After two long, exhausting days spent scrambling to the Lyell hut, climbing 4/5 of the Lyells and even Arctomys Peak, we were feeling a bit burned out on Sunday morning, June 28th. The night before, we'd come to the conclusion that getting up early enough to attempt Lyell IV (Walter Peak) was simply not going to happen - and it wouldn't have mattered on hindsight because the snow was a giant slurpee over night anyway, with no freeze whatsoever. Ben wasn't feeling like more peak bagging under the hot conditions we were getting, and was going to spend the day relaxing around the hut. Steven and I were on our own to attempt either Lens Peak or Farbus Mountain. There were hints in the hut register that Lens Peak wasn't too technical, but we really didn't know anymore details on this summit. The only route we saw involved pretty steep snow climbing on a south couloir before hopefully connecting with a snow ridge to the summit. Given the extremely warm temperatures and very hot forecast, we didn't really want to be on steep south facing snow slopes. That left Farbus.
Farbus Mountain was essentially unknown to me when Steven suggested it. He'd read (and memorized?) Rick Collier's trip from 1992 in the area, and remembered they bagged Farbus on skis with few issues. We knew that part of the Great Divide Traverse ski route comes up the Alexandra Glacier / Icefall to the Farbus / Ernest col before coming over the Ernest / Edward col and then down the main Lyell Glacier. We also knew that this glacier was rumored to be heavily crevassed and is one of the main cruxes on the traverse, so we were cautiously optimistic that we'd find a safe route from Ernest to Farbus in the conditions we had - but were willing to find out (for some weird reason).
We left the comfort of the Lyell hut under a very warm morning sun - the glacier wasn't even pretending to have a frozen surface for us. We repeated the now-familiar slog over the south ridge of Christian Peak before descending to the main ice field and turning left towards the three "Albertan" Lyells to the north. A long shuffle up to the Ernest / Edward col ensued. I didn't like crossing the schrund on Ernest in the warm temps and on very unsupportive snow, but we made it and continued to the north side of the col. As we contoured around the north slopes of Ernest we could clearly see that the route around the 'schrund mentioned by Corbett would no longer work unless it was very cold and there was lots of snow - in which case the 'schrund route is better anyway! An ice fall now comes off the north slopes and blocks safe access to the summit from that side. Our views to the Columbia Icefields were great, as was the view of Willerval, Monchy, Hooge and Amery.
[Yet another trip down from the hut towards the south ridge of Lyell V!]
[Traversing over the south ridge of Christian Peak for the 5th time in 3 days...]
[Another gorgeous day in a sublime environment! All 5 Lyells show up again.]
[The 'schrund on Ernest is still bridged, but with these warm temps it won't be for very long. Edward (II) is the peak in this photo.]
[At the Ernest / Edward col looking at our tracks up Edward from two days previous.]
[Obviously there is no safe route up Ernest's northern side anymore. We ascended over the 'schrund on the left side.]
[Traversing around the north side of Ernest. Farbus is the rounded snow bump just right of Steven and lower than us here. Oppy is the higher, corniced summit to its right and Alexandra rises in the bg.]
[A crazy nice view looking north from the northern slopes of Lyell III includes (L to R), Farbus, Alexandra, Queens, Oppy, Bryce, King Edward, Columbia, South Twin, North Twin, Alberta, Stutfield, Castleguard, Kitchener, Snow Dome, Androlumbia and Andromeda. ++]
As we approached the western flank of Ernest, where it descends to the top of the Alexandra Glacier and the Farbus col, we could no longer see an obvious route. What we could see was a bit scary with huge seracs, crevasses and 'schrunds blocking our way. We were disappointed but not quite ready to give up yet. We agreed to traverse 10 minutes more to our left to check out one last possible route down the west flank of Ernest. I was very nervous about weak bridges on this steep slope, so we took off the shoes, put on crampons and took out the avy probe to look for holes. Steven did a great job and managed to avoid the holes we found. Soon we were on distinctive red rocks / boulders and working our way down to the col - way down! In a carbon copy of the previous day on Arctomys, we lost hundreds of meters of elevation (all of which had to be regained on return) on our traverse to Farbus. We started out well above the peak and ended up 300-400 meters lower than it at the col. The scrambling was generally pretty moderate - we avoided the steep snow to our right on descent.
