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Last ski trip of the season (long post) (1 of 14)Author:
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 09:41 AM
Friday May 22-Sunday May 24
Our patience finally paid off as we had near perfect weather conditions from Friday to Sunday on the Columbia Icefield. We were able to get an early start without an inhumane wakeup time by staying at the Rampart Creek hostel on Thursday night. On the drive up that evening, we were all excited about how clear the sky was after several days of gloom and doom. Friday morning did not disappoint as it was crystal clear with no wind. We arrived early enough to shuttle all of our gear up to the Sno Coach loading platform, avoiding most of the trudge up the road from the climbers' parking lot. Skinning up the lower Athabasca glacier gave us a good warm up and even more excitement as the weather remained perfect. Now, we had a choice - take the short way underneath precarious seracs from Snow Dome's flank, or a longer, crevasse riddled maze through the icefalls of the main glacier. We decided that the bright sun did not bode well for serac fall, so decided not to spend a stressful 30 minutes in the exposed section. It turns out we were 100% right. Moments later, just as we were crossing the bench between the first and second icefalls, a piece of ice the size of a bus exploded off the cliffs above the climbers' right route! The powder cloud and wind blast were massive, and enveloped us completely even on that lower bench for a good 30-45 seconds. A good laugh followed as we all looked like as though we'd been standing in a raging blizzard! The fact that we made the correct route choice made us feel good about taking the long way. No further incidents followed on our way up above the headwall - just blazing sunshine, sweat, and lots of photos. A lunch break on the "flat part" of the main icefield, below Snow Dome was beautiful. Shortly after, we encountered a campsite setup by people who had decided to leave all of their food outside, which the ravens gladly partook of - including a nice big block of cheese. Heather acted as Good Sam and stashed the remaining goodies in one of the tents. We continued a couple of kilometers more down towards the Trench before setting up a campsite with stunning 360 views of Bryce, the Selkirks, Columbia, and the Twins. The evening was warm, calm, and there were still no clouds at all.
Up at 415 AM, an hour late...we rose to yet again crystal clear skies and completely calm conditions. It was -12 which made for a very supportive crust and we were excited. After a short, hideous roped ski run down into the Trench we put the skins on and started the long slog across the arm of ice towards Columbia. It almost never seemed to get closer, but the views around us kept getting better and better. As the sun came up above peaks to the east it felt blazing hot. It was a relief to take off the skis and have a water break before shortening the rope for the steep climb up the south ridge. A quick, steep ascent on snow brought us to the ridge crest which we would more or less follow to the summit. Some parts were quite narrow, and there was a huge drop on the left side, with a snow slope that got steeper and steeper on the right - probably 50-55 degrees near the top. We had to traverse out on to this face and ascend it directly for some periods, to bypass rotting cliff bands. Some of the bands we tackled head on, which were alright to ascend but were slippery on the way down and fairly exposed. About halfway along the ridge, we got an awesome glimpse of the Athabasca River more than 2000 metres below us on the north side. We also turned back to see that the other group camping near us was nearing the base of the same route. They looked absolutely tiny compared to the vast icefield! An hour and a bit from the skis the angle of the ridge lessened considerably. We took out some of the coils and came up a rounded dome, and we could see that every direction was down from there. Alberta's highest point was ours at 10:45 AM and apart from some haze, we had perfect weather conditions. Thousands of peaks were visible and due to the haze, we could not see Robson (we had a guess, but it was too murky that way), so we were higher than anything in sight. An enjoyable break on a slightly lower summit further north didn't take too long as we were concerned about getting back down the steep snow face before it turned into dangerous isothermic crap. We had to use care, caution, and attention to descend the rock steps, and some of the traverses on the face were very tenuous as even at 3600 metres, the blazing sun and complete lack of wind were making the surface layers quite slushy. We met the other group a little less than halfway down, and we were extremely glad that we were already going down at that time instead of up. We got back to the skis without incident or further delay and were very happy to be off the ridge and face. The ski back to the Trench was great. There was good corn snow near the top for some turns, and some of us blasted down the lower slopes to get some speed for the flat part. My GPS tells me that I reached a blistering 66 km/h at the base of the peak! Around the halfway mark between the mountain and the Trench, we came upon another group who'd just set up camp near us and were also planning to make an ascent that afternoon. We tried to discourage them, telling them of the slushy conditions on the face, but they continued on. We never saw them descending before bedtime, but Heather saw lights coming on at their campsite at 3 AM. Sucks to be them! Everyone had a gigantic drink back at camp and we sat in our "kitchen" enjoying the views and accomplishment. We could sit and look to the SW at a magnificent, massive, snowy peak and know that we had been up there a few hours ago. It was still cloudless and very warm. Naps shortly ensued.
