MOUNT COLUMBIA - THE SUMMIT - APRIL 1980
Bob Farrell, Tony Forster, Arnold Westberg and I were looking forward to a good ski tour over the Easter long weekend on Dick Jull's trip into Castleguard Meadows and Cave area. At the Wednesday night meeting however, Wally Drew predicted that the warm sunny weather we were enjoying would continue through the weekend. Bob Farrel and I started thinking about an attempt on Mt. Columbia from the Saskatchewan Glacier. Thursday came bright and sunny and Tony said he would join us if we went. Thursday night we met the others on Dick's trip at Mosquito Creek campground and the sky was alive with stars. At the campground Arnold said he would come if the good weather continued. We talked over our plans with Dick Jull who suggested we should approach the peak again from the Athabasca rather than the Saskatchewan Glacier. We agreed but planned to return via the Saskatchewan Glacier in order to rejoin the rest of the group.
The sky was clear on Friday morning so the four of us set off for the Columbia Icefields. We were onto the Athabasca Glacier by about 8:00 and onto the Icefields plateau just after noon, after overtaking a group of four from the Alpine Club. The weather was superb and the scenery breathtaking. Alberta's highest peaks glittered in the sunlight and cameras clicked frequently as we skied across the plateau towards the "trench". Snow conditions were altogether different and much better than those which Dick Brent and I had experienced some three weeks earlier.
Tony, in typical form, schussed the lower slopes into the "trench" and ended at the bottom in an explosion of powder, skis, legs and pack. We skied up out of the "trench" and across the plateau for about two miles, making camp about 5:30 at the base of Mt. Columbia. From our camp the mountain rose majestically for about 600 m. into a clear sky. We talked of an easy day to the summit and possibly even getting back to the Castleguard Meadows.
In the morning we took our time over a relaxing breakfast and left camp at about 9:30. By 10:00 we reached the highest point for skis and by 12:00 the summit. The slopes to the summit average in the order of 40' and a bergschrund and several small crevasses were crossed.
There are no words to express the grandeur of the view from this mountain on a clear day. All around us were rugged peaks, glaciers, icefalls and deep valleys. We were above everything at the highest point of Alberta. Just shortly after that, Dick and others were on the summit of nearby Castleguard Mtn. Brent unfortunately was somewhere In B.C. or Saskatchewan.
On our way down we met the Alpine Club group on their way up. By the time we had returned to camp and packed up, clouds were settling around the mountain. By the time we had reached the "trench", following the Alpine Club group, the Icefields were again encased in fog and whiteout. We camped on the slopes descending towards the Saskatchewan Glacier and hoped for better weather in the morning.
On Sunday morning the weather was very marginal so we decided to return via the Athabasca rather than the Saskatchewan Glacier. We skied down the headwall and across the glacier with the Alpine Club group and at the cars we toasted our climb with drinks they provided.
Sunburned and pleasantly tired, we drove back to Saskatchewan Crossing and met the other Ramblers coming out from Castleguard. It was a great weekend which I hope others, but especially Dick and Brent, can repeat soon.
THE ASCENT OF MOUNT VICTORIA SOUTH PEAK - OCTOBER 1980
The place is Abbot's Hut, October 5th and 6 o'clock in the morning. Ordell and I are getting ready for our second attempt to climb Mt. Victoria. We didn't have much luck on our first attempt yesterday, and here are a few words about it.
Tony, Matt, Ordell and I had left Abbot's Hut about 11:00 in the morning after coming up from the Teahouse with the first daylight. We were surprised by very steep snowslopes right away, making us realize that Mt. Victoria was a much more formidable mountain than we had expected, just not that afternoon walk at all. We had lunch half way up to Victoria's S.E. ridge then we divided. Tony and Matt climbing up to the ridge, then down to the Sickle (a low depression in the ridge) and on to the summit, while Ordell and I tried a shortcut across the east slopes (you see from Lake Louise) to the Sickle. At 3:00 p.m. two thirds of the way to the Sickle, a very steep snow slope with no way of getting to the summit and Ordell in the lead, we called it quits; time to go home in comfort (comfort counts too you know). At our lunch stop we waited for Tony and Matt, but apparently they had a ball up there high on that ridge, no sign of them. Ordell and I descended to Abbot's Hut.
