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Stutfield Peaks (West and East), Mount Cromwell, and The Twins (South, West, North, and Tower)

Ski Mountaineering (Glacier travel, steep snow)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
None, yay for glaciers
Thursday, May 7, 2015

A little after sunrise on May 7'th Kevin, Steven, Vern, and I set off from the AthaB parking lot for what would become a most excellent trip.  For some time we had been planning on a trip to the northern Columbia Icefield in the first 'weekend' of May and as we got closer to the date the weather started to look decent, then good, settling on fantastic.  Our objective was quite aggressive, to climb all the northern peaks in the Columbia Icefield (plus Kitchener) in one four day push.  To clarify only Steven and I were planning on 'all' the peaks, as Kevin and Vern had already climbed some of the others currently (Vern needed only South Twin to finish the set while Kevin needed South Twin, North Twin, and Twin's Tower).


As we had done for our trip up Mount Columbia a few week prior we headed up the first icefall using our 'threading the needle' bypass of the steep snow face and were quickly up on the Columbia itself and on our way.  A previous party had made tracks up towards Columbia, but regrettably no tracks lead our way towards The Twins so much post holing was to be had (super kudos to Steven for breaking trail).


Another morning up on the AthaB.


Having passed the shoulder of Snowdome The Twins are in sight!

The next few hours saw temperatures rise warmer and warmer (its hard for many people to understand just how hot it can be on an icefield until you have been there yourself) as we made our way towards The Twins.  This approach is not to be underestimated, it is a long way and most of the day is gently uphill (which does make for a swift way back down!).  After some sloggery (albeit with excellent views) we had traversed the bulk of Snowdome and were below Mount Kitchener.  At this point, the snow started to get very sticky and Kev and Steven started having skin issues slowing our pace considerably (the fact we were getting pretty tired may have been a factor too ;)  ).  For most of the day we had been tailed by another group that was always just on the edge of our view.  While sorting out skin issues they caught up and we found out they were a CSMS group that planned on ascending all of The Twins, Cromwell, The Stutfields and Columbia in one massive push, quite the plan!  After trading trailbreaking duties with the CSMC group for a few minutes they stopped to make camp while we pushed on for another 20 minutes to get one bump further towards the Twins.  It was a good call for us to stop when we did, as a storm rolled in quite quickly and we barely had time to set up the mids before being stuck in a whiteout.  After cooking some grub (and avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning) we retired to our bags hoping for better weather in the morning.

The next morning our hopes were rewarded with a chilly but clear sky.  Gobbling down a quick breakfast (and restorative tea, the water of life) we confirmed our plan from the previous evening, give the steep slopes of The Twins a day of sun to mellow out the new storm snow and head for The Stuts instead.  Given the locations of our camp we didn't have too far to go to get down to Stutfield Col, but there was still a fair bit of loss and gain (that would become very sloggy on return!).  Once down at the col, the gain began in earnest skiing up a steep slope before beginning the slow trek up Stutfield Peak.  The summit of Stutfield Peak was kind of hard to determine with two candidate bumps (a western and eastern one), both of which had great views and a chilly wind!  After enjoying the views we descended down the southern side of the eastern face of Stutfield Peak (to avoid crevasses that are known to lie on the northern edge in less snowy years) skiing down roped just in case any holes happened to be hiding in our path.  From there we had a great view of the ascent line on Cromwell, which was much snowier than previous trip reports (we reckoned we could ski to the summit which Vern and I ended up doing!).


Heading up the steep slope to access Stutfield Peak.  Photo by Vern Dewit.


Kev enjoying the views from Stutfield Peak.


Looking back towards Columbia and North Twin.


Zoomed in view to the North and East.


Descending down to the Cromwell/Stutfield East col was a bit of grindy skiing, with rocks jutting out at random patches leading to careful ski-work or possibly mangling skins/bases.  From the base of Cromwell we were getting a little worried about the quickly warming steep slopes so kept to the rockier sections rather than skinning up the face.  Kevin and Steven opted to ditch their skis for bootpacking halfway up the peak while Vern and I were hopeful for a good run down and carried our skis through a hard section and then kept on skinning up (with the advantage of less post-holing on the upper mountain!).


Down at the Stutfield East/Cromwell col, nice place for a break.


I was getting kind of worried about cornices on the summit but after Vern got out his probe rambled upwards to our 'safest highpoint' and took an elevation reading.  3341 m, far lower than other folks had measured in the past and doesn't bode well for Cromwell's status as a 'possible 11000er'.  Summit views were pretty fabulous, be sure to check out the views below.  The ski run down was less ideal than expected.  Vern did fine heading down, but the sticky snow was giving me trouble and I bailed to boots on the rocky section.  From back at the Cromwell/Stut East col we confirmed that Vern would head back to camp following tracks while the rest of us headed up Stutfield East (as Vern had already ascended Stut East on a previous trip).


