Mount Columbia; Alberta’s tallest mountain

On the 24 through to the 26 April, Jaime and I decided to go trek on out and ski Mount Columbia, Alberta’s highest mountain at 3747m. Mount Columbia is on the far side of the Columbia Icefield, a large glacier that encompasses a huge glacial plateau on the border of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.

Jaime with heavy packs leaving the car

Jaime and I ascended up the Saskatchewan glacier, we decided on this route as the forecast temperatures were for intense warming over the length of our trip and we didn’t want to deal with travel through the usual Athabasca glacier route, especially on our descent. In what would turn out to be a pretty constant theme for this trip, things turn out to be a lot further travel than they appear.

Thankfully only one river crossing
Long flats to get onto the glacier
Jaime reaching the Saskatchewan glacier

We walked from 10am until 5pm when we crested the main columbia icefield plateau and decided that was far enough to set up camp. There was a fair amount of wind blowing snow and generally making life a little uncomfortable, so we spent some time building a good camp kitchen area and wind barrier around our tent.

Jamie and camp

We had dinner and proceeded to get into the tent and watch some shows on my iPhone, when at about 9pm, Zach and Angelo show up. The team for summit day the next day was now four. We awoke, ate breakfast and left at about 7am for Mount Columbia, a 12km as the crow flies distance from camp. As we neared Columbia, it slowly arose above the glacial plateau into our view; a funny looking mountain, more of a minor peak jutting out just above the glacier.

Jaime and Columbia
Jaime and Columbia

Zach, as always, lead the boot pack with great pace and enthusiasm up to the summit.

Zach and Angelo nearing the summit
Jaime cresting the final pitch to the summit and the Columbia icefield behind

The ski down the 700 vertical metre prominence of Mount Columbia to the glacier was pleasant and uneventful.

Zach snowboarding Columbia
Zach snowboarding Mount Columbia
Jaime skiing Columbia
Jaime skiing Columbia

After skiing the prominence, a long flat ski back down the glacial plateau to ‘the trench’ which separates Mount Columbia from the rest of the Columbia Icefield was a relief from the skins on flat glacial walking that we had grown accustomed to over the last two days. We did stop to look back at Mount Columbia though.

Our tracks on Columbia

Skins on at ‘the trench’ for a climb back up to the top of the icefield and then another long just downhill descent back to camp.

Climbing out of ‘the trench’ back to the top of the icefield; columbia in the background

The next day Jaime and I decided there wasn’t anything that really enthralled us to ski within easy striking range of camp; and so with waning enthusiasm and strong temperatures and sun, we skied down the Saskatchewan glacier and made our way back to the car; we made it to the flats a few km from the car before the isothermal soup of a snowpack experiencing 15’c + direct sun really began to make travel difficult. My GPS unfortunately didn’t properly track the descent, but in total we travelled just under 60km over the three days.

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