The quality of the view from the top of any mountain in the southern Canadian Rockies is judged on how well you can see Mount Assiniboine. It is a majestic peak from any angle and deserves to be on any climbers resume.
It had been on my list for years but work, family, injuries, weather, etc. always got in the way. Finally in August of 1997 three of us went to do Assiniboine. It was wet and muddy going around the lake and up the gullys leading to the Gmoser Ledges.
We had some route finding problems following signs of human passage and went too high. We had to work our way back and down to the main ledges. There were some cairns that lead to false turns and a variety of pins and slings that suggested that we were the not the first to get off track although there was no need to pull out the rope. We kicked steps in the snow up the gully at the end of the ledges and walked up snow patches all the way to the hut.
There were some other groups in the hut but the weather had not been too good. We had booked off the time so had no choice. Got up at 5:00 AM the next day, crossed the boulder field, slogged up the moraine and started scrambling upward on the North ridge route. As we approached the red band it started to rain and then snow so that ended our first try at Assiniboine. The sun partly came out the next day and we got some pictures but we had to get back to work so away we went.
Assiniboine covered in snow.
The summer of 1998 was exceptionally dry and warm and we decided to give it another try in August. We went by the Lodge and talked to Sepp Renner who had guided the mountain over 40 times at that time and he told us to leave our crampons and axes. We were quite happy to ditch the extra weight into his storage shed.
The gullys and ledges were dry and we had a quick and easy trip up to the hut which was packed with people. Several people slept outside in bivy sacks and one old guy ( 65+) from West Virginia (ex coal miner) slept curled up on his rope on the wood floor.
We got up early and the North ridge route was busy.
Dry mountain and hut on ledge from evening before climb.
The clear skies and no snow made for easy scrambling and we were quickly up to the red band.
We angled to the right to a weakness which was class 4. As we topped the band we met a young guy coming down. He had already been to the top and was on pace for a sub 4 hour round trip. We went left to the edge of the ridge and worked our way up to the gray band. The rock was loose and broken even by rockies standards and one of the groups ahead of us knocked down a bar fridge sized boulder that luckily went by 2-300 feet to our right. It was awe inspiring to feel the thud of each hit through our hands and feet. Forget helmets – a suit of armor would not have helped.
We roped up at the gray band and I clipped one pin and put in a nut and one cam before reaching one of the many rap stations in about half a rope length. We scrambled up from there with only difficulty being a 5.3 inside corner on a 20 ft wall just above the notch which we could have scrambled around to the right on loose rock.
Easy but exposed scramble and walk along the ridge put us at the summit. We found the cairn and dug out the register which must normally be deeply buried in snow because there were no entries for 5 years.
Still some big cornices at the top.
We rappelled and down climbed to the gray band where we met the guy from West Virginia who was slowly working his way up. We suggested that he might be coming down in the dark but he said he had been dreaming of doing this mountain for most of his life. He was determined to fulfill that dream so we donated our remaining food and half our water since he was out. He asked for advice so we told him what we could to speed him up. I asked about a headlamp and he didn’t have one so I gave him my brand new, never used headlamp and wished him luck.
The rest of the trip down was slow down climbing due to the loose rock and people below and above us and we did run out of water. Later that evening as we sat outside the hut wondering whether we should go up to look, we saw a lonely headlamp above the gray band slowly working its way down the mountain. Finally it stopped in one place for a while and eventually went out.
The next morning we sent food and water up with the new groups that were going up. As we were heading out a Warden showed up asking for a guy from West Virginia because his wife had reported him overdue. We told him the story and gave him my phone number and asked him to call me when they hopefully got the guy down safely.
As we were going out we saw the rescue helicopter go over both ways but thankfully no body bag.
Two days later I got a call from the Warden and they had found him weak and dehydrated but got him down no problem. A week later I received my headlamp in the mail with a big thank-you note. It was a good year to climb Assiniboine and it felt even better to have helped an old coal miner fulfill his dream.