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Mount Fay's North Face

Mount Fay’s North Face

Peter T. Carman


PON first sight the best choice was obvious: the bulging, convex non-gulley of ice which flowed from the summit ridge of Mount Fay to the glacier below. What a strange sight — not a gulley of ice, rather a frozen overflow from the other side made even stranger by the memory of a past map indicating a deep valley and glacier, not a high icefield, on that side.

Yvon Chouinard, Denny Eberl, and I were driving to Moraine Lake in the Valley of Ten Peaks, having left the Alpine Club of Canada Clubhouse (where this venture had begun) late that afternoon. Necessary supplies such as beer for the afternoon and grapenuts to replace the previously consumed, homemade Granola had been purchased and we sorted and packed in the crowded parking lot.

Soon we were picking our separate ways up the ledges and ramps below the hanging glacier, leapfrogging and paralleling each other. One unnerving fifth-class pitch brought us to the moraine and snout of the glacier. To detour to the hut from here seemed an extra chore especially when there was a groove in the moraine which, with a little landscaping, would serve well. After all how could a hut compare to another night under the stars! The only dark clouds on the horizon were indeed dark clouds, blowing past in increasing numbers. “It won’t rain, they’ll blow over.” Lulled by the preceding, unusually good weather we went to sleep under the clouds and whistling wind.

Morning dawned, or rather crept in unobtrusively and made staying bundled in our cocoons all too easy. Eventually it was light and in some miraculous fashion had not rained, awful though it looked. The thought that it would be worse to get rained on still in the sack drove us out and the grapenuts quelled any desire to linger over breakfast.

As we crossed the glacier to Mount Fay even the flat light could not hide the bulges in the ice above. I got the first lead which failed to bring the first bulge any closer. “It had looked like two pitches but here I am at the end of the rope and .… this thing is huge!!” The ice changed continuously in texture ranging from Nirvana Névé to black ice overlaid by a loosely attached layer of brittle ice and was consistantly steep with bulges of 70°. Large bulges occupied the better part of a rope length, not the two or three step variety found in couloirs back East. Tubular screws went in well as did the Wonder Wart Hogs, although we still used two above a long step for belay anchors. I found it necessary to warm the tubes inside my jacket to remove the plug and the Wart Hog refused to do more than rotate without being chopped to the last few nibs. I must admit I dared not pull very hard for fear it would fly out and me over backwards with it.

Our escorts of the night, the clouds, finally opened with not rain, but snow which swirled about freezing gates and eyelashes and slid quietly past in sheets, piling up on ice screws and hands and feet. On the second bulge, an extremely delicate section with a brittle layer over hard ice, dismaying amounts of shattered ice were sent whizzing down with every crampon or axe blow. We soon discovered that slightly diagonaled pitches, sparing those below, were worth the indirectness of line. As the upper ice cliff loomed larger and nearer above we headed without hesitation to the ramp around the left side and I realized with relief that the 55° slope here seemed quite comfortable and secure.

The snow had stopped and as we swung the remaining pitches to the col, the strangeness of this frozen overflow returned to me, for at the top was a crevasse containing a frozen pool and beyond that the ice dropped away into a couloir of rock and then to the glacier below. We ate and drank our long overdue lunch in the strangeness and the sunshine. I still wonder from what the overflow comes.

Summary of Statistics:

AREA: Canadian Rockies.

ASCENT: Mount Fay, North Face, New route up east ice bulges. 8 rope lengths. (Peter Carman, Yvon Chouinard, Dennis Eberl).