Running in the Shadows: New Route on Emperor Face on Mount Robson

Over the course of two days Hawthorn and Berman opened a new line on the coveted North Face of Mount Robson.

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The Emperor Face of Mount Robson is the vertical wall seen to the right. The new route by Uisdean Hawthorn and Ethan Berman cut straight up the center-right of the imposing face.Rufus Hawthorne, CC BY-SA 3.0

Last week, alpinists Uisdean Hawthorn and Ethan Berman established a new route on the Emperor Face, the seldom climbed nordwand of Mount Robson. Standing at 3,954 meters, Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Hawthorn and Berman’s 2,000-meter route is a mixed climb that works up the right side of the face, that they dubbed Running in the Shadows (VI, AI5, M6).

“A truly satisfying experience last week climbing a new route on the Emperor Face of Mount Robson with Ethan Berman,” Hawthorn wrote on Instagram.

The Emperor Face was first climbed in 1978 by Mugs Stump and Jamie Logan, and has seen only a handful of subsequent ascents by top alpinists, including: Barry Blanchard, Steve House, Jason Kruk, and Marc-André Leclerc.

Berman first spotted the line a few years back, but has waited until this autumn for the proper conditions. Their first day of climbing, Hawthorn and Berman ascended the face in a continuous 19-hour push. It began on a scramble up easy choss, through the “jaws” feature that had been previously climbed in a 1974 attempt on the face, then up and right into a virgin gully.

The team climbed a couple of steep pitches near the top as darkness encroached that proved the most difficult. One of which was a snow-packed corner that Hawthorn led; it was awkward, especially with a pack, but he was able to place some decent gear. The next was an icy mixed pitch with a steep bulge and scant protection that Berman led.

They climbed around 14 pitches before reaching Emperor Ridge and bivied for the night, anticipating an easy ramble up the ridge the following morning.

“The next day to the summit was harder than expected as the visibility was so poor,” Hawthorn wrote. “We pulled onto the summit after 12 hours of climbing, amazingly the top 10m of the mountain was above the cloud and we got to see the last glimpse of red in the west.”

The team bivied on the summit and made a painstaking descent the following day. As they drove away with the mountain in the rearview, “The Chain”  by Fleetwood Mac blared through the truck speakers:

“Chain keep us together, running in the shadows.