Steven, Ben and I spent a few days in early September 2014 in the Woolley / Diadem area, just north of the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park. I approached the bivy site on Thursday and spent the first night there solo, a wonderfully relaxing afternoon and night despite doing battle with an aggressive pack rat (I won btw).
Steven and Ben came up on Friday and we spent the rest of the day slogging over Woolley Shoulder and signing Little Alberta's summit register for only the 9th recorded ascent in over 34 years. While the views and the experience of visiting this incredible area of the Rockies was undeniably excellent, the fact that we did well over 2000 meters of height gain and many kilometers of hiking seemed a wee bit silly, given that we were planning to summit two 11,000ers the next day. Oh well. Can't always play smart right?
Early on Saturday, September 6th 2014 we awoke to a star-filled sky and made preparations for our climb. There was talk of adding Mushroom Peak into the mix if there was enough time but we didn't fully expect that this would happen. I've never heard of anyone combining these three peaks in one day and I know for a fact that nobody has ever done Little Alberta and then Woolley / Diadem and Mushroom Peak the very next day.
[Steven crosses an outlet stream from the glacier.]
We were going to do the route that's usually recommended later in the season, crossing the east glacier to the first couloir on Diadem before climbing it to a giant snow patch on it's left side. From there we'd cross the snow to rock and then traverse over to the second couloir, about 150 vertical meters higher than our exit from the first. The second couloir would be climbed for 150 or so more vertical meters before exiting above the seracs coming down the Woolley Glacier. From there we would either side-slope scree or follow a much gentler glacier to the Woolley / Diadem col. Here's a photo from So detailing what I've just written:
[The safest route to the Woolley / Diadem col follows, red --> cyan --> purple --> green --> red. The colored lines may not be on the route when you get there.]
We set off up the glacier under a very clear sky and were soon weaving our way through some pretty darn big holes. We chose not to rope up here. We could have, and anyone could make an excellent argument that we should have, but we didn't. Steven, Ben and I have done a lot of trips together and we know each others comfort levels and capabilities. I asked all of us at least 5 times on the way up the glacier if anyone wanted the rope and each time we thought about it and said, "no". I could go into all the various reasons but it doesn't really matter at this point.
[Coming up the lower glacier - Woolley Tarn is glass behind us and Engelhard is catching morning alpine glow at upper right. ++]
[It looks like you could just keep going straight up the Woolley Glacier, but dangerous seracs threaten any route that doesn't bail into the first couloir to our right. The couloir visible high above on the right is the second one and is noticeably steeper.]
[Now the two couloirs are visible, with the rock face between them. It looks easy, but lots of careful navigation between us and that first couloir to get through all the crevasses first!]
[Crevasse avoidance. The terrain is a lot more complex than it appears from a distance. The easy couloir is at far right, but see the photos below of the complex terrain we still have to negotiate before finally getting there.]
[Big terrain on a gorgeous morning. ++]
[The low-angle first couloir is straight ahead, but again we have to detour (climber's right) to get there. Note the rock fall on the right hand side of it?]
[A great view back down the glacier. ++]
[Steven crosses a crevasse bridge.]
[Holy crevasses! ++]
[Ben negotiates the terrain carefully. ++]
[Coming up the first couloir.]
[Ben in the couloir.]
After making our way carefully through some great scenery on the lower glacier and finally threading our way to the first couloir, we started up on great snow. The couloirs and rock face had melted out quite a bit over the past 24 hours and we were a bit concerned with the amount of dirty ice and rock fall there was in the first couloir already early in the morning. Snow, ice and the odd rock were already zinging down it as the sun rose in the east sky and hit the upper stretches. We climbed the first col fairly quickly, it's a moderate angle and we just powered up it with poles and crampons 'til we came up to an obvious buttress to our left and the landmark we used to bail left to the snow slope that would take us to the rock traverse.
The snow slope was obvious, and led across to a beautifully placed narrow gully leading up to the rock traverse. Nature could not have planned it better!
[A great view of the narrow rock / snow ramp that gives access off the snow slope to the rock traverse. This is key in keeping things at a scrambling level. Any other route will be 5th class climbing of some sort.]
[Steven and Ben follow me across the snow slope to the rising, narrow gully that gives access to the ledge traverse. Note the smooth buttress just above Ben's head to the right? That's your key landmark to exiting the first couloir which can be seen curving down to the lower glacier at center. ++]
[Steven and Ben come off the snow patch and up the narrow gully.]
[A cairn at the top of the narrow gully reassures us that we're on route. Someone's route at least!]
