My wife, Anne Gilbert Chase and I knew that we wanted to spend our first anniversary in the mountains. We both have spent a little bit of time in the Canadian Rockies in the winter months climbing and skiing. But haven’t spent any time in the summer. So we thought a Rockies road trip would be fun.
We quickly settled on the NE ridge of Mt Alberta as our objective. Our friends Mikey and Colin had climbed it a few years back and said it was a worthy mountain adventure. They provided some great beta for us. We finished a hectic work week of computering / editing (me) and four consecutive 12 hr nursing shifts (AG) and blasted out of Bozeman late morning.
A random logging road suited our bivy needs midway thru our drive. Arriving at a pull out on the Ice Fields Parkway along the Sunwapta river late morning the following day. We then did some low key duffle shuffle tactics before leaving our car heading across the Sunwapta river. The weather was raining and sunny at the same time. The kind of rain that doesn’t keep you wet for to long. Perfect cool weather for a walk in. The funny part was that Gilbert has been going through a stretch of bad weather on trips that she’s been on for nearly three years. On a recent climbing trip Gilbert went on this summer with some friends they attempted to reverse her weather luck aka the COG (cloud of gilbert). So when we left the car, I was pretty sure that we were in for a wet walk in at some point. The sky looked threatening. We’re still in the early observation phase but I think the jet stream for the COG system might be shifting!
We found the river crossing to be pretty chill having no idea what to expect. We ditched our wet running shoes on a tree and walked up and over Wooly shoulder to the north flank of Little Alberta. The walk in was a casual affair taking us a little less than 5 hrs with over an hour of that time spent chilling along the approach working hydration tactics.
There is a some literature out there that depicts the NE ridge route as scary, no gear, and/or super chossy. There is certainly some loose rock, but there is also some really good rock climbing to be had on solid rock. The real choss is on the descent down the Japanese route. Not sure why anyone would want to climb that.
We started climbing at 5:50am. We climbed unroped until the start of the headwall. Up until the headwall we found the climbing to be mostly 4th - to low 5th class terrain. There was loose rock but you start to figure out the choss climbing technique - we get some practice with it around Montana! The technique is more pressing rather than pulling.
We scurried up to the big ledge system before the headwall pretty quickly in a little over two hrs. We put the rope on here. Route finding is pretty straight forward as it is ridge climbing. The gear for belays was good. There were a couple of sections that protection for the leader was a little runout but pretty straightforward climbing. In general, if you needed gear it was there. At times we felt like we were getting pushed climbers right but we just kept going up and eventually we found a lot of snow on the summit ridge.
Anne Gilbert post holed her way up about 90M worth of snow before topping out on the ridge to where we could see the remaining terrain. It was pretty warm out and even the snow on the shady aspects were quite wet. I popped over the ridge to find her basking in the sun drying out gloves and herself. She gladly handed the rack over to me to post hole up the remaining several hundred meters of snow on the summit ridge line. We simul climbed along the ridge in isothermic snow. I think this is typically mostly dry later in the season but we found there to be a lot of snow. Perhaps because of the large winter, or we were just early. Pretty easy walking really, just trying not to fall into any of the moats that had formed as the creep and glide of the cornices were in full effect. Tried to give those things a wide margin.
We topped out to beautiful views, peering down into the Athabasca river drainage. It had taken just over 10 hrs from the base of the route to the summit. In pretty much all of the literature they talk about the descent and how most parties end up bivying. We knew we were going to be descending in the dark. But avoiding the open bivy would be most ideal.
Mikey told us to get a hi res photo of the descent. We didn’t. Instead we took shitty iPhone pictures of the descent route from the guide book. We wasted a few hrs getting suckered into a coulior system that was not the Japanese route (descent route). Eventually we steered the ship and got back on course starting the raps as the fading sun lite the mountains up.
I think we counted 10 rappels to get us down to the prominent ledge system that we then walked to the south for a couple hundred meters (or more?). At this point it was dark and trying to find the last rap in a sea of chossy slopes was difficult. With about 45 minutes left until there was some workable light we ate some food and drank the rest of our water. Then laying down behind a small rock bivy someone had built (probably also trying to find said raps). I, being the nice husband, tried to lay between the wind and Anne Gilbert - it was our anniversary by all means. But that didn’t last to long. The sun was beginning to illuminate the skies and the Ansel Adams in me wanted to capture the amazing light. So I did.
There aren’t that many men (or women) that would choose to spend their anniversary curled up in a pile of chossy rocks or climbing an even bigger pile of chossy rocks. But for some reason were pretty stoked on it. Anne Gilbert’s mom thinks were crazy. We think its a good kind of crazy though.
We quickly found the last rap in the new day light and made it back down in time for some morning coffee. We were a little over the 25 hr mark from putting harnesses on to taking them off. We walked out later that morning back across the Sunwapta river enjoying the all natural ice bath on our legs.
A super fun and adventurous route in the heart of the Canadian Rockies!
60M lead + 60M tag, single set of cams green c3 - BD #3 / double .3 - #1, a trimmed down single set of nuts, aluminum spikes (for me), two tools (one tool would be totally fine for the conditions we had, two tools was nice to use for snow removal).