OverviewChris' Class 4 Cutoff is a scrambling route from Lake Louise to the top of Icefield Pass in the Mummy Range of Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park. Named in honor of myself, on the occasion of the first reported ascent(I scoured the W's), and my affinity for alliteration. However, if you can make the claim that you ascended it before 8/10/2010, I will be happy to rename it to your liking. From the outlet of Lake Louise, this route rises 920 vertical feet over .5 miles, ranging from a walk across gentle tundra grasses, boulder hopping through the channels of rock forming a terminal moraine, moderate snow/ice climbing around a glacier, and a dangerous, steep scramble up 600' of precariously shifting boulders and talus to the top of Icefield Pass at nearly 12000'.
This route really is best suited for ascents only.
Getting ThereBecause one would really only want to attempt this as an acsent rather than a quick expressway to death, the start of this route, Lake Louise, can be reached via a 10+ mile hike including an elevation gain of 3000' that starts either at the Dunraven TH or Stormy Peaks TH in Pingree Park. Either way, the trail ends at Lost Lake, and requires a short bushwhack to the broad, treeless bench directly east of the lake. After passing Lake Husted, look for the lower, longer lake below, Lake Louise.
Route DescriptionAt the outlet stream of Lake Louise, make your way around the north shore of the lake, taking care to not wet your shoes in the marshy drainages around the lake. By now you should be familiar with the general idea of the route, crossing a field of boulders to the base of the small glacier on the east side of the pass, then climbing up the left side to the top. The boulder hopping is pretty straight forward and can be broken up by walking along intermittent fingers of tundra snaking through the rocks.
Even on something as basic as this stretch, any injury that immobilizes you in this boulderfield or anywhere above it will be magnified tenfold, as the area probably averages one hiker per week. If you're unable to alert anyone and you can't move, you're as good as dead. I'd advise you climb this route with a partner.
From the base of the snowfield, it should be painfully, unexceptionally clear that climbing the snow without the proper equipment is not an option, just ask this guy. The overall steepness is not consistent, and neither is the snow, which instantly changes to ice without changing color. This glacier isn't Andrews Glacier, its not wavy and soft; this glacier will not forgive. However, it is much easier to walk along the bottom left side of the glacier in order to reach smaller, more acceptable rocks to climb the rest of the way.
Though the glacier is much more appealing than the loose scree that forms the second half of the route, I recommend you exit the snow as soon as you feel uncomfortable. Don't expect to get comfortable, though, its about to get worse.
About 3/4 of the way up to the pass, you should see a short coulior filled with medium sized boulders in stark contrast to the softball sized talus you reach when you leave the glacier. This couloir is my cutoff, you should do as much as you can to pick your route to gain this coulior, it is your target, and it is significantly easier to climb through than the scree slope that leads to it. This scree is definitively the crux of this route. The fact that these small rocks are not being stabilized underneath by anything more substantial than sand added with the unreasonably steep incline combines to form a ridiculous passage up to the couloir. I don't know if you can really call this section class 4, but you should definitely treat it as if it was. Each rock you grab as a hand hold shifts and falls, every step you take results in 10 rocks sliding beneath you, then ten rocks from above shift to replace them. Falling rocks are the most obvious danger, but since the footing is so bad, falling is a substantial risk as well. Treat a potential fall down this scree slope as if it was fatal. Do not try and walk on the sandy parts, there is a reason there are no rocks there, and if the sand is too steep to support scree, how will it support you? Take your time and plan a good route up the largest, most secure looking rocks and you should be fine.
Once you have reached the 'cutoff couloir,' the scree becomes more boulder like, which is great for climbing on, but take caution as they will still move on you. Luckily, you can move much faster and confidently up these rocks, compensating for the lost time because of the slow ascent of the talus and regaining your wits that you might have left behind with the time. Climbing through the couloir is uncomplicated, and you should find yourself above the pass in no time.
If you were only going to look at one picture...
Essential GearThough I did this route burdened with 50 extra pounds thanks to backpacking, I did not need any special equipment. However, if I was to do it again, I'd feel a lot better with a helmet and rope. If you plan to climb the glacier up to the pass, you will need crampons and an ice axe.
Final ThoughtsAs a route, it's not great, but where there's a will there's a way. Somehow my father and I found a way to climb up that damn pass with 60 pounds of backpacking crap, and if we could do it, there shouldn't be a reason why you can't.
Things to remember:
1. I called the couloir a 'cutoff' because it avoids the glacier that probably cuts all the way over to block off any other route near it.
2. The cutoff is not the large couloir that branches off directly at the base of the snowfield, if you want to follow my route, you need to stay close to the glacier until you're almost to the top, then take the cutoff.
3. This route is almost exclusively for ascents only, if you descend, you may need ropes
4.Verizon does get a little bit of service at Icefield Pass, enough to send a text message.
5. We didn't see a single person from Lost Lake to the Mirror Lake intersection, an elapsed time of 9 hours, BE CAREFUL