Mt. Victoria North
Mt Victoria, this summit has a been a pivotal point in my life. It has introduced me to mountaineering, opening up so many new expeditions and goals through out the the Canadian Rockies. As well as having the biggest learning experiences from packing, nutrition, and rope systems, all learned through trial and error of three attempts to tackle this classic Canadian peak.
At the end of summer 2015, I brought up climbing our first Glaciated peak, and 11’000r of the Canadian Rockies to Matt Perdeaux, and we quickly looked at the iconic Mt. Victoria, which lies behind the beautiful Lake Louise in Banff National Park. We set this as a goal for 2016 summer and spent the winter going over rope systems, crevasse rescues and route.
Our first attempt was quite sloppy, only bringing my single man tent while Matt brought a Canadian tire tarp, and headed up to basecamp with less than desirable conditions to attack. Through out the night we were experiencing heavy rain, and thunder that felt like the storm was only feet above camp, and thunder so strong we could feel it deep in our chest. All we could do was finish the beers we brought and laugh it out as we macgyvered a tarp system attaching it to my single man tent to wait out the storm. As the night went on, the storm passed and I went out at around 1 am to pee, and the stars were out and clear, and to the east I could see flashes of lightning occasionally lighting up the sky. I went back to bed to get a couple more hours of rest before beginning our attempt to the summit.
Our first attempt was not bad considering it our first time on a glacier and not super aware of the route. We set off 3 am from camp, got on the glacier and hugged the avi slopes to our right instead of walking up the crevasse filled glacier to the left. After a few hours of ascending, we found ourselves at a dead end with steep cliffs, knowing we definitely went off course. We made the decision that it has already gotten quite hot, and to get back on route to continue the ascent would make us vulnerable to sluff slides coming down from the Col. So we made the decision to turn back to camp and take this first attempt as a heavy recon mission.
On September 13th, Matt and I began packing to head back up to Mt. Vic’s base camp. The weather was looking good, conditions not as much, we had quite a few days of snow leading up to it, and we were unsure how the avalanche slopes would be now. The hike back up to the bivy site was beautiful with all the larch trees beginning to change color. The camp was colder and it got darker much earlier so we were in bed at around 9 pm. I had a great sleep, and woke up to the alarm at 3 am. Matt and I quickly arose and were stoked to begin our ascent and stand on top of Mt. Victoria. Once we got on the glacier, Matt and I followed the same route hugging the cliffs until we got over a horizon, and we could see the path ahead, and there were 3 – 4 fresh avalanche slides crossing our path and going in to the crevasses to our left. We laid out a tarp in a safe area to wait for a bit of sun, so we could see the route clearly. We laid down for close to an hour, when the sun just started to come up, and light the path ahead of us. From what we could see, the path didn’t look safe to continue and we haven’t even got to the steeper slopes yet, so we made the heart breaking decision to turn back to camp. We slowly made our way back, enjoying the sun rise, lighting up the glacier creating a beautiful red over the mountain. Once returning to camp, we looked up at the summit, heart broken knowing that was our last chance for the year.
When the long winter came to and end, and the mountaineering season came back, Matt went back up to basecamp to scout out conditions of the glacier and the potential cornices that over hung our route. After looking at the footage Matt brought back, we made the decision to wait it out a few more weeks to let the cornices melt back, and become less of a hazard or another reason for us to turn around. In the mean time, we decided to tackle another 11,000r; Mt, Athabasca. Mt Athabasca was a fun, relatively easy ascent up the silver horn, with amazing views of the ice fields. Felt good to have my first glaciated peak under my belt, it also left us with a lot of confidence going in to our third attempt at Mt. Victoria.
Two weeks after Athabasca, Matt and I packed up our bags one last time to head back to Lake Louise and trek to basecamp. On our arrival, matt had surprised me with beers that he hid under a rock about a month earlier when scouting out the glacier. What a friend! We cracked beers, set up camp, and rested for the big day ahead.
When the alarm set at 3:30, stoke was high. Energy gels were had. And the temperature was cold. Everything seemed good to go, and we both had this nervous/ excited feeling that we knew today was the day that we stand on Mt. Victoria. Once we got to the glacier and roped up, I lead the way, this time heading over the crevasse filled glacier. We moved slow and steady over the crevasses, as it was still pitch black out and we could only see what was illuminated from our headlamps. About 2 hours in, we hit the bottom of the “black band”, a large rock band that lead up to the collier between Mt. Victoria and an unnamed peak. Matt took over the lead and began to ascend up the loose rock. After grinding our way up, we looked down, knowing this would be quite sketchy to down climb on our return. We looked on to the summit as the sun began to rise over the surrounding mountains, and turned the glacier and snow red. When we thought stoke couldn’t get anymore high… it did. Laughing uncontrollably at the beauty surrounding us. We strapped our crampons on and Matt continued to lead the way along the col towards the crux of the climb. The 5.6 trad rock step. Once standing at the bottom of the “Hillary step of the Rockies”, Matt racked up the trad gear and ascended an unknown pitch of rock. (later finding out we were off course and the climb was more of a 5.8) Matt launching in to the unknown, ascending rotten loose rock placing pro whenever there was an opportunity, hearing him yell out in pain of loosing feeling in his fingers on the frozen rock. I was not looking forward to following his lead. After he finished the climb, I ascended it, blown away with matts lead, couldn’t believe he lead such a challenging alpine pitch. Once I topped out, we high-fived and went quiet, not many words were spoken and we both felt like we got away with murder on this pitch. Putting our full weight on loose rock because there was no other option. Looking up we saw the horizon knowing there was not much left to the summit. We strapped the crampons back on, and I lead the last 20 minutes of easy glacier climbing until topping out on the summit of Mt. Victoria. It was completely still, almost no wind except for the odd soft gust. The smoke from the forest fires hazed the valleys below, and looking down we can see the village of Lake Louise slowly come alive. We both sat in silence taking in all the beauty and reminisced on all the preparation and perseverance we had to summit this beautiful mountain. We chatted and wondered how many photos we were in at that moment, how many photos of people walking in to the distance with an inspirational quote for there Instagram, or the amount of selfies and mid jump photos at the other side of Lake Louise with beautiful Mt. Victoria, than returning to there car. While we sat on the summit, looking down at the lake in the distance, only half way… still need to go down.
What a journey Mt.Victoria has been, and what a feeling it was to finally complete it, to know what it is like to stand on the top of her. Finally easing my mind, and can move on to the next goal.