American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Columbia—The Problem of the West Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1933

Mt. Columbia—the Problem of the West Face

The west face of Mt. Columbia has seldom been observed or photographed from near viewpoints. During the month of July, 1931, Messrs. Cromwell, Spadavecchia and the writer were in the Athabaska valley1 and examined this face from the pass immediately west of Mt. King Edward. Weather conditions precluded almost all high climbing, and any thought of an attempt on it was out of the question ; but a statement of the main features of the problem may be of interest.

The best and easiest approach to the face is by way of the west terminal fork of the Athabaska (5,000 ft.) and the watershed snow pass (8,450 ft.) west of Mt. King Edward. Gradually rising snow-slopes lead thence to the east for three miles, skirting the southern side of Mt. King Edward to the col (9,150 ft.) between this mountain and Mt. Columbia. Precipices and ice-ter- races absolutely preclude any more direct northern route from the Athabaska valley to this point. The total distance from the western fork, by the route suggested, is six miles, and may be easily covered in less than four hours.

The west face of Mt. Columbia at the 9,000-foot level is about one mile wide, and the vertical elevation to the summit roughly 3,000 feet. Spadavecchia estimates the angle of this face at not over 40 degrees. One will have a better understanding of this by examining photos of the mountain as seen from the north, in which this face then forms the right profile2.

When we first saw the face it was snow-covered. A week later, from the northeast, in the vicinity of Sundial Pk., the snow had diminished considerably, and rock was showing through all parts of the face except in the very highest portions. The snow coating appeared thin and tended to melt and run off ; we never saw avalanches. The face is comparatively smooth, without large couloirs, and is crossed horizontally in its upper 500 feet by four or five narrow strata of black rocks, broken by small chimneys of comfortable width. The line of least slope is toward the southern side of the face, near the buttress by which recent ascents of the mountain have been made from the Columbia icefield. Traverses in this direction would be possible. An ascent of this face, while longer by a considerable margin than Fynn’s route on the northeast wall of Mt. Victoria,3 will nowhere encounter slopes as steep as the steepest portions of the latter. It has the disadvantage, in comparison, that the Columbia face must be descended. Once down the face, there will be no cause for benightment by anything below the 9,000-foot contour.

Patience, a study of the snow, and good weather are essential ; but Mt. Columbia is a citadel worthy of siege, and its west face offers one of the grandest expeditions that can be traced on any of the four 12,000-foot peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

J. M. T.

1 App. x, 28 C.A.J. xx, 30.

2 One should consult the following illustrations: App. x (frontis) ; A.J. xxxv (facing 184); xxxvii (facing 305); C.A.J. (facing 34).

3 A.J. xxxiv, 475; C.A.J. xiii, 257.

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