The Rockies are host to many hundreds of routes, yet I often find myself revisiting the classic haunts: Weeping Wall, Louise, the Evan Thomas routes. But sometimes adventure calls and we find ourselves bushwhacking through endless alders and wandering less-trodden paths. On one such adventurous day, we decided to check out the climbs nestled in a massive gully on Mt. Wilson.
Mt. Wilson, the first major mountain on the east side of the Icefields Parkway, located just north of Saskatchewan River Crossing, is host to many amazing routes. From the classic climbs in the Tabernac Bowl to the modern 1900-m long Suntori, the mountain boasts dozens of gullies, each seeping with tempting tendrils of ice.
The biggest of these gullies is host to several climbs, starting with what I’d call the approach ice, Lady Wilson’s Cleavage. Flowing from the narrow cleft high up the mountain, the Cleavage is a series of WI3 steps leading up through a small canyon.
The Cleavage wasn’t fully frozen, large pools of open water making it impassable in places. We chose to traverse around on the right, through sometimes-waist-deep-snow, other times some dicey mixed-climbing over frozen moss and tangled deadfall.
Once above the Cleavage, you enter a narrow cleft with a smattering of ice on either side of it. At the time of our passing, neither flow had connected, though both looked like possible mixed lines. The right side touches down occasionally and is known as Lady Wilson’s Right Tit, graded at 60m of WI4. I do not know if the ice on the left has been climbed.
The narrowest part of the cleft is host to Lady Wilson’s Right Tit, the top of which is visible on the upper right, and a discontinuous ice smear on the left. The ice of Wilson Major can be seen through the gap in the centre.
Once through the narrow cleft, the gully opens up into a massive open area, with a curtain of ice approximately 50m high and 150m wide known as Wilson Major. The ice boasts lines of varying difficulty, from easy WI3 to mushroomy and featured WI6. Even further up the canyon there appear to be two more routes, which though we did not get to, we could see from the open area near Wilson Major. The left-hand route is Phil Spectre’s Nightmare, an 80m WI6, while the right-hand is called In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and goes at 60m WI6.
All the climbs are located either in or below the gully, and as this is obviously a massive avalanche path, and a giant terrain trap, objective hazard is of major concern. This is not somewhere you want to be wandering around after a fresh snowfall, in windy conditions, when solar exposure is a factor, or pretty much any other time when avalanche hazard is something to be on the lookout for – we went up with a forecast partly-sunny day during a dry spell with no significant snow in days.
This is an amazing spot that I drive past all the time without a second glance, but now having been up there, I am very much looking forward to returning, albeit with more time and energy. With an early start, an efficient party should be able to climb all the routes in one day.
Location: Biggest, most obvious cleft in Mt. Wilson, about 9km north of Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Climbs: Lady Wilson’s Cleavage 300m WI3, Lady Wilson’s Right Tit 60m WI4, Wilson Major 50m WI3-6, Phil Spectre’s Nightmare 80m WI6, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse 60m WI6
Approach: Park right below the drainage. For the Cleavage, start walking straight up from the road. If you’d like to bypass the Cleavage, head up on the left side of the drainage through the trees – this leads you directly to the bottom of the narrow cleft, about 1 – 2 hours depending on snow conditions. From the top of the Cleavage, it’s another 20-30 minutes to Wilson Major. The other two climbs are another 45-60 minutes further up the canyon from Wilson Major.
Hazards: All climbs are in, or below, a huge avalanche bowl. Objective hazard is of major concern.
Overall: Highly recommended, when avalanche hazard permits. An awesome area away from the crowds in a fantastic setting.