Mount Athabasca AA Col
8 to 10 hours / 8K return
Mount Athabasca is located
near the Columbia Icefields, 100kms
south of Jasper approximately 111kms
north of Lake Louise. Directly in front of the Icefields Centre. Jasper National Park.
Athabasca (3,491m) is not a day hike but a
mountaineering objective that
requires technical knowledge of
glacier travel, crevasse rescue and
climbing techniques. Attempting this
route without proper equipment and
knowledge would be a seriously
dangerous undertaking. Research
shows that climbing Mt Athabasca via
the west side (AA col) is becoming
increasingly popular due to less
objective hazard than the popular
northern glacier approach routes.
The AA col approach is generally
shaded until early afternoon which
makes for great snow conditions and
less avalanche danger. After an
early alpine start (2:30am) we
parked at the Mt Athabasca climbers
parking lot and geared up for the
day. (The bus gate is usually left
open in the early morning for
climbers) A registry box is there
to sign in with your party and route
objective and is recommended that
you don’t forget to check back in at
the end of your trip for obvious
reasons. From the parking lot hike
up the bus road until you reach the
snow coach parking area where you
will find a trail leading up through
moraines on your immediate left.
Follow this trail (sometimes
obscured) up and around Athabasca’s
west buttress which leads to the
Athabasca, Andromeda Col (AA col).
The AA glacier and icefall will be
on your right but will most likely
go unnoticed because of the time of
day and shortness of breath from
slogging through moraine rock for at
least an hour.
Following the trail, work
your way up the moraines until a small headwall is reached where some scrambling
is required. Climbing here is short and straight forward but be cautious of
kicking rocks down on your team as well as keep in mind the possibility of rock
fall from the cliffs above. This is not a place you would want to stop for very
long. Shortly after the headwall you will reach the AA glacier situated above
the icefall and here is where we geared up for glacier travel. Work your way up
the glacier on easy terrain keeping an eye out for potential crevasses. We
climbed left of center towards Athabasca’s snow slopes left of the AA col and
had to jump over several small crevasses. Once passed the bergschrund we kiwi
coiled our ropes and headed up the slope. The first section of the slope was a
moderate snow climb of 30-40 degrees but the last 60m or so was a steeper 45+.
Some parties choose to pitch the last (or entire) section with protection but
different conditions would call for different decisions. Once atop the slope;
this is a good spot to hydrate and nourish while also taking off your crampons
and ropes (conditions permitting). The summit ridge is in view to your left.
After a hundred or so yards of hiking along the ridge you will reach the silver
horn which is bypassed on the climbers right and offers a little notch of
shelter where we, once again, geared up with ropes and crampons for the summit
push. During the final 60 yards of the summit ridge, Athabasca’s north face
routes will be visible down your left while views of the Saskatchewan glacier,
Mts. Castleguard and Andromeda will be on your right. Directly behind you is Snowdome, Mt. Kichener, the Twins
and Columbia off in the distance. If
you have the weather, the view will
certainly be something to remember. Photo's
taken in early August.
Local campgrounds include
Icefields Centre Parking Lot,
Columbia Icefields Tents Only. There are several hikes located in this area.
Wilcox Pass, Mount
Athabasca Alpine Climb,
Mount Athabasca North Glacier,
Mountain Alpine Climb
You are in bear country.