Sunday saw us start at 515 AM. We're sleeping in more and more! It was a bit warmer (-8) and it actually didn't take us that long to pack up the camp. Around 730 we headed off to drop our overnight gear at the other "raven" campsite, below Snow Dome. After dumping lots of stuff in snow pits, we wished we could dump more but headed up the neverending slopes of Snow Dome. The ascent route was very foreshortened and it seemed never ending, but when we arrived at the broad, flat summit we could at least enjoy a slightly different view of Columbia. We started to see the first clouds of the weekend and there was a light breeze, so we didn't linger very long as we wanted to get up Kitchener on our way out as well. We should have been less ambitious and gone back to the gear right away, but nobody really wanted to come all the way back there again just to do Kitchener. It was only about 5 km away and 300 m of gain from the "col" between the two. A quick ski down and then put the skins back on for a boring slog up to the top of Kitchener. We enjoyed more good views but knew that we should get quickly back to the gear cache to get down the damn Athasbasca Glacier and back to the cars! Since we were on two rope teams, we each took a different route back around Snow Dome. They both took about the same amount of time, but Wayne, Parry and myself took a great route that let us glide nearly the entire way back - probably about 8 kilometers! The views of Columbia were stunning!! After packing up all of the gear again we were off to the headwall - it would be nice to be back at the car soon. The skiing was brutal, roped together with the heavy packs and snowplowing through deepening slush. We sat at the top of the headwall and considered our options once again. Risk a short route through the serac fall and blast through unroped? Head down our ascent route carefully, with the rope on? We didn't see any tracks going to the skiers left area below the seracs, and the bench was littered with debris from the past couple of days, so decided to go back down the way we came up. We unroped to do the steepest part of the upper headwall, then put it back on for the rest of the way. The skiing still sucked, but we were almost home free!! The first group had no problems getting down the steeper parts, and were over at the safe area beside Snow Dome. Down near the bottom of the second icefall, we got our speeds mixed up and I took a fall which screwed up my chronically bad shoulder, so Parry and myself switched places to make it a bit easier for the last bit, as I'd be in front. The steep part was almost over and there was a flat bench to go across to the edge of the lowest icefall. The bench had a few rocks on it and puddles here and there and looked relatively benign, so we were good to go. Not so fast - I went through a small patch of isothermic snow and it completely disintegrated around me. Next thing I knew, I was looking into an inky black pit, with smooth walls. My giant pack lodged in quite close to the surface, so at least I had some of my weight on that to allow Parry and Wayne a bit of slack to anchor in their end of the rope. Unfortunately, after they had a look, they found out that the crevasse ran all the way back to where they were located so were unable to set up a proper hauling system. Wayne even plunged in up to his knee not too far from where he'd set up the anchor! I was completely unable to turn around due to the tangled mess of me, skis, and backpack, but Parry told me there was nothing behind me but air, and I could see that in front of me the crevasse was directly under the entire length of the main ski trail that everyone had been using all weekend! Shortly, my sunglasses and toque fell off and I could only hear a faint splash in the depths but could not see where they hit bottom. After what seemed like an eternity, I had been slowly slipping out of my pack and the hip belt was soon choking me. I had to let it go, even though it was comforting additional support. I tried desperately to secure a foothold for at least one ski but it was extremely difficult as my heels had not been locked in for the traverse, so the skis were basically dangling. I was wishing the other guys would come back around the corner to see what was happening because Parry and Wayne obviously needed help to get me out of there! I slowly slipped more and more, a bit at a time as I could not get a secure foothold on either side, until I was about 2 metres below the surface. With extreme difficulty, I twisted myself into a pretzel to release the bindings of the damn skis with my hands so I could at least use the tread on my boots to grip onto something, anything! Finally, I was able to turn myself around to see what sort of a spot I was in, which was not good. I then did more fiddling and fumbling to get my ice screw out and clip into it to have yet another backup anchor. Thankfully, this worked, and shortly after I was VERY glad to see Dave's face pop over the edge to let me know that him, Ben and Heather were back to assist with the rescue. It was a huge relief not only to know that they were back, but also to see something other than ice! But our troubles weren't over yet. Heather was heading over to bring the other rope to Dave so that there two points of haul on me, and plunged into another crevasse parallel to the one I was stuck in. What a nightmare this was turning out to be! Thankfully, her situation was not as bad as mine, as although she initially went down further, she was able to clamber her way out after a few minutes with a belay. The probes and ice axes came out in earnest and they determined the entire area was riddled with slots eager to have unsuspecting skiers for dinner. After another eternity, they were able to get a second rope down to me with a pulley, as well as a hand loop for me to pull myself up on. This worked very well and with the three points of leverage I was out in under a minute. I had never been so happy to see the blinding glare of the snowy peaks around us. Since there had been ice water dripping on me the entire time in the hole, which was around an hour or maybe more, I was frozen to the bone and completely soaked. Out came the weekend's stinky but dry clothes and the down jacket. All we wanted to do now was get out of this gauntlet!! We anchored the rope teams with ice screws until we were all securely at the other side against Snow Dome, in the safe area. Another slow, awful ski down heavy slush to the flat part of the Athabasca Glacier saw us nearly home free at long last. It was crummy skiing down the icy Sno Coach road but at least it was almost over. We could see that it was now very late as the sun was low and there were no cars in the parking lot at the Icefield Centre. An unpleasant hike up to the loading platform, then it was all downhill from there. Stopped at the Outpost Pub in Lake Louise and reflected on the weekend, the day, and what a learning experience it was. Didn't get to bed until 2 AM that night but it was better than the alternative.
Parry should have some good photos to post as well....
