Skyladder Mt. Andromeda, Columbia Icefields 1974 & Recently?

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Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 15, 2018 - 03:50pm PT
The 1974 edition of Climber’s Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada – North has a pleasant description of a route named Skyladder on the north side of 11,300’ Mt. Andromeda at the Columbia Icefields.

In August of 1974, it lured me & my pal Chris P. to the route.

Skyladder is at the extreme right of this photo, with Andromeda having the long skyline at center right & Mt. Athabaska at left.

Credit: Fritz

From the guidebook:

This is the elegantly curving N snow/ice face that leads to the west shoulder of the peak. Recommended. July 1960 J. Fairly, B. Parks. From snowmobile parking lot work across moraine and cross N glacier of Andromeda to foot of face, 2 – 3 hr. The angle steepens, then eases in the upper part; difficulties depend on the amount of exposed ice.

Here's a closer photo from 1974, with Skyladder being the right-most snowfield.

Credit: Fritz

Once Chris & I got on the route, we found it was entirely very firm snow, which our crampons, & Chouinard axes & ice hammers felt very solid on. I don’t think any part was steeper than 50 degrees, but we stayed roped & swapped leads every 150'. At belays, it was easy to dig down a little bit to water-ice & we only bothered with placing one ice screw at each belay.

About half-way up the route, some less bold climbers had hacked a sidewalk across Skyladder from one side to the other. Chris belayed me up to it, spit some chew down the slope below us, & with a tone of disgust said: “schist man, I’ve skied stuff steeper than this.”

Chris on Skyladder, digging down to ice, to set a belay screw.
Credit: Fritz

We un-roped & made good time to the summit ridge, but did not continue on to the summit of Andromeda, since it was obvious a storm was coming in. We did have fresh tracks to follow the long way down the Athabasca Glacier to the parking lot.

We were a little disappointed with how easy the route was & our window to do harder routes at the Columbia Icefields was closed by stormy weather. I do appreciate Skyladder would be much more interesting if it was water ice, rather than firm snow.

Does anyone have photos & story of a recent trip up Skyladder to share? I suspect the approach & the route are now a little more challenging than they were in 1974? I don't remember the glacier approach or the bergschrund giving us any difficulty, but that may well have changed too?
AP

Trad climber
Calgary
Jan 15, 2018 - 05:26pm PT
I climbed the NW Bowl in 1978 and got a helluva sunburn.
Warren was having trouble placing a screw at one point and "Al all I ever want in life is a good screw" I think he scored at the Athabasca bar in Jasper that night.
Skyladder is mostly rock even as early as late June now.
Climate change has had a profound effect on the Cdn Rockies
and shifted much of the alpine climbing to the October through late April window.
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
Jan 15, 2018 - 06:34pm PT
Climbed Andromeda's neighbor Athabaska about a hundred years ago. Eminently forgettable climb (we just plodded up some easy ridge), but on the way down we caught up to a party of three on the glacier. They were in the process of waiting for the guy in the middle to extricate himself from the crevasse he'd just dropped into.

Turned out to be some New Yorkers on their first real mountain. But they'd done their homework, and the crevasse incident was a perfect textbook example of how to do things right. Keep the rope almost tight, be alert, etc etc. So he didn't fall far, and was able to pull himself back out, and his partners had no trouble holding him.

They were all totally psyched about the whole thing. Most fun any of them had ever had.
AP

Trad climber
Calgary
Jan 15, 2018 - 06:50pm PT
We were travelling near some guys from California on the glacier below the NW Bowl. Glacier was pretty bare but had lots of semi hairy terrain. Our neighbor was taking pictures saying "What awesome scenery" while his partner was standing on the edge of a 100 foot deep crevasse. They had 50 feet of slack in their rope. We suggested tightening it up a tad.
The bowl is at the back of the first picture
Ghost you should have climbed the Hourglass on Athabasca. Nice little Grade 3 ice pitch where it squeezes through the seracs
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
Jan 15, 2018 - 07:04pm PT
Ghost you should have climbed the Hourglass on Athabasca. Nice little Grade 3 ice pitch where it squeezes through the seracs

Maybe we did. I vaguely remember some moderate axe-and-crampon section. But like I said, it was a hundred years ago. All I remember with certainty is that it was pretty easy.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 15, 2018 - 07:36pm PT
always wanted to tick that one...
here in August 1993
Credit: Ed Hartouni

but the weather...
Credit: Ed Hartouni

easier to wander up Mt. Athabasca in the fog... I think we summited
Credit: Ed Hartouni
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 15, 2018 - 07:42pm PT
Chris P & I were back at the Columbia Icefields in August 1975 & got to meet some of the Lowe clan in the campground. We also shared our beers with some cute Canadian girls, who had summer jobs in Banff. We had decided on an alpine start on the North Face of Athabasca, & with great regrets, I left the party for bed around 9:00 PM by myself. Chris grumbled his way into our tent an hour later. After getting up at 2:00 AM. we were both a little sleepy the next day.


