Mount Murchison is best known for its coveted ice routes located in three large cirques on its western flank, most popular of which is Murchison Falls, III, WI 4+. Give Mount Murchison another 64’ in elevation and it would become less obscure along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. Much of the native population originally believed Mount Murchison to be the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Murchison was one of the early mountains named by James Hector in 1858 after a geologist who served as president of the Royal Geographical Society and assisted Hector in the Palliser Expedition. The first ascent was made in 1902 by Collie, Stutfield, Weed and Kaufmann. Mount Murchison has two real summits, northwest and southeast, but its upper elevations are made up of seven distinctly named towers, Engelhard, Gest, Feuz, Bison, Cromwell, Hall and Southeast, all over 10,000’.
Besides waterfall ice routes, including the classic Murchison Falls, Mount Murchison itself is rarely ascended via an obscure scramble route. A mountain of the same name in Tasmania serves as the tallest mountain in the West Coast Range of Australia. As of 2007, there are 18 published ice routes on Mount Murchison ranging from WI 2 to WI 6.
- You gain over 2000’ just to get to the base of Murchison Falls. If breaking trail, it can be a tough approach. This is such a common objective however that you will normally find broken trail through the snow. Due to deadfall, skis are not recommended. We had it to ourselves on a Saturday in mid-March and found the top pitch somewhat precarious, i.e. wet and hard to find good ice. This 4th pitch was a full 60m+ of WI 4+. After some solo ice, we completed the route in three long pitches including two that required slight simul climbing. The route requires four rappels, all on rock stations (if not buried). There are three published accident reports relating to this route including at least one known fatality.
Virtual Reality, 160m, IV, WI 6
Lessons of Oka, 70m, III, 5.7, WI 4
Zapatista Liberation, 90m, III, WI 5
The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. As you pass through Lake Louise heading westbound, you want to exit onto the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) towards Jasper National Park. The Murchison Falls approach is approximately 10.3kms north of the Waterfowl Lake Campground. In the winter there is no parking outside of pulling off to the side of the road or what is left of it via the snow bank which is commonly done for many of the routes on the parkway. This is a several hour drive from Canmore. Warning: The Icefields Parkway can be closed sporadically in the winter due to avalanches blocking the road as well as unsafe travel conditions.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Banff or Yoho National Parks, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the conventional campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. The huts are managed by the Alpine Club of Canada versus the Parks. The Alpine Club of Canada headquarters is located in Canmore, AB; the Banff National Park headquarters is located in Banff, AB; and Yoho National Park headquarters is located in Field, BC. You will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada. You will drive through a kiosk area again as you gain the Icefields Parkway. However, it is normally not manned in the winter.
When to Climb
I climbed Murchison Falls in March. You can obviously climb all winter and the avalanche danger is comparatively low regarding Mount Murchison ice routes compared to most objectives up and down the Icefields Parkway. However, I did observe a wind loaded cornice ready to slide down the left side of the route. The approach slopes could also present some avalanche concern. As of 2007, there are four published accident reports related to Mount Murchison waterfall ice, none of which relate to avalanches.
The Rampart Creek Hostel is several miles north on the Icefields Parkway and serves as a good base for all waterfall ice climbs in the area. Rates for dorm style were $23-$27 in 2006. It has 24 beds and reservations are recommended. They were having problems with water and power in 2007 and were closed periodically as a result. It would be advised to call ahead, (866) 762-4122.
""You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.""