American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mount Alberta

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

Mount Alberta. Mount Alberta is a desolate mountain. The Sunwapta River wards off tourists. Wading across the swift, freezing water at eight A.M. was not a pleasant way to begin the day. However, that discomfort was soon forgotten because of the impressive views on the hike to Woolley Col. You don’t have to be an ice climber to get over the col, but if you have not done any ice climbing, you probably wouldn’t try. This is Alberta’s second line of defense; it keeps out the hikers. At four A.M. R.D. Caughron and I got up and started out on what the guidebook states by the Japanese route is a 16-hour trip to the top with a 10-hour return. By four P.M. we were above a lot of loose junk rock on the lower southeast slopes of Alberta but nowhere near the towering summit walls. We found a small notch in the south face where other parties had bivouacked. Early the next morning we traversed north along the snowfield which lay below the black rock to a point which gave access to a horizontal ledge system which paralleled the snowfield. We climbed up a pitch and continued the traverse along nasty high-angle scree mixed with patches of snow and ice. It demanded complete attention. Seven hours of ledges killed our chances of making the summit that day. This was obvious when we reached a vertical column system which had some old rappel slings on it. We climbed ten pitches of F5 to F7 solid rock, angling up and to the north. Finally we came to a couloir which joined the summit ridge at the second notch (from south to north) of the summit ridge. (A Climber’s Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada mistakenly says to head for the first notch.) On the last pitch we crossed to the north side of the couloir and climbed the rock to the notch at the summit ridge. It was six P.M. If we went to the top, we had to spend the night on the ridge … no food, no water, no shelter. We headed toward the summit around cornices and rock spires. By the time we reached the 60-foot snow notch, there was not enough time to make it to the summit and back. We chopped out a level place in the steep scree and loose, frozen rock and settled in for a long night. About midnight it started to snow. Seconds later an incredibly bright light flashed; the air was highly electric. Fate smiled; we did not ground the lightning discharge. The morning of July 26 was welcome. We rappelled down into the notch and quickly made it to the summit. The last entry in the register (there were seven in all) was in 1972, George Lowe and Jock Glidden’s climb of the north face. The two-hour descent to the notch where we left the summit ridge was a bit nerve-wracking because a huge cloud had moved in from the east. Luckily it was not a storm front. We returned to the luxury of our first bivouac site on the south face after ten to twelve rappels and a traverse on the scree slopes below the ledge system and snowfield. We realized that if we had stayed lower on the ascent, we would have saved a day. The next noon we were back at the tent and had a gourmet lunch and headed for the river. We spent the night on the way. We didn’t relax until we were safely across the Sunwapta River the next morning. Our only advice to the next party is to read accounts of earlier climbs, bring another summit register and allow a bit more time than the guidebook says.

Gerry Dienal, Unaffiliated

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