Trip Report
Thursday November 3, 2011 8:41pm
My stay on top of the Cadillac-size boulder, that we both assumed was bedrock, or at least damned solid: was very brief. As I stood there, catching my breath: the boulder rolled out from under me, like a log in water! I jumped up-slope, as the boulder started to roll, and landed on my feet in soft scree. I turned in time to watch the boulder thunder over where I had been belaying a few minutes earlier.

It all started with the Washington State University Alpine club scholarship fund. The club was cash-rich from running learn to climb schools twice a year. Mark approached me with a plan to convert some of that cash to our pockets. We presented the summer 1978 Canadian Climbing trip with three goals: “the Chouinard route on the North Face of Mt. Fay, The North Face of Mt. Robson, and The West Ridge of South Howser Tower in the Bugaboos. All three routes were prestige routes, but well within our abilities. I had already attempted Mt. Fay & South Howser Tower (twice), but had failed due to horrible weather. At the time I even thought of the routes as: relatively safe sure-bets.

Our scholarship grant request was most ambitious, but we were slighted with the offer of $50.00 gas money for Mark & a warning that it was not to be used to buy liquor.

In August we were off to the Canadian Rockies. Mt. Fay, 10610 ft / 3234 m, was to be the warm-up for the following big climbs. Weather was good, a rarity in that range. “After all, where do you think all the glaciers come from anyway?”

I knew we had to register with the Banff National Park rangers because of the problem a previous W.S.U. Alpine Club party suffered. In the early 1970’s they attempted a winter ascent of Mt Victoria and failed to register. Three days later, concerned rangers followed the climbers ski trail from the parking lot at Lake Louise up under Mt. Victoria in a helicopter.

After a noisy helicopter search the rangers finally spotted the climbers tent high on the Victoria glacier. As the rangers flew low over the climber’s tent, to see if they were safe: all three climbers bare-assed the helicopter. The pilot later confessed that a R.C.M.P. officer (Mountie) aboard, had to be physically restrained from shooting at the climbers. The helicopter flew off down the valley. However, when the climbers finally returned to their VW van; they were arrested, fined, and darkly warned never-ever to return to Canada.

(I should mention: one of the convicted-felons has disputed this part of the story. In dealing with climbing history: I always believe the most damning memories I can dredge up.)


We, of course, registered with the rangers for our Mt. Fay climb. Unfortunately, we optimistically predicted we would return in two days from our adventure.

The North Face of Mt. Fay is climbed in two stages. With a start at Moraine Lake, climbers must first get past the complex lower cliffs, icefalls, and surrounding small peaks that defend Mt. Fay. Then a plateau under the upper North Face gives easy access to the esthetically pleasing and steep North Face routes.

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North face of Mt. Fay in center of picture. Chouinard route is left-most high ice face. The Prow is prominent rock formation at top right of picture. 3-4 Couloir is out of picture to right. Cooper Hut is just out of picture at top right.

There are various ways to approach the plateau under the upper North Face of Mt. Fay, but most of them end at the Cooper Hut. The hut is a small aluminum shelter that sets at the top of two couloirs that provide the most obvious access to Fay’s North face. I had been up and down the most popular approach route, 3-4 Couloir, in very bad conditions the previous year (I was attempting to prove that you could do ice climbs in nasty weather). Having survived 3-4 Couloir’s rock-fall once: I could hardly wait to share it with Mark.

3-4 Couloir was first climbed in the 1890’s and is a class 4 scramble. Like a few other venerable Canadian routes: it is one loose, steep, dangerous, long, scary, bitch of a scramble. It turns out the hut is named for a climber killed in 3-4 Couloir by rock-fall. The hut journal contained many mentions of rock-fall injuries in 3-4 Couloir. A photo near the start, that Mark took, shows me running across rock littered snow.

Since Mark didn’t know yet, he yelled at me; “Hey: what’s the hurry?” When the first rock screamed by his head a minute later: Mark quickly got the idea.
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Fritz running from rockfall, at start of 3-4 Couloir.

After 3-4 Couloir steepened and narrowed; the rock fall diminished, but never ceased entirely. Somewhere along the way, Mark insisted on roping up in case one of us was cold-cocked by a rock.

