Climbing Mount Robson
Our group of seven started at 15 people, but during the last 2 years
through training and testing, the weak and undetermined were weeded out. This
team represented the best and it was felt, this team had the best change at
summiting Mount Robson no matter what the weather. Our training ground was Mount Washington, New Hampshire, USA.
Although this mountain is only 6,288 feet, which makes it the second highest
mountain on the eastern seaboard, this mountain has some of "the world's worst
weather". This mountain has the record for the highest winds: 231 mph
Our backpacks, ranging from 85 to 115 pounds, have been ready to go for
the last two days and now, we are finally ready to climb the highest mountain in
the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson at 3,954 metres / 12,972 feet. We have packed
enough gear and food to last us for 10 days. A slight change to the
recommendations of the Mount Robson Park Service, for they told us that the best
chance we would have at summiting this mountain, would be to plan for a 1 week
window starting at "The Dome" during the last 2 weeks in August, instead, we
planned a 4 day window between 19 August and 22 August 1997. The extra food was
for "just in case".
Our route (known as the "Kain Face" route): trailhead (2,200') to Berg
Lake (23 km), Berg Lake (5,400') to Extinguisher Tower (Base Camp) (7 km),
Extinguisher Tower (7,100') to The Dome (High Camp) (5 km), and The Dome
(10,200') to the summit (2.5 km).
Day 1, Friday, 15 August 1997
Ottawa to Mount Robson Provincial Park day; up at 0500 hours to
catch a Canadian Forces Service Flight from Ottawa to Edmonton. It's a
beautiful, clear day in Ottawa. We left for Toronto at 0720 hours; from there we
went to Winnipeg and then finally onto Edmonton International Airport. Arrived
in Edmonton at 1215 hours in the rain. We then took a 45 minute taxi ride from
the airport to the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Edmonton. Here, at the Base
Transport Section, we signed for a 10 passage van and then prepared the van and
ourselves for the 4 hour drive from Edmonton to Mount Robson Provincial Park, located due West along the
Yellowhead Highway on the Alberta and British Columbia border. After an hour or
so, the van is packed, gased-up and we are ready to depart. We left CFB Edmonton
at 1530 hours for the Park. Exactly, 4 hours later, through continuous rain, we
arrived at the Park's Information Centre at 1930 hours. It has finally stopped
On arrival, we are informed that there are no more campsites available
along the trail. We are then forced to make a slight change to our original
plan, which was to start up the trail on arrival and go as far as possible
before night fall. So instead, for our first night, we ended up camping near the
highway at a public campground. We spent the evening preparing our packs,
reviewing emergency medical procedures, reviewing how to recognize altitude
sickness symptoms, etc. and at last, we turned in around 2130 hours. This change
has now reduced our window of opportunity by several hours.
Day 2, Saturday, 16 August 1997
Hump to Berg Lake day; up at 0325 hours. We wanted an early
start to make up for some of our lost time. The weather was great, it was 10°C
and no rain when we got up. After having a hot breakfast, repacking our gear and
the van, we drove to the trailhead where we parked the van. The peak of Mount
Robson was still in the clouds, but what an awesome looking mountain just the
same. The neighbouring peaks, about 2000 feet lower, looked like hills next to
it. At 0515 hours, after registering the team, we started hiking up the trail.
We were finally on our way for a trek of a lifetime. Everyone was excited.
This section of the trail up to Berg Lake was on a well groomed, gravel
trail. We crossed over the Robson River a few times on bridges along the trail
to Kinney Lake. Along the trail, we stopped occasionally to take some pictures.
A few hours later, we arrived at the foot of Kinney Lake. We decided to continue
up the trail since everyone was feeling great at this point, headed for the
"Valley of a Thousand Falls". Just after rounding Kinney Lake, the team decided
to take its first break, 2 minutes, before the "hump".
