Category Archives: Canada

Wedge

Toe of Wedgemount Glacier (Renee's photo)

Toe of Wedgemount Glacier (Renee’s photo)


It was time to get back to the mountains. While I have yet to explore much in the southern Coast range, online information is much sparser than for most parts of the States. Based on the available beta, I selected Wedge Mountain, the highpoint of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Its northeast ridge is a moderate snow climb with minimal crevasse risk, the approach starts relatively high at just over 3000′ and features minimal bushwhacking, and it probably has a nice view of the range south toward Squamish and Vancouver.

After one final fancy meal, Renée and I drove up to the well-signed and -used Wedgemount Lake trailhead, next to some sort of ugly construction project north of Whistler. We found perhaps a dozen other cars, including a few people camped out to start in the morning. Apparently none of the others were headed peak-ward: the next day was Flag Day, so even non-mountaineering Canadians were out enjoying the start of their brief summer.

Wedgemount Lake

Wedgemount Lake

It was drizzling slightly when we started not-too-early the next day, wearing heavy boots and shells. The trail was slightly brushy in a few open sections, but stayed mostly in the woods, so we were thankfully spared the morning dew-soaking. Like most trails in BC, this one was built by users, so it goes nearly straight up the drainage, gaining over 3000′ in about three miles on its way to a hut and camping area at Wedgemount Lake. As the woods opened up, we got occasional views of the valley below, a nearby cascade, and the feet of mountains to the west, but no sun.

Lower ridge

Lower ridge

We came upon the lake suddenly, blue from glacial till and still holding some winter snow, under clouds that obscured the surrounding summits. The toe of the Wedgemount Glacier, the start of the route, was visible across it to the southeast. While it looked gray and cold, the day was relatively warm, and the rain was rarely more than a gentle drizzle. After a stop in the empty hut to get chilled and put on more clothes, we continued on a path and bootpack around the lake, then followed some old ski tracks toward the Wedgemount-Weart glacier col. There are two ways to reach the northeast ridge, and we chose the lower one to avoid the crevasse field on the upper Wedgemount.

Glimpse of upper Wedgemount Glacier (Renee's photo)

Glimpse of upper Wedgemount Glacier (Renee’s photo)

Nearing where the toe of the ridge should be, we found ourselves slogging up slush in a mixture of cloud and gentle drizzle, able to see only a couple hundred yards ahead. The ridge starts out broad, though fortunately narrow enough to be recognizable in the fog. The cold and wet became uncomfortable in windier areas, and there seemed little chance of a view at the top, so I thought of turning around. However, there was no real danger of freezing or getting off-route, so we continued up a mixture of snow and wet, loose talus. Past a short third-class section, we found what was likely a more direct couloir from the Wedgemount to the ridge, and I added a cairn for the way down.

Random cornice (Renee's photo)

Random cornice (Renee’s photo)

As we climbed, the ridge became more snow than talus, and we began following a bootpack from the past few days. Judging by online photos, the climb would have been spectacular on a clear day, with the large, flat Weart Glacier stretching away to the north and east, and the summit looming ahead. Today, though, we only had variations on the theme of “gray.” The ridge was mostly gentle, with a brief steep section below the summit plateau.

Crux pitch below summit

Crux pitch below summit

Fortunately there was a sizable summit cairn, because otherwise the high point would not have been obvious in the clouds. We suffered for a bit on top, then found adequate seating in the summit’s lee, where it was almost warm enough not to need jackets for a few minutes. Someone had “thoughtfully” left a nasty cigar in the summit register jar, so I didn’t bother picking through the scraps of paper for an unlikely familiar name.

Collapsed glacial lake (?)

Collapsed glacial lake (?)

The descent went easily, with a bit of inward-facing downclimbing on the steep part, and a mixture of plunge-stepping, boot-skiing, and postholing on the rest. The weather pretended to be clearing a few times, providing views of the Weart and Wedgemount Glaciers to either side, and maybe even the summit. The lake, deserted on the way up, was now swarming with backpackers, including a dozen or so school kids hiking up to the glacier’s snout. Things were almost festive despite the continuing threat of drizzle. The 3000 feet of stomping down the trail were not especially fun, as the stiff boots mashed the soles of my feet, and the slick roots and mud constantly tested my balance and reflexes. Despite all my complaining, it was a good day: mission accomplished with manageable misery. On a clear day, Wedge would be genuine type I fun.

Squamish-y things

Good scenery and bad posture

Good scenery and bad posture


[All photos by Renée.]

With the snowpack and my own motivation not quite in condition for Serious Business in the Cascades, I took advantage of an opportunity to both climb and interact with civilization up in Squamish, where Renée and a couple of her friends were doing things with ropes and gear. In addition to getting in some roped climbing practice, I hoped to tag a couple of local peaks. After another typically unpleasant encounter with a Canadian border guard, I pulled into the Stawamus Chief parking lot early enough to chat with Renée and MJ before it got dark, and easily found parking in the “day use” lot on a weekday. I had been worried about being deported or sent to the Snow Mexican juzgado for sleeping there, but plenty of other climbers were already blatantly camped, so I figured I would have time to make a getaway if things turned bad.

