Summit Elevation (m): 2795
Trip Date: Friday, May 11, 2007
Elevation Gain (m): 1100
Total Trip Distance (km): 9
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: If dry this is a moderate scramble with route finding. If there’s snow in the avalanche gully this is a light mountaineering trip and should be treated as such. People have died on this slope due to avalanches!
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
On Friday, May 11 2007 Jason Wilcox kicked giant steps up Mount Lawson’s steep eastern slopes while Wietse and I followed him. I really wanted to get my 10th summit of the year before heading off for a quick spring holiday and I really wanted it to be a ‘Kane peak’ but with all the snow in the Rockies I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find a peak I hadn’t done that would go. Wietse bravely suggested Mount Lawson and I thought it was a great idea. For the past 2 or 3 years, every spring I would try to drum up support to go up this peak while there was still enough snow to kick steps up and glissade down it.
Wietse and I both figured that we should invite someone with lots of energy along to kick steps up for us so we naturally settled on JW!! 🙂 As we pulled into the closed bridge area on the Fortress Ski Hill road we were a bit apprehensive about the amount of snow still laying on Lawson’s eastern aspects. We could see recent slide activity on more south-east facing slopes but the main slope of Lawson didn’t look like it had come down yet. We figured that rather than waste a day doing nothing at least we could try to make it up as far as we felt safe doing so.
We owe a huge thanks to Bob Spirko’s GPS track and Bennett Wong’s route description (sadly, Bennett’s site is no longer running). Combining both of these trip reports provided us with enough route beta that we never really had a problem with either the hellish bushwhacking or the extra approach time that so many have had to deal with on this trip. Of course, we also didn’t have to put up with any treadmill scree either, because of the amount of snow on the route! We did lose the trail a few times but if you are on the right track you will definitely know it – the trail is big enough to be obvious in most places.
Once you’re done the ‘bush section’ (this should only take about 30-40 minutes maximum) you will be in the steep drainage coming off the ascent slope. We got lucky with the snow almost immediately. Although it made us a bit nervous because we had no idea about the snow stability above us, we began to walk up the drainage on fairly new avy debris already below the first waterfall. Jason and I decided to brush up on our scrambling ability and tackled both the first and second waterfalls almost head-on, just slightly to climber’s right on steep, loose rock. The third waterfall was the most challenging and Jason again tackled it directly while Wietse and I went around on climber’s right.
After the third waterfall it was snow all the way up. As long as we stuck to old avy debris we were fine but if we wandered off we started to sink knee deep in isothermal snow. Jason led the way and we started to climb towards tree line. The snow was bonded very well with no obvious layers or weakening throughout the snow pack. We were also very encouraged by the fact that the entire east face had signs of recent (but not too recent) slide activity, which explained the firm base.
Eventually we were above tree line and the slope began in earnest. At this point we each swapped a pole for an ice ax and leaving our extra poles behind we started up the final 600 vertical meters. Jason continued leading the way and even though his steps were so big my knees were almost hitting my chin every step, I obviously never complained about this as you should never complain about having steps kicked for you! I also never felt unsafe up this steep section except for one very small section where the snow pack thinned out around some rocks and had a hint of a layer about 6 inches down with loose stuff underneath. We managed to mostly avoid this section.
I would strongly caution anyone reading this TR hoping to duplicate our ascent on early spring snow. Our route went up a very steep and dangerous snow slope that could slide in pretty much any conditions other than the ones we had. We were very fortunate for a number of conditions. The temperature was warm, but not too warm. The snow had slid within the past week so it was very consolidated. The aspect is slightly north-facing so the sun is not directly on it for most of the day. There was no recent snow loading or rain to bugger up the conditions. There were no cornices hanging over our particular route, even though there were huge cornices hanging over all the other gullies! In short? You should treat this slope with extreme caution anytime there is snow on it.
Once on the summit ridge we could see that blue skies were all around us and the views were amazing! We made our way over to the summit and began soaking in the views. Kent Ridge looked pretty big from this angle, Mount Joffre was visible, Assiniboine and the Royal Group were also in sight. After signing the register (brand new, we were the first for 2007) and taking 100 summit photos we were heading back down. We were all looking forward to possibly the best glissade of our lives.
Well, the descent did not disappoint! What an amazing experience! I will never get tired of sliding down mountains on my butt. There is nothing quite like whizzing down a 35 degree slope under a sunny blue sky with mountains, cliffs and wind flying past your face. We had to take breaks to catch our breath and slow us down or we probably would have gone just a bit too fast. As we got lower the snow became quite soft and JW actually kicked off a nice little slough that looked like concrete flowing down past us. Wietse jumped on for a ride but it was going too slow so he ended up bailing and outpacing it further down. We didn’t stop our slide (except for a very brief down climb on the third waterfall) till we were 850 vertical meters below the summit ridge!! Wow. That was cool.
After a 45 minute break in the warm sunshine we walked back down to the car and everyone agreed that Lawson is LAWSOME if you catch it in the conditions we did.