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Mount Columbia, Snowdome, and "Castledromeda"

Ski Mountaineering (Steep Snow and Glacier Travel)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
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YDS Difficulty: 
Ascent Time: 
4:30 Camp 1 to Summit (Columbia), 5:00 Camp 1 to Snowdome, 2:30 Camp 2 to "Castledromeda"
Saturday, April 18, 2015

Every spring one objective springs to mind as the ski trip to aim for, the mighty Mount Columbia, second highest peak in the Rockies and an exceptional viewpoint for many great peaks.  Columbia is far from a walk in the park, there is a long approach over glaciated terrain, the icefalls at the Athabasca Glacier, as well as the steep slopes of the mountain itself.  On top of this you need a weather window to align with schedules (and avi conditions).  All in all it takes a fair bit of luck for an ascent of Columbia to work out.  Thankfully this spring these conditions aligned and a plan was hatched.  On the morning of the 18'th Steven, Vern, and I set off up the Athabasca glacier on a wonderful morning and were immediately taken by how nice the snow coverage on the ramp was this year.


Time to rope up as we reach the first icefall.


A neat direct bypass let us sneak past with little effort.


A lovely morning on the AthaB.


Before long we were up on the Columbia itself and enjoying a bright sunny day with only the mighty Columbia itself wreathed in clouds.  Snow conditions were great for quick travel and with very limited post-holing we were quickly at the trench and enjoying a few gentle turns.  

Up on the Columbia, snow, snow, and more snow!


Looks to be a decent day for views!


Steven with the hulking mass of Columbia looming in the distance.


Almost at the trench and things start to get cloudier.


The boys enjoying the downhill at the trench.


Looking over towards Mount Bryce.


After the trench we had one large surprise in store.  A grumble in the distance sounded eerily similar to a snowmobile in the valley below.  After getting quite close to the mountain we decided to set up camp and start digging a snow pit.  During the excavation the grumble got louder and louder and soon enough sleds were bounding over the ridge (almost directly on top of our camp!).  Apparently the crew was from Golden and had been trying to get up on the Columbia for 6 years, waiting until the snowpack made the route seem possible.  They seemed even more surprised to see us then we were to see them!  After some discussion (and breathing in gas fumes...) they tore off up Snowdome before coming back around our camp and heading up towards Columbia.  The upside of this was that we could follow their tracks for a 'definitely safe of crevasses line' but fresh sled tracks are exceptionally bumpy so we ended up skiing beside them anyways..  After getting the camp dug out and mid set up it was still fairly early and decided to make a push for the peak itself.


A head on view of Columbia, still a long ways to go to the base.


Snowmobilers, gwah!!?


From camp it was still a long way to get to the base of Columbia and took us longer than Steven and I were expecting.  The ascent slope up the face of Columbia is steep and sustained.  We were all expecting the grade to let up at some point but it just kept on pushing until we were pretty much at the summit.  I had some crampon issues (Al crampons on my ski boots don't seem to mingle well).  We reached the summit right around sunset and were treated to some excellent views with much more interesting colors than summiteers of Columbia are normally treated to.  Looking towards Mount Clemenceau was especially lovely. Despite the great views it was getting late, and we were on the second highest peak in the Rockies so we didn't stay around that long.  Retracing our steps back down the face was quite swift and soon enough we were back at our skis, and on the way back to camp.  All of us made it back to camp just before headlamps were needed.  All in all, quite an excellent day.

With camp set up off we head to bag the peak.


Me leading up towards the base.  Photo by Steven Song.


Good views of the peaks by Columbia Lake.


Looking back towards Snowdome, our objective for the next day.


On the steep face of Columbia.


Looking down the face at Vern, not a good place to take a slip!


Steven looking down at Vern and I.  Photo by Steven Song.


Summit views from Mount Columbia.


The boys really excited to be here.


Great colors.


One last wider view.


Black Diamond claims the white paint stops snow from bonding to their skis, this seems to support that!


Sunset views towards The Twins.


Looking back at our tracks up Columbia.


The next morning we awoke to more great weather and had to decide upon a plan for the next couple days.  Originally we were going to divide into two groups with Steven and I bagging Snowdome and Mount Kitchener while Vern would head up Mount Andromeda.  Due to some scheduling concerns we were one man short and heading up Andromeda solo seemed a dangerous scheme.  Vern ended up proposing that Steven and I head up Snowdome while he followed our tracks back to set up camp, we would then meet up at camp and break trail for him up to use the next day up Andromeda.  After dividing forces we followed the sled tracks up Snowdome (confident that if multiple sleds didn't fall into any holes, we would be fine) carrying essentially no weight.  The summit of Snowdome was a longer trek than we were thinking and it was good that we were no longer planning on tagging Kitchener as well or that would have been a full day in itself!

Not a bad view to wake up to.


South Twin is gorgeous.


Vern enjoying the sun.


Onwads up the sled tracks to Snowdome.


Views from Snowdome looking towards Columbia.


The summit of Snowdome was a great viewpoint and despite a frosty wind we were very pleased with the ascent.  The way back down to meet up with our tracks had some fabulous turns which raised our spirits for the rest of the traverse to the new camp Vern had set up (which was fabulous, thanks Vern!).  Getting to camp Steven and I were both pretty tired (the Columbia push the day before had taken a lot out of us) but after a break, Vern managed to convince us to head up the nearby unnamed peak (termed by Raff as "Androlumbia" due to its proximity to Andromeda and the Columbia Icefield) which promised an excellent ski run back to camp.

Views from the rounded summit of Snowdome.


Me back at our bags about to head to camp.  Photo by Steven Song.


Looking south towards the other end of the icefield.


Same in color.


Looking down towards camp, the snow-coaches are out and about now too!


Vern lead the way up the peak (which I had later termed "Castledromeda" as it is in-between Andromeda and Castleguard, and sounds snazzy) setting a great pace which gave us plenty of time to bask in the sun as we climbed higher.  Before long we were up on the summit ridge, ditched the skis and kicked up the last few vertical meters straying near the edge of a very large cornice.  Summit views of the peak were some of the best of the trip.  This peak is well suited to get views of the whole icefield and is highly recommended.  The ski run back down to camp was also one of the highlights of the trip with perfect snow for tight turns all the way down!  Once back at camp we came across another surprise, a crow had swooped down and gobbled up the remainder of Steven's food.  Thankfully Steven had packed extra food in case of a longer third day so this wasn't too much of an issue (he was even happy for having less weight to haul back down the glacier).


Quite a few big holes on Snowdome.


Last few meters to the summit of "Castledromeda"


"Castledromeda" is a fantastic viewpoint.


Columbia looks close but is very far away.


Wider summit view from "Castledromeda".


Steven starting the descent down to camp.


Excellent skiing back down to camp.


A great day indeed!


The next morning all we had to do was descend the AthaB and drive back home.  The ramp had some decent skiing and we were able to hold enough speed to cruise under the serac fall zone quite swiftly.  The first icefall proved a bit more difficult with steep hard snow making skiing and side-slipping difficult.  After that it was smooth sailing down to the toe of the glacier and a boot-slog back to the car.  Excellent trip, super stoked to get back on the Columbia to head to the northeast corner for the Twins and the Stuts!


Morning views looking down the AthaB.


The Black Beast of the Athabasca, a fell food-gobbling winged-snafflehound.


Steven with the critter that ate his grub skulking in the washroom pit.


Time to head down to the road.


Great coverage on the ramp this year.


The boys kicking down a steep roll.


Certainly a lot of texture on the second icefall.


Looking back up at the AthaB.


Quite the trip!

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