mount edith cavell - 11034' - East ridge class 5.3
A considerable amount of thought went into deciding what I was going to do for the first weekend in August. Last weekend the smoke was horrendous in the Canadian Rockies, so I was thinking of driving all the way back to southern BC or even back home to the WA Cascades. However, on Tuesday of last week, the wind changed direction and blew all the smoke west and ruined the entire PNW. So that made my decision easy. Since Banff and Canmore area was also smoked in from the fire just to their west, my only other option was Jasper. This was good though since I actually had yet to visit the townsite of Jasper, or climb something nearby. It didn't take too long to decide that I wanted to climb Mount Edith Cavell. Its east ridge offers a 5.3, stunning ascent on good rock with a fairly short approach. What more could I ask for? And since Elaine wasn't able to make it up all the way to Jasper from Calgary I would have to solo it. It was a perfect climb!
So on Thursday evening, I drove out to Jasper and crashed just outside the park boundary in my car, as it proceeded to rain all night. This didn't worry me though as the weekend weather forecast looked great and the smoke was forecasted to be elsewhere. Friday morning I drove into the town of Jasper for my first time and was really impressed. It didn't have the craziness of Banff and also had some of the draw that Canmore has. I went to the library to do some work, then stopped at the information center to pick up a permit to sleep at the upper Cavell parking area. For this summer a permit is required to drive up the Cavell Road due to construction. They are limiting it to only 180 cars per day. I managed to get one of the two overnight permits and off I went up to the parking area. I ran into a couple guys from Calgary who also had the overnight permit and were also planning to climb the East Ridge. I would end up seeing them quite a bit the next day.
As the last of the tourists left, I walked up to the little overlook to study the approach, and gaze up at the east ridge towering high above me. It was really a sight to behold, and made me excited for the climb! Before dark, at the early hour of 9pm I went to sleep in the back of the car. I set the alarm for 4:30am.
At 4am the two Calgarians were up and gone up the trail. I started moving at 5am after a nice breakfast in the car and by headlight worked my way up the well maintained trail towards the saddle at the base of the east ridge. There was snow covering the rock talus from the flat bench below up to the saddle, which I was able to ascend for a couple hundred feet with my microspikes on, but I veered off the snow onto the loose Class 3 rock to the right to ascend the remainder of the way to the saddle since the snow was too hard and steep for just tennis shoes and spikes.
Upon reaching the saddle, which was about 1700 feet above the trailhead, I noted the couloir just left of the ridge crest, and started scrambling up the lower ridge as the sun rose. I followed the well documented route up Class 2-3 steps to the right of the snow gully, and crossed over to its left side where it was narrowest. I found a spot where it was only 5 meters wide or so and the rising sun had softened it up just enough that I could kick some steps, despite its 40 degree angle. I was continually amazed watching the gorgeous sunrise on the heart of the Canadian Rockies. I was witnessing a brand new area for me, and could barely identify any of the peaks I was looking at, however I was able to see the Columbia Icefield just off to the southwest, and what I thought was Mount Fryatt and The Twins. Once across the narrow snow gully, I continued up more sustained Class 3-4 scrambling to the infamous flat bench midway up the 3300 foot high ridge. It was easy walking for a while however the rocks were covered in rime ice, making them very slippery. I assumed since it had rained recently, the wet rocks then froze overnight and on the flat section of ridge it takes longer to dry out. Shortly after the sun hit the rocks though the ice quickly disappeared.
Looking ahead, I saw the two Calgarians as I was quickly catching up to them. I saw the crux, which is about a full rope length of steeper, exposed ridge where the climbing is about 5.3 in difficulty just ahead maybe 200 feet above. There was a second very short snow patch to cross then we all reached the base of the steeper crux at the same time, just as a cloud engulfed us.
Unfortunately, with the morning pressing on, the low clouds that were down in the valleys at sunrise were rising up, and we ended up climbing the crux pitch in a fog. I let the other two climb up first as they decided to pull the rope out, and I waited, since I was just wanting to kill time hoping the clouds would burn off by the time we summitted. After 20 minutes waiting, and eating some snacks, their second guy started climbing and I climbed alongside him solo. This pitch was fun, and filled with solid rock and easy ledges. The exposure was real though, and a fall would have been fatal. I then continued on past them and continued up continuous Class 4 scrambling on slowly deteriorating rock, linking up solid ribs when I could, but occasionally having to ascend some steep, loose gullies. I was feeling great, and before I knew it, I had reached the final snow/ice bit immediately below the summit. I used my axe to chop a couple steps where it was solid ice, then when it turned to snow I simply kicked steps up maybe 20 feet which dumped me directly onto the summit, which I reached just after 9am, only 4ish hours after leaving the car. I was barely above the top of the clouds, and they appeared to be rising more and more. I was able to just see Robson way in the distance though! That was a real treat.
Looking at the beta again, I read there are three bumps on the summit ridge, with the first one being the highest, so I waited there roughly 45 minutes as the two Calgarians topped out. The cloud cover became worse though, and I was getting a little cold so I started moseying along the summit ridge over the middle and onto the western bump, where we waited another hour hoping it would clear. When we realized it probably wasn't going to, we all started descending the west ridge, which is the standard descent route. I contemplated descending the east ridge, and knew I probably could have but I wanted to see new terrain, and I really made the right choice because the descent was beautiful. We made the initial drop down the west ridge, curving around the upper cliff in the ridge and walking down scree and talus. We pretty quickly dropped below the clouds and views opened up quite well!
We continued down to a small saddle, and began descending 600 meters of horribly loose scree down to the meadow basin to the south, on the total opposite side of the mountain I was parked on. Views off to the south the whole way down were spectacular, as well as the view straight down to the Angel Glacier and down to the trailhead parking area. Once down to the grassy meadows, another soloist had caught up with me. He had apparently started at 8am when the gate for the road was opened and was making a speed run up and down the mountain. We chatted briefly and he continued running down. I however wanted to enjoy the beautiful meadows I found myself in, surrounded by huge cliffs and giant mountains in the distance. The Canadian Rockies really are BIG! By this point I was far ahead of the Calgarians and I wouldn't see them again. I however took it slow as I descended the Vardent Creek Trail, taking photos along the way until I eventually reached treeline.
I continued down the nice trail for about 3-4 kilometers until it intersected the Astoria River Trail, which was essentially a highway. Then it was another 4 kilometer hike back to the Cavell Road. Luckily at the bridge where the trail crosses the outlet stream for Cavell Lake, I ran into a group who was just returning from the Ramparts, and they graciously gave me a ride up the final 2 kilometers of road back to the upper parking lot. It was very nice chatting with them as a couple of them were also Americans. Upon returning to my car I enjoyed an all you can eat Indian food buffet in Jasper, and went up to the Geraldine Lakes Trailhead to crash for the night. Here I met two other climbing couples who were really chill to talk with until it got dark.
All in all, at a leisurely pace, it was a 10 hour round trip climb, covering a total distance of about 11 miles with just over 5,000 feet of gain.