "possible crevasse issues" but I think conditions have changed a bit thanks to a warming trend in the Rockies over the past few years. To go climber's right (avoiding the immediate 'schrund issue) means going up and across an active ice fall tumbling straight down the north side of Ernest! There is no safe way around or up this icefall. You could possibly tempt fate on the far right side and get across a gaping crevasse - but IMHO this is no safer than dealing with the obvious 'schrund nearer the Ernest / Edward col.


[Heading for the east / north aspect of Ernest Peak - the highest of the Lyell Peaks.]

[Snowshoes are off for the steep ascent ahead.]

[Looking back at the very easy west slope of Edward - our next objective - and our 'shoe tracks from the col.]

[It's not looking totally trivial up ahead.]

[Trudging up Ernest Peak's steep east ridge under a BLAZING sun.]


We carefully ascended near the gaping 'schrund and managed to tip toe over a pretty intimidating bridge. Again - I think we were a wee bit too casual with this hole. When I crossed after the other two guys, I probed the bridge and found my pole easily passed through most of it into the black hole beneath! I was super nervous about re-crossing it on descent. (We did use an ice ax boot belay on both ascent and descent to make us feel a bit better about it.)


[Ben finishes the delicate traverse over the 'schrund on Ernest Peak's NE face - Steven boot belays from above.]

[Just in case you thought the snow bridge wasn't exposed - a fall would seriously suck here as you'd plop straight down into the gaping maw of the 'schrund beneath.]

[Looking across the north face of Ernest from near the 'schrund towards the Columbia Icefield.]

[The summit ridge of Ernest Peak.]


Once on the summit ridge we were treated to spectacular views all around. The late afternoon sun gave us perfect lighting on the scary looking Walter Peak to the south and perfect lighting on the distant giants of the Columbia Icefield and closer ones such as Oppy and Mount Alexandra. It was interesting to note that we were now above the giant Rostrum and Icefall Peaks - which loomed over us for so many hours on our approach. 


[Higher than Christian and a scary looking Walter as we keep ascending Ernest's summit ridge.]

[Note the slushy snow as we traverse at over 11,000 feet.]

[Awesome views as we approach the summit of Ernest Peak. Even Kinbasket Lake and Mount Sir Sanford are visible far in the distance right of center. ++]

[Looking way down the Lyell Creek drainage all the way down the Bush River and even to Kinbasket Lake at far right. Walter and Christian at left of center with Rostrum, Icefall, Lens left of the Lyell Creek valley and right of center distance. Forbes and Mons at distant left.  ++]

[Looking southeast over Edward and Rudolph peaks and the main Lyell Icefield at right of center beneath. Arctomys Creek at distant center and Forbes at distant right. ++]

[Gazing north over Farbus and Oppy towards Mount Alexandra. To the left is Cockscomb and Whiterose with peaks in the far distance including Tsar, Clemenceau, Bryce, King Edward, Columbia, South Twin, North Twin, Alberta, Stutfield, Kitchener, Castleguard, Snow Dome, Androlumbia, Andromeda, Terrace, Athabasca, Saskatchewan and many others. ++]

[A B&W panorama looking north over Alexandra and Oppy towards the Columbia Icefield. ++]

[Farbus Mountain in the foreground with Oppy in between it and Mount Alexandra with Queen's Peak jutting out to center. Tsar, Tusk, Clemenceau and Bryce form an impressive 11,000er backdrop.]

[Looking up the Castleguard River towards the Columbia Icefield. Castleguard at center with South Twin, North Twin, Alberta, Stutfield, Kitchener, Snow Dome, Androlumbia and Andromeda in the background L to R.]

[Looking over our ascent tracks to the northeast at the magnificent summit of Mount Saskatchewan - a possible 11,000er?]

[Mount Columbia at left now, in this view towards the Columbia Icefield.]

[Willerval Mountain has not been ascended often - probably only once in 1951 by the indefatigable pair of F.D. Ayres and A.E. Creswell. In September 2012, Eric Coulthard and I witnessed a good chunk of Willerval's east face collapse into the Amery Creek valley as we made our way along the 2nd ascents of Monchy and Hooge Peaks.]

[Looking past Edward Peak (Lyell II) towards Mount Cline and Resolute with Wilson at center with it's double summit.]

[Looking over Arctomys Peak at lower left with Sullivan at left and peaks such as Murchison and Sarbach in the distance beyond. At center is Outram and Forbes with the Mons Glacier and Mons Peak at distant right. ++]

[Looking south back towards Forbes, Mons, Christian, Walter and the SW Lyell Glacier at right. ++]

[Rostrum Peak and Bush Mountain (triangular face in front of Bush) on the left of center and Icefall Peak on the right look a bit smaller now that we're above them. A few hours ago they still looked pretty darn big!]

[Finally a good view of Mount Alexandra! This peak is hard to find a good view of since it's buried so far 'out there' between many other large mountains. It has the only approach that I've done so far that eclipses the Icefall Brook / Canyon approach to the Lyells. Tsar Mountain is in the background left and Clemenceau background right.]

[A gorgeous view over Farbus and Oppy towards Clemenceau, Bryce and King Edward.]

[Mount King Edward and Mount Columbia - two of the most western 11,000ers on the Columbia Icefields.]

[From R to L, South Twin, North Twin, Alberta, Stutfield and even lowly Castleguard show up]

[Rick Collier and his group became only the 2nd ascent party to summit the impressive bulk of Mount Erasmus in 2009. There is no easy way up this 10,712 foot beast. Speaking of beasts, Mount Murchison rises at distance right and is one of the latecomers to the 11,000ers group thanks to a summit elevation mix up from the early 1900's.]

[In 2012, Eric Coulthard and I became only the 8th recorded party to summit Mount Amery and only the 2nd recorded ascent party to stand on top of both Monchy and Hooge peaks.]

[Mount Saskatchewan looks mighty close to 11,000 feet across the Alexandra River valley.]

[I missed out on Forbes this year (again!!) but I'll get this beautiful peak one of these years! There's no rush for such a gorgeous summit I guess. UPDATE: I finally summitted Mount Forbes in perfect conditions in the spring of 2016.]

[The impressive glacier falling away from beneath Ernest's south face and Walter's west face.]

[Looking a bit further west down into the Lyell Creek drainage. This is an alternate approach to Mount Alexandra and sounds like pretty hellish traveling.]

[One more view towards Whiterose Mountain at center foreground with Cockscomb to the left and the Chess Group beyond at distant right.]


The day was getting long as we snapped summit photos and too soon it was time to return down the spectacular east ridge and delicately over the 'schrund before strapping back into the snowshoes for an easy ascent of Edward Peak.


[Casting long shadows as we leave the summit of Ernest on route to Edward and Rudolph at right here.]

[Hiking back to the crux on the NE face along the east ridge with spectacular views over our next two summits and down the icefield below. ++]

[Just before the steep crux downclimb over the 'schrund to our left. ++]

[This perch on the east ridge of Ernest Peak offered some of the best views of the weekend. Edward and Rudolph at left.]

[It's a steep downclimb to the 'schrund]

[A look back at our tracks up Ernest Peak from the Ernest / Edward col.]


It's a close competition between Christian and Ernest peaks as my favorite of the Lyells. Ernest probably wins simply due to the fact that it has an interesting NE crux, it's the highest of the Lyells and it offers unbelievable views over all the other Lyells, not to mention a myriad of surrounding peaks. (Click here to continue our journey up the easy Edward and Rudolph peaks.)

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