Summit Elevation (m): 3511
Elevation Gain (m): 1350 from hut, 3200+ from Valenciennes FSR
Round Trip Time (hr): 9 from hut
Total Trip Distance (km): 14 from hut
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: Remote mountain bush roads, indistinct and exposed trail and glacier travel in very remote terrain.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (II)
Map: Google Maps
After a gorgeous 8 hour approach via Icefall Brook / Canyon, we found ourselves at the small, tidy Lyell Hut around noon with many hours of beautiful sunny weather staring back at us. I think it was Ben who initially started musing that perhaps we should “go for Lyell 1, 2 and 3 (Rudolph, Edward and Ernest) today yet”. Wait, what?! When I first overheard his murmured suggestion I thought I must be dreaming. I’d never heard of anyone doing the entire Lyell Hut approach on foot and then 3 of the 5 Lyells on the same day. As we thought about it though, it started to make a bit of sense. The snow was still holding up quite well and this was the coolest day in the forecast. Why not take advantage and go for a few summits already? Why not indeed.
Sure enough! Within an hour we were headed away from our cozy little hut and back down to the icefield below. Steven led us eastward around and then over the south ridge of Christian Peak (Lyell V) and then slowly down to the main Lyell Icefield leading up to the 5 Lyell peaks to the north. We had to avoid some holes, but most were obvious at this point in the season. I was very glad we’d lugged the snowshoes up – there would have been seriously slow trudging in ankle deep, soft snow without them. The day went nuclear (very hot) in the afternoon with an extremely intense sun baking the icefield and us along with it.
It was impossible to escape the glare and over the next few days this would give me some eye issues. As we descended to the icefield below, I started feeling the approach and the 3.5 hours of sleep from the restless night on the Valenciennes FSR far below us now. The Lyells looked close at this point, but 2 hours later we were still slogging slowly up the icefield and I was now falling asleep while walking! I’ve had a similar experience while traversing to Mount Columbia – and I still ascended Columbia after that experience so I guess I was OK to ascend the Lyells at this point too.
Eventually we slowly passed Christian (V) and Walter (IV) and started gaining height on Ernest Peak (III). Looking over at the Edward (II) / Rudolph (I) col, it looked more crevassed than I expected. There were two ‘schrunds and a steep ice fall off the southeast face of Edward where Corbett has a route line going straight up. I’m pretty sure that line would have to wait for a big snow year now – perhaps it is no longer feasible at all. We crossed the obvious ‘schrund on Ernest on a pretty decent snow bridge although I thought maybe we should have taken a bit more care in this area. Steven, Ben and I have been on a lot of glaciers this past year and gotten pretty darn lucky with bridges / crevasses.
Interesting Facts on Ernest Peak
Named by Sydney R. Vallance in 1972. Feuz, Ernest (Ernest Feuz was an early guide in the Rockies and Selkirks.)(see biog.) Official name. Other names One of five peaks on Mount Lyell. First ascended in 1926 by Alfred J. Ostheimer, M.M. Strumia, J. Monroe Thorington, guided by Edward Feuz jr.. Journal reference CAJ 16-143.
On Forbes, Ben and Steven got even luckier considering how warm it was, and I think some level of personal caution might have been dulled due to all this good luck. It happens. The thing about mountains is that they don’t necessarily reward good luck with more good luck. Luck and crossed fingers are not a good way to deal with snow bridges!
Once at the Ernest / Edward col we were treated to some pretty remarkable views in all directions. The weather was perfect as we trudged towards the northeast slopes of Ernest. We could see a pretty large ‘schrund breaking our ascent slope, and small bits of ice were showering down our route from a strong summit melt as we donned crampons and started up a snow slope towards the summit. Corbett mentions “steep snow” or a traverse around to climber’s right and “possible crevasse issues” but I think conditions have changed a bit thanks to a warming trend in the Rockies over the past few years. To go climber’s right (avoiding the immediate ‘schrund issue) means going up and across an active ice fall tumbling straight down the north side of Ernest! There is no safe way around or up this icefall. You could possibly tempt fate on the far right side and get across a gaping crevasse – but IMHO this is no safer than dealing with the obvious ‘schrund nearer the Ernest / Edward col.
We carefully ascended near the gaping ‘schrund and managed to tip toe over a pretty intimidating bridge. Again – I think we were a wee bit too casual with this hole. When I crossed after the other two guys, I probed the bridge and found my pole easily passed through most of it into the black hole beneath! I was super nervous about re-crossing it on descent. (We did use an ice ax boot belay on both ascent and descent to make us feel a bit better about it.) Once on the summit ridge we were treated to spectacular views all around. The late afternoon sun gave us perfect lighting on the scary looking Walter Peak to the south and perfect lighting on the distant giants of the Columbia Icefield and closer ones such as Oppy and Mount Alexandra. It was interesting to note that we were now above the giant Rostrum and Icefall Peaks – which loomed over us for so many hours on our approach.
The day was getting long as we snapped summit photos and too soon it was time to return down the spectacular east ridge and delicately over the ‘schrund before strapping back into the snowshoes for an easy ascent of Edward Peak. It’s a close competition between Christian and Ernest peaks as my favorite of the Lyells.
Ernest probably wins simply due to the fact that it has an interesting NE crux, it’s the highest of the Lyells and it offers unbelievable views over all the other Lyells, not to mention a myriad of surrounding peaks. (Click here to continue our journey up the easy Edward and Rudolph peaks.)