Keep Your Heid, Mt. Athelstan

The route follows snow and ice features low before traversing right to the ridge line up high (in the clouds)

Keep Your Heid, 600m, IV M5 5.9

With thanksgiving weekend just around the corner Antony and I scraped together a plan to get out in the alpine. Our original objective in the Rockies looked too snowy, and we weren’t keen to give in to a low-key weekend rock climbing somewhere sunny.

The Salal Creek walls on the west side of Mount Athelstan had been in the back of my mind for some time, and paired together with low snow, a good forecast, and freezing temps, I knew it would be worth checking out to see if we could scratch our way up something.

“The Beach” bivy below the face, due to the sandy platform we dug out under a foot or two of snow.

We approached the walls on friday afternoon, intent on scoping a line to start up the next morning. The clouds cleared nicely in the evening, and we were quick to piece together a collection of snowy/icy ramps leading up left of the “Fantastic Wall”. We planned to climb the wall Saturday, bivy, and potentially go for the true summit Sunday and descend back to civilization. It was a spectacular evening, with expansive views of the coast range stretching into the abyss.

Antony leading the first pitch.

The next morning we woke to blue skies and found interesting mixed climbing, with good rock protection and lots of icy smears. We followed a natural line low on the face for 4-5 long pitches before gaining the snowfield at about the middle point. By the early afternoon, the sun was beginning to creep around the ridge, and we decided the safest option would be to head for the ridge-line, where we found another 4-5 long pitches of runout climbing on generally good rock, interspersed with some giant loose blocks.

Heading into the climbing highlight of the route, a smear of ice with a perfect crack protecting. Photo: Antony Wood

Upon reaching the summit ice field it was clear we weren’t going for the summit the next morning. Clouds were starting to move in and a long journey through knee to waist deep sugar snow didn’t appeal. After checking out the descent couloir, we decided to bivy and tackle the way down in the morning.

Ant leading up the ridge in the sun.
We found this quiet place.

It was a peaceful, silent evening in a vast expanse of snow, ice and rock. Mmmmmm. Soul-soothing. It was snowing lightly through the night but visibility was still good when we woke. We were worried about lightly bridged crevasses in the couloir but were able to stay on the side of the glacier, hugging the rock band on skier’s right. We were back in Pemberton for lunch.

Descending down the couloir into the mist, and eventually rain. Photo: Antony Wood