July 6th; Saskatchewan Glacier - We are camped on the upper reached of the Saskatchewan Glacier in Jasper National Park. We woke up around 9 this morning, packed up and then headed over to the Parks office at the Icefields were we filled out a permit for Mt. Columbia. Originally we had planned to go up the Athabasca Glacier and set up the paper work as such. The sign up process took about an hour (groan) and afterwards we headed out. The Rangers warned us of icefall and suggested the alternative Saskatchewan Glacier route but we opted for the faster and more direct route. At the parking lot I said to Brad, "I'm feeling kind of nervous."
"Me too," he replied. We thought about it for a minute but then dismissed it and drove to the parking lot. However - once there we sat for a minute. "I don't feel good about this," Brad said.
"Me neither... how about the Saskatchewan Glacier route?" I replied.
So we agreed and drove back to the Visitor Center and changed our registration.
"My spidey senses were tingling," Brad told the Ranger.
We set off... the route up the Saskatchewan was easy. We left around 2pm and reached the glacier at 4pm, look a break and reached our current campsite around 6pm where we set up the tent and cooked dinner. Tomorrow we head up to the Icefield and over to "the Trench" - a large feature on the western side of the icefield near Mt. Columbia.
July 7th; Rain - We awoke this morning to rain. Unfortunately we had neglected to read the fine print in the guidebook which states: "Mt. Columbia is notorious for its weather. Don't be surprised if it takes you several attempts." Suddenly, like a repressed childhood memory. The slogan Dave had coined for British Columbia two summers back came flooding back to me: "British Columbia" Where it Fucking Rains". We've opted to stretch our food out for 4 days instead of three and will spend a day in the tent waiting for good weather.
July 8th; The Trench - We awoke to clear skies, the nasty weather had blown away overnight, and we cooked and ate while staring up at the scattered clouds in the sky. Around 11am we packed up and headed up the glacier, skiing through ankle deep slush to begin with and finally reaching good snow where the glacier meets the icefield.
The icefield is cool. Desolate and expansive - stretching out to the north to Snow Dome and south to the base of the immense Mt. Bryce. We traversed it east to west, climbing up and over a small bump and then dropping down to a heavily crevassed field which is called the "Trench" - a depression at the base of Mt. Columbia. We thought about going higher. But it is heavily crevassed so we set up camp for the night.
Tomorrow we will attempt the E. Ridge and then try to ski all the way out; which will be a long day considering it will consist of 3,500' and 20 miles.
July 9th; Mt. Columbia - I awoke around 3am shivering from the cold. I had fallen asleep hot wearing only a short sleeve shirt and with my bag half unzipped. I tossed and turned (and counted) trying to get back to sleep but I never did and when the alarm went off at 3:20 I was up and outside snapping pictures of the perfect night.
We ate, drank, packed and at 5 am we were skiing across the hard glacier - the snow frozen hard and crisp so we drifted across barely biting into the ice with our poles.
At dawn we crested a ridge and took a break, the sun rising over Snow Dome and bathing the summits of Columbia, Bryce and the Twins in a deep purple. By 7am we were at the base of the route and cramponing up.
The route is beautiful: a rib comes right off the summit, a tongue of ice and snow free of crevasses and seracs. We began the route by traversing around a bergschrund and then heading left for about 200'. This deposited us on the smooth face / rib. The initial 600' was mellow climbing - at most 35 degrees but then we reached a prominent rock buttress (under which we belayed). The route headed right, out and around the rock band and up onto steep snow (100' of 60 degree snow followed by 200' of 50 degree snow and then 200' of 45 degree snow) to a low angle ridge. We then wove left around a couple crevasses and then ran up to the summit (12,293').
We summated at 9:55am - 5 hours after starting. The summit was beautiful - a giant rounded hump of snow that perches high above everything else. To the east you can see the wide expanse of the Columbia Icefield and to the north, south and west one sees mountains as far as the eye can see.
We enjoyed the summit for a bit and then after watching feathery clouds materialize out of thin air above us we scurried down the route; carefully downclimbing the steep sections. We reached our skis and then zipped downhill reaching our tent after 7 1/2 hours of climbing.
Back at the tent we rested an hour, packed up and then began to ski out. We were tired and low on food - having been on half rations yesterday and today (in order to summit) and the 12 mile trek out was looking grim.
After climbing up the Trench we pointed our skis downhill and skied 7 miles including almost a mile on blue ice (worrying all the while about falling through ice bridges). Then off came the skis (heavy became the packs) and we tromped downhill across 2 miles of glacier to the moraine. At the moraine we discovered 2 1/2 gallons of fuel with the word "FREE" spelled out in rocks next to it. The fuel had been left by two climbers whom we had met on the way in and who were too slack to carry out what they carried in.
We screamed, whined and moaned but in the end we packed the fuel out ourselves. I carried the rope and 1 gallon of gas and Brad carried 1 1/2 gallons - and then out we went - slowly under excruciatingly heavy packs. An hour over moraine and an hour down a faint trail to the truck where we sat on the tailgate nursing our wet swollen feet while sipping beers.
Mt. Columbia East Ridge - II, 12,274'
- Route: Reach the base of Mt. Columbia by first either skiing up the Athabasca or Saskatchewan Glacier. Once on the icefields, traverse west until you reach the "Trench" - a shallow depression on the glacier at the base of the East face of Mt. Columbia. Camp here and early the next morning ski to the East Ridge. At the base of the ridge a rib comes right off the summit, a tongue of ice and snow free of crevasses and seracs. I'm sure the route changes often but when we climbed it we began the route by traversing around a bergschrund and then heading left for about 200'. This deposited us on the smooth face / rib. The initial 600' was mellow climbing - at most 35 degrees but then we reached a prominent rock buttress (under which we belayed). The route headed right, out and around the rock band and up onto steep snow (100' of 60 degree snow followed by 200' of 50 degree snow and then 200' of 45 degree snow) to a low angle ridge. We then wove left around a couple crevasses and then follow the easy slopes to the summit (12,293'). Descend your ascent route. This route is prone to avalanche so choose your day wisely and get off the slopes early in the day. Check out Toft's map and "Selected Climbs in the Canadian Rockies" for more information.
- Gear: Skis and glacier gear are needed to traverse the icefield. On the route we carried pickets and a couple screws.
- Time: It took us 4 days car to car. The East ridge took us 7 1/2 hours from our camp in the Trench. Weather is a concern so bring a couple extra days of food if you really want to summit.
- Notes: You will need a backcountry permit in order to spend the night in the park.
|| Mt. Columbia
Description: Map of the Saskatchewan Glacier, Columbia Icefields and E. Ridge of Mt. Columbia.
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