Up to this point, the trail had a low gradient; now comes the hump up
the Valley of a Thousand Falls. This section of the trail was beautiful, but a
very high gradient. We took lots of breaks as we slowly gained 800 m so that we
would not get "burnt-out". At 1215 hours, we arrived at the Hargreaves Shelter
(21 km) where we ate lunch and took a 2 hour rest. It was 17°C and our feet were
sore. The backpacks are starting to feel like lead, so the team decided to hike
to the Robson Pass wilderness campground site (23 km) and call it a
Day 3, Sunday, 17 August 1997
Hump to Extinguisher Tower day; up at 0400 hours. The weather at
7°C was cool, but dry when we got up. After another hot breakfast and repack, we
were on the trail by 0520 hours. The trail started off fairly flat, but we soon
found ourselves hiking up and down the side of a mountain on scree along the
Snowbird Pass route. If we had continued along this route, we would have been
totally exhausted by the time we reached Extinguisher Tower, so we decided to
"rope-up" and walk up the Robson Glacier to the Tower.
Walking up the glacier was much easier, but a lot more treacherous. We
had more to worry about, for example, slipping into a crevasse, but at least we
were saving our legs. Some of the holes we jumped over were quite deep, but our
real concern now was avoiding any kind of injury. If anyone was to get injured,
it would have changed our plans again. Luck was on our side, we safely arrived
at the Tower at 1230 hours. Dave and Sophie were really "feeling the weight"
now, so once again the team decided to call it a day. This was "Base Camp",
where Dave stayed and was our radio-relay point. It was now very hot and sunny,
After lunch, we set-up camp and toured the area. We visited John
Skjaerlund's cairn, which was a constant reminder of the dangers that we'll
face. We also met several climbing teams coming down from The Dome. Only one
team summited and they wished us luck too. Later in the afternoon, Eric, Chris,
and Howie walked up the glacier to recce the route up through the Mouse Trap.
After supper and a game of cards, the team was back in their bags by 1900
Day 4, Monday, 18 August 1997
Hump to The Dome day; up at 0330 hours. It was surprisingly
bright when we got up and once again the weather was cooperating, it was 5°C and
no rain. The mountains were highlighted from the moon and the glaciers appeared
to glow from within. By the time we broke camp, roped in and started up the
glacier, it was 0520 hours. Dave wished us all well. The hike along the glacier
was relatively uneventful. Occasionally, one of our feet would break through a
snow bridge, but we only sank to our thighs or knee caps. The crevasses got
progressively bigger as we approached the Mouse Trap. We meandered our way
around crevasses, over snow bridges and around seracs. We met one group of two
on their way down who had reached the summit on Sunday.
Having tried both routes, through and around the Mouse Trap, they
recommended the Mouse Trap route to Eric, as being the safest alternative up to
The Dome, especially that early in the morning. The longer route around and
above required technical rock climbing, rock protections, which we had not
brought, and a good 3-4 extra hours. We decided to go through the Mouse Trap.
The two largest obstacles in the Trap were near vertical walls of snow and ice.
The first section was perhaps 25 feet and the second was perhaps 50 feet. After
that, it was just a long slow trek to The Dome.
We reached the Dome plateau around 1130 hours. The teams that camped
here last week left built up walls to protect the tents. We quickly selected
suitable sites and began setting up. At this point, the sky was scattered clouds
and now and then we got a glimpse of our objective. Scary. 1700 hours, supper;
1800 hours, bed again. Very tired.
Day 5, Tuesday, 19 August 1997
Summit day; up at 0235 hours. It was cold, dry and overcast;
conditions were right and we decided to go. We started up the trail at 0400
hours. Another team was already on the Kain Face. The 1,000 ' face was almost
vertical, at least 60°. The hardest thing we had to do while on the Kain Face
was to skirt around the huge bergschrund. Halfway up the face, we passed the
other team. We were all on the "Roof" by 0700 hours. Wow! What a view. As we
pressed on towards the summit, the fog thickened and visibility was down to 10
feet. It was dead quiet and rather eerie. After a water and snack break, we lost
the route for a while, but managed to find it again. At 1130 hours, we were on
the summit and we couldn't see a thing. Damn! We were all extremely happy, but
tired. "We made it!" We radioed Dave to let him know where we were, took lots of
pictures and drank a little Champagne. "We've made it to the halfway point of
our trek safely", and at 1215 hours, we were on our way down.
