On Sunday, April 19th we awoke in -15 degrees feeling pretty darn good with ourselves. The previous day we'd skied into our camp beneath Mount Columbia and even managed to ascend the peak before collapsing into our sleeping bags after a long and hard 17 hour day.
[The "Big C" with our tracks visible up her SE ridge / face.]
There was a cloud cap covering Columbia as we struggled out of our warm sleeping bags and slowly started breaking camp. The sky soon cleared completely off - we were going to have a blue bird day on the ice fields. Even though our views would have been clearer on Columbia this day, we were still glad to have climbed the face with some clouds rather than a relentless spring sun heating things up. As we packed camp we made decisions on what to attempt. At first Ben and Steven were pretty keen on tagging both Kitchener and Snow Dome. I offered to follow our ski tracks to just above the ramp and set up camp for all of us while they did the peaks. My condition was that they had to assist me in breaking trail to the Andromeda / Androlumbia col so that I could safely climb it solo and get through the crevasses with a rope / team mates.
[Vern is colorful with his winter mountaineering load.]
[Skiing towards the trench from camp. Rope is off since we are following our approach track / snow mobile tracks. This doesn't mean it's a great idea or even the safest option but it's what we did.]
[Looking south out of the bottom of the trench. Bryce is huge again at left.]
[Looking back at our tracks descending the trench - Mount Columbia just peeking out again over the lip.]
[The huge and impressive south faces of South Twin (C) and North Twin peaks.]
We followed our ski track back through the trench and up towards Snow Dome until Ben and Steven could continue on the snowmobile tracks to the summit while I would follow our ski tracks back to the trench. (Skiing the snowmobile track helped for crevasses but it didn't make the skiing any easier as the tracks were mixed and uneven and the snow was very supportive and easy to ski.) As we parted ways the plans changed slightly. Ben and Steven were starting to realize how big Snow Dome was and were hurting a bit after the 17 hour day on Columbia the day before. They agreed that they would only do Snow Dome while I set up camp. Then we would try to get me up Andromeda that afternoon from camp.
[The boys lip out on the trench.]
[Our tracks and Mount Columbia at center, Sundial, Warwick and Dias in the distant center-right and the Twins at right. ++]
[The Chess Group rises across the Bush River Valley to the west of the Columbia Icefield as we exit the trench.]
[Serenity Peak at distant left with Warwick and Dias at center and right.]
[The impressive peaks to the NW include (L to R), Apex, Clemenceau, Toronto, Listening, Sundial, Warwick and Dias. ++]
[Clear views as I look back at Steven and Ben as we start the long slog across the icefield flats.]
[Small figures on an ocean of snow and ice. The big "C" in the background, over 6km away.]
[A huge panorama looking south from Castleguard past Forbes and the Lyells including Farbus, Oppy and Alexandra before hitting Bryce at far right. ++]
[Looking down the Saskatchewan Glacier towards Mount Saskatchewan at distant left with Amery to its right and Castleguard at far right. ++]
I continued skiing solo along our previous days ascent track. The day was gorgeous. I felt alone and completely free as I skied under a brilliantly blue sky with a cool wind and warm sun on my face. I skied down towards the trench and found a perfect camp site under Androlumbia where we could best take advantage of it's west face and north ridge to access the Andromeda col and the south ridge route to its summit. I spent the next few hours digging in camp - building a spectacular biffy and kitchen and setting up my mid. I love building winter camps when it's windless, sunny and warm! I worked in my t-shirt, sweating furiously as I dug large blocks of snow to build a wind wall around the north and west sides of camp. Sitting there drinking a hot cup of coffee while enjoying a chicken sandwich with dutch cheese I reflected how lucky I was to be there, enjoying this wonderful day in this amazing location. Throughout the afternoon I could hear ice fall thundering down the steep faces of Snow Dome and Andromeda - reminding me that we needed to ski beneath the seracs the next day...
[The huge terrain demands huge panoramas. Mount Andromeda and Androlumbia at left with Castleguard at right. The much safer and gentler Saskatchewan Glacier in between at lower center. ++]
[I was hoping to bag Andromeda via its south ridge (rising right to left) but we ended up bagging Androlumbia instead - the peak rising at center here.]
[Getting closer to our next objective (well, mine). Steven and Ben bagged Snow Dome while I set up camp somewhere at lower left here.]