We enjoyed solid hard snow & I got to enjoy being a little scared leading the unprotected & un-protectable crux pitch, which I see on Google, is now rated 5.7 & has lots of fixed pro. We felt a little better about ourselves, than after climbing Skyladder the previous year. However, we knew that figuratively speaking, we were daubing in colors, while the Lowes were painting alpine-masterpieces.

Midway up the hard snow, with ice just below the surface, looking up at the steep part of the North Face of Athabasca, trying to figure out where the exit couiloir was.
Credit: Fritz


Looking down.

Credit: Fritz


Fritz, not enjoying the crux pitch to the summit ridge. I found no spots to place decent protection. Note my Jensen pack, Chouinard Supergators & wool pants, that my sweetie had sewed a leather butt-patch onto.
Credit: Fritz

Looking over to the North Face, from our descent down the Silverhorn route.
Credit: Fritz


new world order2

climber
in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
Jan 15, 2018 - 08:31pm PT
Good work on the North Face of Athabasca, Fritz!
And a descent down Silverhorn?! Solid!
I assume you faced in on edit: at least some of the down climb? Stupid question, I hope. ;)

I climbed Silverhorn some 23 years ago, then down the normal route. Good times!
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 15, 2018 - 09:12pm PT
New world order! Re your question?

I assume you faced in on the down climb?! Stupid question, I hope. ;)

Sorry, but all I have for a memory of the descent, is that photo taken of the North Face of Athabasca, which I think had to be from Silverhorn.

One clue to our descent style is, my climbing buddy Chris P. had grown up in Sun Valley Idaho as a ski racer. He nearly made it on to the U.S. Ski Team A squad as a downhill racer, but destroyed a knee in a crash. He was absolutely fearless on snow, and of course I had to keep up, or be disgraced.

I was much younger then.
Tony

Trad climber
Pt. Richmond, CA
Jan 15, 2018 - 09:28pm PT
We climbed Skyladder in the early mid-80s in a whiteout, so didn't go to the summit, and downclimbed the route. The route looked about the same as the above photos. Here's a photo my friend who was there sent me from his trip last fall. The route looks almost gone and the glaciers quite receded.
Credit: Gary

kunlun_shan

Mountain climber
SF, CA
Jan 15, 2018 - 11:19pm PT
I soloed it in the '80s, can't recall exactly which year, but was alarmed to see the photo below taken by Mark Klassen in mid-August, 2016. He described the Skyladder as "now mostly dirt":

https://www.mountainconditions.com/reports/mt-athabasca-0

Credit: Mark Klassen
norm larson

climber
wilson, wyoming
Jan 16, 2018 - 04:34am PT
Thanks Fritz for the walk down memory lane. I remember driving to the Icefileds and climbing on seracs close to the road. I too climbed the Skyladder and Athabasca Nord wand in the 70's. Found them both entertaining and good training for bigger routes. We also did the "Practice Gully" on Andromeda. That was definatley a step up in difficulty for the day.
Then to Moraine Lake and up the tumbling turds couloir (the little huts outhouse sat at the top of it !). to climb Mt Fay and the classic ice route there. All those routes seemed to be required climbing in the 70's. Sad to see they are in such poor shape today.

What are the classic standard ice routes today?
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jan 16, 2018 - 04:57am PT
Fritz....a training program is in order. The Canadian Rockies wait for your return. You can repeat some of your exploits from the 70’s and regale us with your prespective of how they now feel with an older body aided by modern tools and enhanced experience. Your witty repartee nestles nicely with my morning coffee.
Credit: donini
Mike Munger on a failed attempt to do the then unfclimbed Emperor Face on Robson in the winter...late 70’s.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Jan 16, 2018 - 07:05am PT
Great stuff, Fritz et al. These routes were some of my favorite alpine exploits. On Skyladder, my wife and I had pretty damn good conditions. It was clear and cold, and, amazingly, on the summit we could walk around like it was a concrete sidewalk. We just strolled over the summit and down to the descent, which scared the crap out of us--super loose slag and snow with not a single place to anchor. I understand that now someone (guides?) have buried some long-ass anchors in the junk to provide belays/rappel anchors. Would have appreciated that BITD. Once at the notch, it was pretty straight forward down climbing on snow to a very memorable jump over the bergschrund!