Climbing back down from the summit was much slower than going up and
scarier. Occasionally, the fog lifted and we could see that a misplaced
foot-hold would result in a long fall. The climb down the face was an hour
longer than going up. At 1845, the team was safely back at our high camp on The
Dome. It was one long day and we were all bagged by this time. Once again, we
radioed Dave to let him know that we were all okay. Since we were all too tired
to eat a good supper, we went to bed around 2000 hours.
Day 6, Wednesday, 20 August 1997
Rest day; up at 0530 hours and not a cloud in the sky. The
weather was again really great, it was 5°C and cloudless when we got up. Spent
the day drying gear, airing sleeping bags, eating and playing cards. Even in the
clouds, we all got sunburns to one extent or another from yesterday’s long
exposure. The plan for tomorrow is to move our camp to the snow dome on Mount
Resplendent, if weather permits and attempt another summit up Mount Resplendent.
It should take us 4-5 hours to get there. From there, those most interested can
attempt the summit of Mount Resplendent (3,426 m / 11,134 ft) to complement the
expedition, since we achieved our objective earlier than expected.
By noon, it was 26°C in the direct sun and it got very hot while sitting
on the snow covered dome playing cards. Fearful of getting severely burnt,
everyone moved into their tents until the sun went down behind Robson. Howie
spent the day making a sun guard for his nose. One sunburn was enough for him.
The rest of us spent the time reading or thinking about tomorrow's possible
summit. Finally, with all our gear dried, repacked and nothing more to do, we
all went to bed around 1900 hours in anticipation for another early rise to move
our camp to the snow dome on Mount Resplendent.
Day 7, Thursday, 21 August 1997
Retreat back to Extinguisher Tower day; up at 0400 hours. The
weather looked terrible, it was 11°C and the clouds looked ready to pour down on
us when we got up. As we were stuffing the last few things into our packs, it
started to rain and the clouds surrounded us. We waited for about 20 minutes and
the clouds broke. It was 0530 hours and we decided to leave for Extinguisher
Tower, as no attempt would be possible today on Mount Resplendent. After we were
underway, it began raining again, but much harder; this time, the clouds stayed
above us. Both Eric and Chris were concerned about the rain and relatively warm
temperature. A few snow bridges collapsed on our way through the Mouse Trap, but
we kept going. It seemed like the whole mountain was coming down. As we made our
way through the Mouse Trap, we could hear sounds like thunder as seracs fell. We
had to get out of the Mouse Trap as quick as possible to the safety of the
When we got to the glacier, there were many more exposed crevasses. Eric
in the lead must have put his leg through 4-5 snow bridges. At 0840 hours, we
finally reached the base camp and found Dave still sleeping. We were soaked from
the pouring rain. A vote was required to determine whether we stayed or
descended to the Berg Lake shelters. We ended up pitching the tents and warmed
up with some hot drinks. By 1200 hours, the rain was weak and intermittent. A
few hours later, the sun was out a little and we were trying to dry our gear
again, but we did not have much luck. By 2030 hours, we were back in our
sleeping bags. The plan for tomorrow was to dry our stuff as much as possible in
the morning, then break camp around lunch time and hike as far as possible down
Day 8, Friday, 22 August 1997
Hike to Kinney Lake day; up at 0600 hours. Broken clouds and dry
weather was all we needed to dry our gear. While our gear was drying, again we
were playing cards. A deck of cards is one of the most important items to carry
when outdoors or you'll go crazy with boredom. After lunch, around 1300 hours,
we were repacked, roped-up and on the glacier heading down towards Berg Lake.
There was no one heading up at this time. We arrived back at the Hargreaves
Shelter within a few hours. We stopped for a rest and to sign the Climber's Log.
It was now very hot and sunny. Life was good and everyone was feeling great.
