EXPEDITION ROCKIES SUMMIT 1997

Objective:  Ascent of Mount Robson (3,954m / 12,972 ft), the highest summit in the Canadian Rockies, via the Kain Face.  Mount Robson is located in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada.
Dates: 15 - 25 August 1997
Expedition Log Written By:   Chris McGuffin
Document Formatted to HTML By:  Eric Thibault

Participants (and responsibilities):

Rope Team Alpha:
Eric Thibault Expedition & Rope Team Leader
Sophie Martel First Aider
Patrick Falardeau  
Rope Team Bravo:
Chris McGuffin (Magoo) Expedition 2 I/C & Rope Team Leader
Brian MacLean Communications
Howie Gabert First Aider
Support:
Dave Connor Base Camp Warden

Picture taken at the Border of Mt. Robson Provincial Park (British Columbia) & Jasper National Park (Alberta).

From left to right:

Dave, Howie, Brian, Eric, Magoo, Sophie & Pat

 Itinerary Overview

Throughout the document, important geographical points will be referred to, such as Berg Lake, Extinguisher Tower, the Dome, Mt. Resplendent, etc.  These first pictures will hopefully clarify where they are located with respect to each other.

The first picture was taken from the Base camp located at Extinguisher Tower.

The bottom two pictures were taken from a model displayed at the information center.  The red line indicates our path all the way to the summit of Mt. Robson from the parking lot.

Enjoy!

Expedition Diary

Friday - 15 Aug

Wake up 0415.  Left for airport with Eric at 0445.   Flew to Toronto at 0720.  Flew to Winnipeg and finally arrived to Edmonton at 1215 (rain).  After a taxi ride to CFB Edmonton, we signed for a van and started the drive (1530).

Just signed out the van at Base Transport, lets go...
Arrived at info center at 1930 (rain stops).  On arrival we are informed that there are no available campsites along the trail. We are forced to reserve for the next day and end up camping near the highway at a public campground. We spend the evening preparing our packs reviewing medical procedures, altitude sickness symptoms, etc. and turn in around 2130.
Our first view of Mt. Robson from the information center.

 

Saturday - 16 Aug

Revile 0330. We want an early start to make up for lost time. After a hot breakfast, we park the van and start walking at 0515. The weather is great, 10C when we got up and about 17C at 1200.  The peak of

Robson is still in the clouds, but what an awesome looking mountain.  The neighboring peaks; 2000’ lower, look like hills next to it. After registering the team, we start the hike.  First, over groomed gravel trails, then packed dirt, then rock scree.  We cross over Robson river many times on bridges. We follow to Kinney Lake and through the valley of the thousand falls.
Taking a breather near Emperor Fall (Km 16)
We stop to stretch and drink many times en route and finally stop for lunch at 1210 at Berg Lake (21 km), 2 km away from our reserved campsites. Perhaps we will push on to the extinguisher tower today…  

Stopped 2 hrs to rest for lunch and snap few pictures. Decided to sleep at our campsites and walk the 7 km to extinguisher tower tomorrow. Another early morning is planned. Eric and I are 1 km away from the other’s camp. The only sites available when we registered. 1830 the clouds parted enough for us to get our first peek of the peak. By 1900, I will be in my sleeping bag. Tomorrow we will meet them at 0515 and start the hike. If all goes well, we will push on to the Dome after leaving Dave and the Base camp stuff at extinguisher tower. It is still light out, but with any luck, I will get 8hrs rest.

Chris and Eric cooling their feet off in Berg Lake.  Berg Glacier can be seen in the back.

 

Sunday - 17 Aug

Ranger Bob Allen stopped by to check our permit last night.  Nice guy!  Said the forecast for Sunday (17) was clear, Monday & Tuesday 40% rain. I’m a bit concerned we will miss the good weather, but there is nothing we can do about it.

Once again, we were up at 0330.  After a breakfast of oatmeal, we packed our stuff.  It rained again last

night , but it is clear this morning .  At 0540, after meeting the others, we began the hike toward extinguisher tower.  I saw every colour and shape of flower on the hike to the glacier. Red, yellow, violet, orange, they grow between rocks in the smallest amount of dirt. We got to the glacier around 0810. It was like stepping back to the last ice age. The ice goes all the way up the mountain.
Time to put the crampons and the harness on, take out the ice axe and rope in.
We walked on it for over an hour, stepping over cracks and crevasses.  As soon as I walked onto the ice, the air was as cold as a fridge’s.   After a long walk along the scree at the edge of the glacier, we were at extinguisher tower (1120).  We decided to camp here that night and Eric, Howie and I roped up and walked toward the Dome to see how bad the Mouse Trap was.
Chris, Howie and Eric traveling on the Robson Glacier, above Extinguisher Tower, for a reconnaissance of the Mouse Trap.
The glacier is firm and the crevasses are visible for the most part. The seracs above the trap look bad from here so we will try the longer route above them tomorrow (We later found out from an other team that the longer route was in fact more technical, i.e. rock protections required, etc.).  Two teams came down from the Dome while we were cooking supper. One reached the
Turn around point of the reconnaissance.
summit the other did not.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate with us. Tomorrow we hike up to the Dome, at 0500, with enough food to last until Friday (22) lunch. That will be our window (Tuesday 19th – Friday 22nd). 1830 now and I’m going to sleep.

