It is really easy to take for granted exactly how amazing this country is. Canada has so many incredible, dramatic places from coast to coast. It’s really a shame that so many who live here will never find the time or motivation to experience all the grandeur this country has to offer. With all it's beauty, I still find the Rockies to be the greatest and grandest that Canada has to offer. I suppose that I might be a bit biased having lived in the West my whole life, but with all its dramatic, violent, and relatively untouched wilderness, it is hard to compete with. Even today, there are still vast swaths of the Rockies that are rarely explored, and some remote but incredible areas such as the Lyell Icefields and Freshfields see only a relative handful of teams each year.
While my own plans to explore the vast remote expanses of ice stretching up the continental divide are probably a year or two off yet, I have definitely got the itch this year to explore some of the slightly less distant goals that line the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff. Even with these relatively shorter objectives in mind, it can be difficult to find partners that share in my definition of “Fun”. Fun that usually involves a significant amount of suffering, danger, pain, and waking up at 2:00am to experience said suffering.
I was was at work when I came across my friend Neil's open invite on facebook looking for people interested in bagging Mt Athabasca. Athabasca has been on my mind for a long time. It is a relatively “simple” summit as far as alpine climbs go, but it still has a whole lot going for it. At 11,453’ it is the 11th highest peak in Alberta, and in the top 50 tallest peaks in Canada. Bordering the Columbia Icefields, it offers some incredibly spectacular views of some of the highest and most beautiful peaks in the Rockies that surround it. It has a relatively low amount of objective danger on the normal routes (assuming good weather and an early start), and one of the shortest approaches for an 11’er with a parking lot within spitting distance of the bottom of the moraines leading up. Despite being an "easy" alpine climb, it can still be a fairly serious peak, as the many accidents can attest. All routes require glacier crossing and full alpine gear to complete, and our AA Glacier/AA Col route did involve crossing the AA Glacier, as well as a deeply buried Bergschrund at the head of the slope leading to the Col.
After some extensive facebook messaging, we ended up with a committed team of 6 ready to attempt the summit. Getting closer to summit day, we were a bit concerned that the route would be in rough shape due to the lack of an overnight freeze the night before, however upon setting out, we found nothing but good, supportive snow almost all the way up the glacier.
In fact, despite some pretty horrible nausea I experienced after the col, the trip was probably as uneventful as a rockies mountaineering trip can be. We had the best weather that could ever be imagined in the icefields, the wind was bearable, and the views were absolutely spectacular.
Finally getting the chance to attempt Athabasca was a bit of an eye opener for me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years skirting around my passion for the mountains with other endeavours, but it is something that I have ended up facing head on over the last few months: The mountains, and all the sports I love to do in them, run a lot deeper than even I have fully comprehended up until this point. I am truly passionate about being out there, and the more time I spend with them, the more I realize just how much I love to be out exploring them.
I look back through my early years growing up in the south-eastern interior of BC in the kootenays. Most of that time was spent hiking, biking, skiing, or just generally dreaming of mountaineering. I remember making myself an “Ice axe” out of wood, and then attempting to “Ice climb” the snow drifts behind my house. I remember reading books and surfing the internet for any snippet of climbing information I could find, pictures, stories. I remember climbing Tabletop, Old Glory, Mt Roberts, Kokanee Glacier, and all the other local climbs in the area. Even then, in my early teens, it was almost all I could think about most of the time. Those dreams of big glacier draped summits seemed so far off and unattainable. But here I am, almost 16 years later, finally realizing the dream. Bagging the summits I only saw in pictures, visiting the great icefields and glaciers, and pushing myself a little farther each time. Each of these adventures is incredibly rewarding. And with every little victory, the bigger dreams of bigger places get just a little closer to becoming realities themselves.