Mt. Victoria North - NE Ridge (II) 3,388m (11,115 ft)
Date Climbed: August 23, 2015
Mt. Victoria from the glacier toe
Special Note: A big day despite the easy approach. Start very early (4am at the latest), and consider the avy risk on both the slopes below Collier, and the snow route around the rock step. Having been up there 5 times, I can attest to the fact that the lower glacier is getting severely broken up.
Getting there (from Calgary):
Head to Lake Louise. Park at the main tourist parking area at the Chateau.
The hike in:
From the Chateau, hike a tourist trail (more like a road) around the lake and keep on a good trail to the teahouse (6km from car). From teahouse area, follow the Plain of six Glaciers trail for approximately 100m, where you'll take a very non-obvious turn right at the first set of trees after an old avy chute. The turn is not obvious at all (done to deter tourists from going up there), but 20m in, the trail becomes an actual trail which is easily followed to the top of the moraines. Follow good cairns and a path in the scree to the glacier's edge (2-2.5hrs from car).
From the glacier, you'll immediately notice a giant rock buttress sticking out of the glacier about 400m ahead of you. The safest and best way up is hugging the rightmost edge of the glacier, and easily scramble this buttress. There are surprisingly deep and huge crevasses right about 200m in, so roping up is smart. You can go around the buttress to it's left, but this exposes you unnecessarily to many (many!) crevasses, and makes travel quite arduous.
From the backside of the buttress after scrambling it, pick your line of least resistance (consider the slopes above for avy risk), and make your way up to the flats beyond. The best line is slightly diagonal and right.
Once at the flats, the Bergschrund will easily be visible, and you should have decent options to cross it. There is usually a bridge that stays well into the year (even in dry years) that can be crossed. If not, simply go high and right of it as it doesn't split the entire face (not yet as of 2015 anyway). Having attempted this mountain 4 times prior to my successful summit, the schrund was never an issue - nor was it on this day. Plus, it's actually not that deep so the feeling of exposure is not a huge factor.
Once across the schrund, pick your way up the black/grey rock band on very good ledges, passing a few rap stations along the way. You can call this a 3rd class scramble at most - the exposure to the glacier below being the only reason. It poses no technical difficulties and roping up on this would certainly be overkill.
The ridge is easily scrambled to after the black band, through the yellow band. once on the ridge, things get fun, and the scenery is spectacular.
5.3 rock step - The rock step looming above looks very intimidating, but can easily be scrambled to it's based, leaving you with 10m of climbing to go (at most). The rock quality is great, holds great, and if dry, climbed right in the chimney-like weakness (you'll find a pin to clip). Above that, it's simply a scramble to the summit.
Full Disclosure - we took the snow bypass, but I examined the rock step on our rappel from it while coming down.
Snow Bypass - fun! But then again, I'm not a rock fan, and love snow and ice, so I might be bias. This route up makes the climb feel like an actual alpine climb, instead of an alpine scramble. It is however, very condition dependent. I've seen folks simply walk across below the buttress, and easily climb up the snow, and I've seen it as ice. We had a combination of both so be prepared (gear wise).
To climb this, simply hop on the snow/ice next to the rocky scramble, and climb up to the buttress's north wall above. Traverse the wall however it is possible (we had grey alpine ice here), and protect it/your second accordingly. The use of trad gear in the rock would be useful (on the smaller scale), or a few standard KB's - which we had, and used 2 (cleaned on follow). Keep working your way across until you can round the buttress to it's right. Climb straight up and angle slightly left when possible, where hopefully the ice turns back to snow for you (it did for us about 60m from the ridge). Protect via ice screws here, or pickets if you're lucky (we weren't lucky). Once you reach the summit ridge, gear down a bit, and scramble up easily to the summit.
Descend down following the ridge proper until a slung rap station can be seen above the 5.3 rock step. Rappel 25m to the next visible slung station. Either downclimb from here if dry, or if snowy/icy, rappel another 20m to where the angle eases off. Scramble down to the col above the yellow and grey band.
At the grey band, you'll find some slung stations to rappel, but I've always found it quicker, easier and frankly safer to just downclimb the ledges. More like steep down-scrambling than down-climbing. Rappel if you choose, but be very aware of the rockfall potential as you pull your ropes.
Above the schrund, simply follow your up tracks down. Do the same on the glacier keeping in mind that whatever bridge you crossed on the way up is likely to be weaker later in the day. You're tired - keep your mind focused.
Reverse the trail to the teahouse, and back to Lake Louise.
Car to car: 15hrs (a quick team of 2 would be closer to 12)