Lessons Learned:

When hiking on the Snowbird pass towards extinguisher tower, get on the Robson glacier as soon as possible.We wasted a lot of time on the scree along side the glacier.
Instead of sleeping at the Berg lake and pay $3 each, we could have gone about 2-3 km further (at the base of the Robson glacier) and camp there for free.

 

Monday - 18 Aug

It was surprisingly bright, when we got up at 0330.  The mountains were highlighted from the moon and the glaciers appeared to glow from within. By the time we broke camp, roped in and started on the glacier, it was 0520. Dave wished us all well. We will keep in touch via our radios.  The hike along the glacier was relatively uneventful. Once my foot broke through a snow bridge, but I only sank to my thigh. The crevasses got progressively bigger as we approached the mouse trap. We meandered our way around crevasses, over snow bridges and around seracs. We met one group of two on their way down who had reached the summit Sunday (17).  Having tried both, through and around the Mouse Trap, they recommended the mouse trap to Eric, as being the safest alternative up to the Dome, especially that early in the morning. The longer route around and above requires technical rock climbing, rock protections, which we had not brought, and a good 3-4 extra hours. We therefore decided to climb up the mouse trap. There is also a guy and a girl, from Montreal, following us up to the Dome.  The two largest obstacles in the trap were near vertical walls of snow and ice. The first section was perhaps 25 ft and required two tools to ascend. The second was perhaps 50 ft, but I was able to climb it with a single tool.  From there, it was a long slow trek to the Dome.

Chris in action shortly after leaving the Base Camp.
Eric in the first 25 ft vertical section of the Mouse Trap.
We reached the Dome plateau around 1130. The teams that camped here last week left built up walls to protect the tents. We quickly selected suitable sites and began setting up. At this point, the sky is scattered and now and then we get glimpse of our objective. By 1300, Eric and I are happy with our new home and set off to do a reconnaissance.  We observe that our path will take us up a 50-60 snow slope ,
Sophie and Chris satisfied with their new home.
(Kain Face) of approx 1000 ft, to the  ridge that leads to the summit.So much for the 45 slope the guide book promised. We decided to make an attempt Tuesday morning. There is plenty of time for the team to eat, pack and get 8 hrs of sleep, before we leave tomorrow at 0400. The plan is to go up to the ridge and make a decision, if the weather is good enough we press on, if not we come back down to the Dome and try again the next morning. We will repeat that scenario until we succeed or run out of time. Now it is 1545 and what started as light snow has become heavy with lightning and thunder. 1610, the snow has stopped now. If we get any more snow tonight, we may call off tomorrow’s attempt to let the snowbank settle.

 

Tuesday - 19 Aug

Well, it was 0200, when Eric and I woke up this morning. It was chilly and the sky was 2/10 scattered

with clouds around the summit. We decided to stick to our plan and climb the Kain face to the ridge and then decide whether the conditions are suitable for a summit attempt. We left the Dome at 0400 (30 minutes after Brian & Clay – team from Banff).   Team Banff was progressing at a slower rate, so we passed them on the face. At 0630, Eric disappeared over the ridge.
Pat & Sophie now on the ridge at the top of the Kain Face.
By the time all team members arrived to the ridge, we found out that team Banff did not have any snow protections and needed to use our last two protection placements. The summit was still in the clouds, but the winds were light and there appeared to be some small wands marking the route, so we decided to attempt the summit. When we left the ridge towards the
Brian, Sophie, Chris and Eric reorganising after climbing the Kain Face.
summit, we quickly entered the clouds. I was concerned that we may start to see snow flakes. As long as the clouds were calm and we could follow the wands, I was confident we were safe. I kept an eye on the visibility and it varied between 150-200 ft.
Rope Team Alpha (Eric, Sophie & Pat) moving on the ridge towards the summit
After several hours of walking near cornices, contouring 20-30 ft high seracs, turning back a few time when getting to dead-ends, the team finally made it to the summit. At 1130, the first rope team stepped on the summit (3,954m / 12,972 ft). Team Banff joined us around 1200.After cracking a mini bottle of champagne and taking a few pictures,
All team members smiling at 12,972 ft, on the summit of Mt. Robson ... in the clouds.
we decided to get back down without anymore delay, as we knew that our energy level was going down.By approx. 1530, we were back down on the ridge above the 1000 ft Kain face. By 1845, after down climbing the Kain face, we made it all safe,well, tired but
Last challenge of the day, downclimbing the 1000 ft  Kain Face.
happy to the High camp (the Dome). After almost 15 hours of climbing, a hot meal and lots of drinks were appreciated. We went to bed at 2130.

