Monday, September 16, 2013

Mt. Robson North Face Attempt

On the 4th of August my friend Gordon and I left the Berg Lake Trail Head for the North Face of Mt. Robson.  The Berg Lake Trail is a beautiful path that meanders along alpine meadows and wooded canopies with breathtaking vistas like the 'Valley of a Thousand Falls'.  The old-school walk in  should not be missed, unless of course one can afford the helo taxi.  The final challenge of the 12 mile hike is crossing the Robson River, which we were able to do safely as the surging river threads into multiple lines.  We camped next to the terminal morraine of the Mist Glacier with intimidating views of the mighty Emperor Face.

The next day we ascended the 2500+ ft of loose limestone and shale of the Dog Buttress, which was my introduction to the generally poor quality of Canadian rock, eh?  A lack of route cairns and my desire to move slowly over the scree slabs added to our time.  I'm sure Gordon could have cut a couple hours off the ascent, but together we topped the buttress nine hours after leaving camp.  We were rewarded with memorable views of the North Face and alpineglow across the Helmut.

We spent the better part of the next day and a half trying to unlock the riddle of the icefall.  No easy puzzle as it appeared to us as a chaotic jumble of overhanging snow blocks, incomplete snow bridges and deep voids.  Protection through the icefall was limited to snow pickets as the snow blocks were much too soft for ice screws.  The overhanging headwalls and looming crevasses eventually stopped our forward progress.  This video shows our Icefall highpoint.  The North Face looked in excellent condition but seemed to be laughing at our attempts to approach it.

Unable to descend the Berg Glacier due to excessive crevassing we were forced back down the heinous (and personally terrifying) Dog Buttress with rain showers propelling us along.  Following a wet overnight at the base of the Dog, we made the long march back to the Trail Head and the warm showers at Robson Meadows Campground.

We did manage a consolation prize of the North Face of Mt. Athabasca which proved to be a most enjoyable romp up good ice and snow with a short mixed traverse thrown in for free.

I have read how Mt. Robson seems to haunt it's courters.  Although this can happen with any mountain that one becomes obsessed with climbing; the enormity, complexity and location of Robson does not quickly leave your dreams.  The pull is hard and I would gladly give this one another try, though perhaps later in the year when the icefall temperatures are much colder and the protection more solid.

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