Summit Elevation (m): 3405
Trip Date: September 06 2014
Total Elevation Gain – from hwy 93 (m): 2700
Round Trip Time – from bivy (hrs): 14
Total Distance (Woolley / Diadem / Mushroom) – from bivy (km): 12.5
Related Trips: Little Alberta, Diadem, Mushroom
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or die
Difficulty Notes: Crossing the Sunwapta River is your biggest challenge to the bivy. Don’t underestimate it during spring or summer months! Steep snow or ice couloirs to 40 degrees to access the col between Woolley and Diadem. Glacier travel and steep, wet, scree covered rock in between the couloirs.
Technical Rating: MN8; YDS (II)
GPS Track: Download
Mount Woolley Map: Google Maps
Woolley / Diadem Bivy Site Map: Google Maps
Steven, Ben and I spent a few days in early September 2014 in the Woolley / Diadem area, just north of the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park. I approached the bivy site on Thursday and spent the first night there solo, a wonderfully relaxing afternoon and night despite doing battle with an aggressive pack rat (I won BTW). Steven and Ben came up on Friday and we spent the rest of the day slogging over Woolley Shoulder and signing Little Alberta’s summit register for only the 9th recorded ascent in over 34 years. While the views and the experience of visiting this incredible area of the Rockies was undeniably excellent, the fact that we did well over 2000 meters of height gain and many kilometers of hiking seemed a wee bit silly, given that we were planning to summit two 11,000ers the next day. Oh well. Can’t always play smart right?
Early on Saturday, September 6th 2014 we awoke to a star-filled sky and made preparations for our climb. There was talk of adding Mushroom Peak into the mix if there was enough time but we didn’t fully expect that this would happen. I’d never heard of anyone combining these three peaks in one day.
Interesting Facts on Mount Woolley
Named by J. Norman Collie in 1898. Woolley, Hermann (Hermann Woolley climbed extensively with Norman Collie.) (see biog.) Official name. First ascended in 1925 by S. Hashimoto, H. Hatano, T. Hayakawa, Y. Maki, Y.Mita, N. Okabe, guided by Hans Fuhrer, H. Kohler, J. Weber. The first ascent of Mount Woolley was completed by the Japanese Alpine Club’s party four days after their first ascent of Mount Alberta.
We were going to do the route that’s usually recommended later in the season, crossing the east glacier to the first couloir on Diadem before climbing it to a giant snow patch on it’s left side. From there we’d cross the snow to rock and then traverse over to the second couloir, about 150 vertical meters higher than our exit from the first. The second couloir would be climbed for 150 or so more vertical meters before exiting above the seracs coming down the Woolley Glacier. From there we would either side-slope scree or follow a much gentler glacier to the Woolley / Diadem col.
We set off up the glacier under a clear sky and were soon weaving our way through some pretty darn big holes. We chose not to rope up here. We could have, and anyone could make an excellent argument that we should have, but we didn’t. Steven, Ben and I have done a lot of trips together and we know each others comfort levels and capabilities. I asked all of us at least 5 times on the way up the glacier if anyone wanted the rope and each time we thought about it and said, “no”. I could go into all the various reasons but it doesn’t really matter at this point.
After making our way carefully through some great scenery on the lower glacier and finally threading our way to the first couloir, we started up on great snow. The couloirs and rock face had melted out quite a bit over the past 24 hours and we were a bit concerned with the amount of dirty ice and rock fall there was in the first couloir already early in the morning. Snow, ice and the odd rock were already zinging down it as the sun rose in the east sky and hit the upper stretches.
We climbed the first col fairly quickly, it’s a moderate angle and we just powered up it with poles and crampons ’til we came up to an obvious buttress to our left and the landmark we used to bail left to the snow slope that would take us to the rock traverse. The snow slope was obvious, and led across to a beautifully placed narrow gully leading up to the rock traverse. Nature could not have planned it better!
Once we exited the narrow gully we found ourselves looking at the Woolley Glacier plunging down ahead of us and the rock traverse rising in a series of steps and slabs to the second couloir less than 500 meters across from us. Cairns guided us up, generally we stuck to easier terrain in a rising traverse left, towards the second couloir. I can’t say for sure how high we went on the rock, but we didn’t gain more than 150 meters or so before exiting into the second couloir before the rock got too steep. The slabs we came up were possibly going to give us some trouble on the way down if too much snow melted. I’ve heard that you don’t want snow for the rock traverse but I strongly disagree with this. I think you do want snow – not enough to avalanche you off the face, but enough to mask the slope ledges with water, ice and pebbles on them… Snow on the rock also means snow in the couloirs, which is much easier to climb than ice.
We got extremely lucky on the second couloir. Our exit point from the ledge traverse was right where the snow from above transitioned to hard ice in the couloir below. We weren’t complaining, but again we wondered what conditions would be like hours from now on descent. We had 5 ice screws and other pro along so we weren’t too concerned. One way or another we’d get down this sucker. We used both axes in the second couloir as it is much steeper than the first one – probably to about 40 degrees for us. About 150 vertical meters up the second couloir, we could see our exit to the left, marked by an obvious cairn on the rocks above. We traversed off our narrow band of snow and took a peek around the shale ridge to see what was next.
