Sharp Mountain, British Columbia (3049 m) - Kootenay National Park
In late August 2006 I set off for a month in the Canadian Rockies to be part of a glaciology research campaign. The field site was a small glacier at the base of Helmet Mountain, in the Vermilion Range of British Columbia. Already at the site were a few friends, camp was set up, and research work underway.
Working for a month at the West Washmawapta glacier we looked wistfully at a few nearby peaks; notably Helmet Mountain, Limestone Peak, and Sharp Mountain. The Goodsirs were nearby but we couldn’t see them from our camp. A group had already attempted Limestone Peak and reported that the climb required ascending a horribly loose and steep gully – we decided to pass. Turning our attention to Sharp Mountain we plotted a route over the course of many days and nights.
Our summer field season is nearing its end, Luke splits open his scalp sledding on the glacier, we still have not climbed any peak in the area purely for ‘fun’, and I will leave having climbed no mountain in the Canadian Rockies. We are finishing up the season’s work and call for the weather forecast, a few nice days up ahead – now or never.
Leaving camp early we descend north to the small valley separating us from the Sharp glacier basin. Near here the outlet stream from our glacier meets that from the Sharp glacier mid-air while cascading over the 1200 ft high Helmet Falls.
We head for the ridge east of the Sharp glacier, first through the soft alpine tundra then over loose talus. I haven’t seen a tree in a few weeks. On the gentle ridge we find a vein of royal blue sodalite and spend a while admiring the brightly colored mineral.
We have been chasing a group of about 10 mountain goats for an hour or so. They come to a point where they must cross the glacier and sprint over the icy section one by one, its comical. A few minutes later they are far away to the east, working their way down a steep cliff.
It’s the easiest crossing onto a glacier we could have imagined, just a flat walk right out on to it. We have done a lot of scouting and chosen a route fairly free of crevasses, so we don’t rope up though we carry the proper equipment should something go wrong. The glacier is flat here and we don’t need crampons.
Crossing the glacier we aim for a nose-like ridge jutting out towards the east from the summit ridge. Arriving, we are disheartened to realize just how terribly loose the rock is, I am nervous. Up the rock slope, loose class 3 - Luke is using his hands feet and knees, I can’t move because I will dislodge rocks that will fall on him. Johnny is waiting above. Finally we gain the ridge leading to the Sharp Mountain summit.
The ridge is loose but class 2, and we stay to the more gentle eastern aspect. We constantly dislodge cascades of talus that crash down to the glacier below. Rock types change and we are now on more solid limestone with limonite inclusions. Nearing the summit the ridge gets gentler, but the rock remains loose.
On the summit there is a large cairn indicating the presence of those that came before us, but no register to reveal just how many there had been. We suspect the peak does not get climbed often. We pose for a few hero shots with the Goodsir group as our backdrop. We can see Mt. Temple in the distance and a host of dramatic peaks I don’t know.
We descend the ridge towards the south, agreeing that under no circumstances will we descend the same route we used to ascend. We stay on the ridge proper enjoying the exposure. Eventually the ridge steepens considerably and we decide to bail. After plunging down a sandy slope, Luke arrives at the glacier edge and steps out onto the ice without crampons and slips immediately. He is sliding on a steepening slope, but arrests his fall successfully. Johnny is pissed; we all fight and yell at each other, I stomp off.
We cross back over the glacier to the east retracing our steps from earlier in the day. We decide to be friends again. Soon we are enjoying the soft feel of the alpine tundra in the adjacent valley, and then grunting up the short climb back to camp.