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

First up was Calculus Crack (direct 5.9 start), a 5-ish pitch route on the Apron. After waiting for a couple of groups ahead of us, MJ led the first pitch, up a corner and out above the forest canopy. While it did not look too steep, the rock was much slicker than at Index, and I embarassingly could hardly follow the pitch. I was almost discouraged enough to be lowered off and walk home, but the rest was only 5.8, and was supposedly more sticky where the rock received more sun.

Calculus Crack P3

Calculus Crack P3

Climbing as a team of three on two ropes was a bit of a nuisance, but we were fast enough to have to wait again at the top of the second pitch. The rest of the climb was less slick and easy enough for me to actually enjoy it. The “top” was actually an exit ledge partway up the huge face, and walls beckoned above and to either side. I am not a climber, but I understood why people spend weeks camped at the base, following different paths up this maze of routes.

With the two waits, we did not have enough time to do another long route, so we instead headed over to Smoke Bluffs, a forest maze surrounding single-pitch crags facing different directions and with different levels of tree-cover. With this variety, it would be possible to find comfortable temperatures at most times during the climbing season, and the approach trails were well-maintained and -signed enough not to confuse a newcomer. I followed a fun and sometimes painful 5.9 hand-crack, then we all retreated to the friends’ house for fancy dinner. This mode of existence was neither temperamentally nor financially sustainable for me, but I could put up with it for a couple of days.

Flailing at Cheakamus

Flailing at Cheakamus

The next day we headed up to Cheakamus Canyon for some bolted face climbs with great views of the Tantalus range. I much preferred this area, with face climbing on predictably sticky rock on which routes I could actually climb were steep enough for falling not to hurt. I managed to lead a few things, and toproped some 5.10s less embarrassingly than I had feared. Still, by the end of the day a mixture of failure and lack of sleep had reduced my desire to crag; it was time for more typical activities.

After another late night, it was off to do some hill-running. Renée and I started with a sort-of loop over the Chief’s three summits, leading through hordes of tourists on some familiar and more unfamiliar trail. The “climber’s route” off the back of the first summit, with its hand-chain and rebar ladders, is easy to miss from the top, but well worth finding. The route is too steep to involve much running, but I didn’t mind saving my knees.

I had lunch in the climbers’ lot, then caught up on sleep for a couple of hours in the back of my car before heading over to the tram to run the Sea to Sky trail. There had been a race the previous weekend, and I wanted to see how close I could come to the winning time. At about 3600 ft/hr, it looked approachable on paper: I had managed similar speeds around Jackson, even when not fully rested. However, the actual trail had numerous flat sections and downhills, several of which were rooty and technical. The course record was actually set by someone capable of near-world-class ascent rates, and I did about how I should have expected: 25% off the CR at 57 minutes bottom-to-top. Hills don’t lie.

Ossa

Tantalus and raven

Tantalus and raven


[This is old, but probably worth writing up. — ed.]

Subtle trailhead

Subtle trailhead

Ossa is the only “hiker’s peak” in the Tantalus Range north of Squamish. Though the range is less than ten miles from downtown Squamish, this is British Columbia, so it is still “remote” enough that most people get there by helicopter. For the po’ folk, there are two other options: crossing the Squamish River to the center of the range on a cable used by the water utility, and hiking in to the north end of the range from the logging road on Ashlu Creek, which bridges the Squamish. Starting at an inconspicuous sign on the Ashlu road about 200 feet above sea level, a relatively well-signed and -used trail leads to the base of a glacier at the head of Sigurd Creek around 4,000 feet. From here, the entire range can be reached with varying degrees of difficulty (and no helicopter).

Squamish River valley

Squamish River valley

From camp at the “trailhead,” I started up the trail with ice axe and running-shoe crampons. I wasn’t sure what I could do, but hoped to traverse Ossa and Pelion, the two northernmost peaks, and possibly scout out the approach to Tantalus, the highest peak in the range. Slogging up from near sea level, I admired the steep sides of the Squamish valley below. Ancient glaciers carved the valleys all the way down to the ocean here, creating either steep-sided fjord-like inlets, or flat-bottomed river valleys where broad, braided rivers meander to the sea.

First view of Pelion and Ossa

First view of Pelion and Ossa

After the initial climb along Sigurd Creek’s cascades, the valley flattens, and the trail crosses woods and slide paths, passing Sigurd Mountain and Lake to the north. This section is fortunately in good shape, with minimal bush-whacking required in the slide path. The local mountaineering club had even installed an improved log to cross Sigurd Creek, though in this dry year it could probably be forded or even jumped.

Pelion-Ossa saddle and low-lying glacier

Pelion-Ossa saddle and low-lying glacier

After more climbing, the trail emerges on the terminal moraine of a receding glacier below the Ossa-Pelion ridge. From this point, a faintly-flagged route continues to Ossa’s easy northwest ridge; climbers of Pelion and other Tantalus peaks should continue cross-country up the left-hand moraine and ridge. I had hoped to climb Pelion first, then loop over Ossa on the way back, but I didn’t know what I was doing, and the peaks are not obvious from below, so I followed the flagged route, eventually realizing that I was headed to Ossa.

Easy ridge-walk

Easy ridge-walk

I made my way south and southwest, following bits of trail through grass and krummholz, then taking the path of least resistance up talus and slabs, skirting below a glacier until I found myself on Ossa’s northwest ridge. Unlike seemingly every other ridge in the Tantalus Range, this one is broad and gentle, with easy walking mixed with class 2 steps. As I gained elevation, I began to see the rest of the range, including Pelion, and finally realized what I had done. While I had hoped to ascend Pelion first, I figured I could always do my loop in the opposite direction. Looking behind me, I was impressed by huge, high Sigurd Lake, and minor, unnamed icefields on peaks to the north and west.

