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