Cromwell is a great viewpoint.


It is hard to get tired of the views of Mount Alberta from the north end of the Columbia.


The Stuts look much more mountain-like from this side.


Me skiing down Mount Cromwell.  Photo by Steven Song.


Back down at the StutE/Cromwell col.


The trek up Stutfield East was swift, mostly due to our tenacity (and 'the sooner we get up this thing the sooner we can get back to our camp and enjoy grub and water').  Summit views were much nicer than Stutfield itself to the east and made the trek worthwhile.  Skiing down was interesting with wind blown texture making for energetic turns except at the lower, more protected, slopes between the two Stutfields.  Once we rejoined our tracks it was simply plodding onwards back to camp which took some time but at least there were great views to look at during the time!


Zoomed in view from Stutfield East.


Slightly less zoomed in view from Stutfield East.


Steven and Kev making their way back up Stutfield Peak.


And lo, the views are still excellent when we get back to the summit of Stutfield Peak.


After some sloggery camp is back in view, tasty tea awaits!


The boys back in our camp.


The next morning we awoke for "The Big Day", aiming to bag all 4 of The Twins in one push.  This would take a great deal of effort and decent conditions, thankfully we ended up having both in spades.  From the camp we took a slightly higher line over the bumps towards North Twin than for The Stuts (the made for a bit of actual skiing on the way back!), hastily heading towards the broad face of North Twin before contouring climbers left towards the South Twin/North Twin col.  The trek to the col was on lovely snow (not a touch of ice that can sometimes complicate the way) and soon enough we were on North Twin's ridge removing out skis to bootpack down to the col.


Great viewpoint for glow.


More great views from camp.


Setting off from camp.


Our big objectives are clear in view South Twin on the left and North Twin on the right.


Still a long ways to go.


Really neat terrain below Mount Columbia.


West Twin finally shows up, man it looks tiny compared to South Twin!


Steven with West Twin in the background, our route goes straight up the face below the cornice.



Down at the col it was time to re-don our skis and skin up to a prominet rock jutting out from the shoulder of South Twin.  This was where Vern's group had switched to boots last time when Anton ended up falling into a crevasse so we were quite wary of not going climbers left.  Thankfully our conditions were much more straightforward than that day with kickable snow leading up the face quickly getting us to less steep terrain with outstanding views.  The upper mountain was also in good form with some post-holing causing us to diverge to an airy traverse of the summit spine which had some very majestic exposure!  After the spine the summit itself was shortly reached and thankfully enough was virtually windless and comfortably warm!


Time to ditch the skis and carry on with boots.


Fabulous views as Vern stops for a photo break.


Steven leading the upper mountain on South Twin.


Quite the ridgewalk!


Kevin, Vern, and I below the ridgecrest.  Photo by Steven Song.


Vern and Kev up on the airy summit ridge of South Twin.


Views from the summit were quite likely the best of the trip.  Looking over towards Columbia (and further west along the GDT routeline) was awesome and is hard to beat by even the other excellent peaks in the area.  Be sure to zoom in on the pano images below to fully appreciate the scale of the views South Twin offers.  After taking a number of pictures and gobbling some grub we made our way back down our tracks, one Twin down three to go!


Summit views from South Twin.


Summit view number 2.


Zoomed in summit view from South Twin looking west and North.


A better look at Mount Columbia.


Looking back up at the lower slope of South Twin (Verns previous group fell into a crevasse right around here).


Steven was quick on the draw back at the skis getting hig gear sorted out and zoomed down to the base of West Twin in no time.  Both Kev and Vern had already ascended West Twin so it was just Steven and I heading up.  With conditions we had the entire round trip from where we left our skis on South Twin, to back to the South Twin col took 45 minutes, quite speedy!


Looking over at where Steven skiied down to on the face of West Twin.


Me leading the way up the face of West Twin.  Photo by Steven Song.


Pretty steep slope, great snow for it though.


Looking over at the CSMS group getting ready for booting up South Twin.


Summit views from West Twin were still quite excellent and made the detour worthwhile.  While not as lofty as nearby North and South Twins it does give a good viewpoint for the rock spires jutting out from North Twin and that alone made for a good sight (the fact it is an 11000er helped with our motivation too).  Two Twins down, two to go!


Views from West Twin looking South and West.