Pelion from Ossa

Pelion from Ossa

Nearing the summit, I found the only difficulty on the route, a short 4th class notch with steep gullies dropping to glaciers far below on either side. Rather than taking the easy way around, I opted for the direct approach on the way up, doing a short pitch of 5.0 to reach the summit plateau. I found a register containing various scraps of paper, including a print-out of a route description, but unfortunately no information on whether the traverse from Pelion would go. With plenty of day left, I sat down in the sun to eat and think. A raven, possibly used to being fed by summiters, played in the updrafts around the peak. He obligingly kept it up for 5-10 minutes while I shot away with my camera, trying to capture both him and Tantalus to the south. To the east and west, the Squamish and Clowhom Rivers made their lazy way to the sea, just above its level. To the south loomed Tantalus and its various glaciers.

View of approach

View of approach

Examining the ridge toward Pelion, I decided that it looked unlikely to be doable, with an apparent sharp notch and spire between Ossa and the saddle. Pelion’s west ridge also looked unappealingly steep head-on, though seeing it in profile on the return, I realized that it probably would have been doable. Not wanting to mire myself in an epic, I retraced my steps. Lower down on the trail, I passed one backpacker who had tried to climb Ossa and run out of energy, and several day-hikers, possibly visiting Sigurd Peak or the falls. Tantalus itself should be day-hikeable by this approach, but not this season.

Primitive Canada

Classic Canada: clearcuts and glaciers

Classic Canada: clearcuts and glaciers


Back in pioneer days, finding one’s way up a mountain, or even from one town to another, required one to unearth and collate local information from loggers, miners, and outdoorsmen. At some point in the United States, the Forest Service, Parks Service, and Federal Highway Administration created a unified network of roads and trails, and made information about them universally available. Early mountaineers could rely on this network to get within striking distance of peaks.

As I have found, beyond the highways and National Parks, access in Canada is essentially “pioneer-level.” Access depends on the whims of logging companies, local clubs, and individuals. At best, one finds a volunteer-maintained trail with a subtle “trailhead” sign, like this:

Good trailhead signage

Good trailhead signage

After successfully using this trail recently, I headed up a maze of logging roads toward another nearby trailhead. Thanks to some turn-by-turn directions, I was able to drive to within about a kilometer of the purported trailhead, where the road finally became impassable. Hiking the rest of the way in the morning, instead of some kind of marker, I found this:

Bad trailhead

Bad trailhead

Continuing up the winding logging roads, I happened to spy orange markers for another “trail,” which I later learned is mentioned in the most recent local guidebooks. I bashed up a clear-cut following the markers, then promptly lost them in the open old-growth forest above. Travel wasn’t bad in the big trees and modest undergrowth, but after another 10-15 minutes of seeing nothing, I decided I was not in a “pioneering” mood.

Lougheed 2 and 3

Lougheed 1 and lunch

Lougheed 1 and lunch


Mount Lougheed is a series of four summits in a northwest-to-southeast line south of Canmore. While the second summit is the highest, the northernmost summit is the most challenging, and a traverse of the four summits is a popular 5.4 scramble. I had originally thought of doing the traverse, but when Bob, who I had met on Temple, expressed interest in doing an easier route on the second and third peaks, I decided to do that instead. It would be the last good day of climbing before an unseasonable summer snowstorm.

Finger-deep forest carpet

Finger-deep forest carpet

After dinner at the Grizzly Paw Pub in Canmore, we drove up to the Goat Creek parking area to sleep in our respective cars, then carpooled up to Spencer Creek the next morning. While shuffling gear, we were joined by a man with a rifle and pit bull, out “hunting” in the sense of going for an armed stroll in the woods. We quickly left him behind, following a well-worn trail through a surprisingly lush, mossy forest. The trail continues through the woods above the left side of the creek, eventually emerging in a grassy bowl between Lougheed and Sparrowhawk.

Lougheed from grassy bowl

Lougheed from grassy bowl

Here the trail briefly disappears, but the route up Lougheed 2 to the north is obvious. After making our way up the grassy slope, we rejoined a climbers’ trail up the long scree slope. The softball-sized scree was relatively stable, and the trail made things even easier.

Booting up upper face

Booting up upper face

Near a rock band, we followed a boot-pack across some snow to the right, passing over a small ridge at a well-cairned notch to access the next slab/scree bowl over. Here we climbed a mixture of snow and scree, following some boot-pack and some fainter bits of use trail. I tried to stick to the rock in my running shoes, while Bob took advantage of the snow in his boots. The route more or less follows the path of least resistance through scree and slabs, heading up and right toward the obvious summit ridge. Reaching the ridge, we continued a couple hundred yards along the snowy ridge to the summit.

Lougheed 1 from 2

Lougheed 1 from 2

Though there was some wind, the summit was fairly pleasant. Looking northwest, I could see a faint trail leading to Lougheed 1, the slightly shorter but more challenging summit. Enough snow remained to make the traverse less than appealing in trail runners. To the southeast, Lougheed 3 looked like an easy walk, Lougheed 4 an intimidatingly steep and wet scramble. With good weather and plenty of daylight, we chose to return via Lougheed 3.