Apart from the ghastly last 4 hours, the weekend could not have been better.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (2 of 14)
Author: Wietse Bylsma
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 10:44 AM
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (3 of 14)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 10:54 AM
Wow. Great report. Sounds like the ski
season is almost over for the ice fields for
this year! Glad you and your party are OK -
this is a great reminder of the real dangers
of crevasses, thanks for posting.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (4 of 14)
Author: Bill Kerr
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 03:25 PM
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (5 of 14)
Author: Scott Berry
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 03:53 PM
Great trip report. We climbed Columbia on the
same weekend (20 years ago to the day) with the
same sunny conditions, except we climbed into
cloud on Columbia's summit.
Nice job on staying calm in adverse conditions.
Sounds like you had the right people on the job
to get you out safe and sound.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (6 of 14)
Author: Jp S
Date: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 12:21 PM
Congrats on bagging Columbia and a couple other 11,000ers. Most importantly, it's good that you made it out relatively unscathed. I hope the shoulder is OK.
That Athabasca glacier is certainly a serious undertaking with some serious objective risks! (Amazing photo of the Serac fall!) Thanks for posting your account.
I'm assuming that the crack on the Bench was running perpendicular to flow of the glacier? Is there anything that you would do differently next time?
When I was up there (may 1-2) I was surprised how little snow there was on the Athabasca glacier - and hence how little snow there was bridging crevasses. I had always assumed that it was really loaded with snow blown off the icefield. Although I am foggy about the measurements now, I think they were between 75 cm and 120 cm. I should post my long report.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (7 of 14)
Author: Ben Bwards
Date: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 01:24 PM
1. We were two ropes of 3 people. The
first group consisted of stronger skiers so
we got past the dangers area first. We
then continued on because we where still
slightly exposed to avalanche danger and
serac fall. After 30 minutes of waiting
for the group we skinned back up without are
backpacks. We should have travel more
close together and we would have been able
to pull Kerry out much faster. Before he was
fully in the crevasse. We should have
brought up are probes and ice axes. In
summer time if you travel with pole without
a basket you have a probe already in your
hand and so you are much more likely to
probe. This isn�t really practical in the
2. Given that we knew it was a
dangerous area we all should of had are
Gore-Tex jackets on in spite of the fact
that it was 12 degrees out. Kerry was
soaking wet and partially hypothermic.
3. If we had thoroughly probed the
area, while we skiing out, nobody would have
went in. eg. If the lead person had skied
with ski pole and a probe and had probed
once in while we would have found that snow
pack was only 40 cms thick and so we would
have through probed for crevasse.
4. Once Kerry went in nobody should
have stepped anywhere with out probing
first. A couple of people had stuck a foot
while we were rescuing.
5. One person fully went into the
crevasse about 3 meters deep because they
were walking around without either someone
belaying her or belaying themselves or
probing. This was probably our biggest
6. We where traveling parallel to the
crevasse and so multiple people could have
went in at once.
7. We didn�t have enough equipment�or
at least the equipment wasn�t in the right
place. Everyone should have had an ice
8. A lot of people had 7mm prussic on
an 8.5mm rope. This doesn�t grasp the rope
very well and is almost useless.
9. In May and especially late May,
given the number of people that have popped
through the Athabasca Glacier. You should
try and ski out the Athabasca before 9 am.
10. The first group set up a haul system
too far away from lip of the crevasse and
the rope stretch absorbed too much of pull
force. The fact that they where parallel
with the crevasse meant that rope could have
11. While skiing out I noticed the snow
collapse behind me and that should have been
a clue to starting checking thoroughly for
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (8 of 14)
Author: Kerry Vizbar
Date: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 01:28 PM
JP, as we found afterwards that area was full of crevasses all perpendicular to the direction of glacier flow. I've posted a photo in the album now of our route and "X marks the spot" (thanks Raff!)
The number one thing that we did wrong was continue on to bag Kitchener. We should have just gone down after summitting Snow Dome. After having 3 hot days up there, those thin bridges could only take so much load, especially in the afternoon. If we'd been out around noonish, which could have been done if we skipped Kitchener, there probably wouldn't have been any incident at all. The day before (see Andromeda trip report on MCR) a guided trip had taken the identical route and even track as us and roped up in the same place - so it's not like we were out to lunch on route selection.
There are lots and lots of little things that we all learned from this, but I feel there were also a lot of things that we did right, as well. The lack of injuries after such a serious incident speaks for itself, IMO.
edit: Good post Ben, thanks for posting the "lots of little things" :) We must have been typing at the same time. I'll list a few of things from my own perspective down-hole:
-If I'd been wearing mountaineering boots and crampons as for summer glacier travel I would have been able to get out by myself once the rope was anchored. Would definitely have been probing with the avy probe if we were walking, too.
-If I hadn't been so concerned about letting go of the backpack I probably would have been able to eventually get to secure footholds. I wasted a lot of energy holding my entire weight up on that thing. This is where having a person at the lip in the end (Dave) was so valuable because I could ask him what was going on.
-If I'd been wearing my second (long) prussik I probably could have got out by myself. Although the size differential between cord and rope was small, I had 5 loops in the knot and it held quite well. The main problem with my single waist prussik is that due to the angle of haul line, the knot was jammed against the ice wall. That and I had no foothold to relieve the tension on the rope.
