Mt. Robson, Emperor Face, New Climbing to Emperor Ridge
North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies
On Friday June 18, after deejaying the Test of Metal blockparty in Squamish, I hopped in my truck and drove ten hours through the night to meet JR in the Robson parking lot.
Earlier in the year I’d pulled a tendon pulley in my middle finger, and so ice tools were the first things I could reasonably grab. And so if alpine climbing was the only thing in condition for me, there was one guy I knew I needed to contact: Jon Walsh, a.k.a. Jonny Red (JR). He is my total hero. He has climbed the kinds of routes around the globe that people dream of climbing, and usually in an uncompromising, bold style—single push, fast, and free. His response was immediate and positive. At the top of his hit list was a face I had dreamt about since I was a kid: the storied Emperor Face of Mt. Robson. We didn’t have to talk tactics for very long to realize we were on the same page. If we climbed fast with small packs, we would only need a couple of good days of weather. JR was adamant that any face in the Rockies could be climbed in a weekend. “I’ve realized I can climb continuously for 48 hours before I need to sleep,” he said.
We hiked in quickly and established a camp below the face. It was the third time that spring wed done the long hike (25km one way) in hopes of climbing the face, and the summer solstice seemed a ridiculous time to try to climb a “winter” route. But with a plump snow pack and a mild spring, conditions looked good. Early morning on June 20, we started climbing, and, despite the continuous, cerebral (read: scary) terrain, it was a pure pleasure to climb such entertaining and sustained mixed ground for so long. We climbed quickly, swinging leads the entire way up the face, the climbing never any easier than M5 or M6 and, often, stretching pitches up to 100m with simul-climbing. With a straight face I can call the hardest pitch I led M7. We hit the top of the face at midnight as lightning struck to the north, clouds enveloped around us, and light snow started to fall. At the time the decision to go down the Emperor Ridge, and not continue to the summit, seemed pretty easy. Now I can’t help but wonder “what if?”
It always seemed a little silly to argue over the very definitions we climbers make up ourselves. Summit or not, it definitely felt like a new route. In correspondence with a longtime Rockies climber, another hero of mine, his point was clear: “We're not arguing black or white here, rather, different shades of ugly.”