Sunrise over Resplendent

Mount Resplendent is one of Mount Robson’s lesser neighbors, toward the northwest end of the high Canadian Rockies. Though 1800 feet shorter than Robson, and something of a subpeak, it still rises over 11,000 feet with over 1500 feet of prominence, so it is a legitimate summit in its own right. It also requires a fair amount of effort, though unlike Robson it is not technical, and involves only a half-mile of very tame glacier travel. Resplendent normally has one of the best views of Robson’s glaciated side, which is hidden from any road. Unfortunately the BC wildfire smoke rolled in the night before my climb, so I could not see Robson at all from the summit only three miles away, and saw only ghostly outlines from closer along the connecting ridge. This will probably be my last time up the Thoni trail to Robson-Resplendent Col, so it was a melancholy farewell.

Robson the afternoon before

I went for a ride to Maligne Lake, then hung out in Jasper for the rest of the day before driving over the Divide and the BC border to Robson. The visitor center was the same, but I think the parking area has been remodeled since I was last here: I remember haphazard shady spots among trees, but it is now a giant slab of bare asphalt, with a couple picnic tables under a gazebo to escape the sun. Robson was hazy, but not much worse than conditions over the past few days, and I hoped the smoke would subside with overnight cooling. This would be much easier than my last visit, when I did a loop up the Patterson Spur and Kain Face to Robson, then down the South Face. While Resplendent shares the same approach, the route is trivial from the top of the Spur, so I could use my light gear. Also, I had a bike, saving me about three miles each way of tedious walking to and from Kinney Lake.

Resplendent the morning of

Things started to look down in the middle of the night, when I woke to hear the dreaded sound of a rodent chewing something in my car. This typically happens a couple of times per year, and invariably costs me a few nights of sleep until the creature either leaves on its own or (more likely) steps in a peanut-butter-baited trap. I wrote off the night’s sleep, and tried to at last shut my eyes until my alarm went off. Starting in early daylight, I immediately noticed that I could no longer see Robson. Low morning light can play tricks with visibility, but the smoke had clearly not improved, and had probably gotten worse.

Approach valley

I biked past the Kinney Lake bridge, and found the Thoni Trail with only a bit of searching, still well-hidden from tourist eyes. As I muscled my bike into the woods to hide it, I noticed that my headphone charging case had fallen out of my pack, another small annoyance for the day. Once on the trail, I found it well-flagged and easy to follow. There had been some deadfall since it was installed, but it was still fairly smooth going, comparable to a good Cascades climbers’ trail. I had bears on the mind even before I saw a few piles of manure on the trail, and periodically talked back to the podcasts I was listening to as a sort of warning. I maintained this sort-of vigilance until I emerged onto the gravel flats below the Patterson Spur.

Ugly at the best of times

I should have dropped to follow the riverbank, but instead cut straight across through some woods, then crossed the first stream on a slippery log with the help of a sturdy stick. I followed this stream for awhile, then crossed to the second, which was significantly larger and more ferocious. I dithered up and down the bank for awhile, then found another stick and crossed on a series of slightly-submerged rocks, soaking my feet but not having to contend with the current. On the other side, I picked up a faint use trail again, which led to the base of the well-marked initial climb up a forested rib.

Looking down spur

From above the rib, the route meanders right, then left and right to get past some cliff bands, then makes a long traverse left along the toe of a sad glacier to the base of the Patterson Spur. There are cairns here and there, but they are not particularly useful: you can wander between the top of the woods and bottom of the spur in a number of ways with a bit of third class here and there. Robson is a beautiful mountain from some directions, but this is not one of them. The 4800-foot climb up a mixture of scree and post-glacial junk is ugly even at the best of times, and the smoke and orange light made it vaguely apocalyptic. I reminded myself that at least the smoke kept things cooler, but it seemed to get worse as I climbed, and I began to smell it.

Dagger scree

I had to recross the glacial outflow streams to reach the spur’s base, though it was easier up here with some rock-hopping and a brief detour onto the ice. I took a ledge around the base of the ridge, and found cairns and straightforward class 2-3 climbing around the left side. I continued up a gully, then traversed under a small horn to gain the ridge crest at a flat spot with another cairn. From there the route-finding was obvious, following the path of least resistance and occasional treads up a mix of slabs and dagger-like scree to the Robson-Resplendent ridge.

Resplendent from col

Views in both directions were equally grim, with both Robson to the northwest, and Resplendent to the southeast, barely visible through the smoke. I took off toward the latter along the talus ridge, passing several tent platforms, a couple well-built out of the peak’s natural flagstones. I could almost have stayed on rock to just below the summit, but it seemed the glacier still got too close to the ridge to squeak by at one dip. I put on my crampons and mounted the glacier at a flat spot, and stayed on it until the summit. The southwest side was mostly bare ice, so it was easy with a bit of meandering to avoid the open crevasses and whiter snow bridges. There were a few steeper bulges to surmount, but nothing that felt at all sketchy in my running-shoe crampons.

Resplendent summit ridge

Near the top, I climbed to the northeast edge of the glacier to follow flatter ground to the icy summit. I could see old avalanche debris at the base of the north ice-face far below, and a ridge continuing south and east to Mount Kain. At three miles away, Robson itself was completely obscured by the smoke, but I could see the connecting ridge, and the descent off its right side to the upper glacier looked much more challenging than it did in mid-July 2017. Then, I had descended some steep snow and made a long step across a bergschrund. Now, the upper slope was bare ice and the ‘schrund completely open.

Robson on return

It was breezy and depressing on the summit, so I did not tarry long before starting back. The side-hilling caused my running shoe crampons to squirm off at the heels a few times, which was irritating but not particularly threatening. By the time I reached the crampons-off point, I could make out Robson reasonably well, though not clearly enough to say for sure that the ‘schrund below the Kain Face was still bridged on the right. I found a flat rock to take off and stow my spiky things, then sat for a minute to absorb and say goodbye to a place I have no reason to visit again.

The Patterson Spur is far more annoying to descend than to climb, with the scree rarely deep enough to plunge-step, and the slabs rarely clean enough to walk down. It is not dangerous, but is slow and time-consuming, especially with tired legs. The route is much easier and faster below, and I was back at the stream fairly quickly. I used the same crossings I had last time, less concerned about getting my feet wet on the way home, then took the smart way along the river to get around the woods. I was in no particular hurry to get back, and did not push myself on the Thoni trail. Though it is only three miles from Kinney Lake to the trailhead, the bike was a complete game-changer: instead of hamburgering my feet in wet mountain boots for an hour like last time, I spent less than a half-hour swooping down the road/trail, dodging rocks and tourists. Amazingly, I was the only person on a bike. After a nap in the parking lot, I drove back toward Jasper, hoping to find less smoke or at least a cell signal. I eventually found a side-road with both where I would not be harassed, and settled in for another night with my murine friend.

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