(almost a joke)- I should have asked Dave to take a photo of me with my camera once he moved my pack out of the way. It would have been really helpful for analysis because nobody except him was able to see what sort of position I was in, which was very bad.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (9 of 14)
Author: Jp S
Date: Thursday, May 28, 2009 12:23 PM
Ben and Kerry,
Thanks for the insightful analysis and comments.
In terms of not having the whole rope team over the same crevasse, it sounds like this bench is a good place to zig-zag the rope team.
Personally, I'm pretty warm-blooded and struggle to keep layers on in case of a crevasse fall - that can be a bit of a tough one.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (10 of 14)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Thursday, May 28, 2009 07:57 PM
Wow, glad you are alive to tell the tale. There really is no good way up to the Columbia Icefields, even under the seracs the terrain is heavily crevassed.
Would a sling on your pack have helped? I often girth-hitch one onto the haul loop and have a biner hanging off it so the first thing I can do if I go in a crevasse is dump the pack off onto the rope. Not sure if this would have helped or not as it sounds as if the pack was keeping you wedged in position somewhat. The other thing some people do is put a sling around the shoulder strap and run the rope up through it to keep them upright in event of a fall.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (11 of 14)
Author: Rachel O.
Date: Friday, May 29, 2009 12:18 AM
It's not awesome that you guys had to deal with such a mess, but this analysis is really great! Glad everyone came out of it okay, and thanks for sharing. This is a great read for education's sake.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (12 of 14)
Author: Frank Nelson
Date: Friday, May 29, 2009 10:40 AM
I do the sling around the shoulders if I have a multi day pack on which I think is a good idea, especially for smaller people.
I also that if I'm using my 8mm half rope for glacier travel, we use 5mm prussik. I found anything thicker just slips. Plenty strong enough for rescues, I just wouldn't use it for any high impact anchor material.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (13 of 14)
Author: Kerry Vizbar
Date: Friday, May 29, 2009 03:55 PM
I think the sling on the pack through the shoulder straps is a good idea (for keeping oneself upright). You're correct in that this time the pack was actually keeping me in a better spot than having no pack there, since it wedged in just below the surface.
Topic: Last ski trip of the season (long post) (14 of 14)
Author: Kevin Papke
Date: Thursday, June 04, 2009 08:17 PM
Great report. Almost as great as staying alive. A big group of 6 sure makes sense.
Glad you were Ok.
another story for future grand kids.
Columbia Icefield (1 of 4)Author:
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 04:27 PM
Skied and hiked up the Saskatchewan glacier to gain the neve of the Saskatchewan Glacier on Saturday. Nice weather and good travel conditions...wherever there was snow. On Sunday there was no melt freeze crust so decided try and bag Snowdome. The higher we got the more white out it got so we turned around at 10500. It cleared up as soon as got to camp... urr. Decide the prospects of a meltfreeze crust for Sunday night were nil so skied and hiked out. The toe of the Saskatchewan was all blue ice which made for some slush cup skiing.
Found a nice free campsite in the David Thompson corridor free of any rowdies. A cop came to check us out but since we were all in bed (it was 9:30) he didn't bother us.
Monday we bagged Mount Ernst Ross(SSE Ridge) in the David Thompson corridor. There was very little snow in the corridor and all peaks past whirlpool point were in scramble condition with the exception of Mount Abraham , the SE accent gully looked like waste deep isothermic snow, and Mount Elliot whose North facing accent gully looked similar.
Topic: Columbia Icefield (2 of 4)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 05:02 PM
Just curious, how long did the whiteout last for? What time did it clear?
I was up there on saturday. We started at 4:30 in the morning, went up Mt. Androlumbia (the Unnamed) and skied out before the snow became isothermal. The clouds started moving in early in the morning. The weather did not look promising for sunday. Was it snowing up there as well?
Topic: Columbia Icefield (3 of 4)
Author: Ben Bwards
Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 05:18 PM
On Saturday it started clouding over at 8pm. With a bit of scattered cloud midday.
We wanted to get up Andromed on Sunday but since it was overcast overnight nothing froze to 10500 and possibly higher. We started off at 5:30. We had hail, rain, and snow.
I wanted to go out there a couple days earlier but none of my friends had that kind of flexibility.
Topic: Columbia Icefield (4 of 4)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 06:31 PM
Thanks, Ben. I was wondering what the weather was like up on the Columbia Icefield on sunday. The weather forecast was calling for sunshine, but I found it hard to believe. We debated whether to stay up there another day or ski out. We decided to go home...
Columbia Icefieds (1 of 6)Author:
Thursday, May 24, 2007 09:28 PM
Finally, got up on the Columbia Icefield! Despite awful forecasts, we headed up and lucked out with pretty good weather on Sunday. Party was Reinhold M (fearless leader), Marion M., Yuri, Liam, Shannon S. and me.
Snow coverage appeared good although some spots appeared to be blown bare between snowdome and kitchener. I'd say at least another 2 if not 4 weeks of skiing on the Columbia. At the same time snow was generally supportive for walking but new snowfall could change that. Skyladder appeared fairly bare in the middle. But appearances could be deceiving.
