On Saturday, 09 April 05, Blair Piggot, Dan Ronsky and I skied/climbed the SW Ridge of Mt. Andromeda under a beautiful blue sky. Awesome snow conditions for skiing, but more on that later. Kind of a milestone for me... I now have 20 of the 11,000ers. Of course, I have all of the easy ones, so it only gets harder. Now for the details:
Doing day trips up on the Columbia Icefield always makes for an early start, a long day, and late getting home. Blair and I left Strathmore at 0330, picked up Dan in Calgary at 0430, then headed to the Icefields, where we arrived at 0800. The road to the climber's lot was still blocked off, and the SnoCoach Ice Road was still non-existant (although they were plowing away). That forced us to stay in the tourist parking lot and start from the toe of the Athabasca. We left the parking lot at 0830, skied down and up to the toe, broke out the rope, etc, and by 0900, we were on our way.
The area received rain this past Thursday and Friday up to about 7,000 ft. That meant the lower Athabasca had very little in the way of trailbreaking. As we rounded under the Snow Dome seracs (which appear to have been quite active), we had a bit more trailbreaking (maybe 4 inches). We proceeded up the Athabasca Headwall, which was a little bit more narrow than our trip two weeks ago to the Twins. There is a large crevasse at the top of the headwall that runs parallel to the typical track toward the Trench. I don't remember seeing that two weeks ago, but it could certainly create problems for people coming out of the Trench in a whiteout.
Anyway, once we cleared the headwall, we took a wide arching route toward the bump (10,800 ft) SW of Andromeda. Once about half-way up that slope, we traversed up and left to the Andromeda/Bump col. The slope above the col appeared to be rather crusty/firm snow. While you could certainly ski down that slope, it seemed to be steep enought that you'd have to carry your skis up. We figured that it really wasn't worth the effort to take the skis, so we left the skis at the col (10,230 ft) and did the remaining 1,100 ft on foot.
We followed the SW ridge to the point where it meets the top of the Skyladder Route. From there, we followed the wide slope to the SW Summit of Andromeda. The view was spectacular until your vision pans to the NE to see another summit about 750m away and maybe ten feet higher. UGH!!! So, off we went. The ridge to the NE Summit is narrow and corniced to the left, with steep avalanche slopes on the right. We were careful here. But after about 15 minutes from the SW Summit, we found ourselves on the NE (true) Summit of Andromeda. At this point, it was 15:15, and getting late. It had taken us 6hrs 45mins to go from car to summit.
The wind on the summit was cold and gusty, so we only stayed there for about 15 minutes. We reversed our tracks, headed back toward the col and took a nice long break just below the Skyladder Route intersection. After the much needed break, we went back to the col, put on the skis, and headed for the truck. The ski descent was fantastic. It was some of the best skiing we had done all year, and we were even roped up!!! If it wasn't for that rope, and having to bend down to pick up wands, we would have had the ski descent of a lifetime. Of course, I would never recommend descending that headwall unroped. Way to high of a risk for that.
Coming down, the three of us got our turns in sequence and actually made some nice S-turns down the headwall. We easily coasted back to the toe of the glacier by 1730 and were back at the truck by 1800. Summit to car (including our long break just above the col) took us 2 1/2hrs. Car to car was 9 1/2 hours, which turned out to be a shorter day than we expected.
The downside to the trip was that by the time we reached Lake Louise, Laggan's was closed, so we had to pass on the sausage rolls. We got our celebratory coffees from the gas station and headed home. I dropped Dan off at 2200, then arrived home in Strathmore just shy of 2300.
Overall, it was a great trip. Fantastic ski mountaineering route for those who would prefer to avoid the classic Skyladder Route. Speaking of that route, it was mostly bare ice with very little snow, and there are a couple of spots in the middle of the route that appear to be just frozen scree. On the other hand, the North Face/North Bowl route looked to be in great shape. Blair and I might have to return one day for that one.