Thursday, September 4, 2003

Canadian Rockies Alpine climbing 2003

By Doug-

So this is a first attempt to dredge up some significant trips of the past. What follows is an account of a really great climbing trip to the Canadian Rockies in 2003.  My climbing partner Jeff was on this trip and many of my more significant climbs.

First up: Mt. Patterson. 
Patterson from the meadows above the Mistaya river
Super impressive looking from the highway we chose the snowbird glacier route which goes straight up the steep ice fall in the center of the face then climbs the upper face on rock or ice to the right. Our first climbing day in Canada had the weather I have commonly encountered in the Canadian Rockies. In short, clouds with a 100% chance of rain and drizzle. Let me preface by saying the route we choose was not a wise one and got us both closer to being killed in the mountains than I have ever admitted before. J would kill me.

I had some misgivings about the timing of this climb. It was the wrong season and the wrong weather. Be that as it may, us being full of piss and vinegar got a pre-alpine start. For those that don't understand what that means, I'll translate, TOO damn early! And here's why, even with headlamps as we stumbled down from the road in complete darkness, we knew we had to cross a bit of a swampy bog. Check! Right in the middle of it. After that comes the crossing of the Mistaya River. Mind you its August in the Canadian Rockies, rivers were, well, rivers. We wandered up and down the banks trying to divine a crossing in the dark. Eventually giving up we sat on our asses waiting for at least a little light.

Finally I managed a crossing and Jeff followed.
 Crossing the Mistaya on the return. 
We made our way up the tributary creek and moraines above eventually arriving at the toe of the glacier. Things were still in control. We roped up and starting up the gradually steepening ice. At some point we started belaying but due to the relatively low angle we used very little pro, like a screw or 2 per rope length. We had debated bringing two ropes but opted for one in the interest of weight savings. Bad choice but one we ended up surviving. People that have climbed with me know that I don't have epics. Every other trip report I was reading, the parties were having some sort of epic. My philosophy has always been, if you are epicing you are doing it wrong! I was doing it wrong.
At the foot of the glacier
We continued climbing and came up just below the steepest part of the ice fall. I was belaying from the most protected position of the entire climb. I was in a shallow crevasse with overhanging ice above and a super good natural ice horn as an anchor.
Looking back down the climb
Just as Jeff got to the belay, a deep rumble began somewhere above us and rapidly grew into a deafening crescendo. Jeff dived to the back of the crevasse, mostly followed by me. I say mostly because I had tied in too short on the anchor and couldn't get as far (not nearly as far by my reckoning!) into the back of the crevasse as I would have liked. Tons of ice poured over the lip above and swept the line Jeff had been on just moments before. We finally and wisely decided to bail, but how? We have to go back down the same way as we just climbed, AND we stupidly brought only one rope which cut the distance we could go with each rappel in half. I started drilling the first V-thread and we began what we would later term 'turbo bailage' and would learn to perfect over the years.
Starting turbo bailage
So, with twice as many rappels as we should have had to do, we never the less did make it back down safely, re-found the river crossing and waded back though the bog up to my truck.

Stay tuned – Next up Mt. Edith Cavell

Doug below the upper east ridge.

Mt. Edith Cavell, east ridge, classic easy climb of the Rockies. The day following our fiasco on Patterson we scoped the approach to Edith Cavell. The next day we got another alpine start. Alpine, vs pre-alpine. We got up and started at roughly the same time but due to the easy approach trail, we were not TOO damn early. 
Angel Glacier pouring off the N. face of Mt. Edith Cavell on the approach trail
Up we went on until the trail petered out and we were on loose rockies trash. The weather had continued as previously with clouds but lacked the drizzle. We came upon the upper ridge with enjoyable low 5th climbing. 

Looking across N. Face from the East ridge
No epics today, but I can't remember if we took ice axes. I don't think so because I seem to remember the upper ice traverse as being slightly dicey. We topped out in low visibility and a cold wind. Descent was via the same route though most parties opt for the standard west ridge descent. As luck would have it, the clouds cleared shortly after we began our descent. 
Jeff down climbing east ridge

Upper east ridge and summit

Missed it by thaaaat- much. Anyway Jeff and I did maybe two short raps on the descent and made it back in plenty of time for beer at the Athabasca in Jasper.

Next up – the big one, Mt. Robson.

Robson, monarch of the Canadian Rockies. Fickle. I had made an attempt as early as 1984 and was turned back by poor weather and collapsing snow bridges. On the way out my partner Tim and I were stopped by SAR teams and asked if we had seen anyone on the upper mountain. Turns out Nicholas Harvey Vanderbilt, a Vanderbilt heir had made an attempt and disappeared on route.

Now in August 2003 I was back to try again. The forecast called for another day of clouds and rain, then an extended period of good weather. Jeff and I hiked in the rain and made camp at the foot of the Robson Glacier. 
Valley of 1000 falls.