We climbed the first two ramps way further to the right than the photos in Bill Corbett's book. There was a "small" serac fall 20-30 minutes after we crossed the serac fall area. A few soccer ball chunks of ice made it past our ascent tracks.
We were a bit slow on Saturday and weather was sketchy so we just made camp below unnamed. our first objective was Andromeda. Curiously snowdome stayed out of the clouds all evening and Andromeda stayed in them. My stomach rejected my boil-in-bag dinner so I was bit worried about the next day.
Sunday morning weather was so-so but I was feeling better. Andromeda was in the clouds all morning - just as it had been the night before. So we headed for our alternate objective Kitchener. About 1 hour after we left the weather clear. It was clear on Kitchener, Snowdome, athabasca and Andromeda for most of the day. Columbia was occasionally visible but the Twins were shrouded in clouds all day. We were basically in the sun all day.
We took a slightly high line on the lower slopes Snowdowme towards Kitchener. This did avoid a couple of big holes on a small, sharp (apparently inevitable) descent. Then we began the slow steady ascent of Kitchener. From the summit we could see Andromeda was almost completely clear and there was hardly any wind.
After bagging kitchener, we headed towards snowdome. We seem to cross the summit of the dome for ages looking for the high point. We then descended more or less directly west to completely avoid crevasses.
It was some pleasant ski touring. We got views from the Stuffileds to Forbes and the Lyells. Nigel was almost always in sight so it must have awesome views. Wilcox looked pretty puny. The angle was generally less steep than on say Mt. Gordon.
At camp, I had better luck with dinner. Reinhold made a fine new bathroom. The perfectly square blocks had shovel imprints that made it look like a wall of white backsides. We went to sleep under clear skies and plummeting temperatures hoping for good weather for Andromeda on Monday.
Of course, we woke up to a total whiteout. The wind was blowing from the East making all our walls useless. The fine bathroom could not be seen. Anyway, it was nice to breakfast on bars in the tent while people were freezing making their oatmeal in the kitchen. Despite my apparently loud snoring that night as reported by other tents, Yuri brought me a cup of tea - ahh service.
The weather did not ease as we broke camp so we headed back down. Reinhold navigated by GPS to the third ramp. Wands were a welcome sight. The third ramp was not so bad to ski down since we went very slowly. We were now below the clouds. We ditched skis for steep part of the second ramp.
Pretty soon we were past the ramps and it look like it was starting to clear up on the icefield - although it was cloudy in the valley. Go figure. We didn't stick around long enough to find out if we could have climbed Andromeda that day.
Also, I swear I sunburnt my tongue on this trip. This would be the second time.
Way too many photos at in kitchener album at http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/jon_poru/my_photos-
Topic: Columbia Icefieds (2 of 6)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Friday, May 25, 2007 06:26 AM
Topic: Columbia Icefieds (3 of 6)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Friday, May 25, 2007 07:20 AM
>looked pretty puny."
How could you see me from way up there JP?? You must have good eyes. ;-)
So do you think the Skyladder route is in shape yet or give it another few weeks? I read an MCR report that said the new snow on Athabasca from the last few days is making travel slow and tedious. Probably best to wait now for the snow to firm up again. I would actually prefer that some ice is bare - gotta have a bit more of a challenge than kicking steps up Lawson! I'm thinking mid June is the time.
Topic: Columbia Icefieds (4 of 6)
Author: Ferenc Jacso
Date: Friday, May 25, 2007 01:32 PM
Sounds like you had a successful trip, congrats! You even saw blue skies, wow! I also hope to make it to Columbia one day...
How funny you built those nice walls and the wind blew from the other direction.
Topic: Columbia Icefieds (5 of 6)
Author: Jp S
Date: Friday, May 25, 2007 01:41 PM
Someone on the Live-the-vision did Skyladder a couple of weeks ago but they simply walked off the Southern slopes and did not report any problems. This jives with conditions we found - the snow was generally quite supportive when we took skis off. The cold May temps probably are quite helpful.
Conditions could be different on Skyladder than where we were. From posts on Live the Vision I understand cornices can be a problem on the AA col descent..
Anyway, seems like it would be a good year (snowy) for skyladder. Or does the route get windblasted so it doesn't matter? I like steep snow and wish I was around back when this was always a nice steep snow climb.
Sorry, not very helpful.
Topic: Columbia Icefieds (6 of 6)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Friday, May 25, 2007 02:29 PM
Congrats, Jean-Paul! I know you wanted to go up there for a while now, so I am happy that you finally made it up there. Awesome pictures!
Columbia Trip Report (1 of 21)Author:
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 09:43 PM
Okay.... I know some of you went up Mt. Columbia. Is there a trip report? I sure would like to hear about the trip. How's the snowpack? The weather looked pretty sunny and warm. How were avalanche conditions? What about crevasses on the Athabasca Headwall?
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (2 of 21)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 01:57 AM
My report on Mt. Columbia is up. The trip was a success. All the crevasses on the Athabasca headwall were filled in. The East Face of Mt. Columbia was loaded with snow and a small avalanche was triggered by a climber above us. For details visit my site at http://members.shaw.ca/mountainmagic/
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (3 of 21)
Author: Linda Breton
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 07:15 AM
Wow. Congrats Raff. That's a big one. And it looks like you got another great day at the icefields!