[Honestly, at this point I really thought Farbus was 'in the bag'. It looks so close from here! Two hours later we were still getting close to the summit... ;) There are huge holes and an ice fall straight ahead of us here, necessitating a detour out of sight to our left before descending to the col hundreds of vertical meters.]
[We've already traversed to the west flank of Lyell III and descended steep snow over crevasses. Now we're on flatter ground again, traversing to the rocky down climb to the col just ahead.]
[Looks close right? Distinctive red rock in front of us as we start the scramble down to the col. It's at least 300 vertical meters lower than us at this point and much steeper than it appears.]
Once at the col it was a pretty straightforward grunt back up Farbus. We found some old ski tracks at the col, along with a ski wand and even a brand new blue MEC thermos just sitting there in the snow with hot chocolate still inside - that was odd! We stuck to rock on ascent, mainly because we didn't have our 'shoes after ditching them already high on Lyell III's west flank. The views west into Lyell Creek were absolutely stunning and for the second day in a row, a small peak beside the lofty 11,000ers was proving to have the best panoramas. We probed carefully on the summit ridge for cornices and after some summit shots we relaxed on some rocks with a sublime view and a couple of ravens to keep us company. Our views of Oppy and Alexandra were the most impressive, but the north / west faces of the Lyells were also very unique.
[Farbus finally starts looking like a real mountain as we gain the col. This is where I found a bright blue MEC coffee container with hot chocolate still inside. Kind of creepy!]
[We followed rocks up most of Farbus just for a change of surface and to avoid postholing]
[Very unique views of Ernest Peak (Lyell III) from the north on Farbus' ascent slopes. Note the elevation loss required to get here from high around the upper left side of the photo!]
[Excellent views down Lyell Creek from Farbus - note the forest fire smoke hanging in the valley below.]
[Probing the summit ridge cornice]
[Looking over the cornice towards Alexandra and Oppy on the left and Saskatchewan and Willerval at center and right. ++]
[A wider view from the summit showing Lyell Creek and Alexandra, Queen and Oppy at center. ++]
[A beautiful (and rare) shot of Oppy Mountain - a very near 11,000er at 10,942 feet! If it didn't look so involved, I would have pushed Steven to try it... Who knows? Maybe some day. I bet it's seen exactly one or two ascents. Even Rick Collier didn't get up this one. The gorgeous summit ridge of Mount Alexandra rises in the background.]
[Looking past the lofty summit of Oppy Mountain at South and North Twin Peaks in the far distance.]
[Alexandra looks best from this angle IMHO. Queen Peak was verified at less than 11,000 feet by Rick Collier in 2011 at around 10,990 - only 10 feet short!]
[Lyell Creek might look nice from here, but it's a thrash to approach Alexandra through!]
[Mount Sir Sandford is a huge 11,500 foot peak]
[Rostrum, Icefall and Rostrum Tower rise over Kemmel Mountain]
[Lens Mountain is impressive from this angle]
[I think this is the Chess Group of peaks, including Pawn, looking over Whiterose and Alexandra in the foreground.]
[South Twin, North Twin, Alberta and Stutfield.]
[Androlumbia, Andromeda and Athabasca with Terrace Mountain in the foreground]
[One more pano from our excellent lunch spot. ++]
The initial descent of Farbus was fast - we stuck to the snow which was surprisingly supportive given the nuclear conditions we were experiencing. The ascent up the west flank of Lyell III was a bit hellish. Again, we stuck to the snow and slowly, one kick at a time, we got up to our 'shoes. We carefully avoided some upper crevasses on Ernest before contouring back over the Ernest / Edward col. From there it was a long (familiar) trek back down and then along the main icefield before going over Christian's south ridge and back to the Lyell Hut. Our round trip time of 9 hours is actually not bad when you consider the distance and elevations we had on our legs from the previous 2 days at this point! Ben was surprised to see us back so early.
The rest of the afternoon / evening was spent enjoying the Lyell Hut and it's environs. I spent hours sitting above the hut in a stone chair, meditating on life and enjoying the great views. We got an updated weather forecast from Ben's buddies and instead of the 30 degrees and sun that was forecast previously, we were getting rain and much cooler temps for our exit! Oh well. We were getting tired of the sun anyway. My lips were all burnt up and my eyes were very tired of the constant glare. We set our alarms early to avoid heavy rain and t-storms if possible.
NOTE: Distance and elevation measured from the Lyell Hut