American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Stephen, Great Western

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Mt. Stephen, Great Western. Great Western lies on the north face of Mt. Stephen (3,199m) in Yoho National Park, by the town of Field. The line follows a series of mixed gullies, ice runnels, and hanging ice pillars. The ice pillars do not always form but are essential to a quality experience. The route starts, basically, at the road, with a half-hour approach. While the majority of terrain is quite moderate, there are several distinct cruxes and over 1,900m of relief.

Start by climbing Extra Lite (245m, WI4). Above, Great Western follows lower-angle terrain up and left, aiming for a deep gash that presents several pitches of high-quality mixed climbing, including one short pitch (crux, M7 offwidth) past a massive chockstone. Above this gash the terrain eases off and opens up.

Continue to a cliffband that houses the first pillar (60m, WI5R). Above, several moderate mixed pitches are followed to the second pillar (50m, WI5). This pillar leads to several high- quality moderate mixed pitches until the terrain opens up and kicks back. Up to this point it may be possible to escape to the right and follow easy, albeit avalanche-prone, slopes to the west ridge. Follow open snow gullies up and left to gain the North Ridge. Climb an endless amount of terrain, combining sections of the ridge with more exposed snow/mixed gullies west of the ridge. Retreat at this point would be very involved. The final pitch climbs a short gully to the east of the ridge. The first ascensionists bivvied in a snow cave one pitch below the summit. Descent is down the South Ridge for 100m and then down a steep—and avalanche-prone— gully to the west. Once the angle eases, pick your way through the alpine terrain heading southwest, avoiding exposure to potentially dangerous slopes. Once below treeline, follow the drainage to Field. The “Fossil Bed” trail may be gained eventually on the ridge north of the drainage. Descent takes three to five hours, depending on conditions. Take a full rack including pitons and 8 ice screws. The first ascent, by Scott Semple and me on April 8 and 9 took 32.5 hours car-to-car, including a seven-hour bivy near the summit.

Rob Owens, Canada

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.