Did the climber who was pulled down by the avalanche summit, or was he still ascending?
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (4 of 21)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 08:14 AM
Excellent pictures Raff - you must have a good camera... ;-)
Too bad that your whole party didn't summit but it sounds like there may have been some different views regarding the conditions? I know that I personally am very chicken of any steep snow slope and seeing someone get avalanched would certainly turn me
Did your party do a snow pack analysis (just curious - not being critical!) and if so what did it indicate?
Also, if the right hand slope was so much safer why didn't the first party go up that way? Again - I'm not trying to be critical, I'm just garnering information for when I make a trek up there some day.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (5 of 21)
Author: Andrew Nugara
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 08:22 AM
Well done Raff and company. Keep up the good work.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (6 of 21)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 08:39 AM
I tend to agree with Vern. I would have taken the avalanche as a warning, and I would have turned around. On my first attempt at Columbia, I had a day like your summit day, and I turned around because of avalanche concerns. My next five attempts were spent in a whiteout, but I finally got it under great conditions. I know how frustrating it can be to go up to the Columbia over and over and not bag anything. I'm sure this played into your mind when you were deciding to continue or turn around.
I'm curious if that slide was a slab or a moist point release. If it was a slab, did it slide on the March surface hoar layer that is so prevalent in the spring snowpack this year? How deep was the surface hoar?
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (7 of 21)
Author: Sonny Bou
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 09:31 AM
An impressive feat, Raff. Congratulations! Awesome pictures as always--the one with the cornice is exceptionally sublime.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (8 of 21)
Author: Bill Kerr
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 10:23 AM
Good job Raff.
Looks like the avalanche was a surface event(just the new snow?) on the steeper more southerly aspect(climbers left) that would have wind loading and more solar effect especially with the sun reflecting off the rockband. Your line to the right would be less steep, probably didn't have deep new snow on it, and would not be subject to the same solar risk although it might have been a problem later in the day as things warmed up. Sounds like reasonable risk assessment given the overnight low temp.
Can you go through your thought process for the benefit of the group?
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (9 of 21)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 11:51 AM
My trip report:
On Saturday, April 22, Raff, Allen, Elizabeth and I left the Saskatchewan Crossing Motel at roughly 0600. We started skiing towards the Athabasca glacier just before 0700. Light snow was falling as we ascended the tongue, and fog covered the upper portions of the glacier. We stopped for a break below a large rock that guarded from serac fall just to the right of the lower headwall. After the break we made our way up the headwall as quickly as possible to minimize our exposures to the seracs on Snowdome. We placed some wands on the top of the headwall and started our way across the icefield towards Columbia. We skied across to the trench in a whiteout and it started to clear a little as we ascended the other side of the trench. We stopped to make camp at 1500. Raff said that we were at about 3000m, so it wouldn�t be too bad a climb in the morning. Only a little over 700m!
We dug out a camp and made a wind wall out of snow and settled down and ate dinner. It was starting to get colder so I decided to retire before the sun went down and it got really cold. Got up just after 0500 and got ready for the climb in -26C temperature. I watched as a group of three passed our camp on their way towards Columbia. We got away shortly after they passed (just before 0700) and headed for the south ridge. The other group was headed towards the east ridge. When we got closer to the south ridge it looked really loose and dangerous, so we decided to go follow the other group up the east ridge. One of the other three decided he wasn�t going for the summit (we think because of energy reasons) so we followed the other two up their steps.
The snow pack that was about 6-8" of new snow over a 2-3" crust and beneath that was sugary/corn snow, and we didn't look below that. I don't really know how stable that surface snow/crust is on a 45 degree slope, but I know that I was getting nervous, seeing cracks forming in the crust when I was re-kicking steps, as they would fill in halfway with drifting snow in the 20-30 seconds between Liz and I. After we were as high as the first major rock band, I heard Allen yell �AVALANCHE!�. I looked up and saw it coming. It looked like we could avoid it if we ran to the right, and that�s what Allen yelled next. We ran to the right and the avalanche swept past us. I dug in and watched the second climber flailing as he was taken down the slope. Nervous from this, and having to run feverishly across the slope to avoid the avalanche (If we stayed where we were, we would have been swept down with the guy who was in the avi) and cutting 4 lines in the slope from the 4 people in the group running across made me seriously question the safety of the group. As I stood there waiting to see what Allen was going to do after the avalanche I watched the snow on my jacket melting in the sun and thought there was a chance that the sun would warm things dangerously by the time we would be descending. Allen wasn't responding to my questions of whether or not this was a safe place to be, maybe cause he couldn't hear me, but probably because he was too busy cursing the climber who triggered the avalanche. Liz turned around and said that she would be happy to turn back but she didn't make the decisions, so I decided that I would make MY decision and head down. I was having some regrets about even getting on the slope in the first place, not having much experience with snow stability and alpine climbing. I headed down and went with the two climbers back to our camp before they headed down to theirs in the trench. I made some water as I watched the remaining 3 descend. It seemed to be taking them a long time and I was thankful I wasn�t stressed out on the slope, just stressed out cause I didn�t want to watch them slide down in an avalanche and be left there alone!