[Camp and the biffy as I wait for Steven and Ben to come back down Snow Dome.]
[The HMG Ultra Mid II is only 499 grams but is the perfect icefields shelter even in strong winds. The trick is to dig down about 12-24" below the surface inside the tent once it's up.]
[Andromeda as seen from our camp just above the ramp.]
[Camp is almost done. Andromeda and Androlumbia in the background.]
As the time ticked on and Steven and Ben weren't showing up, I began to realize that Andromeda wouldn't be happening for me this day. I wasn't too miffed as it was a long shot to begin with. I also wasn't too keen on climbing it solo - and it can be done in a long day trip. I thought maybe we could break trail to the col and I could go back very early on Monday to tag it solo but that sounded too desperate to be much fun and I wasn't convinced it would come to that. I decided to go for a nap instead of worry about more summits. (Note: I did ski Andromeda in April 2016 as a one day ascent and it was glorious - sometimes waiting is best.)
I woke up 30 minutes later when Ben skied into camp. Apparently Snow Dome was more work than they were expecting - a very common theme on the Columbia Icefield! When Steven rolled into camp 15 minutes later it was very clear to me that Andromeda wasn't going to happen. It was already 15:00 and my friends were tired and sore and needed a break. They were delighted and grateful to have camp all set up and we decided to chill out for a few hours and see what we'd do later. I mentioned perhaps breaking trail to the Andromeda south ridge and then ascending it the next day solo but I could sense that this wasn't going to work. Steven had an exam on Tuesday morning and we wanted to get under the seracs on Snow Dome before the day got too hot.
[Ben enjoys a late lunch after ascending Snow Dome.]
[Snow Dome has a lot of seracs on it's south side.]
After eating and drinking and sitting around for a couple of hours, we came up with a brilliant plan. I'd been asking why Steven and Ben didn't go up Androlumbia while I bagged Andromeda but they weren't convinced. Apparently when they climbed Andromeda they saw a lot of crevasses on Androlumbia's ridge and were very wary of it. I thought the whole thing looked skiable directly from our camp! Eventually we decided that all three of us would attempt to ski Androlumbia that afternoon and I'd break trail since Steven and Ben were pretty bagged already. I wouldn't bother with Andromeda and we could ski out on Monday and get under the seracs early in the day. I was happy with this plan. Taking a day off costs me a lot of cash, as I'm a contractor and paid by the hour. This way at least I'd get a second peak and make the day off worthwhile.
[Huge blocks of snow and ice on Snow Dome's southwest flanks.]
Ben was a wee bit grumpy as he struggled into his ski boots again, but as I led the way slowly up the west face of Androlumbia his mood improved. ;) The views were stunning, there was very little wind, and we were quickly realizing how awesome our ski descent would be! There were enough crevasses around to keep us sharp, but they were mostly filled in or obvious. Speaking of crevasses - it was neat to see our ski track down on the main glacier far below. From up close we didn't realize it, but our tracks clearly crossed many crevasses which were visible from up high as slightly shadowed straight lines. We could also see another group descending to their camp off of Snow Dome. They had ascended the long Saskatchewan Glacier rather than deal with the objective hazards of the Athabasca. Hard to blame them but with the warm temps the approach valley up from hwy 93 to the Saskatchewan must have been a drag...
[Glacier coming off of Androlumbia - you must traverse above this terrain on the way to Andromeda's south ridge.]
[Looking back at camp - barely visible at center - Mount Columbia at distant left and Snow Dome rising at center.]
[Back on the skis. You can just spot our track curving down to the right - camp is just out of sight here.]
[Spot the tiny figures skiing across our tracks at left. They are exiting the Saskatchewan Glacier. Columbia looms many kms distant now.]
[A large ice avalanche comes off the south side of Snow Dome across the glacier from our ascent route. This is why ascending or descending too far south on Snow Dome is a very bad idea. People have also died in crevasses here.]
[There are large holes on Androlumbia. Many smaller ones too. Bryce is always trying to steal the show on this end of the Icefields.]
[Yet another ice fall avalanche off of Snow Dome. This one is falling directly over our ski path which we will be taking off the glacier tomorrow.]
[It's pretty easy, but still a decent workout getting up Androlumbia's west slope.]
