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North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Geikie, Lowe-Hannibal Route

Mt. Geikie, Lowe-Hannibal Route. Most Canadian Rockies peaks consist of limestone, some solid, most crumbling. But hidden in the backcountry of the Tonquin Valley near Jasper rises a subrange of quartzite peaks. The gem of the area is the massive north face of Mt. Geikie. Not surprisingly it was George Lowe who, with Dean Hannibal, pioneered the classic route on the face in 1979— 750 meters of rock leading to 750 meters of mixed ground. The guidebook calls the mountain the “dark horse of the Canadian Rockies.” While its north face is not as well known as those of Alberta or North Twin, it is definitely one of the grande course routes of the Rockies. The list of unsuccessful aspirants reads like a Who’s Who of North American alpinism: Dave Cheesmond, Barry Blanchard, Scott Backes.… Between the route’s sustained technical difficulties and the Tonquin’s notoriously poor weather, it took three determined attempts before Sean Dougherty and James Sevigny succeeded in making the second ascent of the Lowe-Hannibal in 1989.

Eric Dumerac, Jeff Nazarchuk, and I made the route our objective last summer. We eased the pain of the 30-kilometer approach by having gear ferried on horseback to a fishing camp on the Amethyst Lakes. With light packs and in perfect weather we hiked over Maccarib Pass and got our first view of the face. By early evening we were pitching camp at the edge of the moraine. The solitude was intense.

It was still dark the next morning when we made our way across the glacier to the base of the face. The moat below the described start had opened up, so we made for a dihedral farther left. Jeff volunteered for the first lead block. Changing into rock shoes he stepped over the moat and onto perfect quartzite. Another 1,500 meters of it soared above into a cloudless sky.

Jeff disposed of pitch after pitch, while Eric and I wheezed our way up the lines. (For the sake of speed we compromised on style, and the seconds jumared with the packs.) By early afternoon we reached large ledges and the last water for a while. After re-hydrating, Eric took off on his lead block. As evening shadows fell across the valley, we made our way onto the steep headwall, the crux of the route.

We spent the night on separate ledges and awoke to another cloudless dawn. It was my turn up front, and I eagerly led off. Pitch followed pitch, and by midafternoon we stood at the base of upper face. We unroped and scrambled upward. We had hoped to run up the mixed ground, but the snowfields and ice strips were mush. As we traversed back and forth looking for a break, a wet slide engulfed Eric. It seemed wiser to rope up again. Eric took over the lead, and as another evening fell we continued simulclimbing over rock, snow, and ice. We were hoping that our gully would go, as by now we were wet and did not relish the prospect of spending the night standing on steep ground. But a hidden traverse delivered us onto the summit snow- field, and some time after midnight we finally stood on top. We were too keyed-up to sleep, so we dug a trench into the very summit and waited for dawn.

The descent of the west ridge was long but uneventful, and by early evening we were back at our tent. The following day we staggered under heavy loads back to the road. By the time we reached Jeff’s minivan our feet were so sore we could barely walk. But the high lasted at least as long as the blisters.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada