REGION: Canadian Rockies

ACTIVITY: Mountaineering



The alarm went off at 5:30 am and we were up and drinking coffee by 6 am. Our plan was to climb the East Ridge of Edith Cavell. The guidebook stated that the route could comfortably be climbed in a long day.

We began hiking in at 6:30 am. The hike began with a nice trail that is beneath the massive north face and the Angel Glacier, and then up a trail branching off which took us into the high country and up to a snow slope leading to a col. We trudged up the snow slope kicking steps in snow that was at most 40 degrees. At the top we got a good look at the East Ridge: it begins with a scramble up 4th class rock that then leads to a snow gully which one follows up to the upper ridge.

We began up the route - unroped and scrambling quickly up the rock which actually had a faint trail meandering through it. The rock was good quality and we ascended the initial 1000' in less than an hour. Next we scrambled right and got in a snow gully (40 degrees) which was quick going and we soon reached the top and began traversing across a snowfield to a rocky ridge. However the snow quickly worsened to six inches of slush over ice and rock. Brad was in front and he delicately worked his way up the snow and ice (we didn't have our crampons on) over to a sketchy ice section and then up to a bit of rock. I joined him and we discussed roping up but opted to continue unroped for a little longer. Brad then climbed across a rock shelf and up a ridge to a rock bit sticking out of the snow and then finally to a nice rocky ridge. We later learned that 3 weeks previous to our trip an Australian has fallen down this gully unroped. He tumbled 1500' head over heels and survived - his only injury a cut to his head which required 9 stitches.

On the ridge we hiked up and over a bump and then down to a col that was at the base of the East Ridge. Here we stopped, ate a snack and roped up.

Brad lead off first. He climbed up a rocky section and then traversed across steep snow that lead to another rock band. I followed, simul-climbing. The East Ridge is described as a rocky scramble with a 5.3 crux. In dry conditions it would be a fun mellow route. However there was way too much snow on it. We didn't have pickets and the rock was buried under maybe 6 feet of snow - so protection was minimal. And due to the snow, climbing was slow and difficult. The snow soft and unstable (point releases were a concern) and the rock only poking through every now and then. So what would have normally be a fast fun climb, quickly turned into a slow, cautious, scary climb.

After about 400' Brad put in a belay and hauled me up. I then lead off and we simul-climbed about 500' of snow and rock until I, exhausted, put in a belay and belayed Brad up. Brad then lead a pitch of steep snow and rock up to the base of a rock tower. I got to lead the rock tower - 200' of 5.3 climbing on excellent rock! "Why couldn't the entire route be like this?" I yelled down to Brad. Brad joined me and at the top we discussed time. It was around 5pm. We had begun climbing at 11 and were beginning to have to belay each pitch as the difficulty increased, which made our progress slow even more. Luckily we had packed bivy sacks and down jackets and now it became obvious that we'd probably have to use them.

Brad lead off and ascended more steep snow and rock. We began trading leads more often, sometimes only climbing one rope length and sometimes simul-climbing 300-400' at a time. The sun set and we watched the beautiful orange glow fade away to be replaced by a still clear night. Without a word we put on our headlamps and continued up.

Around 10,500' I lead a pitch that began with a rocky chimney and then lead to a snow ramp and finally a gully system of steep snow up to 60 degrees. I was able to get good protection in the rock bands that lined the gully but it was steep and scary. Plus I was mentally wasted after having lead a previous pitch where I got off route on steep snow. However, the gully put us in a spot where we could see what we thought to be the summit. Seeing only snow and ice above us we put on our crampons.

Brad lead the next pitch: a steep snow ramp and then we simul-climbed to a point where the summit ridge was just above us. We lucked out to clear skies and a full moon which illuminated the surrounding peaks and bathed the route in a deep white light.

I lead the final 300' to the summit delicately climbing to the left of huge cornices, jamming both my axes into the snow as deep as they would go and kicking steps as hard as I could. The final bit was a section of 50 degree snow up to the summit, a round mass of corniced snow with the moon and mountains shimmering all around me. Brad soon joined me and we glanced at the time. It was 1 am. We briefly considered biving on the summit but it was cold and exposed and we opted to continue down.

Traversing the summit was an experience I'll never forget. It was cold and the full moon cast a glow on the peaks in all directions. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and a strong wind whipping us about . Walking across the summit plateau was as close as I'll ever get to feeling like I was walking on the moon; the experience was surreal and serene. The only sounds were the steady pulse of the wind and our crampons biting into the hard snow.

After being wound up for 18 hours we were finally able to relax and enjoy the climb. The descent was straight forward. We traversed the East (true) and West summits, traveled across the seriously corniced West Ridge to a steep section of snow which we then downclimbed to reach the southwest ridge to avoid a section of rock. We traveled across this until we were once again able to traverse back to the west ridge which we followed down to a snow gully and talus field which we descended to the valley floor.

We reached the valley floor at 6am. Exactly 24 hours after starting our climb. The guidebook was right - it was a "long day climb". Just as we reached the meadows below the sun rose and began to warm us instantly. On level grass we rolled out our bivy bags and passed out. I awoke briefly to see a marmot chewing on Brad's helmet but I was too tired to do anything about it and passed out again.

We slept until 1pm and awoke to a hot sun. Brad's helmet had been dragged into a marmot hole and the leather band that went around his head was chewed to pieces. We laughed and laughed - glad to be down and safe and then took our time hiking the final 3 miles back to the car.

The next day we learned that some people followed our tracks up and over the summit. The guy leading fell through a cornice and broke his femur. A rescue ensued and luckily the rescue group was able to retrieve him before he went into shock. We took the news in silence - glad that the guy was safe but mostly glad that it wasn't us, realizing that we had pushed it a little close to our abilities.

Route Information

Mt. Edith Cavell - East Ridge II 5.3, 11,033'

  • Route: Ascend the obvious and prominent east ridge. The lower portion of the route has a long snow couloir which has been the site of a number of accidents so be aware.  Once on the route ascend 4th class terrain and a steep tower (climbing up to 5.3) to the summit.  Descend either the E Ridge or the W Ridge. Check out "Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies" for more information. 
  • Gear: By August this is a sneaker route that can be easily soloed or ascended with a light alpine rack.  If doing the route in June / early July carry a light alpine rack, pickets, a mountain axe and an ice tool.
  • Time: It took us 24 hours RT with poor snow conditions.  An August ascent / traverse would probably take around 16 hours.

  •  Big Horn Sheep
  •  Breakfast in the Rockies
  •  Approaching the base of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Approaching the base of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Approaching the base of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Lower portion of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Start of the roped climbing on Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Lower portion of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Lower portion of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Lower portion of Edith Cavell's E. Ridge
  •  Base of the rock step on Edith Cavell
  •  Rock Tower on Edith Cavell
  •  Brad on the E. Ridge
  •  High Exposure on Edith Cavell
  •  Climbing Sucks
  •  Upper Slopes
  •  Canadian Rockies Sunset
  •  Upper Slopes
  •  Brad Approaching the Summit
  •  1am on the Summit
  •  Morning Bivy after 24 hrs on the Go
  •  E. Ridge of Edith Cavell
  •  Edith Cavell
  •  Edith Cavell


(145 KB)
Mt. Edith Cavell
Description: Map of East and West Ridge on Mt. Edith Cavell.

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