(Mark hadn’t done enough Canadian climbing to be at ease on wet, loose, steep limestone swept by rock-fall.
Somehow the romance of it all, just didn’t seize his imagination in a positive way.)

Near the top of 3-4 Couloir: the loose, wet limestone blocks finally gave way to a high angle scree slope. At the end of my last lead I suggested un-roping, but without comment Mark continued past me roped-up. Halfway up his scree lead he pounded a piton into a Cadillac-size rock buried in the now gravel like surrounding rock. Fifty feet higher, Mark just flopped down in the gravel and told me, “on belay.”

When I got to Mark’s piton, I removed it. Rather than slog through the steep gravel around the Cadillac-sized rock, I simply stepped up onto the rock. As I stood on the rock, arms akimbo, catching my breath; it suddenly rolled out from under me! I jumped into the air: landing on my feet in the scree, as Mark pulled me up tight with the rope.

Let me repeat myself: the Cadillac-size chunk of rock that we had both assumed was bedrock, or at least damned solid, rolled out from under me like a log in water, when I stood on it!

To make a classic understatement: I’m still glad I removed Mark’s piton, before I climbed up on the rock it was in.

I was so rattled by the near fatal event, I didn’t even enjoy the noise the Cadillac rock made clearing out debris in 3-4 Couloir.

Good thing no one was below us.

We found our way up the next few hundred feet and arrived at Cooper Hut without further incident.

On the way, I was amused at seeing a trilobite-a four hundred million year old marine fossil: at 9,000 feet.

Cooper Hut was basic. Eight bunks, bedding, and cooking implements. We dropped our packs, then hiked over to the gently rolling glacier under Fay’s North Face to look at the Chouinard route. The route was wonderful: steep 60 to 70 degree hard snow and ice leading to a vertical ice cliff at the top. Everything looked solid and straightforward: best of all no rocks were in sight on our route on the face. Thus, there was no loose rock to climb or to roll down on us.

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Upper North Face, Mt. Fay. Chouinard route is left-most ice sheet with sunlight on bulge.

We made an alpine start the next morning, since we had to climb Fay and descend to the Ranger Station by nightfall. The Fay Glacier up close to the North Face was not badly crevassed, so we reached our route fairly easily. Once on the steep snow and ice slope we made good time, only occasionally placing ice screws for protection. The conditions were perfect with hard snow just a few inches deep over blue-water ice. We’d belay every 150 feet and swap leads. Mostly front-pointing with our crampons we climbed quickly up the uniformly steep (60 – 70 degrees) snow and ice.

Under the ice bulge at the top of the face, we encountered blue-water ice on the surface with some hollow sounding areas that were scary. Mark started to put in an ice screw at one belay, then discovered the whole ice sheet bulging outward as he turned in the screw. He retreated down fifteen feet to more stable ice. The vertical to slightly overhanging ice bulge was skirted to the left, and two more leads got us to the wildly overhanging summit cornice.

Mark led the last steep, slightly un-solid lead up around the dripping, sagging, summit cornice. We popped out on the summit in early afternoon. Our ascent of the Chouinard Route had been nine leads of great ice climbing.

The next day we were told by Park Rangers that the cornice fell off in late afternoon, the day of our climb!

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Mark leading the bergschrund.
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Looking down the route towards Fritz.
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Mark on 70 degree ice below the ice bulge

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Mark under dripping, overhanging summit cornice.

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Fritz summiting on Chouinard Route, Mt. Fay. Mt. Temple in background. Note Mark’s belay, (alpine hammer thrown in snow)!

The descent plan was: go back down to Cooper Hut, pick up the rest of our non-climbing overnight gear, then head back down to Moraine Lake and the Ranger Station. However, we were a long time descending Mt. Fay. We ended up going off the lower angled south side of Fay and had a stiff uphill walk back to Cooper Hut. By the time we reached Cooper Hut we were whipped and the day was late. It was agreed we would do the descent to Moraine Lake the following early morning.

