Mt. Andromeda graces countless postcards and coffee-table books, and, more to the point, is the climbing centerpiece of the Columbia Icefields. Andromeda is a university of alpine climbing. Over the years, as I worked my way through its routes, starting with the sweeping Skyladder through the “hard” classic Andromeda Strain, the mountain has taught me well, though at times (such when I whipped off of slush that passed for ice on Shooting Gallery) it could be a stern professor.
Having climbed most of the established routes more than once, I began looking beyond the red lines in the guidebook. If you squint at the photo in Selected Alpine Climbs, a possibility, the faint crease of a corner system, can be imagined left of the A- Strain. In spring, with the mountain well iced up, this unlikely line seemed ripe for an attempt.
Scott Semple and I got an inauspicious start, having overslept the alarm and woken with dawn illuminating the sky. But we had nothing better to do, so we wolfed down bananas and Danishes, piled into the car, and drove the remaining half-hour to the trailhead. The morning was disconcertingly warm, the snow on the moraines barely frozen. As the sun rose Andromeda’s northeast face came alive with noisy wet sloughs, fortunately well right of our intended line. We simul-climbed the lower portion, past the avalanche cone, up brittle ice and to the base of the rock.
At first a chossy crack had me looking for a way to traverse around the difficulty, but straight up was the way to go. Stuffing in cams, hooking loose chockstones, and grunting to make sure I had Scott’s attention at the belay— it was steep, dammit!—I was pleased to find a hidden runnel of thick ice lurking above. The first pitch set the pattern for the rest of the route: the stream of more (or less) thick ice down the corner system would be interrupted once or twice every pitch by steep dry-tooling. Our magic line kept going, twisting and turning and blocked by overhangs, so we could never see farther than half a pitch ahead.
As afternoon wore on, we secretly hoped for moderate ground. Instead, we found ourselves below yet another corner, with a dripping, slabby rock wall. But a delicate front-point shuffle, made more interesting for Scott by a broken crampon, opened the door, and soon we stood lashed to a small rock outcrop, looking up in dismay at a massively overhanging cornice. It seemed to grow the closer we got to it, assuming monstrous proportions. It took us over a ropelength of crawling beneath the cresting wave of snow before we were able to escape from the face. The gentle south slopes were already in shadow, though Bryce, Forbes, the Lyells, and a hundred other white peaks still glowed in the setting sun. We snapped a few photos, took a deep breath, and headed down. The Doctor, The Tourist, His Crampon, and Their Banana (700m, V M7).
– Raphael Slawinski, Alberta, AAC