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Lyell 1, 2, 3, 5 and Arctomys Peak

Mountaineering (Glacier Travel and Steep Snow)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
Ascent Time: 
8:00 Car to Hut
A tiny bit on the approach
Friday, June 26, 2015

The Lyells are usually synonymous with multi 11000er days and short, helicopter assisted approaches.  Steven, Vern, and I set out to do one of those things using the BC side drive in approach as a heat wave rolled in to most of the Rockies.

The BC approach involves driving up the Bush River FSR (same as for Bryce and King Eddy) a short distance before branching onto the, no longer maintained, Valenciennes River FSR where the going gets rougher fairly quickly.  The twin main hazards to get to the trailhead are a collapsed bridge and a fairly deep river crossing (see images below), which mean that low clearence vehicles would have a difficult and dangerous time making it in.

Some very nice views from partway up the approach road.


The infamous collapsed bridge after I drove over it, further damaging it ever so slightly!


People stop at the parking area for a good reason, a few meters further and the road is fully washed out.

From the trailhead we chose to use the Icefall Brook approach which follows a mostly good trail.up the valley leading towards Mons and Lyell huts (the 'normal' approach follows the valley to the north using Icefall Lodge as a midway stop).  The Icefall Brook approach is exceptionaly scenic and worth a trip by itself.  The trail starts off following a rocky drainage before branching off into the bush (with flagging) and then traversing rocky cliffs, dense bush, lush alpine meadows, and a short moraine, respectively, before reaching the tow of the icefield.  The trail vanishes at the open meadows but travel is easy and with the excellent views there are no complaints for moving a little slower to take in the sights.


Steven starting up the approach gully accessed from the road.


Looking back at the approach valley, Arras Mountain is the prominent peak on the left.


Very nice views around here.


Super big thanks to Larry for presumably clearing the bush on this trail!


Very is pretty stoked at all the waterfalls around here.


An HDR looking across the valley towards the glacier.


A bit of moraine to contend with and then glacier-time, the hut is just barely visible in the distance.


Looking up at Mons Peak.


Quite the icefall on the other side of the valley.


Once on glacier we were glad we went bootpacking as the snow was already starting to soften up before the peak of the heat wave had even arrived!  Being on snowshoes (boo! hiss!) travel was decent if ankle - mangling from all the sidehilling and eventually the hut was reached (some 12 km, 2000 m, and 8 hours from the car).  Finding that we indeed had the hut to ourselves we got settled and took a short break.


Decent snow for snowshoeing.


At last reaching the hut with its 'unlimited' supply of tasty water.


Not bad views looking towards the privy.


Knowing that the snow quality was only going to get worse as the warm temperatures rolled in we decided to go for Lyell 1, 2, and 3 immediately.  Leaving the hut we took the most gradual (least crevasses line) gaining the Lyell 5 shoulder some 2 km from the hut before starting the long traverse to the Alberta side of the icefield and up to the base of the mountains.  As Lyell 3 was the most technical we went for that first doing a 3, 2, 1 traverse.  The glacier up to the 3-2 col was straightforward as was most of the mountain aside from the shrund which was much more open than usual for this time of year.  Summit views were the best of the Lyells we ascended, be sure to see the magnified version of the image below!


Looking at the Lyells after crossing over onto the main icefield.


Lyell 4 looks impressive pretty much only from this angle.


Heading up Lyell 3.



Me crossing the 'shrund.  Photo by V. Dewit.


Summit views from Lyell 3.



Neat view of Forbes with the moon above.


More zooomed in summit pano 1.


More zoomed in summit pano 2.


Looking towards the rest of the big traverse up Lyell 4.


Descending back to Lyell 3 went smoothly after the shrund and not long after we were atop Lyell 2 (only a walk from the 3-2 col), which is quoted as the highest of the group.  Views from 2 were good but not as good as 3, 1, or 5!  We didn't linger too long on 2, as the rock ridge of 1 would make it take a decent while to ascend and it was already getting pretty late in the day!

Back down from the summit.


Looking back at Lyell 3, you can see our tracks over the 'shrund in the embiggened version.


Zoomed in summit pano from Lyell 2.


Zoomed in summitpano from Lyell 2, 2.


While the views from 2 are good, 1 and 3 are better situated.


Looking back at 5, 4, and 3.


