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Mount Alexandra

Difficulty: 
Mountaineering
Elevation [m]: 
3401
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
35.5
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1950
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
4600
Bushwhackyness: 
Heinous down in the valley, Pleasant via the highline route
Tripdate: 
Friday, September 26, 2014

 

With snow already showing up in Calgary (let alone the mountains) it was looking like the 11000er season was drawing to an abrupt close but a sustained patch of clear skies and warm temperatures drove off the spectre of winter ushering a fading glimmer of summer (that was a surprisingly poetic intro paragraph!).  Long story short, conditions were good for one last 11000er and after the usual flurry of emails Steven, Vern, and I set out for Mount Alexandra.  The peak regarded as having the most heinous bushwhack approach of any 11000er!  Our motivations for choosing Alexandra were two-fold:  First, after a few early frosts some of the alders and devils club should have been killed off and second, Alexandra is one of the few 11000ers that has both a low elevation rock step and a higher elevation snow slope (which was quite in line with current conditions!).

Meeting up for carpooling outside Calgary at the dark hour of 3'ish we set off towards Golden to grab some grub and then headed out on the Bush River Road.  We were very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Bush River Road up until it reaches the edge of Kinbasket Lake and made fabulous time.  After the road branches off to the Bush Arm things become less ideal but still excellent for a forestry road!  The South Rice Brook road gains an impressive amount of elevation through fairly exposed (for a road) switchbacks up a prominent ridge.  While driving in we were all really amazed that this road was still open, there are many places where even a small rockslide would completely cut off access, perhaps people occasionally maintain the road and clear off debris even though the logging companies have stopped maintaining it?

Weather driving in was dreary with many clouds and intermittent patches of rain which seemed to be getting more intense the closer we got to the mountain (which does make sense getting closer to the notorious weather machine that is the Columbia Icefield).  From piecing together beta from Raff as well as the 11000ers book we knew that with a high clearance vehicle we could keep driving up a steep series of switchbacks and were more than happy to save our legs some elevation.  After finding a nice place to turn around we left the car and set off into the clouds on foot following the old road which swiftly faded into bush.  

 

Mysterious clouds on the drive in.

The road is in pretty great shape even on the switchbacks up.

All goretexed up and setting off into the bush.

 

Almost immediately after leaving the car we came across a bit of orange flagging tied to a stick which seemed to be related to a trail cutting up into the bush.  This is where we would end up coming back a couple days later but on the approach we wern't convinced by the trail and stuck to the old road instead.  After thrashing through some wet bush we came across a large scree gully which wasn't mentioned by any of our beta.  Given the very poor visibility we were mostly routefinding based on topo maps and saw that directly above things got very 'cliffy'.  After mooting about for a few minutes discussing the pros and cons of heading up into the unknown or trying to traverse below near treeline we decided to head down into the bush trusting to the fact that 'it will be pretty terrible but it will work' rather than possibly being turned back higher up and wasting precious daylight.  What followed was downright miserable, hours and hours of full on soggy-bush-slog complete with sidehilling, deadfall, and lots of loss/gain.  Thankfully the bush was less dense than it would have been in summer and we could at least see where we were going!  After moving at a snails pace for what seemed like ages (4 km in 4.5 hours) we came out above the trees and and started sidehilling.  At this point we were starting to get worried that we wouldn't make it to the bivy a further 6km away but resolved to go as far as we could.  Once freed from the bush our legs started to warm up again and soon we were cruising along at five times our previous pace which was just enough to make the bivy before needing headlamps!

Not the greatest of visibility today..

The point where we headed back downhill and into the bush.

This bush would have been terrifying in the middle of summer.

An adventurous goat hanging out on very steep terrain.

Finally out of the bush and into more intense rain.

A thin veil of fog blocking off the stars above.

 

From the bivy the next morning we set out heading up towards the cliffbands below Coral Peak threading too and fro occasionally on a good trail to get to the 5.2 rock step described in the 11000ers book.  The rock step was delighfully dry and we didn't even consider pulling out the rope even on mountaineering boots and quickly were traversing towards the glacier.  Given the time of year it was no surprise that the glacier was extremely broken with a maze of crevasses standing between us and the Alexandra Whiterose col.  Thankfully all of the bridges we had to cross seemed quite solid (they would have to be to have survived the whole summer!) and after much weaving back and forth we were on tamer terrain and able to make a beeline for the col.  From the col we could survey the rest of the route which really didn't look like what we were expecting from the route description.  Probably due to the fact we were here much later in the year than most folks who head up Alexandra there was no sign of a 'snow gully' just scree and slabs with a dusting of new snow.  We picked a line upwards which minimized the sketchyness of thin snow on slab and made good steady progress upwards as the weather started to close in.  After spending so much time tip-toeing around rockon crampons the final snow slope made for a refreshing change of pace and quickly dispatched the last bit of elevation to the summit.  From the summit views were intermittent at best but when the clouds parted things were awesome.  We resolved to hang out for a few minutes incase there was a full clearing but it never came.  Even still, the views we did get were excellent and we all agreed that we would probably be back for other peaks in the area at some point to see the full pano.  On descent we took our time, knowing that we had a fair bit of daylight, took a lot of pictures and generally enjoyed the day.  Getting back across the glacier was a little interesting given the softening snow but straightforward.  We made it back down in camp to enjoy a lovely sunset and some well deserved grub.

