Peak(s):  Mount Assiniboine - 11,864 feet
Date Posted:  08/15/2011
Date Climbed:   08/14/2011
Author:  Winter8000m

 Trial and Tribulation On the Matterhorn of the Rockies  

Climbing has always had its way of being humbling. That’s just part of the game we all have to figure out. Failure happens and you have to learn to deal with it and keep chasing that goal. I’ve been told that failing on something hard is better the succeeding on something easier, maybe that is true. I’ve also been told those choices you make to turn around are a life choice and that is 100% true. For some reason, that’s what I love about climbing, you really do control your future. Your life depends on those choices. Maybe sometimes the reasons are legit, while others maybe you just weren’t in your element.
Mount Assiniboine, Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are my home. They are the “big” mountains and I feel like my climbing is taking me to bigger objectives and goals. Someday, I wish to move to Canmore, Alberta but for now I’ll make the drive many times a year to get my teeth into the climbing here. Though no peaks are over 14,000 feet, they are all an alpinists dream. Climbers from all over the world travel here. From faces that make the Eiger North Face look like child play to world class ice and mixed climbing. The weather is harsher, summers shorter, approaches longer and harder, and climbs much more difficult. For me, that’s what I am chasing in climbing. I’ve been up here on two separate trips now in the last 5 months and am blown away by this place. These are the mountains that will get you ready for any ranges in the world.
Huge goal of mine in the winter

Glacier National Park

Shawn and I drove from the Tetons and headed North. We wanted to climb Mount Saint Nicholas, the most difficult peak in Glacier National Park with a 36 mile roundtrip count and lots of elevation gain. The lake we were going to camp by was nicknamed “Griz Bait Lake.” After hearing that, we gave up those plans. After all, that was a lot of mileage and a lot of bears! Maybe someday I will return with a group of 4 but we had a few stops to make in British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.
Columbia Icefields

The first couple days in the Canadian Rockies had poor weather. We traveled to the Columbia Ice fields where Athabasca, Mt. Andromeda, Snow Dome, Mount Alberta and etc. reside. On the way up, I really got to soak in my dreams. I have seen pictures and researched these climbs that have been my goals for a long time. It was just a whole new level staring at it in person. In a way, it made me believe in myself, that I really could do it. This place is an inspiration for me.
Another goal. To many!

Mount Assiniboine at sunrise

Our next project on the trip was Mount Assiniboine, the Matterhorn of North America via the 5.5 North Ridge. The northern Rockies have gotten a record snow year so when we called about conditions on the mountain and heard it was “wintery” we thought it would still be totally doable. All the mountains we saw around had patches of snow and were not too bad. We geared up from full blown winter gear to an alpine rock trip as we did not know what to expect. I cragged around Lake Louis for the day and then we headed off. We did not know what to expect.
Time to get on board

Thumbs up for life

We chose to take the helicopter to the start of the approach as what’s normally done. I have never been in one so it was very enjoyable. There was only one other party coming in with us, who kind of became our teammates in the long run. Our packs weighed about 55 pounds each so we had quite the load on a burly approach. Horse flies and mosquitoes were everywhere. The mountain looked like it had a ton of snow. It was still winter up there. It had so much snow that we were worried. The approach started out easy until we got to the “Gmoser Highway.” This is not a highway! This is a very small sort of ledge that splits the whole headwall to access the hut. Getting up and off of it is tedious, very loose, and confusing, with big exposure where one little slide under your feet will put you to your death. Though it was no harder then low 5th class, it made Broadway on Longs Peak look like a piece of cake. Shawn also agreed of it’s seriousness that it was harder then any of the 4 traverses or 14’ers. With 55 pound packs it became a step harder. Welcome to the Canadian Rockies!
The mountain. You can't take that couloir on the approach due to serac danger above. The Gmoser Highway instead goes up and straight accross headw

Lots of wet loose 4rth class to get to here. The small ledges run accross that face.

