North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Alberta, Brazeau-Walsh
Mt. Alberta, Brazeau-Walsh. On September 6 Jon Walsh and I forded the frigid waters of the Sunwapta River with a bit of food, lots of fancy-wrapped processed sugar/caffeine products, and high hopes for good conditions on the remote and seldom visited north face of Mt. Alberta.
After a few hours of fitful sleep in Lloyd Mackay hut, we woke at midnight to brew coffee and oats. A full moon greeted us as we made our way to the rappels to the base of the face. However, the moon snuck behind the bulk of the mountain and, despite Jonny Red having rapped to the base before (and sketching out the same way due to poor conditions), we missed the rappel line, lightened our already skimpy rack, and increased our doubts. What are we doing here? Why can’t we just sport climb in the sun? Or drink coffee in the sun, for that matter?But with dawn comes fresh thoughts and psyche, as we get our first look at the face, which appears to be in perfect shape. There’s a weakness to the right of the Lowe-Glidden 1972 route (nice work boys!) that jumps out at us, and we have no need to discuss it. What a magnificent day! Not a cloud in the sky, a pristine mountain environment, glaciers rolling down to valley bottom, seldom-seen and even less-visited alpine meadows and lakes, and not another soul for days. It feels so good to be here it’s a little disconcerting.
I take a load off on the glacier as JR charges on, thinking (rightly, it turns out) that we won’t be sitting down for a while. By the time I catch up he’s racked and 15' off the deck, trailing a rope. Fired up! We simul the first few pitches to the big icefield, then put the ropes away and…what luck! The ice is perfect for one-swing sticks, and we move quickly to the base of the headwall. We rope up again and are engaged, swapping leads and finding perfect conditions: a fine balance of iced-up cracks and good pick placements, warm enough for hands-on rock climbing but cold enough to keep the ice from delamming. What luck! How many factors had to come together to make for these conditions, and for us to be here at this moment? These thoughts roll around in my mind, tumbling with my doubts and fears as we slowly move upward. I don our one pair of rock shoes for a couple of pitches. Jon follows in his bootsand crampons; the aiders and ascenders stay in the pack. What luck! We top out on the summit icefield in the last rays of the day, only a few easy ice pitches to go. The fears and doubts ebb but leave that exhilarating buzz that will linger for days. Hugs on top, followed by some chocolate and a green tea brew. Jon finally gets to sit down after 21 hours on the go. The hazy sky dims the full moon, but the views of the Columbia Icefields are incredible and inspire talk of future adventures. All we have to do now is get down one UGLY chossy descent, and watch the breaking of another new day as we stumble back to the hut 30 hours after leaving it. How lucky we felt that everything came together and we were able to journey to the mountain, and on. Brazeau-Walsh (1,000m, 5.11 M6).
Chris Brazeau, Canada