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Little Alberta, Mount Woolley, Diadem Peak, and Mushroom Peak

Difficulty: 
Mountaineering
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
41.2
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1760
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
4700
Ascent Time: 
3:45 Car to Bivy, 5:15 Bivy to Little Alberta, 4:45 Bivy to Woolley + 2:00 to Diadem + 5:20 to Mushroom
Bushwhackyness: 
Just a few scattered bits of deadfall on the approach
Tripdate: 
Friday, September 5, 2014
 

With winter swiftly approaching a smattering of new snow having shown up across the hills (but a fabulous forecast for the weekend), Steven, Vern, and I were looking for the largest objective we could feasibly climb to round out what may be the tail end of the summer mountaineering season. After some deliberations we decided upon two 11000ers Mount Woolley and Diadem Peak, nestled just to the north of the Columbia Icefield. After sorting out our schedules we realized that everyone would be able to stick around for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and as such decided to increase our ambition (and views!) by also trying for Mushroom Peak and nearby Little Alberta. Vern ended up having a head start and getting to the bivy (right beside the lake beneath the Woolley/Diadem glacier) Thursday night, while Steven and I drove in from Edmonton Thursday night getting a not-so-alpine start up the approach trail around 7am.

We had heard from other folks that fording the Sunwapta could often be a major challenge for Woolley and Diadem but given how dry conditions were this particular year the deepest crossing was only a little above knee level and while frosty the water did not feel threatening. Our beta said that there was a good approach trail on the climbers left of the obvious waterfall and sure enough even from ground level the very well-travelled trail was easy to spot. On the way up, we lost the trail in a large boulder field which caused a bit of delays (it was much more obvious on descent where to go) but shortly after we arrived at the bivy to find Vern relaxing in the sun (and relayed a harrowing tale of a battle with an exceedingly persistent snafflehound the previous evening!).

Given how warm temperatures already were (and the shine of ice on the rock traverse between the ascent gullies to reach the Woolley/Diadem col) we were definitely going to push Woolley and Diadem for the next day. The question then remained do we go for Little Alberta (which was going to be a long day and possibly not work out) or go for Mushroom Peak (and lounge about camp for the afternoon). Long story short, we went for Little Alberta, it was long and sloggy but awesome views made up for it.

To reach Little Alberta you first have to pass over Woolley’s Shoulder which for our trip was a loose, and snowy slog with only the occasional smattering of a trail. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to reach the shoulder (and we avoided any rockfall related injuries) where the views open up spectacularly. Even if you are just in the area for Woolley/Diadem and have a few extra hours on the day in, heading up to the shoulder is worth the effort (see images below)! Once atop the ridge we could see the Lloyd McKay hut cowering in the distance beneath the backdrop of Mount Alberta and even an outline of a trail heading towards it, what luxury. Vern and Steven both pointed out how high Little Alberta was compared to the shoulder (and how much elevation we had to lose to get around to the ascendable side), this was shaping up to be a long day. Reaching the hut was fairly uneventful, pleasant walking on scree/snow/glacier/slab watching out for the occasional ankle-biter lurking on the glaciated sections. After reaching the hut we stopped for a snack inside. The hut sure is cozy, apparently the stated capacity is 6 people which means that someone is sleeping on the floor. The hut register had a lot of interesting stories of exploits on Mount Alberta from a lot of climbing legends. Not wanting to spend all of our day in the hut we quickly set off again (leaving some extra weight at the hut) loosing more elevation down to the flats between Little Alberta and Mount Alberta. From images taken from the Twins we knew that the south side of Little Alberta looked like a scree bash, so kept contouring around until there was a break in the cliffs (the upside of this was fantastic views of the climbing route up Twin’s Tower!). As we expected getting up Little Alberta was nothing more than a scree slog but summit views more than made up for it. We reached the summit in cloudy weather but on a clear day this would be one of the best viewpoints around for the effort needed to reach it! Knowing we still had a long way back to the bivy (and two 11000ers to climb tomorrow!) we didn’t linger long on the summit and soon were making our way back down (the scree around here was pretty decent for fast descents). After retracing our steps we ended up getting back to the bivy just after sunrise and suffice to say, everyone slept well that night.

