Uisdean Hawthorn and Tom Livingstone have made the third ascent of the House-Anderson route on the north face of Mt. Alberta (3619m) in the Canadian Rockies. The pair took two days to complete the route, which was first climbed by Steve House and Vince Anderson in 2008 and more recently repeated by Nick Bullock and Will Sim in 2014 (UKC interview). The route includes tricky water ice pitches and mixed climbing up to M8.
Inspired by Nick and Will's repeat, Tom and Uisdean attempted the line last year but retreated just before the start of the headwall due to poor conditions. This year, the mountain was in prime condition for an ascent and the pair were feeling fit, having recently spent time acclimatising in the Alps, coming away with impressive ascents of Divine Providence and the American Direct in a day.
On Wednesday the pair stashed gear, rigged the abseil station for the rappels down to the glacier below the north face and ensured that there was a good track in the snow from the hut to the gear stash in preparation for approaching the route the following morning.
Having become accustomed to the lifts, mobile signal and popularity of the Alps, Uisdean admitted feeling a sense of isolation deep in the Rockies:
'We both felt intimated and actually starting up the route was definitely one of the hardest bits of the following 40 hours.'
Tom wrote in his blog:
'This year we found the mountain in much better shape - the ice was well formed, and the rock was well-frozen and mostly bare.'
However, some sections remained challenging, as Uisdean explained:
'I had to aid a small section past a roof as there was no ice above, just sugary snow. I fell with my last aid piece being a knife blade at my feet, but luckily my axe slid back and caught on a tiny edge under the snow and my lanyard caught my fall. After I grovelled over this on my second go, Tom then put in a great lead two pitches later, pulling over a huge ice mushroom using good tactics by aiding on an ice axe, to avoid risking any dangerous falls.'
The pair swung leads through the technical headwall and arrived at a spectacular bivi cave at 6pm on Thursday, where they spent a comfortable night before starting again early the next day and summiting at 1pm. Describing the cave, Uisdean told UKC:
'We had heard the stories and seen the photos of this huge cave halfway up the face, it was absolutely mind blowing. It starts off small and turns into a huge cathedral over 10m high in places. We walked back for 15 minutes but it just kept going, twisting and turning its way into the mountain.'
With a storm coming in fast, the team descended along the Japanese Route just in time as clouds were gathering high up and reached the hut at 9pm.
Tom summed up the experience, writing:
'We descended the mountain just before bad weather arrived, very content to complete a two-year dream.'
Uisdean and Tom have two weeks left of their trip - watch this space...
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