From the 2-1 col, the path to the summit was a moderate scramble interlaced with some hard snow patches, summit views had some variety from the other two being on the edge of the icefield but were hampered by a prominent summit cornice.  After bagging the last 11000er of the day we descended the glacier beneath Lyell 1 (that seemed steeper than below 3!) retraced out steps and made it back to the hut a bit before head lamp time.  An 18 hour day but well worth the effort.


The boys heading up the rock on Lyell 1.


Summit views from Lyell 1.


Looking over to the Columbia Icefield.


Looking back up at 3, 2, and 1 after descending from the 2-1 col.


Quite the big icefield!


A last ray of light graces the summit of Mount Forbes.


The next morning we awoke with the goal of scouting an alternative route up Lyell 4 used by Rick Collier during a winter ascent.  At this time of year the route looked like a serious objective hazard with serac fall and a maze of crevasses standing between us and the 4 - 5 ridge.  Changing plans we then angled up Lyell 5 ascending the normal SE ridge/face.  As with the other peaks, the shrund on 5 was much more open than usual and required some careful probing to circumvent.  Once above the shrund there was still a narrow snow traverse between us and the true summit, thankfully much less steep than the one on South Twin!  We tried a brief attempt at the 5 - 4 ridge route to access 4 but deep very soft snow made the route seem like a deathtrap so we elected not to continue.


Looking towards the backside route on 4, if those holes were filled in I would be much more motivated for it!


Heading up to Lyell 5.


Views from the summit of Lyell 5.


Time to try the 5-4 traverse.


Steven testing out the snow, it was pretty fierce so he came back very quickly.


Zoomed in summit pano from Lyell 5.


On descent we realized the day was still very much young and after debating options reckoned a trip up nearby Arctomys Peak while in the area would be worthwhile.  I'm glad Vern lead the charge for this plan as views proved to be fabulous.  To reach Arctomys we descended onto the AB side of the icefield and pretty much made a beeline for the peak.  There is a significant elevation drop between the main icefield and the start of the scrambling, probably ~300 m.  Once on rock we simply scrambles upwards until we couldn't scramble upwards anymore (with a bit of loss at the false summit).  Summit views were probably the best or second best of the trip (possibly behind 3), with two massive icefalls, waterfalls, and a sea of peaks to admire.  Heading up here is highly recommended if in the area!


At the far Alberta-side of the icefield, Arctomys is the rock horn in the middle of the image.


Transitioning from snow back to scrambling terrain.


Steven and Vern slogging up the scree slope.


Looking back towards the Lyells was quite the sight.


The valley to the north is probably very seldom visited.


Summit views from Arctomys Peak.


Zoomed in look forwards Forbes and The Lyells from the summit of Arctomys Peak.


One last look before we started to descend.


Back at the hut much later looking towards Cockscomb Mountain.


The journey back to the hut was warm and wearing but we got there.  While heading back Steven and Vern decided to head up Mount Farbus the next morning.  I was much less motivated for Farbus as the snow was soft, the distance was long, and I had hauled in in beers to drink at the hut (while enjoying reading on the excellent stone chair above the hut).  Also in the back of my mind was that Farbus is only a small detour when skiing up the Alexandra Glacier during the South section of the Great Divide Traverse which I have to finish some day!  Me, some brews, and a book waited around the hut for Steven and Vern to return.


Excellent stone chair above the hut.


A collection of 3 'photospheres' around Lyell hut, mouse around and click to move between locations!


Steven and Vern getting back from Farbus.


Lots of smoke around here.


Wider view of the smoky sky to the NW.


Forbes and the moon near sunset.


That night we got a weather update, a storm was rolling in.  Time to set alarms for early and get back to the car before the worst of it.  Waking up fairly early we made good time down (4 hours hut to car) amidst a steady downpour.


Storms a brewin!


We managed to beat the rain till pretty much the edge of the glacier then it caught up with us.


A troop of goats wandering round.


Still nice views even with the rain.


Lots of flowers in the meadows.


The road out proved to be more difficult than the way in as the bridge had collapsed further and water levels had risen.  A rogue plank on the bridge broke when I drove over it snapping off my bumper (mended with rope) and the drive through the river was deep enough to submerge the wheel wells on my car!  After those challenges the rest of the way out was uneventful (thankfully).


Bit of a battle-wound on the 'ol highlander.


The route.

Quite a great trip.  Lyell hut is a fabulous viewpoint and I can't wait to return in better snow conditions to bag Lyell 4.  The hike in approach via Icefall Brook is also highly recommend!

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