Wow! What an amazing finish to a great Mountain Skills Semester. Combining all of the skills learned in the past three months enabled our group to lead the trip to the summit of Mt Columbia. The highest point in Alberta, Mt Columbia was the final jewel in the crown. The trip did however have it’s share of hardship with numerous hours of white out, spring snow storms, 9 km of difficult rocky walking in ski boots and many blisters.
Day one: A 7km walk in ski boots to the glacial lake revealed that we had chosen the wrong side of the lake; this added and extra kilometer or two and a creek crossing to correct. The final few km to our camp were tiring but also rewarding as we skied onto the beautiful Saskatchewan glacier.
Day two: Slowly but surely we passed the icefalls trapping the Saskatchewan glacier and gained the Columbia Icefields neve. This seamed to be the perfect time for the clouds to come in and practice whiteout navigation. With the skills learned we had no problems finding the Trench. We were now in a position for a summit attempt.
Day three: With some serious blisters in the group most were happy to be stuck in the tent as a Rockies spring snowstorm raged outside. As it cleared at the end of the day we did some creative snow shelter building.
Day four: Here’s a day any mountaineer would kill to be on! A 4am departure from camp for Mt Columbia under mixed skies brought us to the base of the East face. We took turns kicking steps in perfect snow up the face and found excellent conditions. Clouds engulfed the face as we were about half way up but cresting the summit ridge was an experience that none of us will forget. Out of the clouds and into the clear. We spent half an hour on the summit enjoying views of the majestic peaks in the northern Rockies and Selkirks. River valleys filled with streams of puffy white clouds looked like toy models far below our feet! With well over 50 km traveled on this trip, all twelve MSS students on the summit were more than deserving of the success. A quick descent and ski back to camp let us enjoy the success of the day and the sunny weather.
Day five: With the objective completed we headed back across the Columbia Icefields to the top of the Athabasca glacier, lot’s of whiteout navigation this day. Folks have the map work dialed!
Day six: The final field day of the three-month semester. A whiteout ski down the Athabasca glacier through heavily crevassed terrain to the road and the end of the trip meant no easy end to the semester. An amazing accomplishment for 12 great folks who are all ready for their own adventures in the mountains.
Looking forward to seeing you all out there!
Jesse de Montigny
Outside of the mountain skills semester, Yamnuska offers a Mt Columbia Ski Mountaineering trip as an open enrollment program.