Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mt. Alberta - North Face (VI 5.10 A0)

The North Face of Mt. Alberta climbs the steep wall on the right.

Hooked up with Dana Ruddy from Jasper for an ascent of the North Face of Mt. Alberta last Monday-Wednesday. The route has lots of history but despite many attempts it has not been climbed for over 20 years. With good weather and so-so conditions we managed to make the 1st single-push ascent of the route and free climbed it all (previously 5.9 A3) except for a couple hangs and a fall at the crux in order to chip ice off of the hand holds.

Soloing up the 500m lower ice face.

Dana rock climbing one of the 1st hard pitches.

On the 1st day of the trip we hiked over Woolley shoulder to the Mt. Alberta hut. The views from the pass are spectacular, with the biggest faces in the Rockies dominating the view. We also took a couple of hours to go scout the route before settling in for a few hours of sleep.

The 10 foot ice pitch!

Starting at dawn we hiked, rappelled, and crossed a glacier in order to reach the base of the face. A couple of easy rock pitches gained a long traverse to the base of the ice section. We chose to solo the 500 meters of 55 degree ice in order to save time and reach the base of the headwall before the day warmed up and rocks started to fall. A couple of calf-burning hours later we reached the start of the notorious yellow bands. Despite the loose rock and lack of gear, we found the climbing to be fairly easy and we quickly made our way through the two long pitches of yellow rock. This is where the real difficulties began.

Pitch after pitch of tenous rock climbing with frozen fingers, snowy holds, and not so great rock quality drained our energy as we slowly picked our way up the face. We managed to free climb (ie. climbing with just our hands and feet, rather than pulling on gear such as pitons. "Free climbing" does NOT mean climbing without a rope!) everything up to the A3 roof. Dana was leading and managed to complete a number of 5.10 moves with marginal gear before having to hang on the rope in order to clear ice & snow off the holds at the end of the pitch. After a couple hangs and an exciting fall onto an old piton, he managed to complete the section and establish a belay. Upon reaching the belay we were confronted with 10 feet of ice which required me to change back into boots and crampons and build another belay 10 feet higher. Back in rock shoes we climbed another 5 or 6 pitches up to 5.10 as the day turned to night. In the darkness we cooked some dinner, melted some snow, and attempted to sleep. 20 minutes later we decided it was too cold and kept going. A short rappel gained the edge of the upper ice slopes. We pounded up the 65 degree ice for a few ropelengths and finally reached the summit.

Dana in a verglassed chimney on one of the crux sections.

Exhausted and in the dark we started the long, long descent down the Japanese Route (V 5.6). Exposed scrambling, 7 rappels, and tons of loose rock were encountered on the way down. Finally, after 30 hours on the move we made it back to the hut. The hut was occupied so we ate the rest of our food, drank a couple cups of coffee, and marched for another 5 hours back to the car.

The view from the summit ridge of North Twin, South Twin, and Mt. Columbia (L to R)
All in all it was a great adventure with an excellent partner and we were both psyched to have completed one of the most difficult routes in North America. Sleep came easy that night...

J. Mills
CRAG Owner & Head Guide


  1. Well done Jay! Holy smokes- that's super impressive, I can't imagine what it took within you to knock that off.

    Congrats on ticking The N. Face of Alberta off of your list.



  2. CRAG has gone world class. well done

  3. Sick! Awesome job guys! Crazy how long it had been since anyone climbed that route, especially considering how people talk about it constantly. Way to get 'er done.

  4. Nice work dude!
    I think Tim Auger and Peter Arbic climbed it in 94, a long time ago for sure. I have a topo that Tim made.

  5. Very impressive, but I was under the impression as per Climbing issue #253 (Dec 2006) that it has been climbed by Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau in Sep 2006 in a single 30 hour push at 5.11 M6. Was this by a different route? Either way, good job.

  6. The Walsh/Brazeau ascent was indeed by a different route further to the right.