Columbia in a Day

The Canadian Rockies are currently experiencing their best weather window since the fall, and everyone here is scrambling to make the most of it. June tends to be rather wet around these parts so it could be a while before we are again able to bask in a week-long stretch of sunshine.

May hereis usually a great time of year for ski mountaineering, and this year was no exception. A snowy winter has left the crevasses well bridged and May skiing means one does not have to brave -30 temperatures to venture onto the many icefields. Lately the cold, clear nights have made for fantastic glacier travel if one is willing to start and finish early.

A friend and I had our objective picked quite some time ago.ย Mount Columbia, highest peak in Alberta at 3,747 metres, or just over 12,000 feet above sea level. Due to unforeseen events however we were left with only one day to work with out of this fine, extended weather window. We considered other objectives but eventually decided to give Mt Columbia a shot with the one day that was available to us. The mountain is typically climbed over 3 days due to its location 23 km away from the road and the elevation gain of over 2 kilometres that is required to visit its summit. But conditions were good so we decided to have a go at it.

After a sublime sunset drive along the Icefields Parkway we met at the Athabasca Glacier parking lot just before midnight and set off in the dark. The crossing of the Athabasca Icefalls in darkness, which we expected to be the crux of the trip, went rather smoothly due to previously established tracks and excellent snow coverage. As we reached the backside of Snow Dome the moon was rising to our left while the aurora was visible to our right. Simply fantastic.

We reached the Trench (a huge depression that one most venture into on the way to the mountain) just as other parties were setting off from their tents. Mount Columbia was going to be a popular place to be that day. By the time we reached the base of the east face the giant was all lit up by the morning sun. We struggled upward into the thinner air as we bootpacked up the face, every few steps revealing yet another row of peaks in the distance.

Along with a few other parties we reached the highest point in Alberta at around 8:30, waved at Mt Robson to the north and celebrated my birthday with a summit brownie, complete with candle. The howling winds then forced us to interrupt a much enjoyable mountaintop moment and we soon headed down towards “warmer” reaches of the Columbia Icefield. Little effort was required to get us back to our vehicles early in the afternoon. A fantastic day out and definitely a highlight of the touring season for me. The drive back to Banff was nothing short of spectacular with cirrus clouds of all shaped and sizes cruising in from the west. Here are a few images from that day.

Approaching Mt Columbia

Summit Celebrations

The Trench, with (L-R) Mt Columbia, Mt Edith Cavell and the Twins

“The Longest Run”, east face of Mt Columbia

“Surreal Turns”, Snowdome in the background

Amazing clouds on the Icefields Parkway on the way back home

60 Responses to “Columbia in a Day”

  1. Paul Zizka

    Thanks so much everyone for your comments! Always appreciated!

  2. indigofletcher

    Wow, truly amazing photography! I am an avid skier and wish we had a better season for skiing out here on the east coast, but your photos remind me there still is snow out there! Stunning pics!

  3. sathibob

    Glorious place to live some days.Whenever you see that place, you never think to go back

  4. confessionsofaballerunner

    These are AWESOME pictures! (Love B&W photography and LOVE mountains.) One of my favourite road trips was Banff-Lake Louise-Jasper, through which we also stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields. It was my first time seeing the Rockies, and I was almost speechless by the majesty of the mountains and pristine lakes… I actually have a cousin who is an avid mountaineer, but fear of heights and klutziness will keep me at sea level reading about other people’s mountaineering adventures!..

    • Paul Zizka

      Thanks so much for your comment. Truly an amazing place. And fortunately, no need to face objective hazards or carry a pack around to experience as so much can be admired directly from the road!

  5. Roshni

    Amazing photos! LOVED them!!! โค Congratulations on being FP!

  6. lijiujiu

    Amazing photos!
    You are a brave men, I appreciate your efforts behind that. Wish I will have a trip to there too…

  7. wardenfree

    Absolutely amazing! great photos! The black&white is very special! I love them!

    • Paul Zizka

      I’ve heard great things about Alyeska and have seen many fine images come out of there. I hope to check it out someday. Thanks for your input!

  8. Cheeky Charlie

    It looks amazing ! I didn’t know there was such fabulous ski ing in Columbia – thought it was all hot sweaty jungle, cocaine labs and FARC ! Well, you learn something everyday, hopefully !

  9. Paul Zizka

    Thank you kindly everyone for taking the time to comment. The Icefield is truly a special part of the world. I feel extremely fortunate to live in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Come check out our neck of the woods someday!

  10. lizpurdy

    Oh my gosh, this post and these beautiful photos make me so sad (like an actual aching in my chest) that I just put my “cheat sheets” on my climbing skins last night. I hesitated for weeks, but thought it finally time. Now I’m wondering if I should be heading to the Canadian Rockies?

    • Paul Zizka

      It’s been a big snow year over here. Lots of backcountry skiing left!

  11. Rayyan

    all pictures are beautiful, but i like more the picture in real color, because it give more feelings than pictures of balck and white

  12. pk

    Ooo, hey, can I use your East Face, Columbia pic at my blog, pKnatz?
    I want to use it in that wide horizontal WordPress proves at top.
    I would recrop, offsetting the skier.

  13. outdoorcanvas

    Your Canadian Rocky outdoor photography work is top notch! I truly mean that. I looked at your photography page it is truly outstanding. Please keep up the good work!

  14. jeremytongclimbs

    Nicely done buddy!!! This just emphasizes why we need to go out and live life. Its great you live near the mountains, unlike me where i’m stuck with man-made buildings. ๐Ÿ™‚


  15. Tyler Hendy Design

    wow, these are great, what camera/lenses did you use!?

    • Paul Zizka

      Thanks Tyler. Those were all taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and a 17-40 mm lens. My next post will be about photo gear for the backcountry, which may interest you.

      • Tyler Hendy Design

        I love the full frame!
        Getting my 60D next week. i’ve never been interested in the 17-40mm. But after seeing these i will have to have a look.

        Let me know your thoughts on my travels part 1 photography if you have the time.

  16. Indranil

    These are very beautiful images and a great little story. They are very inspiring for people like me who don’t get to go to such places much. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Paul Zizka

    Thanks again for the feedback everyone. I appreciate you taking the time.


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