Near-Winter New Route on Alberta's North Face

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Aerial view of the north face of Mt. Alberta. Courtesy of Climbandmore.com.

Aerial view of the north face of Mt. Alberta. Courtesy of Climbandmore.com.

Americans Vince Anderson and Steve House climbed a new route through the rock headwall atop Mt. Alberta’s 3,250-foot north face in late March—the first time this daunting Canadian Rockies wall has been ascended in full winter conditions.

See a photo gallery of the ascent HERE

The two men took two days to approach the hut below 11,874-foot Mt. Alberta: one day to break trail toward Woolley Shoulder through deep, poor snow, followed by a retreat to House’s van at the highway, and then a second day of retracing their ski tracks and continuing over Woolley Shoulder to the Lloyd MacKay Hut.

At 4:30 a.m. on March 26, they left the hut in bitter cold and rappelled onto the northern slopes of Alberta. After a brief pause when Anderson discovered he had dropped one of his ice tools, which he located after a frantic half-hour search in the snow, the two reached the base of the north face in midmorning in clear, very cold weather.

Three moderate mixed pitches gained the huge icefield that sweeps up the face. The two soloed up the mostly snow-covered steep ice for about 2,000 feet. In late morning, near the top of the ice, they roped up again and climbed several moderate mixed pitches to the base of the rock headwall that forms the crux of Alberta’s north face.

The Lloyd MacKay Hut below Mt. Alberta. Courtesy of Alpineclubofcanada.ca.

Near-Winter New Route on Alberta's North Face

In deteriorating weather, Anderson and House started up a crack system about a rope length to the right of the first-ascent route (Glidden-Lowe, 1972), and well to the left of the 2006 Brazeau-Walsh Route, the only other line on the face. Two long, very difficult mixed pitches (M7 and M8 R/X) reached an intersection with the 1972 route. They crossed this and continued up a steep ice pillar in the dark, “an exhausting bout” with brittle black ice. After a short snowy pitch they reached a snow mushroom and set up a cold bivouac at around 1 a.m.

Early the next morning they started climbing again, with more ice, snow, and mixed ground up to M7. Several pitches, including a tenuous belly crawl across an airy ledge, led up and right to intersect the Glidden-Lowe Route again. More moderate mixed climbing gained the summit ridge, and their first sight of the pale sun in two days, at around 5 p.m. They summited Alberta at 5:45 and quickly headed down the south ridge, trying to find their way down to the Japanese Route, the 1925 first-ascent route on the southeast face of the peak. At around 8 p.m., an hour before dark, they started down a gully and, seeing no rappel anchors, eventually realized they had chosen the wrong descent route. Nonetheless, they continued downward, downclimbing and rappelling, until they reached a broad ledge and decided to bivy again rather than risk continuing in the dark.

After a miserable night in their now-soaked sleeping bags, Anderson and House continued building anchors and rappelling, enjoying the sun in better weather, and they were down to flat ground around 10 a.m. Once they had recovered at the hut for a while, they began hiking and skiing toward the road, which they reached in late afternoon, completing a four-day round-trip, with three days on the mountain. The Anderson-House Route is graded WI 5+ M8 R/X.

Anderson and House have formed one of the strongest alpine partnerships in the world in recent years. In 2005, they completed the first direct route up the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in a pure alpine-style ascent; in 2006, they climbed a very difficult route within 1,000 feet of the summit of 24,250-foot Khunyang Chhish East in Pakistan, one of the highest unclimbed peaks in the world; and in 2007, with Marko Prezelj, they made the first ascent of 22,500-foot K7 West in Pakistan. This fall, with Prezelj, they will make an alpine-style attempt on the unclimbed direct west face of Makalu.

Recently, Mt. Alberta has seen an unusual burst of high-end activity. In February 2005, Raphael Slawinski, Scott Semple, and Eamonn Walsh made the first winter ascent of the peak, via the Japanese Route. Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh did their new route on the north face, the first new line in 34 years and the first all-free ascent of the face, in September 2006. And in September 2007, Slawinski and Eamonn Walsh made the first ascent of Alberta’s west face.

See a photo gallery of the ascent HERE

Dates of Ascent: March 26–28, 2008

Source: Vince Anderson, American Alpine Journal, Climbing.com

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