Mt. Athabasca West Shoulder

With the heat doing its best to destroy any semblance of enjoyable spring skiing, Kieran, Joel and I decided to head up to the Columbia Icefields area for more relatively pleasant access to north facing glaciated terrain, easy minivan living and free wifi. On arrival we put into action a familiar schedule. In bed early in the parking lot on Friday, up at 0230 Saturday morning, a leisurely breakfast and brief astrophotography session, then we set out into the night.

While our main objective was the West Shoulder of Mt. Athabasca, we had the idea that we would have a look at the Practice Gullies on Mt. Andromeda on the way. To that end, we bashed up treadmill scree towards AA col instead of angling straight for the peak via its north glacier. On the way, we counted what must have been about 35 figures headed up towards the Columbia Icefield. It’s wild to see so many people in what’s usually an utterly desolate place, but cool too. The stoke for big mountains seems to be at a bit of a high in the Rockies at the moment.

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Little ant people.

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Time for skins after more than enough scree.

Anyway, we quickly decided the practice gullies were out. All we’d be practicing in there were our front pointing and v-thread skills, should we be foolish enough to get that high up. So we slowed the pace a bit and wandered up AA col to the north side of the Silverhorn. Having each summited Athabasca at least once, the three of us quickly decided not to bother traversing over to its peak again. Instead, a break in the sun for some food and to let our ski line soften up a little.

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Joel and Kieran on the ridge.

Around 0915 we got our gear together and got ready to drop in. I was offered the job of going first, which I happily accepted. This would be the first major line in a while that wasn’t puckering in the slightest, and I was determined to make the most of it. To that end, I scoped it out as best I could using beta photos and the view from further on down the ridge so that I’d be able to ski it cleanly and without pausing to look for the route.

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A fairly distorted panorama from the top.

It’s still my habit to enter any ski line cautiously, but after a few turns the snow’s character made itself clear. Corn on the surface, overlying a slightly breakable firm crust. With speed, it was near perfection. Complete skiing bliss followed as I played with my light curtain of slough through the line’s serac choke before opening it up on the glacier below.

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Our line, directly off the looker’s right sub peak, on the obvious ramp between the pepper and small line of seracs.

Joel and Kieran followed, and we all grouped up at the toe of the glacier. There, we skiers met a group of climbers on their way to the north face. After wishing them well, the three of us continued down on ever softening corn almost right to the sno-coach road.

Type one fun in the big mountains, to be sure. We were back to the cars by 1030, and nursing beers next to Sunwapta lake shortly thereafter. Joel, alas, was forced to return to Canmore for work after getting his fill of lakeside living. Kieran and I, encumbered by no such commitments, devoted the rest of our day to eating, napping and planning.

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