South Twin, a massive giant of the northern Columbia Icefield, is the ninth highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 3580m (11,745 ft.) and the fifth highest mountain entirely in Alberta. South Twin, and its nearby twin, North Twin
(3730m, 12,237 ft.), dominate the skyline of the northern edge of this immense icefield. South Twin has a steep and sharp profile that creates elegant lines on many aspects of this beautiful mountain.
|South Twin from
|East and North aspect
||South Twin from North Twin|
North Twin and South Twin, The Twins, were named by pioneer mountaineer Norman Collie in 1898 after his and Hermann Woolley’s first ascent of Mount Athabasca. From the summit of Athabasca the two grazed across the horizon, across the immense Columbia Icefield, likely the first people ever to view this icefield; to its northern end to two nearly symmetrical summits, joined by a snowy col. Collie's description of the view from the summit of Mt. Athabasca is classic Canadian Rockies literature.
“The view that lay before us in the evening light was one that does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers. A new world was spread at our feet; to the westward stretched a vast ice-field probably never before seen by human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, un-named, and unclimbed peaks. From its vast expanse of snows, the Saskatchewan Glacier takes its rise, and it also supplies the headwaters of the Athabasca; while far away to the west, bending over in those unknown valleys glowing with evening light, the level snows stretched, to finally melt and flow down more than one channel into the Columbia River, and thence to the Pacific Ocean."
First ascended July 8, 1924 by Fred V. Field, Osgood Field, Len Harris, guided by Edward Feuz Jr. and Joseph Biner via the North Ridge. A long approach via horse back from Lake Louise, and on foot from a camp near Castleguard Meadows. After the long glacier slog, the team ascended the North Ridge, 30 kilometres from camp to summit; they returned the same way, all in one push.
The Twins area map
The Twins moniker was originally applied in 1898 for the two highest summits of North Twin and South Twin. Twins Tower was officially adopted as a name in 1900’s for the striking tower north of North Twin. “West Twin” is an unofficial name for the highpoint just west of South Twin. Today, many local mountaineers associate the name, The Twins, with these four 11,000 foot plus summits. Some might also include the unofficial, local name of “Son of Twin” (GR 692867) a prominent 3270m (10,728ft.) high point outlier on the North West ridge of Twins Tower, but this obscure summit has likely only ever seen one ascent.
South Twin is approached from the Icefield Parkway (Banff-Jasper Highway (Highway 93)). Depending on the route, the approach is from the Athabasca Glacier for the standard route or from Woolley Creek/Woolley Shoulder/Habel Creek/Athabasca River for the rarely climbed East Face and South Couloir routes.
From Calgary drive west 165 km on the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. From Canmore drive west 81 km to Lake Louise. From Lake Louise drive west 3 km on the Trans-Canada Highway to the Banff/Jasper Highway 93, drive north 125 km to “Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre” and the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.
If heading to the base of the East Face or South Couloir routes. (only one reported ascent of these routes) park as for the Woolley Creek approach. Drive an additional 15 km north to a pull out on the east (right) side of the highway (same parking area and approach beginning as Diadem Peak, Mt. Woolley and Mt. Alberta). Long approach via Woolley Creek/Woolley Shoulder/Habel Creek/Athabasca River to the source of the Athabasca River at the toe of Columbia Glacier.
Red Tape / Camping and Bivouacs
All national parks in Canada require an entrance fee. No permit or fee is required to climb in Jasper National Park. A voluntary safety registration system is available for climbers in the Rocky Mountain National parks. It is necessary to register in person at the park information centres or warden offices during business hours. On completion of the excursion, the party must notify the park by telephone or by returning the registration form.
