Elevation: 3,371m (Diadem) and 3,363m (Edith Cavell)
Location: Columbia Icefields & Jasper National Park
Climbing Partners: Matt Southcott, Brad Hartwick & Peter
Chapter 1: Snow Soup
It was the long weekend, and Matt and I planned to take full advantage by heading out on an ambitious plan to tackle three 11,000 footers over the span of those three days. Our eyes were set on Mt Diadem & Mt Woolley, joined summits in the Columbia Icefields. Then we would move on to Mt Edith Cavell, with two friends new to the mountains, in Jasper National Park.
I had reached the summit of Mt Diadem a couple years before this with some other climbing partners but was eager to navigate the ridge line of Mt Woolley, which we had foregone because of time.
The hike in to Diadem/Woolley is a lot of fun. You head to a pullout alongside the Icefields parkway, grab your gear and slip on some sandals (preferably some good, vibram-soled ones) and plunge into the icy glacier water.
Once across, the hiking boots go back on and you get to head up a beautiful trail, next to the gushing sound of the running water followed to base camp.
Reaching our base camp, we set up our tents beside one of the many rock walls to block the wind, and unwound.
The next morning we ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and trail mix, threw on our summit packs that were mercifully lighter than the ones used to set up our sleeping arrangement, and headed out onto the glacier.
We climbed for a good hour until we reached a logical spot for a break. I quickly produced one of my PB&Js from my bag and began mowing down.
“So, what do you think?” Matt asked.
“Gorgeous view and what a day, you could climb in a tee-shirt,” I said grinning.
“No, I mean do you want to keep going?”
I was confused. I had loads of energy and I assumed he did too so I wasn’t understanding the reason for the question. Matt looked up into the sun then back at me, “Put your ax into the snow and pull down.”
I did. Easily. The ax slid through the snow with little resistance, as if I’d put knife to butter.
Woah, I realized immediately that no self arrests would be happening if we took a tumble down the snow channel we’d just come up. Thankful for Matt’s awareness, I cursed myself for not paying closer attention to the conditions. I learned that day not to get too caught up in the excitement of the climb to the detriment of safety. This memory still races back to me when I climb today and ensures I keep vigilant. Sometimes you end up taking your equipment for a walk. But with views like this, who really cares:
Making the safe choice, we headed down to the truck and got ready to head to a Jasper campsite to meet up with Brad and Peter later that night.
Chapter 2: Bear Shit and Bad Directions
The next day we made our way south of Jasper towards Edith Cavell. Wispy clouds painted on a blue sky hung above us and the view of our objective was crystal clear. Once everyone was sorted we headed out onto the trail.
I started talking to Brad, a really good friend now but someone I was just getting to know then, as we hit the hard packed gravel trail. The topic was wildlife and how for as many times as I’d been to the Rockies over the past five years, I’d yet to see a bear close up. As the words were literally out of my mouth we rounded a corner and there in the middle of the trail was a brown bear.
It was maybe twenty, twenty-five feet away from us but we only got a split second look. The bear was gone as quickly as we had seen it, leaving behind a nice fresh pile where it had just been.
Now, I like to think the sight of four muscular woodsman barreling down the trail scared the shit out of this bear. In reality I think we just interrupted his morning constitution. Very rude of us.
Wide awake now, we continued down the trail to the beautiful open valley where we’d take a quick break and start the scramble up towards the summit.
The climbing was fantastic. Not particularly exposed but some stunning views opened themselves up to us the further we went. Helmets are recommended as this is quite a busy trail and therefore the risk of rock getting knocked down is very real. I realized my mistake in being last as the two new climbers above sent some sizable chunks of stone hurdling my way. Being the nimble mountain lion I am though, I was able to avoid getting hit by anything.
We reached the cliff’s edge, which began the ridgeline walk up to the summit and used the ample flat ledge as a spot to pause, drink and eat.
The rest of the way up I felt energized and boulder hopped and scrambled before reaching the scree band. At this point there is one main goat path that takes you along the crumbling rock to the final rock ledge that leads to the summit. This way you can finish the climb from the backside of the mountain without having to expose yourself to the sheer drop on the other.
The final stretch to the summit was simple enough and we ran in to a few groups that had done the long traverse and were heading in the direction we had just came. I told them to keep heading down the rock ledge. I did not, however to tell them to keep a constant eye out to their right for the goat path. Long story short, we ended up beating them back to the cliff’s edge resting point – despite taking our sweet time on the summit. They were pretty good about it but I’ve since learned to try and avoid giving directions, distances or time estimates.
Some hero shots at the top were of course taken and we made the long traverse back to our vehicles. It had been a really great weekend but I was definitely ready for a burger and cold beer. It was great to take Brad and Peter out and I’m pretty sure there will be many mountain adventures in their futures.