After exiting the 2nd couloir we had to decide between the upper glacier or traversing scree and snow slopes to the Woolley / Diadem col. We choose the later option due to fresh snow thinly covering holes on the upper glacier. The scree slog was made much easier by quite a few snow patches along the way. Before long Ben was leading us up bare glacial sn’ice on Woolley’s north ridge. The weather was glorious as we labored our way up. I was feeling much better than I expected to be after a 2000m vertical day the day before on Little Alberta.
We still couldn’t see our prize – the views of Mount Alberta we were looking forward to – but the views were already great behind us and I could see a flat outcrop just ahead that would provide our first great views of Alberta for the day. I shouted ahead to the other guys that I wanted to take a food break on the outcrop and they agreed. As expected our views from there did not disappoint.
Sidebar: Mount Alberta’s various routes.
In my trip report for Little Alberta I found myself sucked into hours of reading and researching the incredible ascents of the North Face / Ridge of Twin’s Tower. I had so much fun doing this research that I thought I’d repeat it for another mythical giant among Rocky Mountain summits, probably more well-known than any other peak that is not visible from any road – the always-impressive Mount Alberta. There are several documented routes on Mount Alberta, the 6th highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It seems, after doing some reading, that people take slightly (or very) different lines up the North Face. Here’s the approximate route lines involving that dark wall;
Following is a listing of online trip reports that I found over several hours of research. If you read my Little Alberta sidebar, you’re going to recognize a lot of these names. Apparently once you stare at the huge faces of Mount Cromwell, Twin’s Tower and Mount Alberta you eventually come to realize they stare back at you… It has to be mentioned that the person who has pioneered by far the most lines up Mount Alberta and I’m sure stood on her summit more than any other human is Rapheal Slawinski. He admits to having an obsession with Alberta in a great article, Alberta : A Tale of Obsession in the 2005 CAJ, vol 88.
- Japanese Route, V 5.6 | 1925 by S. Hashimoto, H. Hatano, T. Hayakawa, Y. Maki, Y.Mita, N. Okabe, guided by Hans Fuhrer, H. Kohler, J. Weber
- Bruce Bindner and Em Holland in 1998.
- Bill Corbett and Nancy Hansen climb this classic in 2001.+
- Doug Nelson and Everett Fee ascend the classic route in August, 2004
- Scott Semple, Raphael Slawinski, and Eamonn Walsh complete the first winter ascent of this route in 2005.
- Mark and Janelle Smiley are joined by Valemont’s Rainer Thoni for a jaunt up the Japanese route in 2013.
- North Face, VI 5.9 A3 | 1972 by George Lowe and Jock Glidden
- VI 5.11 M6 | 2006 by Chris Brazeau and John Walsh – the first single push (no bivy), 1 day free ascent of the North Face. Also read on Walsh’s blog here.
- Steve House and Vince Anderson complete the first ascent in winter conditions of Alberta’s North Facein March of 2008 – this was not an official winter ascent as they missed winter by 10 days ;). Also read this Alpinist article.
- VI 5.10 A0 | 2009 by Jay Mills and Dana Ruddy.
- A 2012 ascent by Jason Kruk and Josh Lavigne
- A 2014 ascent by Will Sim and Nick Bullock
- West Face, V 5.10+ | 2007 by Rapheal Slawinski and Eamon Walsh. Read about their ascent in this Alpinist article.
- Northwest Ridge, V 5.9 A3 | 1990 by Barry Blanchard and Jim Elzinga.
- Northeast Ridge, V 5.10 | 1985 by Kevin Swigert and Steven Tenney.
- South Buttress (incomplete), IV 5.10+R | 2012 by Jay Mills and Rapheal Slawinski.
I hope you took some time to read the sidebar above. There’s some fascinating armchair mountaineering there! After a short food / rest break, we continued up the North Ridge of Woolley. There were really no technical difficulties from here to the summit, but we did have to avoid some crevasses on route and also had to climb a short snow arete above an extremely exposed east face of Woolley which was quite fun.
Summit views were, no surprise, stunning – some of the best I’ve ever had. We timed our ascent of Woolley as perfectly as you get, with clear skies, no fires, no haze and cool enough to keep things safe.
After ogling the many 11,000ers and wild, remote summits visible from Woolley’s summit on this crystal-clear day, we reluctantly turned back and started our descent towards Diadem Peak.
At this point we were seriously thinking about tackling Mushroom Peak onto the two 11,000ers for a safer exit than the lower Woolley Glacier, thanks to strong sun and warm temperatures. We were also thinking it would be nice to save up to 500 meters of height gain and a bunch of time ascending on Sunday morning.
We stopped for a bite to eat at the col before starting our way up the second peak of the day – another 11,000er, Diadem Peak.