American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mount Alberta's North Face

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Mount Alberta’s North Face

George H. Lowe III

WHILE glancing through photos at the AAC Clubhouse in New York, I came upon Fred Ayres’ pictures of Mount Alberta, taken prior to his and Oberlin’s second ascent. (A.A.J., 1949, 7:2, pp. 124-133.) The appealing 1000-meter north face seemed to consist of equal parts rock and ice, and it was unattempted. A crack system appeared to run through the steep rock band, which was sheltered from the ice cliffs on the summit icefield.

Jock Glidden and I, with Dave Hamre in support, hiked over the terrible scree slopes of Wooley shoulder and camped on the northeast shoulder of Alberta.

Fatigue from the previous day’s hike and the search for a route down to the bottom of the face combined to make our start late: 10:30 A.M. However we could see that no rocks were falling. The route was obvious above the small rock band at the bottom. One simply had to climb the huge ice slope on the left center of the face, the chimney system which leads to the bottom east side of the summit ice slope and then continue up the ice slope.

We began at a weakness near the center of the bottom rock band. Two pitches of snow and ice, one of rock and 100 meters of scrambling back to the left brought us to the base of the ice slope. Five hours and thirteen leads later we were on the yellow rock at the top of the ice in what looked like a gathering storm. We crawled onto a ledge under an overhang one lead higher and spent the night in gloom blacker than the storm, thinking of all the garbage the mountain would throw at us when we retreated in the storm.

By morning the weather looked enough better to go up. Three leads took us to the steep grey band, where the rock suddenly became very good and the climbing hard. The first three leads of the band were the most difficult, all F8 or greater with bits and pices of hard aid, tension traverses and pendulums. Then the climbing eased to a very enjoyable F7. Two pitches higher we bivouacked on a flat pedestal which jutted out almost over the ice slope below. The storm had disappeared and we contentedly dried gear in the evening sun. With the route in the bag, we could still look forward to another half-day of superb mixed climbing in good weather.

We spent the morning enjoying the excellent three rock and two ice pitches that remained between us and the summit.

Unlike many of the big Rockies faces, the climbing on Alberta was not over when we reached the summit—the regular route is a NCCS IV. We spent the rest of the day picking our way down the mountain. The rappels all seemed to hang up. When we pulled, a barrage of rocks showered us. We despaired of ever getting off. Finally we spent the night on a comfortable ledge halfway down, without food and again worried about the lowering clouds. In the morning we raced the storm down the mountain, winning only because the storm evaporated.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Canadian Rockies

New route: Mount Alberta, 11,874 feet, First Ascent of North Face, August 21-24, 1972. NCCS V, F9, A2; 13 rock, 17 ice leads and several hundred feet of scrambling.

Personnel: Jocelyn C. Glidden, George H. Lowe III.

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