After climbing Aconcagua together Mark (Denver, CO), Chris (Springerville, AZ) and I decided to give Mount Robson a try this August. Our plan was an ascent of either the North or Kain Face depending on weather and conditions. Two weeks before leaving I had contacted the Mount Robson Park Rangers to inquire about the climbing conditions. To my disappointment they informed me that no one had gotten above 10,250' but that the routes should be in condition the later part of August. This was great news for us so I met Mark and Chris at the Calgary Airport on August 16th. After a quick lunch we drove 6 hours to Valemount, British Columbia passing through the beautiful cites of Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper. For those who haven't had the opportunity of driving along this amazing highway it's nothing but spectacular as seen in this shot of Athabasca and Andromeda. Arriving at the Best western motel just outside Valemount in the early evening the weather appeared fine and we were all excited about the upcoming climb.
The following morning we drove to the Mount Robson Visitor Centre to register our climb (voluntary but a good idea) and after discussing the upcoming weather forcast decided on ascending the Kain Face as a low pressure zone was about to move through the area. We drove to the Dennison Gravel Pit about 1.2 kilometers east of Mount Robson Provicial Park and boarded a Yellowhead helicopter piloted by Dale Brady. Dale flew us to The Dome at 10,250' avoiding the two to three day approach. OK, now I know many people would consider this cheating but in our defence, and not comparing ourselves to anyone in particular, a couple of fantastic climbers just put up a new route on the Emporor Face using just this tactic a couple of months before. I heard they later skiied down the Robson Glacier but at least we walked out (hehe)! Besides, as soon as we arrived Dale few out three groups of guides and climbers who had just summited the day before.
After everyone had left we quickly set up camp and took it all in. The view of the Kain Face and summit pyramid from our tent site was awe inspiring and we were looking forward to the climb and the weather looked good. The mountain, however, had a different plan in store for us as we would soon find out.
Scouting the Descent and Three Days in a Tent
After a good night sleep we woke to sunny skies and decided to climb nearby Resplendent Mountain to help our acclimatization. We roped up, crossed the Dome and headed towards the ridge along the Robson Cirque leading to the Resplendent/Robson Col. At the first rapel we soon noticed dark clouds forming around Resplendent's summit so we opted to stop and scout out our descent route down the Robson Glacier. The weather soon turned worse as we returned to camp and out tracks were quickly covered over by fresh snow. For the next three days the weather dumped rain, sleet and a foot of fresh snow on us pinning us down with nothing to do but eat, read and sleep. As our deadline for being overdue drew near my thoughts turned to those unfortunate climbers on Hood this past winter.
Time to Leave?
On the fourth day there was a slight rise in barometric pressure and the weather appeared to be clearing. Feeling this may be our chance to leave we packed up camp and roped up for the descent. After only 1/2 hour making our way to the ridge the weather again closed in on us and we had to return to the Dome and set up camp again. Throughout the reaminder of the day and night we waited as the pressure continued to rise but visibility was poor all day until the following morning.
Now It's Time
With better visibility we agian packed up and left the Dome. Approaching the ridge Mark found a couple of small crevasses the hard way but besides a few hyperextended fingers on one hand was none the worse for wear. After rapping the upper section we simul-climbed the middle portion of the ridge until arriving at the second rappel. The second rap allowed for some free-hanging on the rope but caused several loose rocks to become dislodged when pulling the rope sending me ducking for cover beneath the overhang. We again simul-climed the reaminder of the ridge with some good exposure on either side. After several hours we eventually descended the upper portion of the Robson Glacier to the bottom of the Cirque. From here we could really see how badly broken up the Mouse Trap Icefall was and why everyone was commenting on how poor a shape this area was in.
Berg Lake Trail
After spending the night at the Robson Pass campground we hiked 24 kilometers to the trailhead in beautiful weather. This probably would have been a great day to summit as the previous snowfall might of set up well during the clear skies of the past two nights. Overall we had a good trip even though we didn't get to summit. We learned a lot about the mountain and its unpredictable weather. The best thing I've taken away from our experience is to schedule more days for the entire trip and wait lower down in the valley for a bout of high pressure to move through the area. Even then the weather isn't guaranteed. Like Dow Williams and William Marler will tell you...hey, it's the Rockies.