[Looking up the ledge traverse to the just visible second couloir and the Woolley Glacier to it's left, from the top of the narrow access gully. Woolley towers over us at this point with Engelhard and Cromwell at far left. ++]
Once we exited the narrow gully we found ourselves looking at the Woolley Glacier plunging down ahead of us and the rock traverse rising in a series of steps and slabs to the second couloir less than 500 meters across from us. Cairns guided us up, generally we stuck to easier terrain in a rising traverse left, towards the second couloir. I can't say for sure how high we went on the rock, but we didn't gain more than 150 meters or so and exiting into the second couloir before the rock got too steep. The slabs we came up were possibly going to give us some trouble on the way down if too much snow melted. I've heard that you don't want snow for the rock traverse but I strongly disagree with this. I think you do want snow - not enough to avalanche you off the face, but enough to mask the slope ledges with water, ice and pebbles on them... Snow on the rock also means snow in the couloirs, which is much easier to climb than ice.
[Starting the ledge traverse.]
[Mount Woolley looms over it's lower glacier.]
[On the rock traverse - what a glorious day! We're in t-shirts already in the morning.]
We got extremely lucky on the second couloir. Our exit point from the ledge traverse was right where the snow from above transitioned to hard ice in the couloir below! We weren't complaining, but again we wondered what conditions would be like hours from now on descent. We had 5 ice screws and other pro along so we weren't too concerned. One way or another we'd get down this sucker! We used both axes in the second couloir as it is much steeper than the first one - probably to about 45 degrees for us. About 150 vertical meters up the second couloir, we could see our exit to the left, marked by an obvious cairn on the rocks above. We traversed off our narrow band of snow and took a peek around the shale ridge to see what was next.
[Ben comes up the steep 2nd couloir behind me. This couloir was all ice lower down.]
[Looking down the 2nd couloir.]
[Steven and Ben traverse out of the second couloir - note the cairn.]
[Looking across the couloir as I exit it. Those ice chunks kept falling all day and bombarded the couloir below.]
[The views back over our bivy and Woolley Tarn are awesome already from the top of the 2nd couloir. Engelhard and Cromwell at far right. ++]
[Still a LONG way to the summit of Woolley from the top of the 2nd couloir! Further than you'd think from this photo anyway.]
After bailing the 2nd couloir we had to decide between the upper glacier or traversing scree and snow slopes to the Woolley / Diadem col. We choose the later option due to fresh snow thinly covering holes on the upper glacier. The scree slog was made much easier by quite a few snow patches along the way. Before long Ben was leading us up bare glacial sn'ice on Woolley's north ridge. The weather was glorious as we labored our way up. I was feeling much better than I expected to be after a 2000m vertical day the day before on Little Alberta.
[Starting the loose side-hill traverse to the Diadem / Woolley col.]
[Slogging it to the Woolley / Diadem col, avoiding covered crevasses on our left.]
[Looking back at our approach line with Diadem Peak rising at left. We are keenly aware that we must get higher than this peak on Woolley before we're near her summit - which is looking far away at right. ++]
[Ben leads up the glacier near the col, to the north ridge of Woolley. ++]
We still couldn't see our prize - the views of Mount Alberta we were looking forward to - but the views were already great behind us and I could see a flat outcrop just ahead that would provide our first great views of Alberta for the day. I shouted ahead to the young guys that I wanted to take a food break on the outcrop and they agreed. As expected our views from there did not disappoint!
[BOOM! In your FACE! This is the view we've been waiting for... ++]
[Impressive views past the NE ridge of Mount Alberta towards Mount Clemenceau.]
[Mighty Mount Alberta rises to 11,875 feet high - there are three main routes to it's fabled summit including the prominant ridge in the foreground and the face that is in shadow and out of sight to its right. The most common route goes up the SE face on the far left of this photo.]
[Looking north at Serenity Peak (L), Fortress Mountain, Catacombs Mountain, Mount Geikke, Mount Robson, Mount Fryatt and Mount Edith Cavell (R). Palmer, Thorington and Smith are in the foreground.]
[A rare view into the depths beneath Mount Alberta's NE ridge and North Face reveals a very steep glacier, plunging into another "Black Hole", somewhat comparable to the Black Hole under Twin's Tower to the SE.]
Sidebar: Mount Alberta's various routes.
In my trip report for Little Alberta I found myself sucked into hours of reading and researching the incredible ascents of the North Face / Ridge of Twin's Tower. I had so much fun doing this research that I thought I'd repeat it for another mythical giant among Rocky Mountain summits, probably more well-known than any other peak that is not visible from any road - the mighty Mount Alberta.
There are several documented routes on Mount Alberta, the 6th highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It seems, after doing some reading, that people take slightly (or very) different lines up the North Face. Here's the approximate route lines involving that dark wall;
[Photo Copyright John Scurlock and gleaned from this article by Rapheal Slawinski. (1) Swigert-Tenney, 1985. (2) Lowe-Glidden, 1972. (3) Anderson-House, 2008. (4) Kruk-Lavigne, 2012. (5) Brazeau-Walsh, 2006. (6) Blanchard-Elzinga, 1990 (arises from other side to gain northwest ridge).]
Following is a listing of online trip reports that I found over several hours of research. If you read my Little Alberta sidebar, you're going to recognize a lot of these names. Apparently once you stare at the huge faces of Mount Cromwell, Twin's Tower and Mount Alberta you eventually come to realize they stare back at you... It has to be mentioned that the person who has pioneered by far the most lines up Mount Alberta and I'm sure stood on her summit more than any other human is Rapheal Slawinski. He admits to having an obsession with Alberta in a great article, Alberta : A Tale of Obsession in the 2005 CAJ, vol 88.
