Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slipstream, Mt Snowdome, Canadian Icefields

Columbia Ice Fields, Mt. Snowdome - Slipstream is the obvious runnel of ice in the center of the picture.

This photo above shows about half of the actual climb. The climbers are on the first good ice pitch, of which there are four, with none of the lower approach gully or glacier showing.   
                                                      Amazing photos by Chris Scharf Photography

                                       Slipstream from the walk in on the 2nd ascent, Jan '81.

A real treat for from Jim Elzinga of John Lauchlan on the 1st ascent of Slipstream, Dec. '79. John had encouraged me to get on the climb and offered recent beta from working on a film about Slipstream.  Without out his encourgaement I would not have climbed it.

I think these are from the first waterfall section mid route.

For those into such things. John and Jim used Forest Serac Sabers that they cut down and modified the picks on the 1st ascent. They had leather boots and SMC rigid crampons. Of the four of us all except Gary used umbilicals. I lead all the water ice with the Clogs shown below on the 2nd ascent. Gary used the curved Chouinard tools. Gary had some of the first plastic Kolflachs in the country having bought his in Europe that fall while climbing in Chamonix. I had Haderer singles with super gaiters. Gary used Chouinard rigid crampons and I was on SMC rigids.

Gear Notes:

The upper slope provides the continued spindrift avis while on route. And the same slope loads and slabs off from the ice cap and sweeps the entire route clean many times each winter. The spindrift avis you'll likely live through. The powder snow slab avis are a toss up to live through depending where you are on the route when it happens. The nasty one will be part of the serac coming off. If you are in the waterfall pitches you may live through has happened. Check out the conditon of the serac barrier before you leave the highway.

Past that, climb fast...take the gear you need to do that. Get off in the light so you can find your way down the descent gully off to the climber's far left in the bowl.  Stay out of the crevassed nightmare that is the top of  Snow Dome. Walking off the south side of Snow Dome (been done) and down the Athabasca is not recommended.

Climb has up to 6 pitches of WI3/4+ ( or 3 depending again on your rope length). Nothing really hard by today's standards. Climb has every bit as much ice as Polar Circus and can be just as hard technically but is much, much longer and very alpine in feel.  Add the combined effects of a big mountain (3,456 m / 11,339 ft) with all the objective hazards to go along with that and you have a true classic.  Be careful,  pick the right conditions and climb fast.  We took 8 screws and while I looked for and wanted some in the upper bowl, I did not find a place for rock gear.

1st ascent took 3 days c2c.  A year later, the second ascent took 7 hrs and under 16hrs c2c walking down the Athabasca in the dark.  8 years later, and anyone's guess were the timing started, Slipstream was soloed in 2hrs plus of climbing.

Approach Notes:

An hour of so up the rock glacier from the highway. Most walk in as the snow gets blown off pretty fast. And you don't want to be on this route if there is a lot of new snow or wind around recently.

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