Up to date information about climbing and mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National parks available at:
Rocky Mountain National parks | Climbing and Mountaineering
During the ski season, up to date avalanche bulletins for Rocky Mountain National parks available at:
Avalanche Bulletin - Jasper National Park
Avalanche Bulletin - Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks
Climbers are permitted to bivouac on long routes or otherwise where necessary to safely complete a climb. Some restrictions apply; mostly prohibiting the most popular peaks. A backcountry use permit is required for any overnight stay, contact any Jasper National Park visitor centre, where you may obtain the permit. Most parties will bivy or camp near the North Twin/Stutfield Peak col and ascend North Twin and Twins Tower, then South Twin and “West Twin”, the following day.
Most straightforward and most used approach to South Twin is from the Athabasca Glacier. From the toe of the glacier parking area, or if the short access road is closed (not ploughed in the winter), from the highway side parking lot, ski towards the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.
At the toe of the Athabasca Glacier head up the right side (northern edge) towards a ramp that provides access to the Columbia Icefield, the ramp base is about 5 km from the toe.
|Toe of Athabasca
|Base of ramp
||Near top of ramp|
to Columbia Icefield
Once on the Columbia Icefield the southern edge of Snow Dome must be circumnavigated; generally stay south of the big and obvious crevasses on the south east slopes of Snow Dome, heading west, then angling north, north-west. The Columbia Icefield is not flat, and a serious of glacier hills and valleys are traversed as you head north to your objective.
|Skirting Snow Down
||Heading north to Twins
||Long ski to base camp|
Generally to ascend any of the The Twins (North Twin, South Twin, Twins Tower or “West Twin”) the base camp should established as close as possible to The Twins/Stutfield Peak Col, about 52.223, -117.408.
|Nearing the bivy site
||Camp view to Stutfield Peaks
||Camp view to Twins|
From The Twins/Stutfield Peak Col, about 52.223, -117.408 head west, North Twin and its broad South and South-East slopes are very accessible from the col, Twins Tower is usually ascended from North Twin, South Twin and “West Twin” require a traverse south of North Twin to reach their standard routes.
|South slopes of North Twin
||View to Twins Tower Col
||Traversing south of |
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation; best conditions for a ski approach and ski ascent is usually from January to May (earlier means less snow of course), and with July to September usually providing the best conditions for high elevation summer climbing (later usually means less snow of course). Most parties ski/climb South Twin in May on the standard route.
South Twin has two documented routes (North Ridge and South Couloir), and it is reported that the East Face has been climbed, but with only one recorded ascent and the very long approach to the East Face and South Couloir routes, only the standard route is described. No ascent information for the East Face route could be confirmed, but the South Couloir was a bold solo in a very remote location by Dane Waterman in July of 1975. South Couloir ends at the South Twin/”West Twin” col, where the North Ridge route was followed to the summit of South Twin.
Canadian climbing and skiing legend Chic Scott has authored many ski mountaineering guide books that provide great information regarding the Columbia Icefield and North Twin. Chic’s guidebook, Summits & Icefields 1 | Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies
, was recently updated and provides the best information regarding South Twin.
Local mountaineer and writer Bill Corbett has an excellent guidebook describing the standard routes up all Canadian Rockies 11,000’ers, 11,000’ers of the Canadian Rockies
- North Ridge, Alpine II
The line of the first ascent, the first winter ascent, and the standard contemporary normal route. Most parties will camp near The Twins/Stutfield Peak Col, 52.223, -117.408 and traverse south of North Twin and gain the col between North and South Twin.
From the col, the north ridge begins in a broad, low angled slope. Beware there are many crevasses, more on the eastern side, fewer to the west side. The broad ridge begins to flat out then the ridge begins to narrow.
|Low down on North Ridge
||Heading up lower ridge
||View to Col|
The final summit ridge is a classic and stunning snow or ice ridge climb to the summit. Early season it is a fun snow climb, later in the season a more serious ice ridge. A few fun narrow sections are traversed to the summit. Descend the same way.
|Narrow summit ridge
||OSWB on summit of South Twin|
External Links\Reference Summits & Icefields 1 | Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies
11,000’ers of the Canadian Rockies