On the north face of Athabasca, we found a single fixed ring piton on the crux headwall, which helped, at least psychologically, but I was VERY happy to land some solid ice over the lip. A few years later, my wife and I did the Hourglass, and I actually took a fall off the crux pitch when crumby ice left me pumped and scratching for purchase. Turns out that ice screws work. Had some old school fat Lowe jobs. The ice around the screw didn't even crack. I ended up aiding a few moves, leap frogging screws, because I was so pumped and freaked. I owe my wife a lot for enduring that epic belay and sh*t show. We did have a glorious summit in the very late afternoon sun. The regular descent is super easy, but we touched off a shallow, broad avalanche and rode it several hundred feet down the face into the bowl--super fun! It was very shallow, so there was never any risk of getting flipped or buried. We just rode it like a soft, undulating magic carpet.

Great memories of those and other ascents in the Rockies, a place deep in my heart, even if the rock is usually absolute crap.

BAd
AP

Trad climber
Calgary
Jan 16, 2018 - 10:55am PT
The climbers campground was an unusual place.
All you could hear at 3:30 or 4:00 AM was the sound of 30 MSR stoves running at the same time
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Jan 16, 2018 - 11:28am PT
Hah, good point, AP. Rockies fans will know the feeling of swilling coffee/beer for long hours in the cooking shelters as it pisses rain/snow, another day on the hills lost to the notoriously bad Rockies weather. Oh, but when it clears....

BAd
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 16, 2018 - 12:09pm PT
Thanks all for comments & photos. I'm still hoping for closeup photos & stories of recent Skyladder adventure, but indeed, it does look somewhat "out of condition."

Donini! Thanks for your encouragement, but I've developed severe allergies to that slippery white stuff. I fear I may never climb in the Canadian Rubblies again.

Norm Larson! Per your mention:
Then to Moraine Lake and up the tumbling turds couloir (the little huts outhouse sat at the top of it !). to climb Mt Fay and the classic ice route there. All those routes seemed to be required climbing in the 70's. Sad to see they are in such poor shape today.

The Chouinard Route on Fay waited until 1978 for me to climb it. Indeed the crux was the approach gullies. We chose the less steep 3-4 Couloir, which I first went up & down with my wife in bad weather, with the descent being in a rainstorm. Unfortunately, I did not learn enough from that ugly experience & did it with my friend Mark Mason again.

Mark took this photo of me running near the start of 3-4 Couloir. He then yelled up to me: "Hey! What's the hurry?"
When the first rock whized by him a short time later, he suddenly understood my desire to run.

Credit: Fritz

We nearly died after Mark drove a piton into a car-sized rock that we both assumed was bedrock. I made the mistake of climbing onto that rock, when I followed him & it rolled out from under me like a log in water. Luckily, I had removed the piton & landed uphill of the rock in soft scree. The next day, the summit cornice fell off just after we finished the route. Here's the rest of the sordid story.
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/MARK-FRITZS-BIG-MT-FAY-1978-CANADIAN-ADVENTURE/t11242n.html

Here's a photo of Mark belaying under the cornice at the top of the Chouinard Route, that fell off later that day.

Credit: Fritz
RjBlake

climber
Jan 16, 2018 - 01:13pm PT
Photos from an August 2013 camping trip out that way fwiw.

Aug 2013
Aug 2013
Credit: RjBlake

Aug 2013
Aug 2013
Credit: RjBlake
Gregory Crouch

Social climber
Walnut Creek, California
Jan 16, 2018 - 01:52pm PT
Does that route have a pretty substantial "notch" you have to climb down into and out of to get to the summit? If so, I think I did that one in the summer of '88... Big adventure for me at the time.

(My God, I'm turning into Donini, unable to remember climbs from the distant past...)
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 16, 2018 - 07:18pm PT
Greg! Good to hear from you, but my memory can't help you, since we finished Skyladder, then due to approaching bad weather, took off north down the Athabasca Glacier.

I did find an account of an ascent by a reasonably competent solo climber, who knocked off Skyladder in June 2014.

http://www.drdirtbag.com/2014/09/07/andromeda-skyladder-athabasca/

His photos don't lend themselves to being shared, but this one, taken near the start of Skyladder shows a more demanding route than the one I climbed in 1974.

Credit: Fritz


He continued on to Andromeda's summit, then transversed to the Andromeda - Mt. Athabasca col. That descent route, as mentioned upthread here by others, appears to be a steep choss-lovers test-piece.
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