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Mount Kitchener (East Ridge)

Difficulty: 
Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Steep Snow, and Technical Rock)
Elevation [m]: 
3503
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
20.0
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1580
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
1750
YDS Difficulty: 
5.6
Bushwhackyness: 
None, Yay For High Elevation Starts!
Tripdate: 
Friday, July 1, 2016

Sometimes it is nicer to take a less popular line up a popular peak. This is for sure true for Mount Kitchener, the fourth highest peak on the Columbia Icefield (and 11'th highest in all of the Rockies!) which is usually accessed from the icefield in a long but straightforward ski tour (II). There are several other lines in the peak varying in degree of commitment from full on alpine Grand Central Couloir (V, 5.9 A2/WI5) to the more mellow East Ridge (II, "5.6"). Josh and I had been eyeing up the East Ridge for a while (even went as far as to drive down to the icefields a few weeks earlier only to wake up to a June-Monsoon at valley level and redirected our plans) and would be joined by another Jasperite, James. After hearing from some other folks that the ridge takes longer than you might think we opted to plan for a bivy and after securing a permit (and dodging a Canada Day parade) left Jasper heading towards the trailhead.

 
The East Ridge like other 11000ers nearby Mounts Woolley, Diadem, and Alberta first involves crossing the Sunwapta River. We were fixing to approach the peak from the Dome Glacier side and went for two fords at the headwaters of the Sunwapta River, hitting the outflow of the Dome Glacier by itself. Both fords looked kind of fearsome given how milky the water is but they ended up being mid thigh at the deepest. After having been delayed leaving town, and hanging around at the car for a while waiting for the rain to die down we were a bit behind schedule and opted for a lower (less windy) bivy (with running water too!) above the moraine below "Mount K2", the peak east of Kitchener itself After setting up camp and cooking some grub we got some sleep and planned to wake up sometime around 2.
 

Not the most inspiring weather to be setting out in.

 

James negotiating the lower flats.

 

Up above the moraine on more conventional scree.

 

Not a bad place to soak in the views.

 
Leaving our bivy at around 2 (which was actually 3, given that our clock wasn't adjusted for daylight savings time) after glugging down some coffee we made our way up scree towards the Kitchener/K2 col. The published route for the East Ridge recommends ascending up and over K2 on the way but that just seemed like extra loss/gain so we opted to head straight up the slope west of K2 which was kind of loose but still decent. Getting to the col we were kind of glad we didn't bivy high, it would have been pretty windy and there wern't any pre-made bivy corrals to dig in to.
 

Heading out from our bivy towards the col.

 

Lovely glow on the other 11000ers in the area.

 

Rock Glaciers like the Dome are quite neat.

 

A fair bit of scree to contend with to get to the col.

 

Josh working up towards the col.

 
From the col we tossed on crampons and sorted out the rope. The first few steps in the snowpack were far from inspiring with deep plunge stepping, thankfully this was only for the thin snow on rock and deeper stuff further along was a bit better. Within a few steps we came across tracks that were probably from Mark Klassen's group a week or so before and followed these upwards. The non-glaciated bench just below 3000 m would be an amazing place to camp for a night for views alone (and there was a bivy corral built there so some-one has had the same idea!). Snow past the bench was still pretty soft and kicking steps upwards got the blood pumping in my legs pretty good! We crossed the shrund at a decently filled in point and quickly made progress up to the notch.
 

At the Kitchener/K2 col looking south.

 

The view north from the col.

 

James and Josh heading up from the col.

 

The way ahead looks pretty lovely.

 

At The Notch, time for some proper-climbing!

 
The Notch is the sting of the East Ridge route separating what would otherwise be a straightforward snow climb to the summit. A lot of sources quote the rock in the notch as being around 5.2 but a couple moves feel considerably more difficult and I think some other folks's assessment of a 5.6 grade feels more fitting. The climb itself is probably only around 15m but getting set up can be kind of awkward. We brought along two ropes to leave a line fixed on the lower side for the way back. There is a nice big boulder on the lower side which works for rapping down into the notch and belaying the leader up the other side. There really aren't any solid options for placing pro during the pitch but a few fixed pins give a margin of security (especially a big dangling purple cord that from knots in it people seem to clip at multiple points!). Josh was feeling pretty stoked for the lead and dove into it (not literally of course) making short work of the pitch to another big belay boulder on the high side. James followed next while I came along last fixing our return rope making sure that it wasn't going to go anywhere while we were gone! Crampons were actually kind of nice to get more bite on the smaller ledges during the climb.
 

The pitch looks quite fearsome from up here, it seems much nicer down from the belay-boulder.

 

James working his way up the pitch.

 

Crampons are helpful for catching the tiny foot ledges.

 
Past the notch there is still around 700m of distance to cover to the summit, but it is just straightforward glacier-walking. At this point clouds started to roll in but we weren't really complaining, keeping the lower snow slopes out of direct sunlight was a good thing. Before long the slopes around us started to angle downwards, we were at the summit! A few breaks in the clouds let us get a look at Mount Columbia, The Stutfield Peaks and even a bit of Mount Alberta. This was Josh and James's first time up on the Columbia itself (not counting Athabasca/Andromeda) and even with limited visibility it is quite the sight! Time from bivy to summit was just under 8 hours. There was still some quickly softening snow to descend on the way back so we didn't hang out on top for too too long.
 

Past the notch, a bit of scree walking then gentle snow to the summit.

 

The boys feeling pretty stoked to have the summit in sight.

 

Cloudy but still awesome summit views from Mount Kitchener.

 

Looking towards The Stutfields with a bit of Mount Alberta poking through the clouds.

 
Descending down the notch wasn't too tricky. I rapped down first (with gnarly tangles in the rope of course, yay for backup prussiks for mid-rap rearranging) and wrangled the lower-side rope to climb up the low side with a back up prussik 'self belay'. While much safer than simple soloing the ol' backup prussik method it kind of interesting at points where you have to free a hand to advance it up the rope! After a couple moves I got back to the lower side belay-boulder and belayed up James and then Josh on either half of our rap line. Given how soft the snow was on the way up, especially right near the notch, we opted to rap the first bit of snow before downclimbing the rest. The lower snow was indeed softer but still felt safe and before long we were past the 'shrund and back down on more simple terrain. Descending down the col James demonstrated some ninja-quality standing glissades down snow patches that made for a quick and cool-looking descent back to our bivy.
 

Looking back to the lower side of the notch from the higher side.

 

Josh cleaning up the upper rope before I belay him back to more solid ground.

 

The boys almost back at the col.

 
From the bivy we were all a little bit drowsy but feeling pretty nice that all we had left to do was a bit of moraine, a couple fords and then back to the road. Fords are actually kind of nice right at the end of the day, refreshing for the feet!
 

Just a patch of moraine and then a couple fords to go!

 

Interesting colors on the outflow from The Dome glacier.

 

Not that deep for crossings, quite refreshing too.

 

Not far from the road, just a river in the way.

 

Back at the car.

 

Quite a cool route.

 
All in all this was actually a pretty fun route. The Notch has a fearsome reputation for loose unprotectable rock but given the pins around, and large belay-boulders it actually felt pretty secure (and less loose than some popular scramble lines). With more solid snow it could actually be a fair bit quicker too. That being said, planning for a bivy does make it a much more comfortable trip.
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