Saturday, August 9, 2003

Mt Robson - Extinguisher Tower

Mt. Robson, B.C.
12,973 Feet
Kane Route
August 7 - 16, 2003

We went into the Ranger Station and spoke with the climbing ranger, Hugo. He told us it had been really warm lately and everything was soft and wet up on the glacier. Only one team had summitted so far this year, and many others had turned around. He also told us that a 22-year-old man had attempted to solo the mountain and was now 72 hours past due. This was bad news that tainted our mood slightly as we prepared to head in to the mountain.
After dividing up all the group gear and packing up our backpacks, we headed up the trail at around 1pm. We estimated that each of our packs weighed between 60 and 70 pounds – I was very glad Kirsten let me borrow her beefy Dana Design pack because there’s no way my light framed Dana would have held up under that kind of load. We ran into a party of six from Ottawa who was on their way down from attempting the Kain Face and we tried to get beta from them, but they didn’t make it past Extinguisher Tower. They got rained on pretty consistently and they said they heard seracs falling in The Mousetrap all the time, even at night. This was disconcerting news because The Mousetrap needs to freeze at night in order for it to be relatively safe, and they were telling us it was not cooling off at night at all.

We had 10 miles to hike in to Emperor Falls Campground and most of the trail was flat and very well maintained. We hit a steep section between Whitehorn CG and Emperor Falls that took a serious toll on our bodies – thighs, hips, backs... all sore. We arrived in camp Friday evening around 6 and enjoyed nearly perfect, clear views of the west ridge (the Emperor Ridge (V, 5.6)), and a bit of the Emperor Face (VI, 5.9, A2 -- seriously) – one of the most formidable alpine faces in the world, having only three ascents to date, all via different routes.
After fighting off chipmunks and eating some potato soup, we slept well and got up early Saturday morning to head up to Exinguisher Tower. The weather was again beautiful, with only a few more clouds in the sky. We stopped at the Berg Lake Shelter; chatted with some folks; sat on the last plastic toilet we would see for the next 6 days; and stashed a day’s worth of food in the shelter for our hike back down. We had traveled 14 miles and only had 4 to go to Extinguisher Tower.

We hit the Robson Glacier around 1pm Saturday, roped up and within minutes of setting foot on the glacier, the blue skies closed up with clouds, and about an hour later it began to rain on us. Shortly after, we started hearing thunderclaps. Although we couldn’t see any lighting, it was still quite nerve-wracking to be out on the middle of a glacier with metal crampons and ice-axes connecting our bodies to the ice. If it did get close, we were sitting ducks. Fortunately, after about an hour the rain and thunder went away. But now our first apparent technical challenge arose. Sitting between us and Extinguisher Tower was a large, jumbled mess of seracs that we weren't terribly excited about climbing through. We decided to scout out the possibility of exiting the glacier to the left before the seracs, and fortunately the glacier sloped gently away, all the way to the ground on the left side. There’s even enough glacier left in 2003 to get you across the stream easily.

The slow slog up the loose scree of the moraine went for another quarter mile or so up to the base of Extinguisher Tower at 6,600 feet. There we met a party of three from Denver. We set up camp and BS’d with the Denver guys for a while. They seemed extremely confident in their knowledge of the mountain, which was interesting to us because the route they were describing sounded nothing like what we had planned. So we pulled out our route description and diagram. They were shocked to see that they had erroneously been planning to climb up the wrong side of The Dome, which from all the visual evidence we could gather, looked like a suicide mission.

Saturday night a larger storm hit. Lightning flashes lit up the tent and thunderclaps sounded like a fleet of 747's overhead. Sunday morning the weather was still looking bad, so we decided to stay at Extinguisher Tower for another day and hope it cleared up, and also rest our legs a bit before tackling The Mousetrap. A storm hit in the early afternoon and lasted about 6 hours. Rain, lightning, the whole bit. The Denver team had left that morning, but we weren’t sure whether they were going to try The Mousetrap, their false version of The Mousetrap, or the Robson-Resplendent Col. We spent the day resting and took a reconnaissance hike to scout out The Mousetrap. We discovered that the Ottawans we chatted with on the trail several days ago could not have even seen The Mousetrap from their camp, much less discern whether the sound of seracs falling was coming from The Mousetrap or one of the many other icefalls in the area. The sky began to clear up a bit Sunday night, and it felt like the temperature was finally starting to cool off, but we were still concerned about the temperature in The Mousetrap and about the fact we were unable to spot a sure route through it on our reconnaissance hike, not even with Todd’s wicked cool pirate monocular. The other option for gaining The Dome was to go to the col and traverse the ridge. This option looked much, much steeper, longer, and more difficult than it did in any of the pictures we looked at back home, and we pretty much ruled it completely out.

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