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North America, Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Belanger, King's Couloir

Mt. Belanger, King's Couloir. Dave Marra and I were tossing back a few pints of Canada’s finest at the Downstream Pub in Jasper and soon were jabbering about picking off a new midsummer ice route. When Dana Ruddy, fresh from a jaunt up Mt. Fryatt, came bounding into the bar with a digital camera and a shit-eating grin, our mission materialized. He showed us what appeared to be a stellar northwest line up Mt. Belanger (3,120m, immediately west of Fryatt). The adrenaline drip commenced.

The 30km approach needed trimming, and a portage across the Athabasca was our solution. We left Jasper at noon on July 22 with a borrowed, battered canoe strapped to the roof of Dave’s red beater wagon. Upon putting in, we discovered the vessel barely big enough for two boy scouts, and had to make two crossings. The river gods had their laugh: with little canoeing experience, shirts and shoes off, cameras in ziplock bags, we were beset by fast- flowing, frothy-frigid water that leapt furiously, filling the boat, and splashing us like a scalding cup of java in the crotch. Primal strokes, profanity, and hysterical laughter ferried us twice to the far side. The adventure had commenced.

A biblical squadron of mosquitoes escorted us beyond the Fryatt Hut to our base below the north face of Belanger. We powered down canned chili, and at 11 p.m. under summer twilight, surrendered to the proboscis onslaught and dove into our bivies. Four hours later we were en route to the northwest face under starry, windless skies. We trekked northwest through upward-sloping meadows onto a friendly moraine, which led to an obvious col. We continued toward Belanger until we had a complete view of the northwest glacier. Around 4:30 a.m. we spotted a short, steep talus descent from the col. This brought us to the edge of the northwest glacier proper and avoided a north face pocket glacier. We roped up and arrived by 6 a.m. at the base of the couloir.

The ice route is a right-leaning Y-shaped feature, with the lower section and the left upper arm facing northwest and receiving no sun. The aesthetics of this climb are matched by objective hazards, including rockfall and sloughing snow and ice high on the route itself, especially from the upper-right sun-kissed couloir. The first five to seven pitches consist of straightforward 55° ice. Given the playfulness of the gods, we stayed right, thereby protecting us from surprises they might throw our way from the hidden upper-right couloir. The crux came shortly after we entered the upper left section of the Y: 5m of vertical ice through a narrow gully. Above, we found a sustained slope of three to five pitches, 60°-65° at first but gradually getting steeper. There was no cornice, and we exited onto the ridge. The ridge was of a wide, low-angle snow ramp, leading to a 5m fourth-class rock climb to the snowy summit plateau. Royal views in all directions greeted us at the summit. Our spectacular but safe ascent to a place of such calm magnificence filled our “Why I climb” tanks full.

The obvious descent is the regular route down the southeast ridge. But we wanted to check out some other lines from the glacier below where we started, so we descended our ascent route, starting around 10 a.m., and were down to the glacier by 12:30. We made it back to the canoe just after sunset and crossed the river under starry skies. Despite the long approach, King’s Couloir (600m), with its sustained line, objective hazards, and summit views, should be an absolute classic.

Tom Schnugg, AAC