In 2008, Steve House and Vince Anderson made the first ascent of a new route up the north face of Mount Alberta in the Canadian Rockies. The House/Anderson WI5+ M8 R/X 1000 m was repeated by Nick Bullock and Will Sim in 2014. Tom Livingstone writes about his and Uisdean Hawthorn’s third ascent of the grade-six route below (more photos on Livingstone’s blog here).
Uisdean Hawthorn and I have just returned from the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies. We’ve made the third ascent of The House/Anderson route on the north face of Mount Alberta, which took us two days. We attempted this route last year after being inspired by Nick Bullock and Will Sim’s ascent, but we had to bail due to poor conditions. This year, however, we found the mountain in much better shape – the ice was well formed, and the rock was well-frozen and mostly bare.
We swung leads up the famous headwall, climbing overhanging ice, steep dry tooling and loose mixed climbing. Bivying in the cave located halfway up the headwall was also one of the most surreal experiences either of us have ever had in the mountains. We descended the mountain just before bad weather arrived, very content to complete a two-year dream.
On our first day (Thursday) we left the nearby hut (more of a shed!) at 1 a.m. and rapelled down to the glacier beneath the face. It felt incredibly committing to walk beneath the mountain with no real chance of a rescue if something went wrong. Uisdean and I have just come from the Alps, which has phone signal, cablecars and helicopters everywhere, so it felt pretty “out there” to be beneath the towering, 1000-metre face and to be self-reliant.
We climbed over the ‘shrund and then moved together up the icefield as dawn broke, reaching the base of the headwall at 8 a.m. Uisdean quickly climbed past the wire we had bailed off on the first pitch (M7) during our attempt at The House/Anderson last September (2015). We climbed another few mixed pitches around the same grade, and a short section of aid where there should have been ice, to reach a gully clogged with solid glacial ice and snow mushrooms. These features led to the cave bivi at 6 p.m., a tunnel which twists and turns into the heart of the mountain and is easily one of the craziest features I’ve ever seen on a mountain. We spent the night here, feeling very lucky to be “relatively” warm and lying down.
On the second day (Friday) we climbed the final three pitches of The House/Anderson to reach the top of the headwall, and then Uisdean climbed the last 150 metres to the summit in one big pitch. It was 1 p.m. and we were surprised at how early we’d arrived. Unfortunately cloud had covered the upper part of the headwall since daybreak and we were worried about being caught in a storm, but occasional patches of blue skies helped our descent down the long ridge of the Japanese Route. By the time we reached the start of the rappels, we were below the cloud and relaxed. It began to snow/rain during our descent and we still had to negotiate the complicated choss-pile and numerous cliff bands, so we were kept in focus throughout.
It felt sweet to reach the hut just as it got dark, late on the second day. It had been an epic route which kept us involved and tested us, mentally and physically. I was seriously impressed by Steve House and Vince Anderson for questing up the headwall on the first ascent, and for Nick Bullock and Will Sim to inspire us further by making the second ascent. Thanks also to the Canadians who have given wisdom and advice, and for Nick Sharpe for his generosity with accommodation and transport in Canmore.