American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mount Shackleton, North Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1972

Mount Shackleton, North Face. Shackleton rises as a little known, but major Canadian Rocky peak out of the remote Clemenceau Ice Field south of Jasper. On its three temperate sides it resembles a huge and unappealing fortress with walls of unstable slate; but on the north rests an unbroken 1400-foot shield of steep and dead ice, now abandoned at the bergschrund by its steadily retreating parent glacier, Bill Sumner and I began with being unexpectedly plucked out of the rain at the mouth of the Kinbasket River and flown, courtesy of the B. C. Forest Service, by helicopter on August 18 to the moraine-locked lake below the ice field. Two days later, after an exasperating rotten-rock, steep-ice, rappel-filled approach along the ridge south of Pic Tordu, we huddled at bivouac in the windy col between the northwest shoulder of Shackleton and the Tusk. A touchy ice traverse early the next morning gained some easy glacier travel; then suddenly we topped a sérac and both sagged with disappointment; perched above a yawning bergschrund was an ugly little wall of gray ice streaked with rock debris that led obviously to the central summit of Shackleton. Our scorn for the face’s dimensions and character began to fade at the only reasonable crossing of the bergschrund. As Bill strung out a full rope clawing up a 70° weakness, the face showed the first of its trumps — rockfall. For the next eight hours the game was played without variance on the 1400 feet of smooth 55-60° water ice above the schrund: front point up 150 feet, place several tubes or wart hogs along the way, cut a belay step, clip to two anchors and shout rock warnings as the other climbed. A break in the heavy clouds let a moment of afternoon sunlight into our world, evaporating the gloom. We were high on the face now and at the center of chaotic, but stunningly beautiful surroundings. Bill moved up to the belay and was passing over our rucksack when the rock struck. For several minutes he silently fought the pain, able to tell me only that it was his knee, but not how badly he had been injured. The remaining 400 feet of 60° ice to the summit might as well have been 4000, and a retreat down the face with only a half-dozen screws and one rope seemed equally impossible. The belay screws held and Bill recovered — his left knicker was torn and bloody, but it had been a glancing blow that ripped muscle and not cartilage or bone. Reluctantly the damaged knee responded to careful climbing, but the remaining pitches to the top were a heavy physical and mental strain. Then success with its heady rush of joy and relief. Though we were two difficult days away from the safety of the lowlands, we quickly built a cairn and then turned in silence to begin our retreat down the west ridge in growing darkness and storm.

MICHAEL HEATH

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