Friday, May 20, 2016

Columbia in a day

After day tripping Mt. Joffre and the Wapta traverse, a day trip of Mt. Columbia seemed like the next logical challenge, and something that has been in the back of my mind since first skiing the Wapta in 2013. For a successful attempt, weather, glacier conditions, and a good team all need to come together. Upon hearing that the Athabasca glacier was in good condition and a good weather window aligning was aligning with the weekend, it didn't take much to assemble a team. Given the choice, I would prefer doing these types of trips with a strong team, not only for the bragging rights of throwing down a fast time, but also to limit the amount of time spent in ski boots.

So the plan was hatched, with a little logistical challenges as my gear was all in Canmore, but I wanted to drive directly to the icefields from Edmonton. I arrived late in the night, slept in the car and met up with the rest of the gang in the morning. Fortunately all of my required gear made it to the trailhead and we all took our time packing up to get ready to go.

The six of us set off at around 2:30 with headlamps, stumbling up the trail to the toe of the glacier. Shoes were traded for ski boots and we continued stumbling up the stream crossings and lower part of the glacier. Once we hit a previously established track, I was surprised how efficiently we climbed up and around the icefalls that are usually quite a formidable crux of the day.

Once on the icefield, we were able to follow a track to the base of the face set by parties camped on the glacier. We caught them on the face, and then me and Travis got some pretty good summit fever, pushing up to the summit with parched lungs.

Cresting a roll on the neve and the objective appears in the distance

The trench in the middle of the approach was freezing cold. It was nice to get back into the sun. I led the entire approach to the base of the face, it was nice being able to set a good pace!

Lots of 11,000ers were visible on this perfect day. Here the Lyells look mythical draped in glacier.

Looking back from the base of the face, time to start the steep climb!

More "mythical" 11,000ers, the Twins, Stuttfields and Kitchener.


Travis and I drilled it to the summit, so we were there to encourage the rest of the group to top it out!

Not the greatest ski conditions off the summit, but time to finish off the day moving across the flatter neve. 

We missed seeing all of the blocks of ice as we skied up the Athabasca glacier under the small beams of our headlamps.
Total time was 11:38. A beautiful day to be in the mountains. The skimo race gear enabled us to move efficiently across the glaciers, yet still perform well on the steep descent off Columbia's east face. The next day, "the Berner" smashed our time going under 10hrs! Potentially some unfinished business on this one, now I know how many nutella bagels I really need.

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