About that, don't fall

We took a while to find the entry but were stopped from a 55 degree slush snowfield for an hour with no way to get around it. Eventually we had to low 5th class it up a vertical wall with pretty fair holds and crawl by the moat around the top and jump to the other side. It was pretty intense. We then gained the ledges which at many times were only the width of your foot. After a couple of hours we finally escaped the ledges and got to the “Hind Hut” up higher below the mountain. We started getting ready for the next day and soon hit the bed.
Sunrise to remember

I did not sleep to well and woke up at 4:30 getting ready for summit day. Everyone that has been on the mountain this year has taken 15 or more hours due to its conditions. Only one team has summited this whole year which is Barry Blanchard and his guided group that took 22 hours round trip I have been told. A party came down after 15 hours and told us they stopped before the summit due to chest deep snow. I did not like hearing that, after all I wanted to climb this in alpine rock conditions not crappy conditions.
socked in and bad snow conditions.....bummer

We started up at 5 A.M. and it was warm. The snow had not gotten a freeze. The snow was all slush and a nightmare. On top of that a cloud had been formed over the mountain all night and morning. Though it looked more like a snow cloud then lightning or thunder it still concerned us. We started scrambling up and a lot of clouds formed around and we made the choice to bail. The snow would be a nightmare and quite dangerous and probably avy prone. It would be scary to be honest. Maybe in the long run, it was the right choice. It’s hard spending a lot of money on a trip only to be turned around by conditions and weather but it happens. To make the most out of it I chose two peaks nearby, Mount Sturdee and Mount Lunette. Two peaks around the 10,000 mark. These peaks were also serious.
1rst peak I summited is in the background. This is taken partway through the traverse.

Summit #1 Mount Sturdee

Shawn eventually went back to the hut and I went on by myself. It was nice to be high in the Canadian Rockies, all by myself, 20 miles away from the nearest trailhead parking lot, with one of the best views. I started off with the Class 2 scramble of Mount Sturdee and then headed for the traverse to Lunette. I didn’t know if it would be possible without a rope as it looked pretty serious, I thought I would just take a look. I didn’t even know anything about these two mountains. I don’t think anyone had been on the path I went as it all was virgin. It started off with some low 5th class down climbing for a couple hundred feet and then a traverse across steep very loose talus above a 3,000 foot drop. I finally reached the saddle relieved. Assiniboine was still socked in but elsewhere the weather was fine. I continued with a few moves of low fifth class and a lot of 4rth class.
Crux was downclimbing this headwall off the summit for a couple hundred feet with big exposure and loose rock!

Some huge exposure

At the end of the cruxes of the traverse

It was pure adventure. I had no idea of the route. It was up to me to figure out the way. No pictures or topo to follow, just me to rely on. I reached the summit soon and sat there just thinking about life. I’m just simply in love with living life. Soon I headed down to the hut.
Last summit....Mount Lunette

The "Hind Hut" we stayed in

Mount Assiniboine

Though I had to turn around on my main goal, I made the most out of the trip in the mountains. We left the next day.
Coming down

Oh and descending the Gmoser Highway or the approach was quite interesting. We made two rappels and were soon taking the ride over the Canadian Rockies. In life, things work out in there own way’s. All you can do is learn, move on, and never ever give up. Giving up is the real failure.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

its the journey, not the destination
08/16/2011 18:29
great trip man. I've been in that area once before and it's truly incredible. nice work getting after Assiniboine...that peak is not childs play for sure. At least you got the experience of being there, where few have trod. No shame in not reaching the summit.


I had no idea about the route ... it was up to me
08/16/2011 22:32
To figure out the way. Yes. What a special trip ... that area certainly is a world of its own when it comes to peaks. Love the shot of Mt. Saint Nicholas (Image #5). I've read much about that approach to the hut (the ”highway”) for an ascent of Assiniboine ... you did a great job of helping the reader feel the exposure and potential consequences involved. I always look forward to your trip reports ... adventurous is sometimes an understatement when it comes to you. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


Very True
08/17/2011 18:49
It's the journey not destination. I don't regret heading up there at all. It was a great experience with great people.

I tried my best to explain those ledges. Hard to put into words but I tried my best! Thanks for the kind comments guys.

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