A more experienced climbing party, we met at Cooper Hut, told us about a much safer route off the Mt. Fay plateau. The route went out the Fay Glacier under our North Face route to a prominent rock formation called “The Prow”. From The Prow, one rappel put you on ledges you could down climb un-roped to easier terrain. (Currently this is the recommended route for getting to the North Face of Fay).

Very early morning found us on the Fay Glacier and we soon reached The Prow,
The descent route was now clear, since we could see Moraine Lake. We hurried off the route, but Fay is a huge mountain and time flew by. Moving as quickly as possible, we climbed down a long series of ledges toward easier terrain.

We were nearing the end of Moraine Lake and had finally reached a trail, when we heard a helicopter. To our dismay it appeared, then headed right up toward Mt. Fay: without a doubt looking for Mark and Fritz. Mark took off running for the Ranger hut, still one mile away. I sped up, but trotted along fatalistically. After all, I knew we would get an ass-chewing whenever we both appeared. Mark was able to stop a second search helicopter from getting in the air.

We were asked to appear at the main Ranger Station. The rangers were stern, but pleasant. They let us off with a minor lecture on climbers’ responsibility.

Then one ranger shocked us by explaining the early morning rescue helicopters were due to their fears that we had been injured or killed when the summit cornice fell off the afternoon of our climb. There was silence ---- while the fact sunk in that the annoyingly drippy summit-cornice, we had both spent too-much time under, had fallen off right after we summited.

We were both embarrassed and apologetic. Mark and I swore ourselves to secrecy about our overdue return. Then we reassessed our Canadian climbing goals.

Copyright Dec. 2001
Ray Brooks

2011 Thoughts: Since I wrote this story in 2001, posted it on ST in 2009, and then revised it, I keep thinking about the close calls on the climb.

I still worry about what might have happened if Mark, after driving the piton into the Cadillac-sized rock in 3-4 Couloir, had climbed onto it: instead of slogging around it.

Would I have been quick enough to drop the belay, and untie from the rope, while dodging the rock?
I can't imagine that I could have stopped that boulder after it rolled 100 ft.

It doesn't play well in my mind.

I shared these thoughts with a friend who gave up "dangerous climbing" after he had a rappel fail during a thunderstorm retreat. He fell 20 or so feet until the rappel rope jammed in a flake. He hit the next ledge down just hard enough to severly sprain an ankle. Then, the party had to re-unite and extract the jammed rope while the storm raged. After extracting the jammed rope he got to finish the retreat, in the storm, with the severely sprained ankle.

His analysis of my chances in the rolling rock with belay rope attached scenario.

"You were toast!"

  Trip Report Views: 4,263
About the Author
Fritz is a trad climber from Choss Creek, ID.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 3, 2011 - 08:56pm PT
"BIG" TR too! Well done young man a great story, well told.

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
  Nov 3, 2011 - 10:55pm PT
We were climbers once---and young. (To paraphrase a book title by General Hal Moore!).

Great TR Fritz!

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
  Nov 3, 2011 - 11:43pm PT
pretty cool
Dos XX

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Nov 4, 2011 - 12:01am PT
Good stuff! Thanks for taking the time to re-package and share again.
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  Nov 4, 2011 - 12:30am PT
The North Face of Mt. Robson, and The West Ridge of South Howser Tower

And? Did you try/do either?

ps Sounds like your 400 million year old trilobite was only at 9,000 fee in the couloir for a short time.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Nov 4, 2011 - 01:40am PT
Neanderthal radness! Great story Fritz!

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 4, 2011 - 03:39am PT
Wow, what a great tale. Thanks Fritz.

I especially like the part about the romance of wet chossy limestone!

So glad you weren't crushed like a bug!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Nov 5, 2011 - 03:56pm PT
Thank you everyone for your kind comments.

MH: you ask if we tried to do either of our other trip objectives?

It is a difficult subject. Mark was recently married, a little rattled by the “close calls” on Fay, and suddenly, really missed his wife.

I talked him into going on to the Bugaboos, since they were close at hand. As you may recall: the first view of the Bugs, from the road up to Bugaboo Lodge, is pretty awesome. I hit the brakes and exclaimed: “there they are.”

Mark peered into the forest, and said: “where??”