Lougheed 2 from 3

Lougheed 2 from 3

After descending a bit of unpleasantly loose scree, I resigned myself to having cold, wet feet, plunge-stepping down ankle- to calf-deep snow to the saddle. This side of Lougheed 3 is also quite loose, so I followed patches of wind-packed snow where I could, the lugs on my trail runners gripping admirably. From the unremarkable summit, it looked like the route up Lougheed 4 might follow a gully right of the ridge, which was currently half-filled with snow, making it more of an undertaking than we were equipped to handle.

Lougheed 3

Lougheed 3

Heading down left of the saddle with Lougheed 2, we found some surprisingly skiable scree. From where we reached the gully, it was a long side-hill back to our ascent route. Somewhat surprisingly so late in the day, we passed two men headed up: an old-timer looking a bit like the gyro captain in “Mad Max 2,” and a younger man carrying an enormous quantity of camera. Farther down, we again met the man with the gun and dog, returning empty-handed as he had predicted. Apparently our peak-bagging was just as incomprehensible to him as his armed hiking with a huge external frame pack was to me.

Geraldine (2839 m)

SE face with route

SE face with route


Mount Geraldine is an unofficially-named peak northwest of Geraldine Lakes, across the Whirlpool River from Mount Edith Cavell. Thanks to the vagaries of Canadian precipitation and cloud-cover, I found it nearly dry while nearby Cavell was covered in a half-foot of snow. While its north ridge is supposed to be a fun 5.5 scramble, I ended up climbing its southeast face, an easier but still enjoyable affair.

Edith Cavell from lookout

Edith Cavell from lookout

Starting from the Geraldine Lakes trailhead, I mistakenly followed the old road to the abandoned lookout, hoping it would provide access to the peak. While the site of the former lookout had an excellent view of Edith Cavell, dense forest made the approach to Geraldine unattractive.
First Geraldine Lake

First Geraldine Lake

After taking some photos, I returned to the trailhead and took the trail to Geraldine Lakes, half-resigned to simply going for a walk in the woods. Along the way, I explored a possible approach to the peak through the woods above the first lake, but again abandoned it.

"Water grouse"

“Water grouse”

Following the boggy trail along the lakeshore, I passed a canoe chained to a tree, then repeatedly startled some kind of waterfowl with the same defense mechanism as a grouse: stay perfectly still until you are very close, then startle the crap out of you by escaping as loudly as possible. Rather than frantically flapping into a tree, this bird would thrash away along the lakeshore, its paddling feet churning the water behind it.

Cascade below upper Geraldine Lake

Cascade below upper Geraldine Lake

Past the first lake, I followed the trail steeply along a cascade, then across a talus plain and up a steep moraine to the outlet of the lower lake. From there, I had a clear view of Geraldine’s southeast face, and resolved to make something of my hike by actually climbing it.
View down valley from upper lake outlet

View down valley from upper lake outlet

After failing to find a dry and safe-looking way across the outlet stream, I retreated down the moraine, where I crossed the stream below the large cascade to pick up a faint use trail headed for the main bowl on the face.

SW across face

SW across face

Thanks to the trail, I had less than 100 yards of miserable krummholtz to deal with before I escaped onto the rock face. Water and snow keep the face fairly clean, so the first part of the climb is enjoyable class 2-3 slabs. Where a steep step appears to bar further progress, I followed the slabs up and right, gaining the ridge with some solid 4th class on surprisingly good rock. From there, I followed the ridge to a cairned summit. I saw another cairn on the next peak, perhaps left by people climbing the north ridge, but my point looked higher.

Upper lake and Fryatt

Upper lake and Fryatt

Part of my reason for climbing this peak was to see whether Cavell’s ridge was melting off. After seeing that it clearly was not, I had a snack and picked my way back down the bowl. I downclimbed the step near the watercourse rather than taking the ridge, finding a few 4th class moves but mostly easy climbing. Hiking back on the trail along the lower lake, I was pleased to find two loons on the lake.
Loon

Loon

I approached quietly, trying to get a good picture with my camera’s puny zoom, but they noticed me at the same time and silently disappeared. I scanned the surface of the lake for a minute or more, finally spotting them near the far shore. Excitement over for the day, I hiked and jogged back through the bog to the car and headed south.

Cline

Mount Cline is one of the driest 11,000-foot peaks in the Canadian Rockies, so I headed there hoping to find drier rock. I turned east at Saskatchewan Crossing, then pulled off on some faint tire tracks just past the bridge across Thompson Creek, across the road from a large campground. Another group woke me when they pulled in for a pre-dawn start, but I drifted back to sleep until a more civilized hour.

Climbing moraine out of lower creek

Climbing moraine out of lower creek

I easily followed the trail along the east side of the creek, through the deadfall of an old burn, to where it forks. I found the improved log crossing the first branch in good shape. I saw no similar log across the other branch, but with the water so low this late in the season, I had no problem crossing via a large boulder to regain the trail on the far side of the west fork. I continued along a mixture of trail and dry streambed up this fork for awhile, eventually entering a steep-sided bowl. This section of the trail would have been much more difficult to follow had the streambed been full.

