Mount Edith Cavell August 14, 2004

Mountain height:   3,633 m (11,033 feet)
Elevation gain:      1,659 m
Ascent time:          
Descent time:        

Climbing with Mark.  

WOW!! What a fantastic day on a fantastic mountain! Achieving this summit more than makes up for our string of recent failures, and I’ll have to classify it as our most satisfying and enjoyable trip to date.

It’s easy to see why Sean Dougherty calls this route a “must-do” and also why it appears on the list of the “50 Classic Climbs in North America ”. Great rock, great scenery, and stunning summit views make this a route that is definitely worth repeating.

We started at the very “un-alpine” time of 9:15 am . After an 11 hour trip up Mount Evan-Thomas the previous day, I really didn’t feel like driving to Jasper that evening, and so we left Calgary at 4 am, the day of the Edith Cavell attempt. Although the sky was cloud-free, there was much smoke from the B.C. forest fires, giving everything that hazy look.

After ogling the Angel Glacier for a while, with the other million people on the trail, we made our across the moraines (there is a very nice trail to the left, which would have been far easier), and up to the col. From there, we scrambled up the right side of the prominent gully up to the shoulder. The scrambling here, on solid rock with easy ledges, was great, however, the section was deceivingly long and took far more time and effort than we anticipated. By the time we made it to the shoulder, where the real climbing starts, it was already after 1 pm and time became a concern. In order to make it down in daylight, we agreed that we would turn around at 3:30 pm, no matter where we were on the mountain.

From the shoulder, the view of the rest of the ascent was stunning and quite unnerving for me. It looked very steep, very long, and very exposed. Fortunately, such was not the case and though there were some steep and exposed sections, they were short-lived. I was right about the length, however, and since we decided to rope up and belay each other there was really nothing we could do to shorten the ascent time.

We started up and were immediately struck by the amazing quality of the rock. This was our first experience on quartzite and I was flabbergasted at how easy, fun, and pleasant it was to ascend the rock. Handholds were numerous and solid and there were ledges everywhere for your feet. Soon we caught up to another party - David and Jarek from Edmonton. David had already ascended the first pitch of climbing and as Jarek started up, I asked him if he were as concerned about the time issue, as we were – he responded with a resounding “yes”. As soon as Jarek was 5 metres up, we started up as quickly as we could without compromising safety (which for us means pretty darn slow!). This pitch was fun and relatively straightforward, although our sense of urgency detracted a little from our enjoyment of it.

After the first pitch, a short section of 4th class climbing took us to the second and crux pitch of the ridge. This pitch was about 30 m long and steeper and more exposed than the first one, however, placing protection was easy and once again, the rock was great to ascend. Shortly after, we again caught up with David and Jarek, who told us that they were going to finish the ascent and then descend the west ridge. We went ahead of them, but agreed to wait for them at the summit and descend together, as our turn around time had now long passed.

The remainder of the ascent was easy, but the terrain was more loose and we were careful not to knock rocks down on the party below. Soon thereafter, we arrived at the summit ridge and a twenty minute walk, over two subsidiary summits, took us to the main summit, where a significant celebration was in order. This was definitely our sweetest summit to date!

The summit view, tainted a little by hazy, smoky conditions, was nevertheless, phenomenal. Numerous peaks of the Clemenceau Icefield, Fryatt Creek area, and Tonquin Valley were stunning. We had a fair amount of time to enjoy the view, as David and Jarek arrived at the summit about an hour behind us. We started the descent down the west ridge at 6:30 pm, knowing that a large portion of the return trip would be in the dark, using headlamps. The descent was surprisingly easy (mostly hiking with some moderate scrambling) and gave us fantastic views of the Edith Cavell’s impressive north face and the Angel Glacier below. When we reached the col of the west ridge, we again went ahead of David and Jarek, descending scree, rubble, and ledges to the valley floor. From there, a well-worn and easy trail took us around the west side of the mountain. This trail was also excessively long and at 10 pm we had to take the headlamps out. Finally, the trail joined up with the Astoria trail and another long hike brought us out to the Edith Cavell Road, with a 2.5 km hike back to the car from there. We were both quite physically exhausted long before this, making the last two hours quite excruciating.

At 11:50 pm we stumbled to the car, took a short rest, and then drove to the Astoria trailhead, where we waited (slept!) for David and Jarek to emerge. At approximately 2:30 am we spotted Jarek and gave him a ride back to the parking lot to his car. We had planned to ascend Mount Athabasca the next day (actually it was already the next day), but as Mark accurately put it, “I couldn’t ascend a flight of stairs right now!”, and so that idea was abandoned. We arrived back in Calgary at 10 am on Sunday. Overall, I’d have to say, the most exhilarating, enjoyable, riveting, grueling, and invigorating 14 and a half hours of my life, so far. Fantastic!!!  

The classic photo of Edith Cavell's East Ridge


At the col, with the ascent gully behind


Very colourful rock, enroute to the shoulder


Looking down on Angel Glacier, and Cavell Lake 


At the shoulder, with the East Ridge rearing up ahead


A closer look at the East Ridge; this view was almost enough to make me turn tail and run!


Ascending steep terrain, with meadows and trails far below


Setting up some protection on more steep terrain


Almost at the top


Mark, heading up to the second summit


Mark, celebrating at the summit


My turn at the top


A slightly hazy, but nonetheless spectacular view to the south


The hazy view to the west


Mark taking a rest and a magnificent view of the Edith Cavell's north face, as seen from the west ridge

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