Lesson Learned:

On a mountain of such size, always bring bamboo wands with flashy tape.  They may not take you to the summit, but at least they will take you back down, in white-out conditions.

 

Wednesday - 20 Aug

Rest day. Even though we did not set our alarm, we were up by 0730. Spent the day drying gear, airing sleeping bags, eating and playing cards. Even in the clouds, we all got sunburns to one extent or another from yesterday’s long exposure. The plan for tomorrow is to move our camp to the snow dome on Mount Resplendent, if weather permits.
Sunrise on the Kain Face of Mount Robson
It should take us 4-5 hours to get there. From there, those interested can attempt the summit of Resplendent (3,426m / 11,134 ft) to complement the expedition, since we achieved our objective earlier than expected. We went to bed at 1850.
Pat, Brian and Howie enjoying the sun...
Lesson Learned:
Sunny or not, always were sun glasses, sun screen and some sort of nose cover, when on snow/ice covered ground for an extended period of time (especially above 10,000 ft).

 

Thursday - 21 Aug

We got up at 0330 again to the sound of my Timex. Fairly cloudy, but we decided to descend.  Just as we

are stuffing the last few things into our packs, it starts to rain and the clouds surrounded us.  We waited for about 20 minutes and the clouds broke. It was 0530 and we decided to leave for extinguisher tower, as no attempt would be possible today on Mount Resplendent. After we were underway, it began raining again, but the clouds stayed above us.  Both Eric
Back to the Base Camp at the base of Extinguisher Tower
and I were concerned about the rain and relatively warm temperature.  A few snow bridges collapsed on our way through the mouse trap and we kept going. When we got to the glacier, there were many more exposed crevasses. Eric in the lead must have put his leg through 4-5 snow bridges. I fell in up to my waist and a little help from Pat was all I needed. It was 0840, when we reached the base camp and found Dave.  We were soaked from the rain. A vote was required to determine whether we stay or descend to the Berg Lake Shelters. We ended up pitching the tents and warmed up with some hot drinks.  By 1200, the rain was weak and intermittent.  I actually got my Gore Tex shell to dry in the wind. By 2030 Eric and I were in our sleeping bag, but we stayed up talking for over an hour.  The plan for tomorrow was to dry our stuff as much as possible in the morning and then break camp around lunch time.
The most important piece of gear: "A deck of cards".

 

Friday - 22 Aug

Woke-up around 0800, latest rise yet. There were strong winds, rain thunder and lighting last night. The sky is overcast now, but no rain. Spent the morning drying kit and playing cards. After a spaghetti lunch, we packed up and started the hike down at 1200. Down climbing is harder on the legs.  A sore knee slowed me down, but by 1830, we had long cleared
Just left Extinguisher Tower and now ready to step back on the glacier towards Berg Lake.
the Robson Glacier, Berg Lake and we were down to the Whitehorn campsite. 19 km down, 11 to go tomorrow. We want to be at the van around noon tomorrow so we will be able to sleep in again tomorrow morning.  It is 2100 and I’m turning in.

Lesson Learned:

We brought way too much camping fuel. Better safe than sorry is still valid, but with 85 lb packs one wants to keep all unnecessary weight to a minimum. 1/3 Litre of fuel per 2 pers per day would have been sufficient. Each tent (2 pers) had at least 1 extra litre at the end of the trip.
Back to Berg Lake and signing the climbers log book.

 

Saturday - 23 Aug

We got up at 0730 and by 0930, we were on the trail again. Around 1130, we all arrived at the parking lot safe and well. Somehow a little tired, but with the smile of victory. After some junk food acquisition, we all drove back to Edmonton to enjoy more food (all you can eat Buffet) and a warm bed on the Base.
Finally back to the parking lot (Magoo, Brian, Dave, Sophie, Pat, Eric & Howie).

 

Sunday - 24 Aug

This last day was spent mainly visiting the West Edmonton Mail.

 

Monday - 25 Aug

We cleaned the van, repacked our bags and drove back to the airport for 1130. The plane left at 1250 and we got back to Ottawa at 2100.  Mission Accomplished…

 

THE END