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Mount Bryce

Ski Mountaineering (Steep Snow and Glacier Travel)
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Ascent Time: 
4:30 Bivy to Summit
A bit by the river otherwise not too bad
Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mount Bryce is one of sought after peaks in the Rockies.   From every angle it rises skyward with grace and majesty.  As such Steven and I had Bryce as a big contender as our main 'To do' peak of the extended summer.  After reading a trip report from Trevor Sexsmith (of hearing that the summit was reached not a week ago we hastily gathered food and cancelled other commitments to roll out.

The first crux of an ascent of Bryce is the access road, around 100 km of logging road north of Golden BC which in the early season can be chalk full of avi debris, dead fall,  and boulders that could considerably lengthen the approach.  From Trevor's beta we knew that the road was good till almost the approach bridge due to a downed tree so we took no chances setting off with bikes and a power - saw to prepare for any conditions  (both came in handy).

After some deliberation (and lazyness for repacking the car) we opted to tempt the mighty Bush Road under cover of darkness for less chance of logging trucks (at least you can see headlights coming!).  The first 80km of the road were fabulous and we could cruise along at 40 or higher almost everywhere.  Around 83 km rock fall started to be an issue necessitating some 1am rock rolling exercise.  Thankfully the big tree that stopped Trevor had been sliced so we were able to drive up the Rice Brook road for a ways before breaking out the saw to break through a couple other downed trees gaining us another 30 minutes of sleep before a kingly log stopped both our saw and progress for the drive in.

The next morning we lazily awoke around 8 confident of being able to reach the bivy in good time and set off hefting our bikes up to the highpoint of the Rice Brook road before parking them and slogging onwards.  Beyond the highpoint the approach road was riddled with boulders and deep snow, so driving wouldn't have been an option anyways.


Starting off with some bike pushing, this would pay off on the way back down!


Nice terrain along the Rice Brook road.


Not the most bikeable terrain around here.


We followed the road down to the river (just east of where the old bridge used to span) and managed to cross with the water being only a chilly bit over knee deep.  Once over the river it didn't take long to hit the avalanche slope where (briefly) skis could go on for heading upwards.   Atop the avi slope the approach took on a scrambling feel with scree slopes, loose ledges, and snow slopes to be traversed winding back westwards to reach the base of the south glacier.  Several of the snow slopes had less than pleasant runouts and would not be a good place to have a slide (especially the last two snow slopes thinly bridged above waterfalls)...


Me crossing the river.  Photo by Steven Song.


Having crossed to the other side, time to get back at it.


Nice to have the old road over here to get rid of bushwhacking.


Up the avi gully we go.


Watchman Peak looks like a good ski objective for next year.


Looking across the valley at the Mount Alexandra approach.


A bit of step kicking required.


And some scrambling, everything but skiing :P


After much ski - on - pack slogged the south glacier was reached and it was time to set up camp.  We came across Trevor's bivy pit and decided it was the best place to set up shop (out of avi hazard from the surrounding slopes except for a truly cataclysmic slide) digging out a patch for our tents and using the pit for a cook shelter.  Views from the bivy towards the Chess Group and Cockscomb Mountain were sublime.  Wake up time for next morning was dark and early to get a head start on the heat of the sun, we should have started even earlier.


Almost up at the bivy.


Good views of the summit tower from our camp.


Very impressive view of the summit of Mount Bryce.


Looking south across the valley.


We repurposed Trevors bivy bit into a cook area.


Dark and blurry in the morning on the summit day.


From the bivy it is only a little over 2 km to the summit of Bryce in a straight line but almost 1000 m of elevation must be gained.  Thankfully route finding is not too tricky in good visibility, weave your way near avi slopes (boo avi hazard but yay filled in crevasses) until at the base of the ascent gully and then up up up!  Speaking of the ascent gully it is as steep and sustained as its reputation suggests with no flat sections between the base and the summit.  The angle generally averages somewhere around 30 degrees getting less steep and much steeper in places.  Once hitting the upper ascent couloir the sun was in full force and started blasting the nearby rock and snow.


Very pretty glow.


Sustained steep snow around here.


Me on one of the less steep sections.  Photo by Steven Song.


About halfway up the couloir some rime ice dislodged from the rocks above and caused a small slide coming straight for me.  Thankfully it didn't pick up that much speed but as i was in the process of putting on sunscreen did have enough snow to fully engulf my pack, gloves, camera, and sunglasses.  The sunglasses were all that was lost thankfully.  After that close call I was very motivated to continue upwards above the overhears hazards (and back down) as quick as we could.  The last snow slope after passing the rocks was the steepest, probably pushing 50 degrees at the very top but after that the summit was reached!


The snow above the couloir is very steep.  Photo by Steven Song.


Steven on the summit of Mount Bryce.


Views from the summit were outstanding and the pictures below speak for themselves.  Looking back over towards the Columbia Icefield was particularly rewarding after the last trip up The Twins and Stuts.


Fabulous summit views.


Zoomed in summit pano1.


Zoomed in summit pano2.


Looking down at Bryce Centre.


A bivy on the upper plateau would be fabulous.


Given how toasty it was getting (and the sun slowly advancing onto our ascent slopes) we descended as fast as was safely possible trying to get rid of as much elevation before the full heat of the day hit.  Below the rock section the shooting gallery began with the next 3 hours of a frantic descent dodging baseball to basketball sized block of ice rocketing down the slope.  Both Steven and I were hit by many small blocks and a few glancing hits from large bricks.  Nothing like an ice brick to the arm to speed up your down climbing....  Suffice to say we made it back down to our bivy safe and sound but slightly shaken up.  During a break for lunch sunward slopes started to slide and we elected to settle in at camp until morning not wanting to tempt fate with the steep snow on the approach.  This proves to be and good call as by the end of the day every visible slope had slid, most several times.  Sunset views were exceptionally nice.


Me kicking steps down before the ice-barrage started.


Back at camp to wait out the avalanches.


Nice evening colors from camp.


The next morning we awoke to slightly cooler temperatures (still a solid 10 degrees warmer than forecast) and did the deproach down to the river.  True to the warm conditions over the last couple days the river was a good foot or so higher than on the way in.  Still very crossable but getting to the point where a little more melt would make it considerably more challenging.  The rest of the way back to the car was a bit of road-sloggery till we reached the bikes near the highpoint of the approach road and then a quick ride to the car (pretty much hammering on the brakes the whole time).  A couple seconds before I got to the car I saw a huge porcupine heading down the road, thankfully he had elected to leave the brake cables of my car un-chomped so we could make it back down the road in one piece.


Very clear sky in the morning.


Back down on the deproach scree-bashing.


Even with the clear skies the freeze wasn't that good.


Me side-slipping down the avi gully.  Photo by Steven Song.


Looking back up at the avi gully.


A bit of bike pushing before the quick downhill.


A huge porcupine right beside the car!


Quite the excellent trip, after having seen Mount Bryce from so many other peaks having actually ascended it is a most triumphant experience.  It was too bad that we didn't bag centre as well but we can always come back via the ridge route later on and give it a go!


Looking up at Mount Bryce from the Bush Road on the approach.


Another view from further back, great looking peak.


More good views at other sections on the Bush road.


Kinbasket Lake had some nice colors today.


GPS track of our route.

Average: 5 (1 vote)


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