Japanese Route, V 5.6 | 1925 by S. Hashimoto, H. Hatano, T. Hayakawa, Y. Maki, Y.Mita, N. Okabe, guided by Hans Fuhrer, H. Kohler, J. Weber
North Face, VI 5.9 A3 | 1972 by George Lowe and Jock Glidden
West Face, V 5.10+ | 2007 by Rapheal Slawinski and Eamon Walsh. Read about their ascent in this Alpinist article.
Northwest Ridge, V 5.9 A3 | 1990 by Barry Blanchard and Jim Elzinga.
Northeast Ridge, V 5.10 | 1985 by Kevin Swigert and Steven Tenney.
South Buttress (incomplete), IV 5.10+R | 2012 by Jay Mills and Rapheal Slawinski.
I hope you took some time to read the sidebar above. There's some fascinating armchair mountaineering there! After a short food / rest break, we continued up the North Ridge of Woolley. There were really no technical difficulties from here to the summit, but we did have to avoid some crevasses on route and also had to climb a short snow arete above an extremely exposed east face of Woolley which was quite fun. Summit views were, no surprise, stunning - some of the best I've ever had. We timed our ascent of Woolley as perfectly as you get, with clear skies, no fires, no haze and cool enough to keep things safe.
[We're higher than Mushroom Peak at least (lower left) and also higher than Sunwapta (distant left). The step ahead looks more interesting than expected. ++]
[Amazing views as we trudge up the North Ridge of Mount Woolley. ++]
[A wee bit of exposure off the snow arete looking down to the Woolley Tarn and our bivy site way below us now. ++]
[Almost there - avoiding cornices while trying to make the highest point. Little Alberta at lower center. ++]
[Mount Alberta, Clemenceau, Hooker, Serenity, Geikie, Robson, Fryatt, Edith Cavell and many others visible here. ++]
[Mount Alberta with Clemenceau just to the right of the impressive NE ridge.]
[Summit views looking east and south include Diadem, Mushroom, Sunwapta, Engelhard, Cromwell, the Stutfields, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of a Twin, Little Alberta and King Edward among many, many others. ++]
[King Edward with Little Alberta on the bottom left. The Adamants obvious in the far distance.]
[L to R, Stutfield, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of a Twin.]
[Poboktan, Waterfall Peaks, Mushroom and Sunwapta (L to R).]
[This is an interesting shot for a number of reasons. It shows the summit of Diadem Peak and clearly shows that the rocky point just to the right of the highest snow bump is the highest point. It also shows two other 11,000ers beyond, Warren on the L and Brazeau on the R.]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Woolley]
[L to R, Stutfield NE, Cromwell, Engelhard, Stutfield, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Son of Twin, King Edward. ++]
[Athabasca, Andromeda and Kitchener show up on the far left now.]
[Can't get enough of the area around Mount Clemenceau. Mount Hooker sneaks into the picture on the extreme right. For some reason I can't decide what the distinctive summit at center is.]
[Mounts Hooker and Serenity at left, Catacombs (L of center with snow) is also a near-11,000er at 10,926 feet high. To my knowledge we were only the second ascent party to stand on her summit. Just to it's right is Robson in the far distance and Mount Fryatt and Edith Cavell. In the foreground is Mount Palmer with Thorington Tower to it's right. ++]
[Tsar Mountain - another 11,000er at 11,234 feet in height - intrigues me. I love its shape. I also love Mount Warwick, which sits in the foreground and has far less ascents.]
After ogling the many 11,000ers and wild, remote summits visible from Woolley's summit on this crystal-clear day, we reluctantly turned back and started our descent towards Diadem Peak. At this point we were seriously thinking about tacking Mushroom Peak onto the two 11,000ers for a safer exit than the lower Woolley Glacier, thanks to strong sun and warm temperatures. We were also thinking it would be nice to save up to 500 meters of height gain and a bunch of time ascending on Sunday morning. Obviously the thin air was getting to us at this point! ;)
[Descending Woolley's summit ridge. ++]
[Incredible view of the north face of Mount Alberta with the tarn between Diadem and Alberta. ++]
[Shadows descending the snow arete.]
[The exposure down the east face of Woolley while descending the arete is pretty cool. Woolley tarn is 1200 meters below with our bivy to it's right.]
[Dips and curves on the north ridge of Woolley and dizzying exposure down the west face towards Mount Alberta and it's north face.]
[The North Ridge of Woolley is a mighty fine place to be taking a stroll on a clear September morning!]
[Descending under the ever-watchful gaze of Mount Alberta.]
[Easy terrain to the Diadem col, but there are crevasses here so be cautious.]
We stopped for a bite to eat at the col before starting our way up the second peak of the day - another 11,000er, Diadem Peak.