Athabasca from the Visitor’s Center
The drive up the Icefields Parkway is without a doubt my favourite stretch of highway anywhere in the world. After our retreat off Mt. Victoria we hopped in the cars and cruised up to the Icefields Visitor Center. We had hoped to do the Silverhorn route, a great route on the highway-facing side of Mt. Athabasca, but the information center warned us that it was really quite icy. Our group wasn’t all up for icy conditions and no one was really prepared to lead on the ice, especially with only four ice screws, so we decided to take the ‘AA’ Col route instead. Our original backup, the North Glacier route, was also not recommended due to the massive and gaping crevasses that were opening up on it.
We camped at the delightful Wilcox campground and again at 2am we were up and at em. By 3am we had camp packed up and were parking at the Climbers lot on the Snocoach road. From there the approach was easy, we hiked up the road to where the Snocoach terminal is and started hunting for our trail. In the dark it was a bit of a hunt but when they say that the trail leads right out of the Terminal, they mean it! The beaten climbers trail lead up and over some scree and we were on our way!
From here it wasn’t too bad of an approach, the trickiest things was route-finding in the dark by headlamp and I gotta say that Sean did an awesome job here picking our cairns and leading the way through the rocky slopes. We had to stop quite frequently and wait for Leigh Ann on this part of the approach, she was really worn out from the long day on Victoria the day before and wasn’t really used to the alpine starts. By the time we were a few hours into the climb it was pretty obvious that she wasn’t going to be able to keep up and was really struggling. She and Sean both decided to turn back and Jamie and I carried on from there.
In the growing light it didn’t take us long to find the AA col and route the up. We geared up with crampons, harnesses and ropes and started across the glacier and up the ‘schrund.
The AA col in all it’s glory
The AA Col (AA = Athabasca, Andromeda) was rather tricky to negotiate, there was lots of rotten rock covered by ice and the transition from snow to rock was really tricky and required a tremendous amount of focus. In the picture above we went up around the far side of the rocky rib that is visible and then up towards the upper-left corner of the picture. Once we were solidly on the rock we pulled off the crampons and scambled up to the ridge… just to discover we had to out our crampons back on again!
From here it was really straightforward and the going was easy. We followed the ridge up and around to high point where we got a great view of the ridge to the summit. We could also look down and see where the Silverhorn, and N Glacier routes met up with the AA Col route.
We dropped off the high point and worked our back up the ridge you can see in the pictures above. Again the going was easy and the route was really clear and obvious (c: one of my favourite things about ridges!
Once we were on the final ridge there were two options, I opted for the trail to the right and a little less exposure and Jamie, being the demon that she is, took the ridge crest all the way to the top!
Contrary to how it appears here she said the trail was actually stepped in a solid, really easy going.
Without a doubt it was a perfect day to be up on this high peak, the skies were crystal clear and the conditions were great! We summited at 9:15am and then paused for a few summit pictures and took some time to admire the view. While I was taking this shot we had a little private-size plane buzz the summit and scream right over head! He was probably 100m or so above the peak but it sure felt like less!
We sat down and had some lunch while a guided party made their way up the summit ridge. There were 5 of them in total and they were all good gents. The sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of so it seemed like a shame to head down, but we wanted to be off before things softend so we kicked our asses into gear.
The route down was easy going, with on a little sketchyness at the frozen-rock section on the AA Col, otherwise there was really very little to report.
We were back down and over at the Icefields Visitor Center by 1300, only to find out that Sean and Leigh Ann had gone for a nap after they turned around!! Athabasca was a great peak though and one I would definitely do again. I’d love to go back next year and get the Silverhorn route when it’s in proper condition too.
11.6 km (7 mi) round trip
1,470m (4823 ft) elevation gain
9.5 hours round trip