Mt. Columbia in 21.5 hours (1 of 2)Author:
Monday, June 09, 2003 01:38 AM
Some dreams never die. And this dream took place some 5 years ago when I and Leszek, my climbing buddy, over a beer or two (OK, maybe more :)) came up with idea of climbing Mt. Columbia in 24 hours. Being no strangers to endurance tests (had done Joffree in 18 hours car-to-car couple of years before among other things) we thought that it would be an ultimate test. I am not too sure why we like doing things like that, maybe it is our both Polish stubbornness we had developed living under communism for some 20-plus years.
4 years ago in May I contacted our American friend who had loved Calgary and our mountains enough to move here, Dave Stephens. Dave was also excited about this idea and over the long weekend the three of us tried it. It was a tiring day, extremely hot and somehow we lacked that "kick-ass" spirit then. From then on Dave embarked on quite an accomplished mountaineering career, while Leszek and I became involved in our parental obligations, but still tossed this idea around once in a while.
Now, Leszek is a very persisted son-of-a-gun, and he kept nagging all the time about it starting early April this year. Somehow I hoped that he would go away. Well, he didn't and Friday evening we found ourselves driving to Columbia Icefield area.
We arrived there at 9:30 pm and tried to get a bit of sleep in my Corolla. Not a very good idea. While profiled seats are good for driving, they aren't too comfortable for sleeping. I'd managed to catch probably about 1.5 hours of sleep, but at midnight Leszek's alarm woke us up. Having learned from previous attempt we decided to start even earlier than 3 am start we had 4 years ago.
At 0:45 we were on the way to the glacier. I am not too sure how we made it through the Athabasca Glacier, but in total darkness it wasn't too bad. We kept a semi-decent pace and arrived at the bottom of the Trench at 7 am. About a kilometer from the Trench we had a bit of a break and decided to leave a few items there. We left our sleeping bags we brought just in case and some water. We wrapped it all in a black garbage bag and continued on. Conditions were very nice until sun really started to warm up the snow. Pretty quickly it all became soggy and it slowed our progress. Climbing on the East ridge was not technical, but for sure tested our stamina. We both could feel lack of oxygen in the air. Nevertheless at 1:05 pm we were on the summit. What a view! And what feeling of relief!
Having spent almost half an hour there in beautiful warm weather we started coming down the ridge. About 100 m below the summit walking exactly in our footsteps from the way up I took quite a plunge into a crevasse. No tell-tale dip in the snow, there was no way to tell the crevasse was there. Leszek saw the very moment from above and arrested my fall right away. Still, I was some 5 meters deep in a very narrow crevasse. I slowly made my way up stemming between sides, but it was narrow enough that I couldn't even kick my front teeth of crampons into the wall - not enough room. Good thing I'd had my ice axe on the leash - it came extremely handy in my crevasse adventure. In about 15 minutes I was out of there and I could see a relief on Leszek's face that I was OK. He was pleased with my mater-of-factly approach to this and in short moment we were continuing our descent.
At 4:15 we were back at our stash. Well, the famous Icefield ravens had been hard at work there and the garbage bag was in shreds. Leszek's water bottle had a hole in it and he lost about a litre of the very precious liquid. His socks and t-shirt were about 5 m away, also in shreds. Having gathered the whole mess we continued on.
I don't have to tell anybody who has been that way about the never ending uphill battle from the Trench towards the top of the Icefield. This is the piece I would like to forget even sooner than my crevasse flight lessons. At 8 pm we started our way down the Icefield towards the Athabasca Glacier. It was an enjoyable skiing, but our legs were quite tired then, so it was all about getting to the car as soon as possible. After the all day of skins-on skins-off routine, we became experts in quick change-overs.
As I mentioned before it was just as well we had gone through the glacier in the morning in total darkness, because now it looked much scarier. We had to take a lot of zigzags to get through it on the way down and being near total exhaustion didn't help in decision making process. Somehow at 10:20 we were back at the bottom, threw everything in the car and in about 5 minutes I was snoring away while Leszek's mind was still racing after all day's events. He tried calling his wife on the phone in the parking lot, while my wife would have to wait for the news till the morning. Leszek finally fell asleep after an hour of going through everything in painful detail in his mind.
My car seats felt like king size bed after all this. At 6 am we woke up and drove back to Calgary.
Topic: Mt. Columbia in 21.5 hours (2 of 2)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Monday, June 09, 2003 10:50 AM
Congrats Adam. That's great that you got Columbia as a day trip. One day, I'll get Columbia. Although, I'm going to take 7 days on my next attempt. I'm bound to get good weather that day.