Valley below headwall

Valley below headwall

A flagged but faint use trail heads up the moraine on the left side of a gully here, toward the left-hand side of the headwall blocking the upper valley. Remembering the route description, I found the non-obvious place where the trail crosses the ravine into the trees below the obvious bench, then continued along a slightly-developed trail into the upper basin. Here the trail disappears and reappears as it crosses talus fields, reaching a short headwall. While it looks steep, there are cairns above and below an easy class 2 break just right of the watercourse.

Tarns

Tarns

Above the headwall is one of the route’s main attractions, two large tarns in a rolling rock-and-grass bowl. Though they would be unremarkable in the Sierra Nevada, such lakes seem rare in the Canadian Rockies, where most water seems to either collect in large valley-bottom lakes or head straight for the ocean. (As I learned from a sign near Mount Robson, the Fraser River travels from glacier to ocean without a single lake, carrying its glacial silt the whole way.)
Tarn and ramp

Tarn and ramp

Since I was not camping, I just took a few pictures, then followed a boot-pack up the ramp above the lakes.

Cline from saddle

Cline from saddle

Continuing along slabs and scree, I eventually reached a saddle, from which I could finally see the peak and its southwest ridge, which was unfortunately partly snow-covered. I had carried my axe and crampons to cross the north-facing snowfield leading to the ridge, but with a boot-pack across the crusty snow, they were unnecessary. Even if the snow were absolutely rock-hard, it is low-angle enough that microspikes are all that would be needed to cross it.

Second gap

Second gap

While the ridge is rated 5.4, it is mostly class 2. The exception is two odd gashes just below the summit scree-pile. The first is straightforward: a scramble down to a chockstone, then a few steep moves on good holds back to the crest. The second is actually intimidating, as it is quite deep and overhangs on the downhill side.
Climb back across second gap

Climb back across second gap

After contemplating a jump, I made an exposed downclimb down the right-hand corner to a point where I could step across to the other side about ten feet down the gap, but still far above the bottom. From there, the route was an easy slog up some loose scree.

I spent a few minutes on the windy summit, trying to pick out familiar peaks, then retraced my path, finding both gaps about the same difficulty in the other direction. I passed a man and his son on the return, headed up to camp at the lakes, but not to climb any peaks. I don’t see the appeal — I don’t think the lakes even have fish — but to each his own.

Andromeda (Skyladder), Athabasca

Cruising the shuttle road

Cruising the shuttle road


[Catching up out of order. — ed.]

The Icefield Parkway is like a tunnel from civilization to the far north. Starting from Lake Louise, it passes the standard terraced shale peaks of northern Montana and the Canmore-Banff area. Larger glaciers appear on the peaks to the west, then the edges of icefields on higher plains, with glacial tongues lolling down toward the highway. Then, crossing the divide past the rapidly-retreating Athabasca Glacier, it enters Alaska: broad valleys with flat, braided rivers between slabby uplift peaks, and “caribou crossing” signs.

Northern Icefield from ridge

Northern Icefield from ridge

The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice cube south of Alaska. While I had passed beneath it going up and down from Jasper, I had only seen its edge from the road. Feeling a need to see the icefield itself, I chose to climb Andromeda and Athabasca, two stereotypically Canadian, glacier-covered choss-piles overlooking the Icefield. Skyladder is one of Andromeda’s easier ice lines, and it looked reasonable to traverse the ridge to Athabasca, then descend the standard route down its north face glacier.

Road construction on Athabasca Glacier

Road construction on Athabasca Glacier

After a night at the glacier viewing area parking lot, I returned to the ice-coach road gate, hoping to find it open for climbers while the coaches were not running. Finding it still closed, I clomped up the road in my boots, passing the idle ice-coaches at their station, then continued up the road through the moraine (all covered by glaciers 60 years ago) to where it drops to the present glacier. Here I found a few cairns and bits of flagging indicating a faint climbers’ trail, which I followed through endless moraine toward the glacier below Andromeda’s north face.

Getting onto the glacier

Getting onto the glacier

I eventually lost the infrequently-used trail below the rocky fin extending northwest from Andromeda’s summit, and brute-forced a path toward the glacier’s near the left-hand cliff. Scrabbling up a treacherously-hard dirt slope, I finally reached the edge of the ice-fall. To my dismay, I found a broad, deep moat between rock and cliff, and a messy jumble of dirty ice cubes rising from the moraine to the glacier’s surface. After some dithering and more scouting out approaches, I donned spikes and tools and, with a few moves of steep, dirty ice, climbed the glacier’s messy, broken edge.

Crossing glacier with spindrift

Crossing glacier with spindrift

I first made my way along the left edge, weaving around and over the minor crevasses. The recent snow had partly obscured some, but it was easy to tell with a poke of a tool shaft whether the snow hid bare glacial ice or the tail end of a crevasse. Climbing above the central bulge and the main ice-fall, I traversed toward my intended route, through larger but more widely-spaced crevasses. The glacier once again becomes somewhat more broken between its center bulge and Skyladder’s base, but I found a non-threatening line with a single narrow isthmus leading to the base of the face.

View up Skyladder from base

View up Skyladder from base

While the face was fairly dry, I saw an ice gully leading through the worst of the rock, which seemed to connect to the broader snow- and ice-field above. I found a way across the bergschrund on its right-hand side, pulling over a couple of bulges of gritty, rotten ice. Climbing a bit more of the unpleasant stuff, I reached the gully and was pleased to find nicely-consolidated snow. Climbing the entire face by hacking through the sandy, rotten surface to solid ice below would have been slow and exhausting, not to mention grinding my picks to stubs.