But they made it back OK and we packed up camp and headed out. We left camp just after 1500 and were back at the headwall about 1730. We skied down the main headwall roped up and that was PAINFUL! Just before the bottom of the headwall I unroped and tucked straight through the area below the seracs. We skied out the rest of the way unroped. I walked the glacier in October and at that time I didn�t see any crevasses on the route we took (same route as Sunday), but there was some snow filling in low spots at that time that I probed but found no crevasses, so I was reasonably comfortable skiing out unroped. We got back to the car about 1900, quite drained. I�m not used to carrying an overnight pack!
It was both a great trip and an eye-opener at the same time. If Allen hadn't looked up for another 2 or 3 seconds, our whole group would have been in the avalanche. I'm thankful he happened to be looking up at that instant. Although it was a small avi and I'm sure we would have survived, it could have just as easily been a larger one. I now realize how other climbers on a route can affect your safety, but also realize that if those climbers were not on the route there would have been a high chance of us triggering the slide and all 4 going down in a pile of snow (cause we were all roped together). I thought we should have unroped on the snow slope, but Allen and Raff disagreed. I figured that if there was an avalanche, then everyone would get pulled down even if only one person was in it, but if we didn�t rope up then only the people in the avalanche would be in danger and the others would be able to perform the rescue. I think un-roping is safer in those situations, but since they are more experienced, I did what I was told. I'm sure that if the two climbers above were roped, they both would have slid down in the avalanche. Maybe I�m missing something because they didn�t explain why they wanted to rope up. Maybe someone can shed some light on this?
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (10 of 21)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 12:10 PM
Excellent report Jason.
I am obviously not an accomplished mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination but I have always questioned the process of roping climbers together where the danger of falling or being swept down the mountain is greater than the danger of crevasses.
What I mean is, why should two or more people be pulled down a mountain when initially only one was gonna go? If you read Craig Connelly's book (which I know you have) that feeling is re-inforced.
If you slip over a cliff or get caught in an avalanche, why should I go with you? There's almost no chance of me catching both our falls with my axe and if you're hurt and I'm not, I can help you (or just leave you and get the hell outa there! ;-))
I also think to those accidents a few years ago on Mount Hood where a team of four people dragged two other teams down a steep slope and straight into a gaping crevasse. Initially only one guy (the leader) slipped. He ended up pulling his entire team of four into the other teams. (http://www.traditionalmountaineering.org/News_HeliCrash.htm)
I guess in a white out it's nice to know your with the group and obviously you need to be roped up when aid climbing. But I'm no expert on these matters - only looking to start a conversation that I can learn from!
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (11 of 21)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 02:34 PM
After the avalanche has come down and we learned that the climber was okey, we decided to go up a bit higher to see what the rest of the slope looks like. We took it one step at a time. First of all, it was a soft avalanche, a surface event. Only the new snow that fell on the previous day has slid. The wind has transported a lot of snow on the steeper side of the East Face of Columbia, that`s why we stayed on climbers right. There was less deep snow on it. Initially we followed the avalanche path. It was safe, since it has already slid. Once we were above the slide, the snow turned to ice, so we knew it wasn`t gonna slide. So, we went up the steep ice and when the angle eased off a bit, we stopped to assess the conditions again. At that point we could either go up a steep slope on the left (the normal route), which was loaded with snow or go to the right and travel on a gentler slope under a big serac. We went for the latter and it worked out fine. With careful routefinding we were able to avoid the dangerous avalanche spots and because it was a cold day, the chance of a big slab avalanche was practically nil. We made sure to get off the mountain early, before the south-facing slope has become too dangerous. The temperature was about +10 around 3:30 and I sure wouldn`t have wanted to be on that slope at that time. If it was a very warm day, we would have gone up the south ridge instead, which was a lot safer.
It seems to me the guys, who climbed above us, did not follow any safety precedures. They travelled across the Columbia icefield unroped, let the third member of their group all alone and the climber who was caught in an avalanche said that it wasn`t his first time. In fact, his partner did not even realize that his buddy tumbled down the mountain and he kept on going up. It was after we told him what happened, he turned around and climbed down.
I agree with Jason. Personally I don`t like being roped up on the avalanche slope for the exact same reasons that Jason has mentioned. In our case, Liz wanted to be roped up, because she was the weakest climber. She wouldn`t have gone up Mt. Columbia otherwise. In addition, there was a hidden crevasse half way up the mountain and both me and Allen have sank our legs in it. The other thing is, that when Allen yelled 'avalanche', we all ran to the right and dug our ice axes deep in the snow. If all members of the team can do it quick enough (assuming it`s a fairly small avalanche) and are roped up, the avalanche would just slide through everyone. Moreover, if the roped team is caught in an avalanche and at least one person is out, he or she can find the other members of his team quicker. All he has to do is just follow the rope. Every situation is different, so it`s up to you to make the call. If those two guys were roped up and they reacted quick enough, both of them might have been okey.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (12 of 21)
Author: Sonny Bou
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 01:38 PM
Excellent trip report, Jason. There's no shame in turning around if you're out of your comfort zone.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (13 of 21)
Author: Rod Plasman
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 02:27 PM
One thing we stress in all trips is that you are ultimately responsible for yourself. Deciding to go down when others in your group are going up is very difficult and I respect you more for doing that than if you summitted Columbia.