The hike down was a lot easier and more enjoyable than going up. We
weren't in any kind of a rush to get anywhere now, but we still made good time,
even with the several photo stops along the way. The "Valley of a Thousand
Falls" was so beautiful. We talked to all kinds of people from around the world
during the hike down, and most could not believe that we were on the summit a
few days earlier. It seemed like a dream even for us.
We finally arrived at the Whitehorn Wilderness Campground at Kinney Lake
around 1900 hours. Our food supply was now just about exhausted, but our
backpacks were lighter. We had enough food left for a meagre breakfast only. We
ate a lot more food than we planned. Everyone was looking forward to getting
back to civilization. We were sick of dried food, granola bars, etc.
Day 9, Saturday, 23 August 1997
Back to Edmonton day; up at 0730 hours. The weather was rather
warm with scattered clouds when we got up at Kinney Lake. Two hours later, after
eating a meagre breakfast, breaking camp and relaxing for a while, we were again
on the trail hiking back to the trailhead during our last leg/day in the Park.
The hike down was rather easy going, for we were in no rush to get anyway fast.
We were tired, sore, and lacking nutrition. We arrived back at the
trailhead/parking lot 2 hours later all safe and sore. "We did it!", and were
glad it was done. After loading the van and a little personal clean-up, we went
to the one and only "expensive" local restaurant and bought enough food to last
the 4 hour trip back to Edmonton. While at the restaurant, some bought and wrote
postcards to send to loved ones and others phoned loved ones to let them know
that we were all okay.
The trip back to Edmonton was uneventful and most of us slept the whole
way back. We arrived back at the Base 4 hours later. We got our quarter
assignments for the night, unloaded the van, and got all cleaned up for a night
out on the town. At 1800 hours, we were sitting in a chinese restaurant at the
"all-you-can-eat" buffet. After, two hours of eating, and we ate a lot, we went
back to Base Mess for a nightcap. We were all in our nice, warm, clean,
comfortable beds by 2200 hours. Ahh, life is really good again.
Day 10, Sunday, 24 August 1997
Sightseeing day; up at 0900 hours. It was really nice to be able
to sleep-in a little and not have to think about where you have to be today,
because we didn't have to be anywhere. The weather was really great, it was 18°C
and clear skies when we got up. After breakfast, we went back to the quarters,
relaxed and played cards until noon. After lunch, we went to the world's largest
mall, the West Edmonton Mall, where we spent the rest of the day looking around
and buying sovenirs. Six hours in the West Edmonton Mall is not enough time to
see it all, but after that much time in a mall, we had had enough, so we went
back to the Base for supper. After supper, went to the games room and played
pool until closing time around 2200 hours.
At this point in time, everyone was starting to feel better and we were
looking forward to getting back home. We still can't believe we made it up and
down Mount Robson via the Kain Face. Looking back, we realized just how scary it
really was up there. While climbing the Kain Face, we met and passed two other
guys climbing up the face. This climb was their fourth attempt at summiting.
They thanked us for allowing them to join our group up to the summit because
their lack of training and poor planning would have once again denied them the
summit. Our team spent a year training and planning for this summit, despite a
few setbacks, we succeeded with the help of some fairly good weather.
Day 11, Monday, 25 August 1997
Edmonton to Ottawa day; up at 0700 hours to catch a Canadian
Forces Service Flight from Edmonton back to Ottawa. It's a beautiful, clear day
in Edmonton. In the morning, we cleaned the van, returned it to the Base
Transport Section, and took a taxi to the Edmonton International Airport. We
left Edmonton at 1130 hours.
The flight back was uneventful and we were already talking about our
next Adventure Training trek to who-knows-where. After a few stops along the
way, we finally arrived back in Ottawa at 2100 hours. "Home Sweet Home." Another
checkmark to add to the list of accomplishments.
The Mount Robson Climbing Team - Rope Team A
Thibault, age 23, was the overall team leader and also, leader of Rope Team "A".
