Alexandra (approach hike)

South side of Bryce

I was still tired from the previous day’s outing to King Edward, but with only three days of good weather, I had to make full use of my time up the long Bush River Road. My initial plan was therefore to go for Mount Bryce via its classic northeast ridge, the most “stylish” thing in the area. I woke to my alarm in the dark, ate a premade breakfast, and started riding up the Rice Brook Road by headlamp. I switched off the lamp partway up the initial climb, passed a 4Runner parked at the mouth of the canyon, then continued on the rolling climb up the somewhat-worse road above Rice Brook. The road was still perfectly drivable for a capable vehicle; perhaps the 4Runner’s owners were worried about getting trapped by rockfall, but someone else had driven up this season. I paused at a sort-of fork in the road: the branch continuing straight had been partly buried by a landslide some years ago, while the one turning back uphill was in fine shape and had seen recent use. It felt like the wrong direction for Bryce, but the guidebook described the road as drivable to the former bridge. Only after continuing on for awhile did I realize that I should have kept going along the buried road. I thought of turning back, then decided instead to change plans and try for Mount Alexandra, as I was already headed in that direction. I did not have the route description on my phone, but I had read it recently enough to remember, and did have a track of unknown provenance.

Unnamed peaks near first lake

I stashed my bike where the road became overgrown, then continued hiking across a cut-block, bashing through some healthy fireweed. My track climbed the near side of the block, but it made more sense to me to follow the old road-bed to the far side to reach an open talus slope. There was a bit of a thrash getting from the logged area to the rocks, but it worked as well as one can expect for a BC thrash, and I was soon climbing freely out of the Green Hell. I even saw some bootprints along the way.

Second, wretched descent

Once I reached the ridge, I followed it toward a cliffy buttress, then traversed right across some steep dirt to reach a small hanging pond. From there, the route descended a steep slope to an odd three-toed lake, where I saw some recent bear prints in the mud. I had lost my bear spray swimming home from King Edward, but I did not feel particularly at risk in open country. Beyond the lake, the route climbs again to another ridge, then drops down a miserably loose and steep slope to a glacial stream before climbing again to another col. I was feeling my fatigue, climbing toward the next “pass” at a pathetic pace, frequently pausing to pant and let the ache in my legs drain away.

Alexandra from turnaround

The view from the top was discouraging: after another loose, steep descent, I had to cross a rubble-strewn plateau, then do some indeterminate amount of side-hilling before dropping across South Rice Brook above treeline to begin the actual climb of Mount Alexandra. There’s a reason Corbett half-recommends taking a helicopter. The peak was only four air miles away, but I doubted I had the energy. I sat down to have a snack and think, and found myself eating all my food, then finding a tolerable place to lie down for a nap. This happens to me sometimes toward the end of a season, and is a clear sign that I am some combination of mentally and physically depleted. I usually recover, but there was nothing for it but to plod home. I consoled myself with having spent a good part of the day in a seldom-visited slice of the alpine. I also knew the correct approach to Bryce, and that the “standard” south glacier route was not an option, as the couloir connecting the lower and upper glaciers was a gray streak of bare dirt and ice. My tentative plan of using that as a descent route as out, and the only option for Bryce would be going both up and down the long northeast ridge.

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