Views from West Twin looking North and West.


Excellent zoomed in summit pano from West Twin.


Steven makes his way bootpacking up the lower ridge of North Twin.


Back at the skis it was time to part ways with Vern.  He had already ascended North Twin and Twins Tower and was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at camp building a fabulous windwall while taking in the views while the rest of us kept on truckin'.  Given that we still had two 11000ers to bag there was no time for breaks and we set off again swiftly.


South Twin is a lovely peak from almost every angle.


Kev with South Twin in the background, in the full image you can see the CSMS group on the summit ridge.


Steven with the last false summit of North Twin in view.


Reaching the summit of North Twin was a strange experience.  If anything it was more of a place to stop and put on crampons rather than a destination in itself as looming below (which is hard to do!) the rising ridge of Twins Tower (and the descent down to the TT col from North Twin) could be the crux of the trip.  In the next hour or so we made one navigational blunder which had Steven heading down a vertical section of gnarly snice (snow-ice) which defied protection (and Kev and I wanted no part of descending) before backtracking and finding a steep powder snow band to descend instead.  There are tons of crevasses between the summit of North Twin and the TT col, and we ended up stepping through at least 5 (not counting the 'shrund).  From the col things got less hectic, just had to kick our way up very soft unsolidated snow to the summit!


Steven on the summit of North Twin.


Kev and I atop North Twin.  Photo by Steven Song.


Down to Twin's Tower we go.


Taking a quick break in the sun before we start the trek up Twin's Tower.


Views from the top of Twin's Tower were glorious, it really is a unique viewpoint and worth the effort to ascend.  Our only concern was that we couldn't stick around to enjoy them properly, it was already getting very late in the day and at this point we were going to get back to camp well after sunset.  On the upside four Twins down, zero to go!  We carefully downclimbed back to the TT col and grunted our way back up to the skis near the summit of North Twin before starting the ski down to camp.  The upside of this timing was we get to enjoy sunset from the summit of North Twin which was a very special experience.


Summit view from Twin's Tower.


Looking back at our tracks coming down from North Twin.  Photo by Steven Song.


Looking back at our tracks from partway up North Twin.


Negotiating the 'shrund could be problematic in lower snow years.


Steven back at our skis on the summit of North Twin near sunset.


Sunset views from the summit of North Twin.


After the sun had left the face of North Twin the snow had quickly hardened making for less elegent turns which was especially madening to move in and out of elegant carving tracks from the CSMC group a few hours before when things were softer.  Oh well, we made it down allright, and this timing gave some really nice colors over Mount Alberta which it made more than a fair trade.  I opted to ditch my skins and glide back to camp along the skin track which despite a bit of poling seemed to work fairly well (nice to get some speed for at least a bit of the day!).


Back down below the face of North Twin looking towards Mount Alberta.


Quite a cozy camp.


Aurora over The Stuts around midnight.


As the sun rose on our last day on the icefield Steven and I were less motivated about heading up Mount Kitchener (which would have finished off the Columbia Icefield peaks for us) due to warming temperatures and the prospect of sketchitude on the way out the AthaB.  This proved to be a good choice as even the weather started to turn for the worse during our deproach with clouds bands rolling in from the east blocking off views, and mangling the snow into a crusty mess.  We made it back along our tracks allright, but it wasn't elegant.


Packing up our camp for the voyage back to the road.


Quite the well paved track heading back due to the other groups.


Clouds started to roll in pretty quick, probably good we didn't go for Kitchener too.


Vern and Steven making due with the crusty snow on the way out.


Conditions descending down the AthaB on this trip were the worst I have experienced, with the ramp being completely tracked out and crusty and a large serac fall having deposited debris blocking off the normal speedy 'escape route' skiers left beneath Snowdome.  Vern and I were in no mood to stick around so cruised over the debris while Kev and Steven opted to de-ski and walk through (at least with all that debris the holes were filled in).  Back down below the icefalls skiing was quick and excellent.  Walking back to the car after was less so much but at least the hordes of tourists wern't especially thick on this particular day.


Quite the serac-field to be negotiated on the ski down the AthaB.


Steven and Kev making their way down the steep slope by the first icefall.

Me below the icefall on the AthaB.  Photo by Vern Dewit.


Obligatory look at the icefields when almost back to the car.


Long story short this was a very excellent trip which will be hard to top!  Getting the Stuts, Twins, and Cromwell in a single push is quite the journey and I'll be looking at the panoramas from these peaks for a long time to better appreciate the views.  Can't wait to get the band back together for another big trip soon!

Average: 5 (1 vote)


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