View down to base

View down to base

My chosen gully actually turned into to a line of wonderful, wind- and slide-consolidated snow leading most of the way to the ridge. Along the way, I listened to the rumbling and beeping of the grader on the Athabasca Glacier below, smoothing the ice-road for the day’s tourists.
Ridge toward first false summit

Ridge toward first false summit

Eying the broad ice-dome to the left, I instead headed up and right to the ridge. Here I got my first clear view of the north part of the Columbia Icefield, extending northwest past Snow Dome to to Stutfield and the Twins. I continued on mostly hard snow up the ridge to the far western end of Andromeda’s long summit ridge, then on more variable snow to another, snowy sub-summit.

Andromeda (l) and Athabasca

Andromeda (l) and Athabasca

After jumping a small crevasse crossing surprisingly right over the ridge, I continued along a narrower snow ridge toward the true summit, wind blasting up the face to the northwest and into my left eye. I mostly wallowed along the right side of the ridge, trading more effort for less face-freezing. Reaching the true summit, I crossed old tracks from a party who had climbed an unknown route, then quickly retreated down the east ridge to escape the wind.

Final, ugly descent to A-A col

Final, ugly descent to A-A col

Once out of the wind, I removed my shell and crampons, plunge-stepping on down the broad ridge toward the Athabasca-Andromeda col. The easy going ended at a final step down to the col. After carefully climbing along a chossy, snowy knife-edge, I was faced with a steep mixture of choss and snow leading down to the col. I headed right toward a cairn, then left into the gully, kicking careful steps in the snow where it was thick enough, or delicately scrambling down outward-sloping rotten ledges where it was not. After an agonizingly slow and careful downclimb, I reached the col itself, where I hoped my difficulties would end.

Andromeda and difficulties

Andromeda and difficulties

Instead, I found two more bits of trickiness between the col and the clear trail of Andromeda’s standard route. First, the col itself was narrow and corniced; even staying well back from the edge, I managed to shear off two pieces of the cornice with my uphill axe while crossing. Then I had to negotiate several small towers on the narrow ridge, climbing either to the right or straight along the crest.

South from Athabasca

South from Athabasca

The trail came as a blessed relief. Even better, a recent party on the standard route had beaten in a boot-pack through the glacier, saving me some time-consuming downhill route-finding.
Elaborate summit cairn

Elaborate summit cairn

After a tired hike to the summit, I kicked up to the highest point on the snow crest, then retreated to the elaborate, sheltered summit cairn, where I relaxed and admired the long Saskatchewan Glacier below to the south. Also, since my eyes were feeling a bit sore, I put some tape around my stylish shades to make ghetto glacier goggles.

Circuitous glacier descent

Circuitous glacier descent

Returning along the standard boot-pack, I felt immensely grateful when I saw how it traversed all the way across the upper glacier to avoid crevasse trouble, a path that could have taken me some time to find. I was also amused to see an animal track winding through the glacier, at one point crossing an incredibly narrow snow-bridge.
Paved bivy spot

Paved bivy spot

After plunge-stepping down the long path, I reached the moraine shortly above an impressively-paved tent platform. From there, a decent and well-marked climbers’ trail led back to the bus station, where I hiked past the now-busy ice-coaches to my car.

Colin traverse

Colin from approach

Colin from approach

Edith Cavell’s east ridge is supposedly one of the Canadian Rockies’ best scrambles. Unfortunately, not only is the Edith Cavell road closed 12 kilometers from the trailhead (unless you’re a hostel guest), but the east ridge approach itself is apparently closed as well. Hoping to tag it before heading south, I looked for other things to do near Jasper. Driving into town on my way to Robson, I had been struck by some white cliffs to the east, reminiscent of the eastern Sierra. With a bit of research, I determined that they are unfortunately light-gray limestone rather than granite, but that one of the higher ones, Mount Colin, is a decent scramble.

Trail past homestead

Trail past homestead

Leaving the Sixth Bridge trailhead (no overnight parking) rather late, I followed the popular Overland Trail past an old homestead, then headed up the obnoxiously rocky, dry Garonne Creek. Where the wash narrows to a slot canyon, I climbed the left-hand bank to find the little-used but well-marked climbers’ trail.
Garonne creek

Garonne creek

This trail side-hills and climbs steeply up the north bank of the creek until it widens again, then returns to the creek-bed. Along the way, I found several large yellow markers on trees and a hand-line in good condition. Despite its apparent disuse, the trail seems well-looked-after. However, it is also prone to wash-outs, and one short section near where it rejoins the creek is extremely sketchy.

Slabby approach gully

Slabby approach gully

Where the wash turns right, I left it to head directly up a slabby ravine toward the col betwen Hawk and Colin. With water to clear away the debris, this proved to be a fun scramble. Above the ravine, stairstep ledges led up and left to the col. The ridge to Hawk looked straightforward, but I had started late, so I skipped it and headed straight for Colin.

