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Routes in Mount Robson

Emperor Ridge T 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b AI3
Kain Face Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c AI3
Patterson Couloir T AI3
South Face/Schwartz Ledges T Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c AI2-3 X
Type: Trad, Ice, Alpine, 10000 ft, Grade III
FA: C Kain, M Geddes, T Moffat, M Pollard, 1924
Page Views: 3,450 total, 40/month
Shared By: Ken Trout on Dec 12, 2010
Admins: Kate Lynn

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INTRODUCTION

The shortest route up Mt Robson also has the only hut, the Ralph Forster. Please don't let the presence of a hut give you a false sense of security.

Two thousand feet above the safety of the hut, an almost perpetually broken, unstable, and overhanging serac can let loose deadly ice block avalanches onto the route's crux. There is no managing the risk completely with pre-dawn timing and freezing temperatures because the unpredictable movement of the glacier can shrug off huge amounts of ice onto the Schwartz Ledges at any time.

Starting in January of 2016, the camping reservation system may make it very difficult for climbers to honestly and simply just hike in to the safer Kain Face when the rare good conditions occur. If this system fails to work for non-heli' climbers, then the South Face might appeal. Personally, it calms me to think of the South Glacier's serac cliff as the Kumbu Ice Fall of North America, a proven killer guarding a prize no climber can resisit.

Remember Pete Steers who worked at Neptune's? We talked just after he soloed this route. He just zoomed up from Boulder when conditions were great and thought the South Face was one of the best climbs of his career. Another good reason this route is favored by both soloists and some teams descending the North Faces is that the south side requires less travel on crevassed glaciers.

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

The first day is usually spent climbing to the Ralph Forster Hut. After leaving the trail at the creek that drains the Great Couloir, a long climb roughly follows the steep rib forming the south boundary of the Great Couloir (GC). Leaving the creek bed of the GC is made difficult by a 100 foot rock band - dodge right.

After 3,000 of steep hiking, rock work, a ladder, and ,hopefully, cut vegetation, the Black Wall forces the route left. Cairns lead one to some wet ledges. These ledges have a rappel anchor at the top (easy 5th class). Above the Black Wall, aim right/south for the ridge-step formed by the the Black Headwall. A 5.3 chimney climbs the step and then the ridge crest is followed to the Hut (Sean Dougherty, Selected Alpine Climbs, 1991). Others have described a rising traverse left to dodge the Black Headwall.

Above the hut, the south ridge is climbed past Little Robson, scrambling with crest bypasses. Then the crux, traversing left across the low 5th class Schwartz Ledges, directly in the line of fire from the ice cliff (photos). Getting closer than 70 meters to the ice cliff is a route finding mistake!

Some say your only under the hazard for less than 20 minutes when the ledges are dry.

Once past the calving ice, some used to do a long traverse under the Roof (uppermost south glacier) in order to join the Kain Route on the southeast ridge. Instead, more climbers seem to be going up directly via weaknesses near the ice feathers on the west side of the Roof Glacier.

Recently, there have been years where bare ice on the Kain/Southeast Ridge made down-climbing too difficult. Instead, rappels are done off v-threads west of the ridge - more directly down the roof anyway. So it seems there is no reason for the long traverse to the SE Ridge anymore.

Metric elevation gain, hut to summit; 1,400 meters.

DESCENT
Be ready to place rappel anchors in icy conditions. If instead there is snow, it may be okay to down-climb the steep upper slopes all the way to the Schwartz Ledges.

Some teams have stayed above the ice cliff, descended the glacier, and then done one or two long rappels down the serac ice cliff. The goal is to land the rappel on the ridge above Little Robson, without triggering an ice collapse.

Otherwise, you get to reverse the traverse of the Schwartz Ledges, again under the threat of calving ice.

The rest of the descent is simply reversing what has already been done.


LINKS
To get the best current conditions check the mountain condition reports at Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.

Bill Kerr's telephoto of the ledges and serac @ Summit Post

Chris Guolet's photo of The Roof shows how the route is trending left of the southeast ridge. Also, taken from an angle that shows why the uppermost South Glacier is called the The Roof.

Someone should probably be sainted because the South Face Webcam is a miracle.
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
The Ralph Forster Hut was taken in by chopper from another location, I believe. A friend received quite a shock when he saw the hut, because he had already slept in it when it was on a different mountain. He said it was a bizarre feeling to see the same hut in a completely different location! Or maybe it was just the drugs! Sep 7, 2012
It was Nicholas Vanderbilt, not a Rockefeller, who I think you're referring to in this section about the Ledges. Nick and Francis Gledhill, both Harvard climbers, disappeared in 1984 on the Wishbone. They were seen at 11,000 feet just off the ridge and were never seen again. A great deal of equipment that may have been theirs has come out of the West Bowl, suggesting they may have attempted an escape that direction. Sep 6, 2012
Ken Trout
Golden, CO
 
Ken Trout   Golden, CO
 
Thanks George, I've got some more beta from Boulder. Everyone knew the late Peter Steers because he worked at Neptune's. Pete soloed this route via the direct finish and downclimbed the ledges too; several years before something besides an avalanche got him. This really is the kind of climb that good friends don't ask others to join them on! Jan 5, 2011
George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
I attempted this route many years ago. We had perfect weather and first traversed over to the Wishbone Arete, but this route was rotten and covered with a foot of fresh snow. The next day we headed up the South Face but the weather window had closed and the peak was fogged in. Partway up we were lost, of course, and in a sudden clearing we saw we were wandering around right under a huge ice cliff. Down we went. Dec 31, 2010