Mount Columbia 3747 m
Banff National Park, Alberta (click for map, click here for weather)
Dawning of a beautiful day, with rosy alpenglow on Mount Columbia. This is the highest peak on the Columbia Icefield; second highest in the Canadian Rockies. (Mount Robson is highest.) The most popular access route is via skis to the east face shown here. Most parties take 3 days roundtrip to make this ski ascent.
Click photos to enlarge.
Mount Columbia showing the normal ascent route from left of picture to top, seen from near The Twins. Since the Icefield region is notorious for bad weather, despite of a lack of difficulty, it often takes many attempts to bag Mount Columbia. Crevasses are abundant en route making it necessary for parties to ski roped up and know how to perform crevasse rescue. April and May are the most popular time for ascents; skis are preferred mode of travel. Mount Columbia is a near neighbour of Mount Bryce, and from the top, Tsar Mountain to the west, and Mount Edith Cavell north at Jasper are both visible.
Crevasse fishing. Below the headwall on Athabasca Glacier there are many crevasses. With such a fine day in store, Kris decides to take a little break here to do some crevasse fishing. He tries using a piece of chocolate on a rope to lure our friend Gary back to the surface. It worked. Gary has never gone in a crevasse since. (His wife won't let him!) On a more serious note, this section of the approach has many crevasses despite it being flat and innocent-looking. They can swallow skiers.
Our camp on Columbia Icefield, looking northwest towards South and North Twins.
Approaching Mount Columbia on skis. Route ascends slope facing skier and leads directly to the top. This is on day two of our trip, first day was a 6-7 hour ski to a trough in the glacier called "The Trench" where we camped. From The Trench to the top was about 4 -5 hours. For a good side view of Columbia and the Trench, check out this picture I took from the top of Mount Bryce in 1998. The Trench is a N-S dip in the main Columbia Icefield where glacier flows south down a gorge and joins Bush River.
Another party was descending as we were going up. This shows the typical angle of the upper part of Mount Columbia's east side. Not overly steep, but you probably wouldn't want to trip over your crampons. Skis are normally left at the bottom of this slope and you kick steps up the face. It's a grunt at that elevation, as I recall.
Coming over the top. Mount Bryce is at right of photo. The slope angle of the route is about 35-40 degrees.
Hooray! What a man! Now walk a little more to the right...yeah, about 5 big steps...
(Kris Thorsteinsson photo)
View toward The Twins from Columbia's spacious summit. In centre of picture is Mount Alberta.
After our ascent we descended the slope then skied back to camp (roped) by late afternoon. From the base of Columbia you can virtually coast all the way back to the Trench; its all downhill. On the third day we skied back to the starting point at Athabasca Glacier parking lot, collecting our route-marking wands along the way. These wands are home-made jobs using 3-4ft bamboo garden stakes and a 4-6" square of black garbage bag duct-taped to the top. (Black shows up better than fluorescent orange in poor visibility.) To flag all the way to Columbia from the top of the headwall would require in excess of 50 wands, depending on spacing. A GPS could be used for travel, except that they aren't precise enough to navigate between crevasses. Guidebooks? Summits and Icefields describes skiing in this area.
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© Almost all photos copyright by the author 1999.