 

Looking up from our camp towards Alexandra.

Looking up at Coral Peak, the ascent route goes up near the waterfall on the left.

The boys getting ready to roll out.

A prominent unnamed peak near Mount Spring Rice.

Looking over towards the Alexandra/Whiterose glacier.

Certainly lots of water around here.

The boys trudging up scree towards the 5.2 step.

Me heading up the 5.2 step, photo by Steven Song.

Steven ascending the 5.2 step.

The route traverses these wide ledges.

The boys just after we gained the glacier.

Me threading through a maze of crevasses, photo by Steven Song.

Lots of big holes around here.

Glaciers always have interesting texture.

Looking back down towards the glacier from above the Alexandra/Whiterose col.

Looking up at the rest of the route.

Steven leading the way towards the summit.

Whiterose has very interesting crevasses.

The view looking back down towards our camp.

Vern and I on the upper slopes, photo by Steven Song.

Steven on some steep mixed terrain.

Steven traversing around the last obstacle before the summit.

Vern making his way up to the summit.

Steven on the summit of Mount Alexandra.

Partial summit pano during one of the few clearings.

Another summit pano.

Another partial summit pano.

The boys on the summit.

Queens Peak looks pretty tall.

Vern descending the upper snow.

Really neat clouds.

The boys on descent.

More interesting clouds.

Looking over towards Lyell Creek.

The boys with the bulk of Alexandra looming behind.

Looking down Lyell Creek.

Steven heading back down towards the broken glacier.

Making our way back over the holes on softer snow, photo by Steven Song.

The ledges dried off completely during the afternoon sun.

Steven sizing up Whiterose.

The glacier below Spring-Rice seems much more gentle than Alexandra's.

Great evening colors.

Vern rapping down the 5.2 step.

Me rapping down the 5.2 step, photo by Steven Song.

Descending the scrambly bits lower down.

Excellent views from camp.

 

The next morning we awoke to clear skies (and very frosty sleeping bags due to loads of condensation) packed up camp and resolved to find the illusive highline route to avoid bushwhacking back to the car.  It is amazing how much more enjoyable an approach can be when its not raining and there are views.  We knew that we had to retrace our steps over the col closest to Alexandra, and from there choose either one of two cols on the next ridge or try to stick near treeline to stay on the highline route.  On the top of the first col we wandered up to a highpoint to get some views which was well worth the small effort needed.  Cockscomb Mountain to the south was particularly impressive.  After some deliberations we decided to stay near treeline to avoid possibly getting turned around on one of the cols (back to the 'it might be horrible but it will work' logic).  After sidehilling on loose scree/slab we got our first views of the illusive alpine lakes described in the 11000ers book and knew we were on track.  At this point we could loose a bunch of elevation in the bush and regain to the lakes, or try the less certain plan of ascending the ridge to access the higher set of lakes.  We went for the higher plan which turned out to work, but I wouldn't recommend this as a descent route.  If the rock is even a little bit wet some of the slab traversing could be quite perilous.  It was a great moment when we could see that we had an easy route down to the upper lakes on soft moss and quickly decided a brake by the lakes would be a fabulous idea.  Leaving the upper lakes the highline route heads up another small col between two unnamed peaks to a final lake which has to be one of the most ideal bivy spots I can think of.  From this last lake you get an unobstructed view of King Edward, Columbia, and a sea of other peaks!  There was still one final challenge to confront, would if be possible to traverse from this upper lake to the bush down near the car.  Thankfully the route does work and drops you out on the ridgecrest with the possibility of either bushwhacking straight to the road or taking scree down to the river!  As we were already parked quite high we didn't' want to drop all the way down so stuck in the bush and thrashed our way car-wards.  One last bit of adventure, 30 seconds from the car we ended up running into a black bear.  Thankfully after giving us a quick look the beast went on its way leaving us to change out of our boots and start the voyage home.

This was an excellent trip.  After a few days the memory of the soggy-bush-sloggery on the way in has faded while the awesome views of the highline are still vivid.  Can't wait to come back later for other peaks in the area.  The highline approach is well worth repeating.

 

Bryce in glow.

Looking up the valley towards King Edward.

Bryce and Bryce (centre), next year perhaps..

Much nicer on the way out with views!

The boys walking on frozen moss.

Good views looking back towards Alexandra.

Cockscomb Mountain is very impressive.

Heading up towards the first col.

Peaks around Spring-Rice.

Pano from the first col.

Vern on the first col.

Pano from the highpoint we stopped at.

Full pano from the highpoint.

The full bulk of Mount Bryce.

The boys with 5 11000ers in the background.

Sidehilling near where we came out of the bush on the way up.

The lakes at long last.

The upper two lakes.

Excellent bivy possibilities around here.

The last lake.

Awesome area.

Great pano just past the last lake.

Columbia is such an impressive peak.

Down the bush we go, almost back on the old road.

 

Where the trail gains the old road.

Awesome trip, the highline route is highly reccomended.

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