Mt. Robson, B.C.
August 7 - 16, 2003
August 7 - 16, 2003
I was ecstatic when Todd called me up at work sometime back in May and invited me to join him and Maria to climb Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. I had read things here and there about it, and I was already a little caught in its spell. It seemed like a mountain that was years away from me though. So even when Todd disclosed to me that it only has a 10 - 20% success rate, lower than Everest or Denali, I still accepted the invitation enthusiastically. At the time the climb was three months away, and it’s reputation for bad weather seemed like a mere inconvenience, not a legitimate threat to our chances of summiting. Surely in the middle of August the weather had to be more cooperative. We would spend the next three months eagerly anticipating the trip. Planning, reserving campsites, analyzing route descriptions, compiling information from sources ranging from back issues of Climbing magazine to trip reports from the web. We would attempt the Kain Face, Alpine Grade IV. There are more easily accessed routes on the Mountain, but none of them involve the classic and relatively moderate technical nature of this route.
The route involves hiking 16 miles of trail to the foot of the Robson Glacier. Traveling 2 miles up the Glacier to Extinguisher Tower, a choss pile that stands about 500 feet high and constantly sheds rock down onto the Glacier. Camp there, then get up early in the morning and travel across 2 more miles of glacier to an icefall to the east of The Dome, called the Mousetrap. Climb straight up through the heart of the Mousetrap to The Dome, a large, snow-covered mound at 10,000 feet that is situated directly below the Kain Face. Camp on The Dome and wait for good weather. If you are lucky, then climb the Kain Face, a 45 to 50 degree, 1500 foot tall ice face, then the east ridge to the summit.
We decided to give ourselves seven days to complete the climb and hike out. Seven days seemed like a very safe amount of time. Any bad weather systems that moved in would in all likelihood dissipate within a couple days, opening up the summit to us within our timeframe. It would be August, after all, a month which has become famous for its good weather in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere of this planet.
We drove into Valemount, BC around 9pm Thursday night. So far the trip had gone well, with the exception of a shortcut that involved dirt roads and horses. We drove through the yellowish-gray haze of the nearby forest fires and made a rather depressing food and gas stop at a small town called Clearwater (which is immediately preceded by Black Pool, incidentally). Clearwater was out of power due to the forest fires, and half of it was shut down (the half that couldn’t obtain power from backup generators). There was something third-world-country-ish about it. Between Clearwater and Valemount, we made 3 more stops in an effort to obtain cured meat for the trail. Cured meat, you may be aware, does not require refrigeration, making it a convenient source of protein and fat while hiking. So it was to our shock and amusement when an employee of one store announced that they lost all their cured meat when the power went out. Todd considered advising him as to cured meat’s physical properties which allow it to not be "lost" when power goes out, and therefore it’s economic value when power does go out, but he perhaps unfairly but ultimately correctly assumed that it would be lost on him. Finally, in Valemount we found some Canadian made Lanjaeger. Let it be known, this is horrible, horrible stuff. Stay away from it. It's just not worth it.
We camped in Valemount for the night, and woke up early and drove another hour to Robson Park. There was a bit of a haze in the air, but otherwise it was a pretty clear sky, and as we drove around a bend in Highway 16, we caught our first site of Mt. Robson. We were viewing its south side, and it was utterly breathtaking. Such a beautiful, rugged, and captivating mountain.