After last year’s visit to Canada we questioned our decision to bail off the House-Anderson route on the North Face of Mt Alberta due to bad conditions, we questioned if we should try at a different time of year, and questioned if the route was too big, hard and committing for us. The lure of unfinished business on such an iconic mountain was too big for us not to take the risk and think about going back to Canada for round two this September. When Nick Sharpe offered us a place to stay and use of his jeep all for a few beers it was an easy decision-what a legend! After getting over jet lag and trying to get information on conditions over the first week of our trip a 7 day weather window appeared on the forecast. This was perfect as it allowed us to let the recent snow go through a freeze thaw cycle, before we headed on the long walk up and over Woolly Shoulder.
On Wednesday the 14th we stashed gear, rigged the abseil station for the rappels down to the glacier below the north face and made sure there was a good track in the snow from the hut to the gear stash - so the next day we could be as fast as possible and not get lost at 2am.
At 3:30 on Thursday we were both on the glacier walking towards the base of the route. Just before I started abseiling, Tom heard something big falling down from the direction of the face. I hadn’t heard it and I tried to pretend he was imaging it or it had come from somewhere else. The feeling of commitment is magnified at this point as the whole the north face looms above asserting its dominance. We both felt intimated and actually starting up the route was definitely one of the hardest bits of the next 40 hours.
We looked at our watches. They were both at 8am - and we were already at the base of the wall. We couldn’t have dreamed of getting here that quickly. That was to be the theme of the day as pitch after pitch of quality climbing went past faster than we dared to think possible and I pulled into the cave at 6pm.
This was staggering considering the time I spent aiding 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 my axe slid back and caught on a tiny edge under the snow and my lanyard caught my fall. After I grovelled over this second go, Tom then put in a great lead 2 pitches later, pulling over huge ice mushroom using good tactics to aid on an ice axe, to avoid risking any dangerous falls.
Tom pulled up into the cave and we had one of the strangest 12 hours in the mountains. We had heard the stories and seen the photos of this huge cave half way up the face. It was absolutely mind blowing. It starts off small to become over 10 m high in places. We walked back for 15 mins but it just kept going, twisting and turning its way into the mountain. We spent the night huddled up on the floor of the cave with the ropes for a mat, a belay jacket and insulated trousers each with a bothy bag over the top of us. Staring up at the ice crystals on the roof of the cave I felt very lucky to be lying on a lumpy rope in the dirt with a night of shivering to come.
Tom set off the next day with an airy traverse out of the cave. Some cloud had engulfed us by the time I started up the next pitch. I tried up and right but it was wrong and instead I went straight up an improbable looking flake. It felt hard and very committing, probably hard Scottish VII with some sections on loose rock. Being on the second day with stiff arms and legs at the top of the head-wall it all felt absolutely wild. Thankfully Tom managed to stretch out the rest of the headwall in one long pitch to get us onto the easier mixed ground that would take us to the summit for 1pm.
The descent went smoothly. The weather was picking up as we made the long traverse of the summits ridge to descend the Japanese route. By the time we got back to the glacier at 8pm it was storming hard up high and raining hard on us. We really didn’t care. We had done the route and an hour later were in a dry hut grinning and happy to have finally done the route we had put a lot of time and effort into.