Avalanche Mountain

While I have been spoiled over the past two months, living in Canmore and scrambling in the Rockies, it was a special treat for me to head to Rogers Pass and Glacier National Park this weekend. I have done a good deal of hiking in the birthplace of North American mountaineering (including the Perley Rock, Avalanche Crest, Hermit Meadows, and Glacier Crest trails, and I even summited Mount Abbott in 2009).  There is a lot of potential to push physical and mental limits in this region further, and so I set out to climb Avalanche Mountain. The easiest route on the mountain is the southwest face (Facile, class 3). The Rogers Pass Alpine Guide describes the route in a sentence, stating ‘from the end of the Avalanche Crest trail, follow the moraine to its end, cross an easy snow slope, and scramble up easy broken blocks to the summit’. My trouble began with the snow slope, which was frozen solid, and even though I had an ice axe, I didn’t have crampons. Kicking steps through the icy crust made progress to the base of the face slow. Once on the face, I found many sections of quality quartzite interspersed with crumbly scree. It was not altogether unpleasant, but I imagined the southwest ridge would be more interesting as a descent route, and I would thereby avoid the icy glissade on the descent. The southwest ridge is rated Facile, class 4. It turns out that these routes, established in 1885 and 1899, were graded by Swiss guides whose notion of technical climbing began somewhere around 5.5 on the Yosemite Decimal System. The ridge was fantastic overall, quality rock that I’ve dreamt about. The crux however, was a technical, exposed down climb; many slings around rock horns and boulders attest to the fact that rappelling down is common. Gearing up to climb Mount Tupper and maybe Sir Donald later in the summer, I now know what to expect of the grading!

01_ge_avalanche
The route begins at the Illecillewaet campground, follows the Avalanche Crest trail to the amphitheatre, then along moraine to the base of the southwest face (right). I descended the southwest ridge (left)
02_cheops_sunrise
Mount Cheops from partway up the Avalanche Crest trail
03_illecillewaet
Soon the Illecillewaet Glacier comes in to view
04_columbine
Red Columbine (aquilegia formosa)
05_routes
Moraine and the southwest face route to the right, southwest ridge to the left (approximate)
06_glacier_vista
Some of the highlights from left to right – Illecillewaet Glacier, Lookout Mountain, Asulkan Glacier, Mount Jupiter, The Dome
07_looking_down_sw_face
Looking down the southwest face
08_looking_up_sw_face
Looking up the southwest face
09_donald_uto
Mount Sir Donald and Uto, and Eagle Peak
10_avalanche_glacier
The Avalanche Glacier from high above
11_descending_ridge
Beginning the descent of the southwest ridge
12_descending_ridge
Southwest ridge with the Trans Canada Highway in the background
13_crux_downclimb
The crux of the southwest ridge. Doesn’t look bad, but it was an exposed downclimb
14_quartzite
Wonderful blocky quartzite
15_big_bend
The big bend in the Trans Canada Highway, marking the entrance to the Illecillewaet campground
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