Berg Glacier pouring into Berg Lake

Setting up camp at the foot of the Robson Glacier

Not an insignificant approach, many now days opt for a helicopter to the base of their chosen route. The following day in brilliant weather after a morning rain, as we toiled up the glacier, around the foot of extinguisher tower and through the aptly named mousetrap, we felt a bit superior to the team that had choppered in and landed at high camp on the dome a couple hours before we arrived. 
Heading up into the mousetrap.
Mt. Resplendent from just below dome camp in clearing weather.

We visited them in camp and discovered it was James Blench, a well known and respected Canadian guide with his client. Life being what it is Jeff and I were destined to meet these two the following year on an even more remote and demanding climb.

We got up alpine early but James and client were already on the face so we waited to avoid being in the line of fire from falling debris. We started up and the only really exciting part was getting up over the bergshrund below the Kain face. Above it was simply 45 degree snow and ice. Half way up we untied and just soloed to the top of the face where we abandoned the ropes (yes, we learned to take two) at the base of the SE ridge to be picked up on the way down. The SE ridge was mostly cruiser with a couple steeper steps and presented no problems. We met James on the ridge as they were descending from the summit and chatted briefly. The weather was just brilliantly blue bird and I was enjoying the climb immensely. Since being defeated 19 yrs earlier I was ecstatic to be back on such a perfect day. We topped out in windless conditions with perfect views in all directions. 
Doug on Robson summit.

As we stood up there basking in glory I couldn't help but think of the Kain face below. Baking in the sun. So as all things do, it came time to end our summit stay and head down. We picked up our double ropes at the base of the ridge and headed over to the top of the face. God bless James. The beauty of following guides is they tend to make things safe for their clients. At the top of the face was the first of a set of bollards that we would gladly use to rappel all the way down the face. 
Jeff starting the first bollard rappel.

The only issue was our ropes were just slightly short as James was using double 60's and we had 50's. No problem though. I would just downclimb the short distance to the next bollard and set up the rappel. We got down very early in the afternoon and Jeff wanted to start back to the parking lot. I used my veto power pointing out the soft condition of the glacier and instability of the mousetrap. James and his client lifted out that afternoon.

So post dawn (non-alpine) the next day we started down through the mousetrap wearing several layers to ward off the chill. 
Kain face in early morning light. Bergshrund running its length at the base.
Early morning, heading back down into the mousetrap.

As we heated up Jeff suggested stopping to shed layers. Great idea except we were right in an avalanche path from a large serac towering above. Jeff readily agreed, bad choice of area. Sure enough we were through the bad section perhaps 5 minutes when the serac shed and wiped out our path in the previous debris field. We both shrugged and kept going. A miss is as good as a mile. When we got back to the Berg lake hut I bid Jeff adieu as I knew he was about to leave me behind on the trail back to the truck. It was a long hike out but it was probably around 4pm when I arrived back at the truck. Jeff turned out to be a real dick by bumming an un-disclosed quantity of beers from the tourists and not saving me a single one. Douche.
Mt. Whitehorn from the hike out.

Final climb- Mt. Temple via the full east ridge.

Mt Temple in winter 2011. Taken on ice climbing trip.

You must hike in a minimum group of four when descending the sentinel pass trail” says the ranger in the Lake Louise visitor center. Bright and early we were at the approach slopes to the east ridge of Mt. Temple. Up we went over the talus slopes by headlamp yet again. A few hundred feet into the approach I 'got the urge'. While administering to my personal needs a fast duo passed us in the dark. “Well there's the other 2 we need for the descent” I remarked. The sun came up as we entered into the 3rd class gulley. Continuing up we surmounted the short 5th class step and proceeded to the 'big step'. Jeff led the first 2 pitches and I the second 2. Good solid quartzite for the most part got us back on the ridge above the big step. From here we had to surmount the 'black towers'. Off we went up the wrong gulley system and into steep crumbling ground. At one point while trying to belay me, Jeff could only cower under his pack while I knocked the mountain down on top of him. Karma's a bitch dude. Ok I wasn't really giving payback for the beer. Really. Many loose hours later we finally emerged from the black towers and tried to convince ourselves that we really were trying to stay true to the line of the first ascent. A beautiful knife edged crest of snow and ice is all that stood between us and the summit. Another blue bird day and awesome climb. Now just the long descent down to Sentinel pass and the trail back to Moraine lake. We were lucky on this, arriving in the parking lot just as the Canadian team that passed us was driving back to Lk. Louise. We hitched a ride with them back to my truck at the base of the route. Unfortunately of the photos of the climb, the two below are all that remain. Bummer.

Mt Fay from somewhere near the top of the black towers.
Summit ice slopes from the top of the Black Towers
All in all this was one of the funnest climbing trips I've ever done. Good weather (mostly), capable partner, great summits with a splash of euro style pubbing in between.

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos and memories of stories told here. You did keep some details to yourself back then. Love, your loving wife of 31 years!