Partners and the approach
I hooked up with Dow Williams for this trip. We haven’t seen each other for four years – our interests are somewhat different me being the snow guy and him the technical rock guy. This time he couldn’t resist the sunny forecast and the call of glaciers and he agreed to do some glaciated peak with me. While I had some suggestions, he surprised me with the idea of Diadem and Woolley. Right, he did many of the harder 11,000ers before and kept these for a nice sunny day later to review his accomplishments…
We left the parking area north of the Icefield Center on August 15, at 5:29 p.m. We started right away with fording the many channels of Sunwapta River. Fortunately, it is nothing like Glacier River, just avoid the deepest parts and you are never deeper than your knees. Dow was impatient as always so we didn’t spend too much time with the approach despite of the often flooded climber’s trail, several creek crossings, a huge boulderfield with balanced rocks and 2200 ft gain. We must have sweated something like 2 quarts on this hot day with heavy backpacks on and were quite tired by the time we reached camp at 7:46 p.m.
Surprisingly for a Sunday evening and for the Canadian Rockies, another two parties shared the same camp area with us. Dow soon found out that two guys, Rick and Rod were from Washington state and active members of summitpost.org. We shared some climbing stories at the "campfire" while sunset views of another left out 11,000er, Cromwell provided the visual entertainment.
The Climb - A Spectacular Day
Next morning we left camp under a million stars and even a few shooting stars at 4:30. After a short walk we soon roped up for glacier travel. Navigating the crevasses in the dark was somewhat tricky but Dow climbed through all the cracks regardless. Rick and Rod had better views of the area the day before so they provided us with some beta how to avoid the more jumbled areas.
At first light we had decision time: Corbett scramble or snowclimb. Dow couldn’t make out any reasonable scrambling routes up in the low light so I managed to talk him into the snowclimb. The only discouragement was the hot weather. We were sweating heavily in the warm winds and there was no hint of any overnight freeze at this 2500 m elevation. "It would be better a few hundered meters up", I told but Dow didn’t buy into it. Regardless, the late summer snow was supportive enough we didn’t have to posthole a lot as we started the climb. The views started to open up and I soon commented, "This must by one of the best views of my life!" Amazing sunrise on snowy Stutfield and jagged Cromwell, a very spectacular and rugged mountain setting.
The couloir split into two higher up and I asked for directions. Rick and Rod were worried about the cornice above the climber’s right branch so we kept left. Finally we found some frozen snow and the progress was better as we took turns with Dow to kick steps. At the top of the couloir we had to pull out our second axe to deal with ice for a short section. The cornice was vertical and tall so I backed up and exited on the left on rotten rock. Dow exited sooner and took off for the summit but I never noticed it and ended up waiting for him instead of following. At least we had some time for photos and videos…
Once we realized Dow was already descending the summit we also went for it. It was another 25 minutes by the time we got to the true summit and that didn’t sound right to me from what I remembered from the route description. At the summit, Rod and Rick clarified that they didn’t want to take the main couloir because it seemed to be blocked by a large cornice. At that point I had to realize we did not do the standard route but the "Seattle variation" instead…
We descended to the Diadem-Woolley saddle then slogged up Mt. Woolley. There was just one steeper snow hill to raise our heart rates otherwise we could focus on the exceptional views of Mt. Alberta on this clear day. From the summit, another notable view of North Twin and Twins Tower kept us amazed. There was a little smoke in the air so it wasn’t perfect but we still considered ourselves lucky with quite clear views. If Mt. Wilcox is best bang for your bucks among scrambles this must be the equivalent of that for 11,000ers!
During our descent we roped up again at the saddle for the crevassed glacier east of the Woolley-Diadem saddle. We found the exit on climbers left above the icefalls nicely and scrambled for a while on pretty bad scree, then crossed another snow couloir. More scrambling followed to the main snow couloir where we joined our morning route and descended the lower part on snow. We concluded that Selected Alpine Climbs more accurately described our descent route than Corbett’s book, quite surprising! Back at camp by 1:30 p.m., we had lunch, broke camp and an hour later started the hike out in shorts again. It was another hot day and we felt burned out by the time we got all the way down. Crossing the cold Sunwapta River was so good! We were back at the car by 4:55 p.m.
The whole trip, the climb, glaciers, icefalls, all the snow and the views truly surpassed my expectations. The approach had lots of variety, never really boring, the bivy site was great with a little clear creek nearby and the icefalls looked super steep and cool. Did I mention the views? My photo album is here.