Next morning we woke up around sunrise to head up Woolley and Diadem. A sunrise start may be a little unorthodox for these peaks (normally folks would wake up much sooner to avoid afternoon rockfall) but after seeing how open the lower glacier was we wanted good visibility for navigating between the holes. We took what is probably the standard route up via the toe of the glacier (traversing through several layers of large menacing holes) to reach the first (climbers right) gully ascending to just below a prominent grey rock before cutting climbers left to traverse on rock slopes to rock a higher gully which lead to the upper glacier. Travel conditions in the morning were quite splendid with a dusting of snow allowing for easier step kicking than pure ice. Once atop the second gully we opted to stick to the scree rather than descending to the crevassed upper glacier and swifty made our way to the Woolley/Diadem col. From the col we tackled Mount Woolley first walking along the long summit ridge with bluebird skies and legendary views all around. The walk to the summit only had one exposed step (which Vern was saying was reminiscent of Twin’s Tower if the exposure was on both sides rather than just one!) which made for decent pictures. I must have taken 200 pictures from the summit of Mount Woolley, the views on a clear day are unreal. After making our way back down to the col we headed up Woolleys lower neighbour, Diadem Peak. While trudging up the scree/snow we were wondering which of the two summits on Diadem were higher: the corniced snow bump which is designated as the official summit, or a nearby rock pinnacle, we resolved to settle this once and for all with Vern’s barometric altimeter gps and our altimeter watches. Reaching the snow summit was nothing more than a pleasant stroll, reaching the rock summit was more involved with an exposed traverse on a snowy ledge. Thankfully after Steven went first he let us know that the exposure was only on one side, and the traverse was actually ‘not that bad’. Once Vern and I rambled over to the rock summit we found that it is definitely higher (you can see over the snow summit to the peaks behind from it) and took a reading a 6ft difference in height! Views from the summit are as excellent as you would expect.

After having summited two 11000ers we had an interesting choice to make. None of us was overly keen on descending back down the toe of the glacier in the afternoon heat so we had two choices, a traverse over to a rock band which would put us in serac fall, or traverse over to Mushroom Peak and descend via the scramble route the Eric scouted out several years prior. We decided upon the latter option and after some deliberations decided that as we had already gained a bunch of elevation from camp, we might as well head up Mushroom while we are here (making for a luxuriously relaxing day the next morning of sleeping in, then hiking out). Getting over to Mushroom proved to be a little bit interesting. The pleasant snow coating that let us get up the ascent gullies with ease in the morning had melted away to reveal a blend of ice/scree which was quite treacherous (the boys were wondering what was up when all the sudden my pace slowed down by 80% leading downwards toward Mushroom when hitting the first ice patch). Thankfully we had brought two axes which made travel feel much safer! Once down at a rock-bench between Diadem and Mushroom we took a look at the last hazard of the day, a heavily crevassed glacier blocking our path. Thankfully given the dry warm summer all of the big holes were very evident, leaving only some ankle-biters which could be sniffed out with careful probing. Steven cautiously led and picked a path through the crevasses which put us right at the base of Mushroom’s broad scree-laden face. At this point it was just a scree slog to go, so we dropped a lot of gear and started up. There are lots of loose rocks on Mushroom so taking parallel lines in pretty key. I opted for pretty much a straight-line up the face while Steven and Vern angled towards the ridge on the climbers left. A slog later, we all regrouped on the summit taking in our third summit view of the day as the sun slowly started to slip closer to the horizon. Descending back down to camp was a little bit interesting. I had printed out Eric’s routeline from his previous trip but was assuming we would be ascending up the route from camp (rather than traversing from Diadem). Getting down sticking close to the waterfall draining the Mushroom/Diadem glacier (Mushroomadem Glacier or Diashroom Glacier?) was key, be prepared to maybe get a little bit wet coming down this way. After crossing the waterfall and a few lingering cliffbands by traversing skiers left we were back down on easy terrain for the plod back to camp. Going up Woolley, Diadem, and Mushroom in a day was quite the effort (especially after Little Alberta the day before) but well worth the effort. As with the previous night, we all slept well.

When deproaching the following morning we ended up following the trail the whole way (making the boulder field much nicer) and quickly made our way back down to the car in time for a surprisingly early drive home. Quite the excellent trip with an excellent crew, I’m super glad we stayed around for an extra day to make Little Alberta and Mushroom Peak possible.

 

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