Upper scrambling

Upper scrambling

This ridge was supposedly something between 4th class and 5.6, but much of the climb is just a walk along a broad, grassy ridge with cliffs on either side. I passed a couple of 4th class steps and narrow sections, but nothing sustained, and was feeling a bit let down. I eventually reached the crux I had seen online, a vertical step bypassed by a traverse to the right and some steeper climbing in a corner.
View back across crux ledge

View back across crux ledge

The traverse is actually a comfortably-broad ledge with some handholds above and big air below — a test of confidence rather than climbing ability. I reached the corner, stemmed up the first part, then stepped left onto the face to climb a bit of low 5th class along a seam. After that, the summit was a short scramble away.

I found a canister holding a few wet guidebook print-outs, which I read hoping to find some information on the descent. SummitPost had mentioned a rappel, and while rappels on scramble routes are usually avoidable, I was still a bit apprehensive. Pausing only briefly for a snack, I continued south.

South from summit

South from summit

The fracture angle of the rock and the direction and slope of Colin’s north ridge align to create clean, fun climbing. Unfortunately this is not true on the south ridge: the crest itself is littered with debris, the right-hand side is steep slabs, and the left is a series of outward-sloping ledges covered in treacherous moss and scree. Where the ridge narrows after a notch, I found a healthy rappel anchor.
Crux downclimb to avoid rappel

Crux downclimb to avoid rappel

After trying a route to the left and being turned around by unnerving though not especially dangerous scree, I climbed straight past the rappel anchor, going first left then right along the ridge crest. This required a couple of sphincter-tightening off-balance moves on dubious rock, but was fairly secure once I found the solid holds.

Cairn in talus-field on descent

Cairn in talus-field on descent

I continued on the ridge to near the saddle, then found the occasional cairn and bit of trail leading through the unpleasantly sharp limestone talus to the valley bottom. A quarter-mile or so down the valley, I found a nicely-maintained ACC hut in the trees. Unlike the other huts I have passed, this one was inexplicably padlocked. I doubt more than a handful of people a year pass by, so the precaution seems unnecessary. Once past the sketchy side-hill out of the creek-bed, the return was quick and painless. I returned to town, then headed down to Edith Cavell to wait hopefully by the gate.

Robson?

Summit view

Summit view


At 12,972 feet, Robson is by far the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Not only is it tall, but it is far north and close to the wetter western edge of the range. Its massive south face, rising 10,000 feet from Kinney Lake, dwarfs what would ordinarily be a decent-sized body of water. Most people climb the Kain Face, around on the north side of the mountain. Though it sounds like a fun route, it is not suitable to me as a day-hiker for two reasons: first, the approach is a long hike around the mountain to Berg Lake; second, it requires crossing the Mousetrap Icefall, a crevasse maze I would prefer not to solo. Instead, I chose a less interesting but more direct route up the south face.

The math doesn’t lie: by its shortest route, Robson is 10,000 feet of gain and less than 20 miles, so it is a reasonable dayhike, probably under 12 hours for a fast person with perfect conditions. However, as I found, in worse conditions it can easily become more serious.

After spending a day in a café in Jasper, staring in frustration at perfect conditions on the Robson webcam, I drove over to the Berg Lake trailhead to prepare my gear. With Robson’s reputation as a Serious Mountain, and a questionable forecast for the next day, I went in heavy: mountain boots, real crampons, two tools, softshell outer layer. This was not to be a fast-and-light outing.

Robson from Kinney Lake bridge

Robson from Kinney Lake bridge

Waking at 4:30, I prepared by headlamp and set out at 5:00, stowing the headlamp about 20 minutes up the trail. I looked at the sky, but could not tell if it was overcast or not in the strange light of a northern dawn. Reaching Kinney Lake, I followed the trail to where the hiker and horse trails split, then backtracked to the bridge, worried that I had missed an obvious climbers’ trail. Not finding one, I returned to the horse trail, then headed up a gravelly gully toward Robson’s south face.
Memorial plaque on climbers' trail

Memorial plaque on climbers’ trail

Glancing right, I happened to see some orange tape and a cairn, and lucked onto the climbers’ trail, which starts near a memorial plaque.

Kinney Lake from approach

Kinney Lake from approach

I found the approach much like that to the southern Pickets: a few miles along a nearly-flat road, then a few thousand feet straight up through the woods on a brushy climbers’ trail. The difference, of course, is that once you emerge from the trees in the Pickets, you’re faced with several snack-sized spires. On Robson, you’re at the base of a 5,000-foot glaciated talus-monster.
Useful hand-line

Useful hand-line

I briefly lost track of the trail where it follows the base of a rock band, then noticed a couple of fixed hand-lines that would prove useful on the way down. Finally emerging from the woods, I lost the trail in a broad talus slope, climbing too high and eventually scrambling to the ridge near its lowpoint southwest of the Forster Hut.

Forster Hut ridge

Forster Hut ridge

Passing a nice bivy site, I followed cairns and bits of trail to the hut, which was in excellent condition.
Forster Hut

Forster Hut

Inside were a stack of a half-dozen thick air mattresses on two wide bunks, along with a box containing spare fuel canisters and the necessary cleaning products for cohabitation with rodents. I stopped for a snack, then followed the cairns and flags up the obvious ridge next to a decent-sized glacier. The climbing was all class 2-3, with many possible routes. Though the upper mountain was still cloud-capped, clear skies to the south and west held out hope that conditions might improve.