Near the summit ridge the snow became wind hammered and crusty. Since the skiing would be crappy there, we ditched the skis and boot packed the rest of the way. The views to our right were stunning! Androlumbia is not a popular peak but at nearly 11,000 feet and on the eastern edge of the icefield it is perfectly situated for some killer views. Andromeda looked quite snowy - good thing I wasn't up there alone breaking trail.
[High on the summit ridge of Androlumbia with gorgeous, clear views over the ice fields towards Mount Columbia (C) and Snow Dome (R). ++]
[Steven points out that we're probably on a cornice.]
[More late afternoon panoramas of the icefields looking like an ocean beneath us. Columbia, South Twin and Snow Dome clearly visible L to R. ++]
[Hard to believe we were up there 24 hours ago. Note the perfect intersection of tracks on the glacier below from us and a group who did Snow Dome from a camp on the Saskatchewan Glacier.]
[Mount Clemenceau rises over Chaba Peak with Tusk and Toronto Peak to the left.]
[More sublime late day lighting on the immense sheet of snow and ice.]
[Huge Mount Bryce.]
[Castleguard at lower right with Alexandra at left.]
[Looking south from the summit of Androlumbia at Forbes, Lyells, Alexandra and Bryce. ++]
[Mount Forbes is the highest peak in Banff National Park at 11,851ft.]
[All five Lyells are visible but 4 and 5 are barely showing up. Farbus and Oppy on the right.]
[Mount Alexandra is a beautiful and remote 11,000er - one of my favorites so far.]
[Mount Sir Sanford shows up to the west - it's around 11,500 feet tall so it shows up often from this area.]
[Vern and Ben on the summit of Androlumbia.]
After taking photos it was time for the best part of this peak - the beautiful ski run down. We enjoyed some great turns, especially Ben and I carving around each other's tracks on the upper mountain. We got back to camp way too soon. With a couple hours of day light left, we made supper and enjoyed another perfect glacier evening camp. Steven was miffed to find out that a famous icefield thief had got into his food and destroyed most of it while we were up on the mountain. Another reminder of the many things that can happen to ruin a trip. BURY YOUR FOOD on the Columbia Icefield or risk losing it all while you're gone!
[A last glance back as we leave the summit - Castleguard at center foreground.]
[Looking across hwy 93 towards Cirrus (L) and Mount Cline (C).]
[Descent panorama with Andromeda taking up a good chunk of the foreground view. ++]
[Another couple of visible 11,000ers - this is Warren (C) and Brazeau (R)]
[Charlton and Unwin at left with Mary Vaux and Replica at foreground right. Endless Chain marches off to the left.]
[Descending the summit ridge of Androlumbia with the lower south ridge of Andromeda in front of us. You can see why this is the easy route on Andromeda - but it's much further to the summit than it looks here as the summit visible is a false one and there's two more before the true summit is finally attained. ++]
[Heading down to our waiting snow sticks.]
[You can just spot our camp at center left, the ramp clearly visible running down between the icefall just to the right of it into the shadows.]
[Steven and Ben ski down Androlumbia.]
[Vern skis down - what a blast!! Photo by Steven Song.]
[Steven on the big slope.]
[Looking back at a fantastic Rockies ski run!]
Monday morning dawned cold but mostly clear. Andromeda was buried in a cloud cap so good thing I wasn't up there alone. We skied quickly under the seracs and then carefully down the steepest roll near the toe of the glacier ice fall. After that it was a fast ride to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and then a long trudge to the cars from there. I highly recommend Androlumbia as a day trip or the tail end of another ice fields trip. Highly worth it for the views and if there's decent coverage on the glacier the holes should be mostly filled.
[Another cold, but clear, morning.]
[Steven prepares to exit the glacier from camp.]
[This guy couldn't wait for us to leave camp. He's already eating a whole bunch of Steven's food and wants more.]
[Skiing the ramp.]
[Walking off a steep roll down to the glacier (I skied it).]
[Looking up at Sky Ladder (R) on Andromeda. You can see the AA col in the distance on Athabasca on the left background.]
[Steven skis the last few meters to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.]
[This is how most icefields trips will end now that the climber's parking lot is closed.]
[Andromeda Strain is a Barry Blanchard classic hard Rockies route - not for the faint of heart.]
[Ben can't believe the graphic sign showing tourists what will happen to their child if she falls in a crevasse and gets wedged in!]
[If we didn't leave in the bloody dark we would have had better warning thanks to signs like this one.]
[A last glance back from where the glacier was in 1925.]