Summit Elevation (m): 3458
Elevation Gain (m): 1900
Round Trip Time (hr): 24
Total Trip Distance (km): 40
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Columbia ice fields route includes severe crevasse issues and snow slopes. Don’t minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (I)
Map: Google Maps
After ascending Mount Kitchener in the morning, we casually packed up camp and started heading back out, around the west side of Snow Dome. It was another gorgeous day with warm (almost too warm) sun and very little wind. Last year we had exactly the same conditions around the same time of the year – early May. We followed the standard tracks and then cut higher on the west side of Snow Dome before dropping the big packs and re-gearing with just the necessary glacier travel gear. It felt good to ski up with virtually no weight and we quickly made our way up to the broad summit area.
The views from Snow Dome were very nice – not a cloud in the sky and a slight breeze to keep us cool. We were cautious around the summit area as there was very little snow cover, just as on Kitchener that morning. Probing only gave us around 1-2 feet of snow at the most.
After enjoying our 3rd 11,000er in two days we had another fantastic ski down to the packs where Ian and Kev were now waiting.
Interesting Facts on Snow Dome
Named by J. Norman Collie in 1898. The mountain is dome shaped and covered by the Columbia Icefield. Official name. Other names Dome, The. First ascended in 1898 by J. Norman Collie, H.E.M. Stutfield, H. Woolley.
The exit from the ice fields was simple but not completely without complications. I wasn’t confident in the snow pack due to the very warm temperatures and virtually no overnight freeze, especially down lower on the ice field. TJ was pretty confident that the snow would probably be fine, especially considering our route down the headwall which would cut under the seracs of Snow Dome and escape through the least crevassed area of the lower glacier. I was remembering several incidents in the past few years from friends who descended in exactly the same conditions we were having and ended up with some pretty serious crevasse issues. TJ agreed with me that there was some cause for concern but he also pointed out that we were taking a different route and we couldn’t make all our decisions based on past events in different years.
I guess we were both right. I was feeling a bit spooked and just didn’t want to take any chances or rush anything on the way out. The way I saw it, the day was beautiful and what was the harm in waiting 3 hours or so? Some others in the group didn’t see any reason not to enjoy some extra sun and so we settled in as a group, just above the headwall before the glacier rolled out to the ramp and produces more crevasses again. We spent the next few hours swapping stories and laughing at Kev’s massively heavy kitchenware. 🙂
After a few hours of sitting in our own a few groups ski’d down past us. I once again met Josee and Fabrice – the only place I seem to run into them is on the Columbia Icefield! They had been up since 1am and ski’d Kitchener as a day trip. I think this gave us more impetus to get moving again and we ended up following them out. On hindsight this was worse than if we went down right at 3pm because we just ended up waiting for more melt in the end! Oh well. All’s well that ends well right?
I ended up ‘racing’ up the SnoCoach road and just managed to catch Josee and Fab leaving in their pickup. I hitched a ride to my truck at the climber’s parking lot and surprised everyone else when they came up shortly after and found me casually standing by my parked truck already. This was another excellent Columbia Icefield trip. Lots of fun and good times with the boys and even though we still have to go back for South Twin, it’s a good excuse to experience this fantastically wild place again. The crevasse incident on South Twin was scary, but served to remind all of us that it’s not us ‘conquering’ mountains but rather it’s us getting the privilege of enjoying areas that few humans manage to trample and if we’re careful and work as a team we can enjoy this experience relatively safely.