Photo by Dow Williams
|Year first climbed:||1898|
|First successful climber(s):||J. Norman Collie, Herman Wooley|
|Nearest major airport:||Calgary, Alberta|
|Convenient Center:||Jasper, Alberta|
Thanks to Dow Williams for adding this peak.
Mount Athabasca is one of the most popular objectives in the Canadian Rockies. Its quick access via the Columbia Icefield Parkway lends to its popularity no doubt. It is sandwiched between the Athabasca and Saskatchewan Glaciers on the border of Banff and Jasper National Parks. These are two of the four adjoining national parks that make up the central Canadian Rockies. Athabasca is the Cree Indian name for "where there are reeds" and originally was referring to Lake Athabasca. It was named and first ascended by Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley in 1898.
Mount Athabasca, in its entirety, is above tree line. The main ascent for Mount Athabasca’s five routes is the Little A Glacier to the north (aka North Glacier). You can follow this glacier all the way to the summit (Alpine II) or climb an ice bulge closer to the summit known as the Silverhorn route (Alpine II) or head to the base of the north face which contains three Alpine III routes, Regular, Hourglass and North Ridge.
The Columbia Icefield is the largest in the Canadian Rockies and Mount Athabasca is only one of ten high Canadian peaks that encircle it (Stutfield Peak, North Twin Peak, South Twin Peak, Mount King Edward, Mount Columbia, Mount Bryce, Mount Andromeda, Snow Dome and Mount Kitchener). It covers over three hundred square kilometers and its depth varies from 100 to 365 meters.
Getting There- The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits to Lake Louise. Exit onto the Icefields Parkway. Drive 130 kms+/- northwest to the Columbia Icefield Center. Turn left onto the shuttle road and continue to a small parking area and trail head on your left.
There is a park kiosk as you enter the Icefields Parkway which serves as a forced stop to check park driving permits which you should already have. The Icefields Parkway is probably the most “wildlife viewed” road in all of North America. I have witnessed moose and bear crossing the road in this area. I advise following the speed limit for that reason. We encountered a black bear crossing the parkway at Mosquito Creek in 2005.
Red Tape- You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the parks via Banff, Jasper or Rocky Mountain House. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in the National Parks, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Park headquarters are located in Banff and Jasper and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the parks from any direction.
When To Climb- As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Athabasca in August and it was in relatively dry condition. Most of the existing crevases at lower elevations were in plain view. There are no published backcountry ski routes up Mount Athabasca.
Camping- The closest camping is located back east a kilometer at the Columbia Icefield Campground located on the north side off of the Columbia Icefields Parkway. You can go on line at Jasper National Park to pick your camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit, if you are going to use a backcountry site, which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously.
Mountain Conditions- The National Park website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports is also extremely relevant.
There are 21 accident reports relating specifically to climbing Mount Athabasca, therefore, caution is advised.
Silverhorn route description and photos can be found at the dowclimbing.com link or my attached summit log.
Thanks to Dow Williams for this description.