American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Amery, Aurora

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Mt. Amery, Aurora. Mt. Amery (3,329m) is not the first mountain you notice while driving up the Icefields Parkway. But if you drive that road enough times, your eye will eventually be drawn to the broad stratified sweep of its north face, capped by a long hanging glacier. In winter two smears of ice form on the edges of the summit icecap. The left one peters out over a huge roof, but the right one usually forms completely. While the final cascade is definitely the attraction, the alpine face leading to it is not devoid of interest.

I filed the ice smear on Amery’s north face away for future reference, but it was not until 2004 that I did something about it. Will Gadd and I made the half-day approach to the cirque below the face on a brilliant early April afternoon. While air temperatures were pleasant, one drawback of the coming spring was the open Alexandra River, which necessitated hilarious barefoot crossings with a ski in each hand for balance. The following morning there was still no breath of wind; the only movement in the entire landscape was the unceasing spindrift down our chosen line. After waiting in vain for it to stop, Will finally just started up. Much of the ice was missing or detached, making for hard traditional mixed climbing. When I joined him at the belay, which for lack of a better spot was in the midst of the chilly torrent, we had both had enough. Leaving an expensive anchor, we ran away.

But I did not forget the view from the bowl below the face, with the frozen waterfall high above catching the last rays of the sun. Shortly after Christmas I went back, this time accompanied by Valeri Babanov. The approach was as long as I remembered, but this time the river was frozen. We camped in the shelter of the highest boulder, and at first light, around eight o’clock in December, I stood again at the base of the first pitch. There was more ice than in the spring, but it was steep and snowy, and picks and front points kept shearing through the insubstantial medium. Once over the bottom crux, we made good time up easier terrain, moderate ice pitches alternating with snow gullies and short mixed steps. A long traverse left took us to the base of the final column, an intricate structure of pillars and balconies plastered to the black rock of the summit headwall. I blithely estimated it at a couple of pitches. A couple of pitches later, as the violet light of winter dusk faded to black, I was belayed in a small cave halfway up the waterfall. We had come too far to turn around, so we continued into the night, linking overhanging chandeliers by headlamp.

Two hours after sundown I finally stood on low-angle ice, with the summit snow slopes stretching upward into the darkness. Moonlight glistened on seracs to my left, bathing an already weird scene in an otherworldly light; northern lights flashed in the sky. A keen west wind whipped across the landscape, and I retreated into the hood of my jacket. When Valeri rejoined me, we quickly agreed to declare the route finished, wind and cold winning out over magic and beauty. And so, foregoing a nighttime walk to the summit, we slid down the first of many rappels, eventually reaching camp well after midnight.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada, AAC

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