7:30 p.m. came, it was pitch dark on the slopes, and no sign of Tony and Matt. Ordell and I spent an uneasy hour in the hut, wondering what had happened to them. At 9:00 p.m. Ordell went outside to "spend a penny" when he called, "Lights on the slope, they're down." Changing batteries for my flashlight in a hurry, grabbing some equipment we went outside to find Tony and Matt within walking distance of the hut. Well, it was me who let go some dirty swearwords from between my teeth, something like, "Get that butt of yours off that mountain in time." Actually glad they had made it down in one piece. The damper being that they still had not made it to the summit.
It is next morning now, Tony and Matt going down to Lake O'Hara, Ordell and I trying for Mt. Victoria one more time. Our enthusiasm is dampened somewhat after yesterday's experience, but the reasons for trying again are compelling. The steps are in place for more than half way to the summit. We had a good night's rest, we were early and above all, there was the "feel" for the mountain, knowing what It takes now to get to the top, of what it takes to conquer it, (remember guys you were 17 and met that girl of yours,.... and vice versa too of course.)
Ordell and I are back on the mountain, retracing our steps up familiar slopes now past our lunch spot, now following Matt's and Tony's steps up to the ridge, hugging the ridge right away to our right as we walked just below it, then hugging it to our left, the descent to the Sickle, up the other side towards the summit, and 2 1/2 hours later we were at the end of their trail. With leaving Matt's and Tony's steps we also left their spirit behind. We were on our own now. The going was much to the left of the ridge now (Lake O'Hara side), over ups and downs, through rock and snow, back on the ridge with enough room for two feet to walk an and the end of the third hour saw us below the steeper snowslope that leads to the summit section of Mt. Victoria. Perhaps one or two more walks to the summit after the slope, I thought. I took a picture of Ordell climbing up the slope (no sweat), but when we got to the top of the slope ... at least my face dropped slightly. Before us lay a somewhat delicate snow ridge which grew steep and rugged. To the right (Lake Louise side), we never looked. To the left a vertical drop off for 8 m. ending in steep snowslopes below. So, Mt. Victoria was not going to give up that easily then. Well, we would take the challenge. Walking slowly along that delicate snow ridge, the vertical drop off ended and the snow slope came up to just below the ridge. With the ice axe I chopped some 30 cm (1 foot) of snow off and we gently lowered ouselves into the holds of the slope below. It was steep, tapering off somewhat a few metres below, but our crampons found a beautiful bite in the snow. We slowly worked our way along the slope for some 20 m. to a pile of rock, which took us back to the ridge, grade 3, some 4 m. high. That ridge still did not look any better. To follow the ridge would mean a full-scale play with rope and belay. (The rope was still safely tucked away in Ordell's packsack). The key to the summit lay obviously with the next slope below the ridge, a somewhat bowl shaped snow slope some 40 m. across. Climbing down the 4 m. again, we crossed the bowl shaped slope, but the middle held a surprise for us ... Ice. Some twelve steps had to be cut; then we climbed up again some 30 m. The snow was good, but the going up was heavy now, stopping for breathers often. We got back to the ridge and ... a few easy steps left was the highest point, Mt. Victoria.
Ordell and I rested, I guess we even chatted a bit, then we took the last few easy steps to the summit. We were on top of Mt. Victoria. It was a great moment; Ordell and I shook hands. It was about 11:30. The wind was strong, but bearable. Ordell took pictures, I looked around, and trust my one track mind, the top is big enough to build an igloo. The views to Lake Louise and Lake O'Hara are impressive as they were all along the ridge. We spent some 20 minutes on top of Mt. Victoria, then made our way back, across the slopes, back up to the ridge and had lunch in a sheltered spot. We continued our way back along Victoria ridge, taking our time, stopping for breath stops and enjoying the views. We were back at Abbot's Hut about 4:00 p.m. We had a drink and soup.
Then we threw ourselves into full battle gear, the rope was uncoiled, prussik slings were made ready, crash helmets donned, and down the glacier we went. Ordell found himself a neat little crevasse right away sinking in it up to his hips. After that, we continuously jumped crevasses, and through the Death Trap we went full speed, for two icetowers above us were listing badly. All went well and we were back at Lake Louise parking lot about 7:30 p.m. where we met Matt and Tony with our good news, and thus ended a great weekend for us.
Mt. Victoria is, perhaps, one of the finest climbs in our Rockies with spectacular views, but consequently steep and exposed in places. It should be attempted by everyone who has a sure foot, and can take a fair amount of exposure. It is worth it. It is technically not difficult and Ordell and I climbed Mt. Victoria without a rope, but we made sure of good footings. I hope to see more of you next year, with a rope of course.