There are some serious crevasse hazards near the summit and I suspect that is why the rope stayed on. I know a few people who have had crevasse falls on the final slope of Columbia.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (14 of 21)
Author: Kevin Barton
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 03:48 PM
Raff, Jason, Allen, Elizabeth
Congratulations on a successful trip, success since no one got hurt and you had a good time.
Looks like you had a better view, but snowier conditions, then when our team summitted Columbia one year ago.
I too know several people who have punched through crevasses near the top of Columbia, so a rope is good idea. IMHO a rope is always required on a snow covered glacier, even though I have skied to Petyo Hut without a rope :-\
Jason, I agree with Rod, �I respect you more for doing that than if you summitted Columbia.�
I wanted to comment on Raff�s comment, �Moreover, if the roped team is caught in an avalanche and at least one person is out, he or she can find the other members of his team quicker. All he has to do is just follow the rope.�
In most cases the snow quickly sets up like concrete and pulling up the rope would be very difficult. If slide carried a team a long way down a slope and there was a lot of rope in between people, it could difficult to determine where people were buried. If I were buried with 25 metres of rope between my partners, I would hope my partners would use a transceiver to find me. IMHO a transceiver search would be faster than digging up piles of rope.
And boy, the other team, one involved in the avalanche, what a bunch knobs, no rope, not knowing where your climbing buddies are. Idiots.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (15 of 21)
Author: Jp S
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 04:11 PM
Raff and co congrats on Columbia.
Jason - As was said elsewhere above, people need to take responsibility and turn around when they are concerned about conditions - which is exactly what you did. (And I am not criticizing those who continued either). I don't know many people who regret decisions to turn around. Columbia will still be there next time.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (16 of 21)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 04:29 PM
Thanks guys. Your comments make me feel better about my decision. There's always a little "I wish I would have just gone to the summit with the rest of the group" thought in the back of your head after turning around, but in this case I feel good about my decision.
Your comments on roping up on the east ridge make sense with the explanation that there have been reports of people finding crevasses both on the ridge and on the summit. I wish Allen or Raff could have taken the second to explain that at the time, because after reading Craig Connally's book The Mountaineering Handbook, I was under the impression that it's safer to un-rope in those situations, and I was just naive to think that there wouldn't be any crevasses on that snow slope. I know it's always safer to keep the rope on if there are chances of crevasse falls on the route.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (17 of 21)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 05:34 PM
Excellent trip report, Jason!
You made the right decision by turning around and I respect you for doing that. I was in your shoes when I did Mt. Wooley last year. I felt the conditions were getting too dangerous and I turned around. Soon after a small avalanche came down.
In case of Mt. Columbia, we took a calculated risk, one step at a time. We wanted to see if the windloaded slopes with deep snow on it can be avoided. And it turned out, that they can. I believe it was a reasonable risk assessment given the overnight low temperatures. In fact, the snow was the deepest where the fracture had occured. It was a perfect example of windloading.
And yes, the rope stayed on, mainly because of the hidden crevasses on Mt. Columbia.
And I agree with you Kevin about being caught in an avalanche roped up. It was a bad example on my part. We were all wearing tranceivers, by the way.
This is a very good discussion we are having here. The lesson here is to assess the conditions carefully before preceding, discuss it with the other members of your team and don`t be ashamed to turn around if you don`t feel it`s safe to continue. The mountain will always be there next time.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (18 of 21)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2006 09:56 PM
Whoa, glad to hear everyone is OK. Sugary/corn snow under a 2 to 3 inch crust - that sounds like a facet layer, is it possible that the facet layer was the weak layer that caused the release?
At minus 27 you should have had a good overnight freeze, but it looks from the pictures that you are actually dealing with a winter snowpack and not a spring snowpack.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (19 of 21)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Monday, May 01, 2006 10:17 AM
It`s a very unusual year. We are still dealing with a winter snowpack and not a spring snowpack. Perhaps in May we will see a more predictable melt freeze cycle.
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (20 of 21)
Author: Adam Iwaniszyn
Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2006 08:40 PM
On 4/27/2006 2:27:00 PM, Rod Plasman wrote:
>a few people who have had
>crevasse falls on the final
>slope of Columbia.
I would be a prime example of that. When we did Columbia in one-day push car-to-car 3 years ago, on the descent from the summit (about 150 meters from it) I fell into one of those very well hidden crevasses. My partner actually saw the whole thing (I was going down first) and managed to react rather quickly. Still, stemming about 6 meters up that crevasse at that altitude, when you are already half-dead, is not much fun.
On other (unsuccessful) trip there 7 years ago (hello Dave S.), I was stupid enough to untie from the rope and ski down the Athabasca Glacier on my own. That was the closest call I've ever had - punctured the bridge, but my elbows and backpack held me abreast when I had taken my skis off for a moment. That damn crevasse was very deep...
Message to newbies to this sport: Never, never go on the glacier without the rope.
Adam (just back from a month long overseas trip - no climbing though)
Topic: Columbia Trip Report (21 of 21)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 11:49 AM