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My Arrival: on Loss, on Giving


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ACC GMC 2007

Day 5: Mount Alexandra - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our day begins early, with a 5:00am wake up, breakfast at 5:30am, and departing camp at 6:00am.

This is the first time Iíll be heading to the more rugged north side of the valley. We cross the frigid South Rice brook with its barely liquid waters, just melted from the West Alexandra Glacier that towers high up to our right in the early dawn light. We then begin to slog up the scree of the headwall beneath Coral Peak. I look up at the vertical-looking face of Coral. It looks so steep that the loose scree hanging on parts of it surely must be somehow defying gravity. But yet, somehow, it is across this face that people had found a cliff band to traverse upon which allowed them to gain the West Alexandra Glacier. And this is the key to gaining the route up the crown jewel of the area, Mount Alexandra itself, one of the prized fifty-four 11,00erís of the Canadian Rockies.

The headwall quickly moves into moderate scrambling terrain and my thoughts are pulled back to the climbing at hand. We make our way up a long section of mind-numbing scree to a short pitch of 5.2 that delivers us to the top of the headwall. We then begin circling left around the flanks of Coral towards Queant. We can see the Cowboy Couloir, a single white stripe running down Queantís face, looking steep and fierce.

Heading downwards to the gravel bed at the toe of the glacier, we cross a snowy slope. It must have been a cold night as the surface of the snow is firm - very firm - as requires aggressive kick-stepping to gain good foot holds. The couloir will require just right snow: not too soft as to be ripe for slides and not too hard as to be too technical for our large rope teams. 

Once at the gravel bed, Conrad and Peter step aside and chat briefly before announcing that the snow is likely too hard due to the unusually cold night. We have to forgo the couloir in favor of the easier normal route around the backside of Queant, which is not much more than a walk.

Awe. That's a disappointment.

I look upwards at the clear blue sky. Even though not quite right for the couloir, it looks like it's going to be a great day for climbing. I think out loud to Ben how perfect a day it would be to be going after Alexandra, the 11,000er. 

Who knew if there would be another day as nice as this?

He nods in agreement. Conrad walks back over to us and Ben jokingly shares my comment about Alexandra to him. Surprisingly his response is not to laugh it off. Itís early and we have only come 15 minutes past the turn-off to its route.

Climbing up Coril's headwall.


 Leroy comtemplates life with the Cowboy Coulior, the stripe of snow heading up the centre of Queant, far in the distance. Maybe Leroy is really just wondering exactly what he's gotten himself into today.


The first team preparing to rope up at the toe of the glacier. All of the snow in the shade is very hard - and the couloir is shaded.

Here's a shot of Coril's face that we'd need to traverse to get to Alexandra... the route goes to the right from up above the top of the waterfall... who knew from looking at it.


 Traversing our way along the face of Coril.


Conrad smiling at the end of the Coral traverse; the Alexandra glacier stands waiting before us.

Conrad asks who would be interested in a second change of plans - an attempt at Alexandra. My heart jumps and without hesitation I give my vote.


After a second Ben chimes in with a positive as well, followed by Dave and Greg.

Conrad only has room for four on the rope, however, and everyone on their original team has so far voted ďyes.Ē Even though I was first to respond, Iím nervous that if their final member votes positive, I might be ousted because I was not on their rope originally.

I look over to their remaining team member. 

He says he doesnít care either way. Conrad says he might as well switch to the other rope, then. Iím in!

Our day of disappointment has been revived. Weíd be making an attempt at the crown jewel. My spirits soar.

We have to make quick time, though. It is fairly early, but weíve wasted some time and need to backtrack about 15 minutes to get on the path to Alexandraís route.

We quickly begin climbing back up the hard snow slope that had been the trigger of our twisted change of plans. We move across it and soon are back at the top of the 5.2 pitch. From there we begin the seemingly impossible traverse across the face of Coral Peak that is the gateway to gaining the West Alexandra Glacier. At points we hang on to the solid face of Coral on our left. A slip would result in a slide on the scree for 20 meters before a plummet down the vertical face. 

Best to hang on and not slip.

We slowly traverse and, other than a few sections, it is an easy walk to the glacier. It always amazes me how something that looks so fierce from below can turn out to be so pleasant.

At the glacier we rope up and Conrad radios in to base camp to announce our change of plans. We march across the glacier at a steady pace until we reach the Alexandra/Whiterose col, where we turn left to begin climbing the face of Alexandra. Conrad decides we should transition to the rock, so we unrope and pull the crampons off of our boots.

Roping up at the toe of the West Alexandra Glacier.

Moving along nicely, with Coril now in the distance.

The rock is not good. It is very loose and crumbly. Far to our left, the rock is much lighter in colour and looks to be much more solid. We traverse a couple of gullies filled with hard snow, with Conrad chopping steps as he leads the way across. The light rock is indeed much more solid and we make good time to where the face flattens out to a large snow-covered bench. We trudge across that to where we again have a choice: continue on the snow as it steepens to a 55-degree slope, or move again onto the rock.

Conrad decides on the rock as it looks good and I have spotted a path through sections of scree. But once again, it is very loose for the most part and Conrad puts us all back on the rope to belay a few sections where there are marble rocks over smooth slab. Soon frustrated with this, we decide to move back onto the snow once the angle of it eases to about 40 degrees. We make great time on it as we traverse right while we climb steadily. The snow is still firm, and a few short sections are even quite icy.

We once again hit a spot where we have to transition to the rock. The slope is steep. Conrad has Ben put in an ice screw to hold us in case someone takes a slip moving onto the rock. 