Ice-saddle and icefall scurry

Ice-saddle and icefall scurry

The peak of the ridge is separated from the upper south face by a short glacier col. This late in the season it was bare ice, forcing me to put on crampons for 5 minutes, then take them right back off to scramble up to and along the base of a large icefall. This traverse, a few minutes spent directly in the path of falling ice, is one reason this is no longer the standard route.
Crux of icefall scurry

Crux of icefall scurry

The most dangerous point occurs where one crosses the icefall’s outflow stream. After finding a suitable ledge on the other side, I quickly scampered to the small stream, crossed, and retreated on the ledge to a point where calving ice would at least bounce a few times before it hit me before relaxing.

Start of direct finish

Start of direct finish

That wasn’t so bad. I continued up and left on more class 2-3 ledges and talus, eventually reaching a white-ish ridge leading to the base of the summit ice cap. Here there are two options: the standard route crosses the crevassed ice far to the right, joining the Kain route on its crest before returning left to the summit; an option preferable to the soloist, avoiding crevasse risk, climbs moderate snow and ice directly to the summit along the left-hand side of the cap.

The clouds were hanging right above me, and I probably should have turned around. However, having come so far, I put on crampons, took out both tools, and climbed up and somewhat left, staying on the steeper left-hand side of a sort of crest. I climbed through a couple of steeper ice steps and some harder ice patches that required actual tool-swinging, but much of the climbing was moderate and sometimes even slushy.

Seeing nothing more than 10-20 feet away, I eventually reached a point where the ridge to my right flattened out, and continued along the crest for a short distance. Anticipating that finding the correct descent would be tough, I was grateful each time I sunk into some slush, and sometimes scuffed my crampon or plunge-stepped to make a longer-lasting trail. I picked up an old boot-pack, following it to a local high-point, followed it to another, then retraced my steps to follow a different snow-crest to where it ended near an apparent cliff. I had hoped to find a cluster of flags, wands, or something telling me I was on the summit, but eventually gave up and returned to the first high-point, aware that visibility was decreasing, and my steps were fading. The climb had taken about 7 hours, but the hard part was just starting.

Retracing my boot-path in the whiteout, I followed it at least far enough to start down the correct face, then lost it as I front-pointed down a steeper, harder slope. The wind had picked up, stinging my eyes with blown snow and sleet when I looked down. Knowing that I had to descent slightly climbers’ right — but not too far! — I tried to take a compromise line. I also tried to avoid too much time spent in the painfully slow process of downclimbing actual ice: crouch, free tool, swing, kick-kick, repeat.

Looking below me, I saw that the slope appeared to drop off. After carefully getting closer to see what was happening, I saw that I was on the edge of a crevasse, and realized I had strayed right (climber’s right — I was facing in) onto the glacier. I climbed up and left past the impasse, then continued down and left.

This process continued for perhaps two hours. I was fortunately warm enough, and was on terrain I could handle, but I knew I had to get down as far as possible, heading down and left as best I could with only local information. I also had to keep myself calm and cautious: keep three points of contact, make sure each tool stick is solid, remember to keep looking down. Once, after scrambling through a crevasse partly filled by an old avalanche, I was apparently stuck on some sort of island. I climbed back the way I had come, then headed up and right until I could make a reasonable but non-reversible jump down over one crevasse that allowed me to continue.

I eventually reached an exposed ledge of black rock, and knew I was probably near the base of the ice, probably somewhere climber’s right of the ascent ridge. Heading toward the probable ridge, I climbed down and left over some more ice, then finally emerged on talus and ledges. A short way from here, I found whiter rock with a built-up bivy ledge, and gave an involuntary whoop! at being back on-route.

Still unable to see more than 30 feet away, I traversed down and (skier’s) left, hoping to run into the icefall and its outlet stream. I first hit them too high, then retreated, descended, and returned a few times, passing the occasional bit of gear, before finding the crossing ledge I had used on the climb. After a final bit of wandering, I found the ice saddle, and was finally solidly back on-route.

My mood improved considerably as I descended from clouds into light drizzle, boot-skiing the nice, wet scree where I could and carefully downclimbing the slabs and rotten shale where I had to. Passing the hut, I aimed for a large cairn at the center of the headwall below the hut rather than retracing my route along the ridge. From the cairn, bits of trail and cairns wound an improbable path down the headwall, ending in a short 4th-class chimney with a rappel anchor. I had apparently found the correct approach route.

I followed a faint trail across the talus bowl, then found more bolts and two semi-helpful steel chains on the next step down. Finally traversing toward the descent ridge, I was shocked to meet two young men headed up to the hut, hoping to summit when the weather cleared in a couple of days. They seemed at least as surprised to see me, at first taking me for a dayhiker up to check out the hut. As I explained that I had probably summited, and was headed down that day, their opinion of me apparently changed from “tourist” to “crazy yahoo,” as one asked if I had a headlamp. Then they saw the two tools strapped to my pack, which apparently convinced them that I knew what I was doing.

Brush-bashing back down the ridge, I got a Cascades-level soaking from the rain collected on trees and brush. Though the hand lines had seemed silly on the way up, I found them extremely useful when descending the wet slabs. Finally reaching the trail, I turned on the last bit of NPR I had with me to pass the time while I trudged 5 kilometers to the trailhead. Uncharacteristically, I had filled out the duplicate climber search-and-rescue form in the morning, putting the first copy in the box. I dug the second out of my pack and, finding it surprisingly dry, wrote some comments before dropping it in the box, then curled up in the car with my damp gear.