American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Rocky Mountains of Canada, Mt. Robson, 1934

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1935

Mt. Robson, 1934

Mt. Robson has the doubtful distinction of being the peak most frequently attempted, unsuccessfully, in all the Canadian Rockies. The first ascent was made in 1913 from the Robson Glacier by A. H. MacCarthy, W. W. Foster and Conrad Kain. Their route up the steep ice slope from the Robson Glacier basin has not been repeated.1 They descended on the south side to the east of the upper icefall. All subsequent ascents were made on the south side, and involved the generally difficult and always highly dangerous passage of the upper icefall. Numerous attempts by this route as well as by the northwest arête and by various rock routes on the south face, many by strong parties, have failed.

In 1922 Windsor P. Putnam and Jack Hargreaves claimed to have reached the summit. In 1924 several parties both at and after the Alpine Club of Canada camp at Robson Pass made the ascent, led by Conrad Kain, J. Saladana, Alfred Streich and Hans Kohler. In 1928 Hans Fuhrer took three members of the Sierra Club to the summit. In 1930 N. E. Odell, C. G. Crawford and T. Moore were successful. Shortly before he died some years ago V. A. Fynn predicted eventual disaster if the upper icefall route continued to be used.2 Since 1930 the mountain has been attempted, by one or more parties each year, some parties, as occurred in 1934, making two or three trials, in an endeavor to find a relatively safe route which would avoid the dangers of falling ice. always present by the upper icefall route.

Last August while on our way down the coast from Mt. Waddington, Hans Fuhrer suggested to me that no one had to his knowledge tried to ascend by the rocks to the right (east) of the upper icefall. In the perfect weather then prevailing, and after a summer of failures, this seemed an opportunity worth seizing. Hans and I accordingly boarded the C. N. train at 3 p.m., Monday, August 27th, at Vancouver. After the deepest discouragement at finding dense forest-fire smoke all the way, we were suddenly thrilled to come out into clear blue sky just north of Albreda, and as we approached our destination, Mt. Robson stood out like a dream, and what was important, the rocks were almost entirely free of snow.

The Hargreaves ranch soon provided us with food for two nights, a pack horse and riding horses, we rode to Kinney Lake, packed easily up to the timber-line campsite at 6000 ft., as used by the 1924 and subsequent parties, and lay down at dark for a few hours’ sleep. Rest would have been more continuous but for a very persistent pack rat who had evidently become familiar with man’s food earlier in the summer when Hans had camped there with Alfred Roovers in July.

At 2 a.m. after a hot breakfast, in full moonlight we left camp. By five we had come to the low stone shelters at 8500 ft. An hour later, after running across the two gullies filled with ice blocks from the lower icefall, and directly under the threatening ice wall, we turned to the right from the ordinary route, reached the glacier and roped up, also putting on crampons. The snow of the lower glacier is deeply scored by avalanche tracks. We moved as rapidly as possible across these and diagonally upwards until at the base of the steep ice slopes coming down to the glacier from the east wall of the cirque. Hans’ idea was that we could run quickly up the side of this ice with crampons in case of a slide from the upper glacier. When perhaps a third of a mile from the rock cliffs overhung by the upper icefall we turned to the right up the ice and soon reached the rocks of the east ridge. These were easily climbed for about 500 ft. to a point where they were still snow covered, whence we turned left, and after not more than ten minutes of exposure to the relatively slight danger from falling ice overhead, or from the here much thinner ice-cliff of the upper glacier on our left, we climbed through the broken down ice-cliff and came out onto the upper glacier. This route could not be used, or at least with such safety, earlier in the season when these rocks are snow covered and subject to avalanches from above.

The route from here on was simple. It lay up the glacier to the top of the east ridge, step cutting being necessary in only two places where the steep ice was bare this late in the season. From the east ridge the main arête of mountain was followed about half way to the shoulder whence cornices forced us to take to the south face. Two or three times we passed under the well-known ice bulges of this upper section of the route, climbed a steep but easy snow gully between two of them, and reached the summit ridge perhaps a quarter mile east of and 100 ft. below the summit. The ridge itself was an easy snow walk and we reached the summit at 3 p.m. The view included the Tonquin peaks, Clemenceau, the northern Canoe peaks, the Cariboos, Bess and Chown and probably Sir Alexander.

After forty minutes we started down, slightly varying the route to avoid the névé bulges, but the slope necessitated backing down and the east snow arête was ice, thinly covered by snow, and had to be descended slowly. Dark overtook us just as we reached the rocks below the upper icefall and we spent the night on a scree ledge at 10,500 ft. After 10 p.m. clouds came up, obscuring the rising moon and before daylight snowflakes fell but no storm developed. With clouds over the peaks we continued down after daylight, reached tree-line camp by 8 a.m., finished the food, met the horses at Kinney Lake and caught the 3 p.m. train for Vancouver, arriving there the morning of the 31st just three days, eighteen hours after leaving.

We, of course, had luck both with the weather and the condition of the mountain, but I would recommend this route to future parties, whenever the rocks to the right of the upper icefall are reasonably clear of snow.

H. S. Hall, Jr.

1 This should be reexamined.—Ed.

2 A prediction still valid.—Ed.

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