Summit Elevations (m): 3124, 2996
Trip Date: Saturday, July 22, 2006
Elevation Gain (m): 1800
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: Steep slopes to the main summit of Little Hector but it shouldn’t be more than moderate scrambling if on route. Andromache is easy scrambling.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
On Saturday, July 22 2006 Wietse and I scrambled up Little Hector and Mount Andromache along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. We started out under sunny and very warm conditions around 08:00 from the pullout along the highway. Following Kane’s route description worked well and within 25 minutes we were already hiking onto the open slopes under the headwall in the approach gully. We quickly scrambled up the headwall to the climbers left of the waterfalls and after traversing over the stream we continued up on climbers right.
Once in the open valley above the headwall we weren’t exactly sure where to do next. We could stick to the left and gain Hector Pass higher up the valley or we could attempt going right, up to the ridge crest that towered above us on that side. We decided to keep things interesting and started angling up to the ridge. The angle steepened considerable near the top but we found a way to break through the cliffs to our left that we were traversing under and after that we gained the ridge and made it to the upper pass no problem.
Little Hector towered above us, at least 400 vertical meters more to go! We followed an obvious trail up from the pass and scrambled up to climbers right to gain the final ridge to the summit.
I already felt that I had enough scree by the time I topped out, 3 hours 20 minutes after leaving the car. Wietse soon joined me at the summit. We really wished we had brought our axes and crampons because Mount Hector looked so accessible from our vantage point! You would only be on the glacier for a short, steep bit just before Hector’s summit – the rest would simply be a ridge walk from Little Hector.
After a 40 minute break, admiring views in all directions we began the descent to the pass and to Mount Andromache.
After summiting Little Hector, Wietse and I began our descent and traverse over to the rubble ascent slopes to the unnamed peak and Andromache’s summit. We chose to keep as much elevation as possible and thankfully passed over some snow patches on our traverse. The sun was really hot and with the cold snow we could have very refreshing Gatorade slushies for the remainder of the day. The traverse from Hector Pass to the base of the ascent to the unnamed peak was no problem.
About 1 hour and 20 minutes after leaving Little Hector’s summit we were staring up at a depressingly large pile of loose rock again! 😉 The ‘chossies’ were once again living up to their reputation of loose, crappy rubble. We both tackled the slope head on to get it done and over with. We came over the edge of the first rise only to discover another rubble slope ahead. After replenishing our Gatorade slushies with slightly pink snow (does anyone know if that stuff is bad for you?) we continued on.
Wietse was operating on about 4 hours of sleep and by the time we arrived on the summit of the unnamed peak he was looking a little tired. After a quick break we pushed on to the slightly lower summit of Mount Andromache.
It didn’t take long before we were going back up rubble slopes to Mount Andromache’s summit. The summit view was less spectacular than Little Hector’s, mainly because of the afternoon cloud. It took us about 3 hours and 40 minutes to go from the summit of Little Hector to the summit of Andromache. Wietse started to feel better again after relaxing for a bit at the summit and we started down the Northwest ridge to complete the traverse of Andromache.
The northwest ridge looks pretty daunting from the summit but you should not be intimidated by the snow and rock. The ridge is actually some of the best scrambling you’re going to get in an 11+ hour day so don’t ruin it by going all the way back down through Hector Pass! This is the only part of the day that deserved the ‘Moderate’ rating in my estimation and it was rather fun. The snow (glacier?) can be avoided easily on the left and we never actually had to touch the snow for the remainder of the trip. Every time you think there’s no way to avoid the snow a new route possibility opens up.
My advice would be to simply follow the ridge as far as reasonable (there’s a large cliff / block to stop you eventually) and then traverse around that block on skiers left and continue back down the spine of the ridge. Trying to shortcut down to skier’s left will only result in side-hilling some of the nastiest slopes I’ve ever encountered. As a matter of fact I would highly recommend that if you have to traverse this mountain you should ascend the descent route and descend over the unnamed peak and back down through Hector Pass.
The scree slopes off the Northwest ridge look so inviting from the road but trust me, they are hell. The scree is a special brand of Rockies rubble that I’ve only encountered a few times. When you view the slope you think you’re in for an awesome scree run but once you’re on it you realize that it’s rock-hard aggregate! The rock just didn’t break up under our feet. It was like running down a cheese grater – and that wasn’t fun at all. I will take tricky cliff bands over this stuff any day. Once in a while the rock would be loose and then you’d be the cheese on the grater and you know what shredded cheddar looks like – well know I know what it feels like as it’s being shredded!
Wietse was started to feel cold by the time we neared the bottom of the rubble heap and considering it was about 30 degrees in the blazing afternoon sun, that was not a good thing. We took another short break just before tree line where we noticed that something big had been tearing up our slope in search of something to eat. The bear spray was re-holstered to my belt as I led the way off Andromache, down toward the refreshingly cold waters of Noseeum Creek.
I walked back along the Parkway 2 km to the parked car while Wietse took a well deserved break at the creek. A nervous looking guy was waiting by the pullout near our car and after chatting with him for a few moments I knew why he was nervous. Apparently he was with two other guys who were supposed to be scrambling up (and presumably down) Andromache. He had turned around shortly after starting the scramble but his two friends continued. Now, 9 hours later they still weren’t back and when I told him that we had not seen anyone else all day he was really nervous. There was nothing I could do for him at that point so I wished him good luck and drove back to Noseeum Creek to pick up Wietse.
Once back at the Noseeum pullout we chatted for a short while with an older gentlemen who I think was named ‘George’. (I now think this was George Brybycin, a well known local Rockies landscape photographer.) He was considering going for Noseeum Peak but didn’t know if he could navigate through the canyon created by the creek. He told us that he’d been climbing for about 40 years and how every year he climbs Mount Hector from Little Hector. I asked him if he used an ax or crampons and he kind of laughed. He just scrambles up there! I mentioned the glacier and snow but he dismissed it as ‘not a big deal’. It reminded me how sometimes we can make everything a big adventure requiring all sorts of fancy gear but for some experienced mountain travelers even a glacier can be crossed without fancy equipment, using experience and a cool head. After bidding George “good luck” we headed home.