Shaun and Robin usually go on a spring ski trip every year, and this was their choice again this year (last time I went with them, the iffy weather caused us to do Mt Wilson). Undaunted by iffy forecasts this time, we headed to the Columbia via the Saskatchewan Glacier (a little further but far less terrifying than the "usual" Athabasca glacier access).
The access this way is pretty straighforward (unless the gravel/mud flats at the end of the glacier are not snow-covered and/or frozen). We made okay time onto the glacier in beautiful weather.
I saw many ravens on the trip, starting on day one; they appeared to tour around the various groups on the glacier looking for dropped food, etcetera (presumably). The first one wanted to eat my pee-slush, though...
We made camp rather near the shoulder of Castleguard due to a number of factors: Shaun had a flight to catch on Wednesday and wanted a camp which provided a no-brainer white-out exit; Diane was getting blisters (and tired); and we didn't hold out much hope for the weather.
Due to the great weather that evening and general excitement of the team, we elected to get up early and make an attempt on Columbia.
We made decent time to and through the trench in fairly flat light (although not by any means a "whiteout") with intermittant sun. Gaining the bench below Colubmia, Shaun found a couple settlements. We skied to below the face nevertheless, as this was the closest anyone had been; this was my first time on the Columbia, which Shaun took as "proof" that we'd never summit on this trip (he's tried 7 times now).
We lounged around waiting for some glipse of more of the face, but never got too much of a look except to see evidence of a semi-recent slab which had ripped out below the route. We bailed and skied back towards the trench. Naturally, after we'd skied down, skinned up and started up the other side, the weather cleared:
A semi-spirited discussion ensued that evening: Robin was keen to try again, while Shaun and I didn't like the snow stability (and regretted not digging a pit below the face). We talked Robin out of going back to do just that the next day, since we were pretty sure we'd find the layer we suspected and not want to commit to a couple hours of bootpacking up a 40-ish degree face. We settled on making an attempt of an unnamed peak on the ridge of Andromeda (which would allow scoping of the alleged ski route up Andromeda).
A lazy start the next day allowed for a good rest. The day was again mixed clouds, but the mix was heavy on the sun on our side of the glacier. Diane was having blister problems so elected to stay in camp. After getting up through a semi-stressful steep icefall with some HUGE crevasses, we got a great view of the "ramp route" up the Athabasca glacier. So great, that I don't think I'll ever be skiing up that way:
We were too high coming around the shoulder to the col before the "real" slopes up Andromeda and dug a couple quick pits on the steep slope above the ramp we should have been on; these were clean and about moderate, so we retreated and Shaun dug a "real" pit, getting a moderate layer down about 50cm. We didn't want to commit to climbing a moderately steep slope above a giant icefall in such conditions, so we headed back to camp. This gives some great perspective on the size of the icefield; see if you can spot camp:
The following day, we attempted to do the "Pat Sheehan Traverse" as an exit. Some entertaining boot-packing and climbing got us to the highest point, where clounds, high winds and driving snow moved it. We retreated to a wind-scoop and after a while decided to bail (so that we could make it back to Lake Louise in time for burgers ;).
Savage isothermal wallowing ensued on the Saskatchewan glacier's giant mud and gravel delta (no longer snow-covered after only a few days) and it was a good relief to get onto the old military road and then the truck.
Some great views, beta and an absolutely incredibly large icefield (huge terrain) made for a good trip anyway.