I pointed through the very top of the windshield at the snow-clad granite towers and said “look up.”

That was it! He absolutely refused to go up there.

The last “close-call” of the trip was on the way back down the Bugaboo road. The accelerator cable broke on my VW Dasher. In inventive desperation, we tied boot laces together, and ran them from the accelerator control on the engine, up through a hood louver, and through the driver-side window.

“Cruise-control” was rolling the window tight on the boot lace. We drove the 400 or so miles home, without further incident, and got Mark to his wife. Then I went climbing.

  Nov 4, 2011 - 10:57am PT
Outstanding trip report Fritz! Thank you.

The descent route off the 'prow' (Perrin Ledges) has become the best of two ways to safely get to Fay. There are fixed cables in some areas and it is possible to go up there in poor conditions. The Scheisser (sp?) ledges are the other. Few folks venture up the big gullies for good reason.

mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 4, 2011 - 11:08am PT
Great report Fritz.

Trad climber
  Nov 4, 2011 - 02:35pm PT
Way cool story and photos! I love those old "alpine helmets".

Big Wall climber
Republic, WA
  Nov 4, 2011 - 02:38pm PT
Fritz does it again. Nice TR.

Trad climber
  Nov 4, 2011 - 02:47pm PT
I was up there in 78 too, my second summer as a climber. We did the 3 3 1/2 couloir in the night (started at midnight), rested in the hut until 10:00 Am then did N Face of Fay and returned to the hut. Left the hut at 3 AM to downclimb the 3 4. Being locals we knew never to go near those gullies in the daytime!

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Nov 4, 2011 - 03:20pm PT
Thank you, Fritz, for a wonderful TR. Excellent writing, fine pictures, and first-rate adventure.

Very well done!


Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Nov 4, 2011 - 08:23pm PT
Thank you again for your fun and informational comments.

It is always good for me to receive positive comments!

Here are some more photos of the route, that I failed to post with the story.

Mark getting close to the vertical ice bulge.

Salewa "Warthog" piton in place. It was very satisfying to drive them into ice------if they didn't break, bottom out, or cause the ice to "dinner-plate." I just noticed that the carabiner is a currently "highly collectable" R. Robbins Ultralight oval.

Mark belaying right under the ice bulge. This is where he had to move about 15 feet, when the ice he was on started bulging up, while he was putting in an ice-screw.

Back at the Cooper Hut, this was the view from the latrine down 2-3 Couloir toward Moraine Lake.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Nov 5, 2011 - 12:56am PT
you think screwing in that ice screw is what loosened that cornice?

grand adventure. way heinous in hindsight, but a great tale to tell good sir fritz!
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
  Nov 5, 2011 - 01:58am PT
Suuuupurb! 10,000 ft is a big deal when you are living full time in Pullman, Washington.

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 5, 2011 - 02:07am PT
Nice story, Ray.
For me it was a story about dreams grown at home, then facing the reality of the risk of death in the mountains. Something about balancing the two, that there is no easy way to do.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 5, 2011 - 03:47pm PT
Awesome Fritz,
Glad you survived the cornice fall and rock fall!
Wow, alpine climbing is dangerous!

Social climber
Great Basin
  Nov 5, 2011 - 04:02pm PT
Ah, the glory days! Well done lad :) Wasn't it you that use to say, "it is all fun till someone loses an eye" ?
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 11, 2011 - 08:03pm PT
bump for quality!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Nov 11, 2011 - 10:10pm PT
Thank you all---yet again. If you are inspired------place a vote for this on Chris's thread on Best Trip Reports.

Here's the link:

RDB-----I can't recall that precise quote??? Mayhaps it was: "It's all fun til the iron-trap closes on your crank!"

Here is a ST link to my more recent trip reports:,
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
  Nov 12, 2011 - 09:52am PT
Well told, Fritz.
That entire range is chock full o' adventure.


A long way from where I started
  Nov 3, 2014 - 08:12pm PT
Damn! Missed this one the first time around, so I'm glad to find it now.

