Skyladder up, Athabasca glacier down
Skyladder is the most popular route up the glaciated Mt Andromeda (11,318’) in Banff/Jasper national parks in Alberta, Canada. All of this climb was within the drainage into the Arctic ocean. Snowdome is at the point, where the Continental divide splits between the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.
The trip featured some new and old. New being the ice climb of the sérac onto the glacier and a view from above of the Columbia icefield (the largest sub-polar body of ice in North America, estimated to be 1200' thick at most). Similar to a trip on Rainier, I fell through a weak snowbridge up to my pack (along the spurious blue route on the extra glacier). The key is the immediately stem the crevasse and climb out with your ice axe ASAP.
The idea for this trip came from ''The 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies'' by Bill Corbett. I figured it out on the place from Denver (would have helped a little to print the route map from summitpost first). We took the Skyladder up and the Athabasca glacier (consider quite stable and relatively 'safe') down. Climbing onto the glacier below the skyladder is the first crux. We ice climbed the low point of the serac. It was one pitch (30m rope, 3 ice screws) along a 90 degree spiral to get to the top of the serac. Then another lateral pitch to get onto the snow of the glacier.
Most of the trip reports at the Discovery Center mentioned 'isothermal conditions', which was also new to me. The park staff really did not offer us any advice or info about climbs in the park - it's best to ask at a store then (we got info at Everest Outdoor in Jasper, where one of the staff was a climber). Basically it was 8.5 deg C on the car thermometer when we showed up and 8.5 deg C when we left. Seemed like just above freezing at the summit. A bit more overcast with the summits clouding over at mid-day. We were worried we would be finding our way back down in a white out (but at least i had guestimated gps waypoints back out just in case). Also in emergency, just stay on the SW ridge down from the false summit of Andromeda - it is continuous to a saddle as long as you avoid the cornice and cliff on the right side as you are headed down. Fortunately, the weather improved, a lot of afternoon lenticular clouds indicated it would be windy but clear (best weather) the rest of the day.
The forecast on www.mountain-forecast.com
for the past 2 weeks had been freeze thaw or maybe all thaw for high peaks in that area. The snow seemed consolidated from the trip reports over the past week (reporting waist deep post-holing). A lot of our steps sunk 4''-6'' through the afternoon. While there was a track trail from the previous week to the upper snowbridge across the berschrund (second crux), there was a significant crack in the middle along its length. That sketched me out, so we took the lower snowbridge to cross the bergschrund. The snow on the Skyladder was relatively wet, but unlayered up to the depth of my ice axe. I led up the right of couloir between several of the rock features to avoid any debris that might fall down the center channel (turned out nothing). July and August are considered the main climbing season. While our trip was a little early season (more hidden crevasses), i bet first couple weeks of July is usually prime.
Woke up in Jasper: 12:30 am
On road to TH: 1:15 am
At parking lot: 2:30 am
Started hiking: 3am (most trip reports were 4am; twilight from 3:30am to 11pm then in Canada).
Bergschrund (base of Skyladder): 11am
Top of Skyladder (altitude gain 4,385'): 2:30pm
Top of Athabasca glacier (waypoint J): 5:30pm
Back at parking lot: 8:30pm (the bus gate is open after 6pm).
We could have saved an hour by not traveling on the first glacier (blue route on the maps).
I could have saved another hour by not working to chip a clearing in the ice on a route that never panned out on the serac.
I would say it was worth the additional hour of placing pro (including running belays on the couloir). Not everyone would do that, but better safe than sorry.
Link to photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19047247@N04/sets/72157634569613601/