The rock section is short, and it isnít long before we have to get back onto the snow yet again. But this is the last section and will bring us to the summit. We are on time and the weather is good. The only thing that could stop us now is a menacing-looking cloud to the west that has potential to bring lightning. We quickly get our crampons on and rope up. 

Looking over to the seracs hanging off of Whiterose as we climb Alexandra.

Bens slogs up the low angle snow slope with the Lyells in behind.

We move onto the smooth snowy face. We traverse right for a long while, looking above to catch a glimpse of the summit, hidden behind the white wall above us.

Finally the wall eases and we can see the summit less than 100 meters above us. We begin to angle more upwards and then finally reverse direction, moving left and up to gain the peak.

On the top, we marvel at the view. From this high up we can see over a dozen other 11, 000erís. We snap some photos and eat some lunch to keep our energy levels up Ė our day will not be complete until we are safely back at camp.

At initial glance, not such an interesting photo. But it clearly shows Ben's first ever ice screw placement. OK, I guess it's not such an interesting photo.

From the summit of Mount Alexandra looking towards the Whiterose and a good portion of the Whiterose traverse's ridge.

One of the longest toboggan rides around.


A little bit of belaying to get off the final bits of loose rock.


Conrad puts in a new bolt on Coril's face.

We make our way back down to the col by retracing our steps for the most part, using another screw when transitioning onto the snow at the same place as on the ascent. On the lower slopes where the grade lessens, we are able to sit and toboggan down, making great time.

From the col we quickly move down the glacier to where it steepens and the crevasses begin to show. We zigzag as Conrad searches for a route. We have to take big steps and a few hops to get over some cracks which reveal nothing but black depths as we look down into them.

Ahead I see a strip of snow that is a different shade Ė something that often signals a thin snow bridge over a hidden crevasse. It looks too big to hop, but Conrad and Dave are ahead so I figure it must be solid. I put one foot on the edge where the color change begins and take a big step almost to where it ends - but my front foot falls just short of the normal-coloured snow.

It happens so quickly.

As I weight my front foot it, I feel it punch through into air. Instinct makes me bring my other foot forward and down quickly to break my fall, but it sinks deeply into the discoloured snow as well. Iím almost waist deep. My second foot feels like it is still in the snow, but the first foot is indeed dangling, hanging in thin air in the blackness underneath the snow bridge.

Oddly, Iím calm. I call out ahead to hold on. I swing my axe into the ice of the glacier in front of me, feeling a solid placement. I gingerly put some weight on my second foot with the idea of lifting myself out.

I get only a few inches before I feel something give and it seems like Iíve sunk several centimeters deeper. Although I canít visibly see any difference in the snow around me, I sense that the entire structure holding me in place is now weaker, and it feels like it is slowing giving in.

Iím still calm, which is likely why no one else really seems concerned. They're all just standing there, watching.

ďItís going to give,Ē I say in a regular tone of voice.

I pause.

I know I want to ask to be pulled out, but I donít say the words. Iím not sure why. Itís like Iím trying to remain calm, but Iíve become too much so.

Iím just about to say the words when Ben finally yells, ďPull him out! Pull him out!Ē

Immediately Dave and Conrad take up the slack in the rope and easily drag me out of the crumbling bridge. I get up and confirm that I am fine.

Greg, who is behind me, moves up to the bridge to have a look into the hole left by my foot. He says itís pure black and he canít see much. This likely means it is deep. He nervously pokes at the remaining bridge a bit, trying to convince himself that the hole into oblivion beside really isn't that bad. But he decides to back up and take a run at it so he can jump clearly over the bridge. He makes a big leap and clears the crack with Ben following successfully as well.

We move on and in a few minutes are close to the glacier toe where we remove the rope and move onto the rock for the traverse. We rappel down the 5.2 pitch and then stop for a half-hour while Conrad puts in a belay bolt on a tricky section lower down for future parties. From there it is smooth sailing back to camp.

Once again, weíve made it back just in time for our dinner of mushroom soup, chinese salad, oven-roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots and cauliflower, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.


After dinner, I ask about Rock School. Zac says maybe theyíll do it Friday. I mention that it has been quite a few days of tripping and that I bet a lot of people are ready for an easier day Ė maybe tomorrow would be a good day for it. He responds that the trips for tomorrow have already been chosen, so itís not going to happen.

He pauses.

He must have thought it over, because he says, ďHang on, letís see.Ē

Everyone is still in the dining tent so he asks who would be interested in a Rock School tomorrow.

I hope for at least eight hands from the people who have signed up on my list. To my relief, about ten hands go up!

That is enough, and Zac says heíll reorganize the trips and post Rock School for tomorrow.

When the sheets go up, options are Rock School, Alexandra (for those jealous of us today!) and the Whiterose Traverse.

Everyone taking in a well-deserved dinner.


Ben washing dishes. I think he's happy because he's doing well in his quest to be the one who eats the most in camp.


Oh, my, it looks as if somebody's tent has exploded.

Which restaurant in Vietnam serves the rice pancake reported to 

Ďput lead in your pencilí? 

Find the answer to this plus many more intriguing questions.

Rice Crust from the Bottom of the Pot: A Journey Across South East Asia

Although in creating this site I have tried to make the information as accurate as possible, it is not meant to be a guide, and I accept no responsibility for any loss, injury, or inconvenience sustained by anyone using the information.

 ACC GMC 2007 Review

 © 2007 Parry Loeffler