He is a Canadian Forces Signals Officer. His main duties within the team were to
train the team members as a whole and to plan this expedition.
Eric has been hiking and climbing for the past five years and was one of
the founders of this climbing team. He has taken numerous mountaineering courses
throughout Canada and the USA. Although, this summit was not his highest, it
certainly was his most challenging climbing experience. His backpack weighed the
most in the group, at 115 pounds, that is a lot of weight to carry up
Eric's tent partner was Chris. He was the lead person on Rope Team
Martel, age 23, was the only female in the group. She is a Canadian Forces
Communications Officer. Her main duty within the team was to help carry the
necessary equipment up to The Dome. Although, the climbing team was made-up of
all men except for Sophie, it was determined that she was a better climber than
any of the other candidates during the selection period. Sophie is married to
Sophie has been hiking and climbing with the team for the past two
years. Although, she was the "just" a girl, she easily carried her 85 pound
backpack up to The Dome. She was one strong girl. This summit was Sophie's
highest and was her most challenging climbing experience.
Sophie's tent partner was Pat. She was the middle person on Rope Team "A".
Falardeau, age 24, was the pack-mule in the group. He is a Canadian Forces
Communications Officer. His main duty within the team was also to help carry the
necessary equipment up to The Dome. He is married to Sophie.
Pat has been hiking and climbing with the team for only the past year.
His backpack was the second heaviest in the group, at 105 pounds, Pat easily
managed to hump up to The Dome with lots of energy to spare. This summit was
Pat's highest and was his most challenging climbing experience.
Pat's tent partner was Sophie. He was the anchor person on Rope Team "A".
The Mount Robson Climbing Team - Rope Team B
McGuffin, age 24, was not only the tallest in the group, but he was also the
deputy team leader and leader of Rope Team "B". He is a Canadian Forces Signals
Officer. His main duty within the team was to help train the team members as a
Chris has been hiking and climbing for the past five years and was also
one of the founders of this climbing team. He too has taken numerous
mountaineering courses throughout Canada and the USA. Although, this summit was
not his highest, it certainly was his most challenging climbing experience. His
backpack was the third heaviest in the group, at 100 pounds, that too is a lot
of weight to carry up 8,000'.
Chris's tent partner was Eric. He was the lead person on Rope Team
Gabert, age 25, was the second tallest in the group. He is a Canadian Forces
Communications Officer. His main duty within the team was to help carry the
necessary equipment up to The Dome.
Howie has been hiking and climbing for the past ten years while living
in Alberta. He has been hiking and climbing with the team for only the passed
year. This summit was Howie's highest and was his most challenging climbing
Howie's tent partner was Brian. He was the middle person on Rope Team "B".
MacLean, age 41, was the oldest in the group. He is a Canadian Forces
Communications Officer. His main duties within the team were to teach the team
members all about radio communications, set-up the radio communications network
during the expedition, and to assist Eric with the planning of this
Brian has been hiking and climbing with the team for the past two years.
Although not the strongest person in the group, he did mange to carry the team's
minimum 85 pound backpack up to The Dome and what a hump that was too. This
summit was Brian's highest and was his most challenging climbing experience.
Brian's tent partner was Howie. He was the anchor person on Rope Team "B".
The Mount Robson Climbing Team - Base Camp Warden
Connors, age 37, was the second oldest in the group. He is a Canadian Forces
Administrations Officer. His main duties within the team were to set-up the base
camp at Extinguisher Tower and to maintain a constant radio communications link
between the climbing team, himself, and the Park rangers should an emergency
evacuation be necessary. Although, the climbing team had radios, their location
while climbing, put them in a dead zone for a radio link with the Park rangers;
therefore, Dave's base camp location was to be the radio relay point.
Dave has been hiking with the team for the past two years. Although, he
does not actually climb mountains of this calibre, he has hiked with the team on
several occasions and was the only individual willing to come along on this
expedition and remain at base camp, performing the necessary radio
Dave did not have a tent partner, but while he was at Extinguisher Tower, he
did meet a lot of people who were passing through headed up to The