I know you and your partner may have experienced moments of fear and doubt at the time, and that's as it should be, but as you know now, Tami & I would have saved you if there was real danger.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 3, 2014 - 09:28pm PT
Man would I love to take Jack there. My wife and I honneymooned there and saw a lot of the good terrain and jack would love the endless moderate ice, mixed in with rock and big peaks.

Mountain climber
Fresno, CA
  Nov 3, 2014 - 09:53pm PT
Loved reading this story. Thanks for taking the time to record and revise it. It's appreciated!

Big Wall climber
Republic, WA
  Nov 3, 2014 - 10:39pm PT
Still as yet, classic.

Trad climber
Nedsterdam CO
  Nov 3, 2014 - 10:58pm PT
Now we're talkin!!!

Full on awesome!!!
grey thunder

Trad climber
Hanover, NH
  Nov 4, 2014 - 04:40am PT

Great story, with a great ending. Thanks for posting.

Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Nov 4, 2014 - 06:16am PT
Hey, Fritz:

Thanks for this! I'm so glad it was resurrected. I climbed the same route in the mid-80's. By then, as you say, folks were climbing up the Prow as a safer approach. This did involve a couple of vertical pitches of mid-5th rock, but it was good stone and fun. My buddy and I bivied right at the tip of the Prow, looking up at the face, getting blasted awake by icefall coming off the glaciers on both sides. Yikes. Our climb went much like yours with the best alpine ice conditions I've ever had. We decided that, short of brutal rock fall or a collapsing cornice, the only way to come off that ice was to pull both tools and jump.

We summited in bright sun. For a descent, we down climbed the ridge to climber's right until we could start rapping and down climbing one of those shorter ice faces back to the bottom of the north face. What a grand adventure.

I did, however, experience the same kind of near-obliteration by collapsing cornice a few years earlier up on Mt. Andromeda. We'd just finished the North Face route and were sitting on top in the too-warm sun. After only a few minutes of topping out, a cornice a few yards away simply cut loose and raked the route where we'd been for hours that morning. Had we been slower that morning, later to rise and shine, whatever, that avalanche would have taken us straight into the bergshrundt. Ugh. +1 for alpine starts and climbing fast.

Thanks again.

Woody the Beaver

Trad climber
Soldier, Idaho
  Nov 4, 2014 - 09:01am PT
Great to hear the story and see the photos. Dave Smith and I headed up that way in 1972, but up the the snazzy-looking 3/3.5 couloir just below the Graham Cracker Hut (well, it was really named the Graham Cooper Hut). Of course, it was too warm. We'd got to the pinch spot in the couloir and had a clear field of ice above us (the rockfall had been horrendous below, and got worse as the morning wore on). So we were clear from the ghastly hazard, and celebrated with a White Guy High Five (you know, where your hands miss and you bend over like a dork) at the ice screw belay at the top of the last ice band. Then this huge-ass rock bounded into view upslope, came right on us and blew us apart! When the frazz settled, Smith was hanging blitzo from the screws and I was hanging a ways below. Long story, but the Park Ranger rescued my addled friend with a radical sling job involving two rangers -- Bill Vroom and Monte Rose -- flown in right into the couloir by pilot Jim Davies. Stupendous job by those three under terrifying conditions, a blizzard of stones. After 42 years, thanks again to Bill, Monte and Jim. The story is told in Sid Marty's book "Switchbacks". So Dave and I never got to see the North Face of Fay. And so thanks, Fritz, for the tale and the photos.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Nov 5, 2014 - 12:16pm PT
Wow! Glad to see the comments and especially happy to see those by other Mt. Fay survivors. Woody! Here's to you cheatin death. Sounds like a very close call.

I was talking to likely the same Dave Smith at the SLC REI a few years ago about Canadian Rockies climbing, and somehow 3-4 Couloir came up. He mentioned he had been hit by rockfall on it in the 1970's and had to be rescued with ----as I recall----a broken pelivs. Maybe I confused the couloirs when he was telling the story.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  May 31, 2016 - 10:51pm PT
Bump for some good story telling...and old blue photos... ;-)
Stewart Johnson

Gym climber
top lake
  Jun 1, 2016 - 06:22am PT
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
  Jun 1, 2016 - 07:21am PT
Great stuff! Thanks, Fritz.