August, 2003 Gain- 4700'+/- Summit- 11,452'+/-  8 Hours+/-  Alpine II
Lat 52; 10; 52 Lon 117; 12; 17 - CLICK FOR TOPO MAP
Mount Athabasca is one of the most popular objectives in the Canadian Rockies.   
Its quick access via the Columbia Icefield Parkway lends to its popularity no doubt.    
It is sandwiched between the Athabasca and Saskatchewan Glaciers on the border
Banff  and Jasper National Parks.  These are two of the four adjoining national
parks that make up the central Canadian Rockies.   Athabasca is the Cree Indian
name for “where there are needs” and originally was referring to Lake Athabasca.   It
was named and first ascended by Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley in 1898.

Mount Athabasca, in its entirety, is above tree line.  The main ascent for Mount
Athabasca’s five routes is the Little A Glacier to the north (aka North Glacier).  
can follow this glacier all the way to the summit (Alpine II) or climb an ice bulge
closer to the summit known as the Silverhorn route (Alpine II) or head to the
base of the north face which contains three Alpine III routes, Regular, Hourglass
and North Ridge.

The Columbia Icefield is the largest in the Canadian Rockies and Mount Athabasca
is only one of ten high Canadian peaks that encircle it (Stutfield Peak, North Twin
Peak, South Twin Peak, Mount King Edward, Mount Columbia, Mount Bryce, Mount
Andromeda, Snow Dome and Mount Kitchener).  It covers over three hundred
square kilometers and its depth varies from 100 to 365 meters.

Getting There     
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come
in from Calgary.     Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits to Lake
Louise.   Exit onto the Icefields Parkway.   Drive 130 kms+/- northwest to the
Columbia Icefield Center.   Turn left onto the shuttle road and continue to a small
parking area and trail head on your left.

There is a park kiosk as you enter the Icefields Parkway which serves as a forced
stop to check park driving permits which you should already have. The Icefields
Parkway is probably the most “wildlife viewed” road in all of North America. I have
witnessed moose and bear crossing the road in this area. I advise following the
speed limit for that reason. We encountered a black bear crossing the parkway at
Mosquito Creek in 2005.

Red Tape     
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the parks via
Banff, Jasper or Rocky Mountain House. This pass is good for all four national parks.
If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should
purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in the National
Parks, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if
you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can
be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below.
Park headquarters are located in Banff and Jasper and you will drive through the
manned kiosks as you enter the parks from any direction.

When To Climb    
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through
September. I climbed Mount Athabasca in August and it was in relatively dry
condition. Most of the existing crevases at lower elevations were in plain view.  There
are no published backcountry ski routes up Mount Athabasca.

The closest camping is located back east a kilometer at the
Columbia Icefield
located on the north side off of the Columbia Icefields Parkway. You
can go on line at
Jasper National Park to pick your camp site and obtain your
camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit, if you
are going to use a backcountry site, which is separate, but can be obtained

Mountain Conditions   
The National Park website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside
of the parks web site,
Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly
for winter travel.
Canadian Alpine Accident Reports is also extremely relevant.    
There are 21 accident reports relating specifically to climbing Mount Athabasca,
therefore, caution is advised.

This is a 4700'+/- ascent day.  We took off on the trailhead at 5:00 AM and used
lamps for about 2000' up rocky moraine to an entry point on the glacier (there was a
bivy site at this location).  No sooner had we roped up on the glacier than we got
pelted with a hard rain.  Zero visibility lay ahead on the summit.  However, we made
the decision to proceed and within 30 minutes, things lightened up.

Little A glacier was in good shape.  Crevasses presented themselves in the open
and the snow bridges appeared solid.  
There are less objectionable hazards
dealing with the more strenuous 900'+/- of ice on Silverhorn than the North Glacier
hump below the ice seracs.
 You clear the col right below Silverhorn and then
proceed straight up the main rib to the right.  Once on the Silverhorn summit, it is just
a ridge walk to the main summit.  We did descend the North Glacier route, but moved
quickly.  There was one fresh ice fall on the route.  It does not take long to cross
though.  The main glacier route itself is straight forward as long as you have decent
visibility.  It took us less than 5 hours to summit, and 2.5 hours to descend.  You have
great views of Mount Kitchener, Snow Dome,
Nigel Peak (which I climbed one week
prior) and Mount Saskatchewan.

Advise taking 2 axes or tools for this route and of course move quickly
whenever under the seracs.
 Don't underestimate how cold it can be on this
summit.  It is exposed.

Essential Gear
Alpine Axe, Ice Tool, Crampons, Glacier Rope, Compass, Map,  Warm Mitts and
Clothes, Goggles, Gaiters, Crevase Rescue Gear, etc.
1.  Mount Athabasca:  North Face Routes to the
Left, Silverhorn in the center and North Glacier
to the right of Silverhorn.
2.  Looking back to the Columbia Icefield Pkwy
3.  The summit ridge above Silverhorn
4.  Zoom  view from
Tangle Ridge
5.  From the summit of Tangle Ridge, Wilcox in
the foreground, Athabasca and Andromeda
6.  Silverhorn Route on Approach
7.  View from the summit of
Nigel Peak