Uisdean Hawthorn



North Face of Mt Alberta Attempt


  Tom and I have been in Canada for four weeks. We have had an amazing time traveling to a new country, but have only managed one alpine route. Not for lack of trying, but because of a lack of ice and an abundance of snow.


Me looking up at the Andromeda Strain in less than ideal conditions.  © Tom Livingstone


Yes I am in there somewhere. We bailed shortly after. © Tom Livingstone

After a failure on the Andromeda Strain. Which involved lots of waist deep snow, and the spindrift being horrific even by Scottish standards.  We decided to go rock climbing for a few days, to let the snow in the mountains settle down.

Within 3 days the mountain were calling again. The staggering remoteness and huge north faces, just kept temping us back, even if they were in bad condition.


About to take the cold plunge into the Saskatchewan river again! © Tom Livingstone

So on Tuesday the  22nd we crossed the river (no one told us it was going to be so cold!).  Made the long 5 hour hike over woolly shoulder, to check out Mt Alberta’s north face. We discovered things were still very snowy, and decided to abandon our plan. After a night in the Lloyd MacKay hut, we walked back out to the highway.


Making the hike over Woolly Shoulder. ©Tom Livingstone


Me at the Lloyd MacKay hut with Mt Alberta's east face in the background. ©Tom Livingstone



Mt Alberta's north face from the abseil spur, on our first visit.  

On saturday the 26th we arrived back at the Lloyd MacKay hut. However, the next day after seeing the face was even snowier than last time. We decided to go and try the House-Anderson VI M8 r/x . This was the last weather window we would get on our trip. We had to at least try. So we stashed the kit and rigged the abseils, ready for the next day.


Checking out a moody and snowy Mt Alberta the day before. ©Tom Livingstone

We reached the base of the face at 4.30AM the next morning. I started off climbing up into the massive shadow, cast over the face by the full moon. After 100m of moving together, I hit a wall of 80 degree cruddy snow with not much gear. I had to battle upwards, while spin drift was hurtling down on top of me blocking up my headtorch. I pulled over the top of the 15m section half blind, desperately searching for some solid ice to pull on.


Tom on the ice/snowfield. The line of the House-Anderson takes the ice pillar in the middle of the headwall.  

Above the 500m ice field was very snowy. After a long wade we reached the yellow band, and shortly after we had reached the base of the headwall at around 10AM.

After trying to decide if we were in the right place. I started up what we thought was the first pitch of the House-Anderson. After a frantic 2 hours of climbing powdered covered loose rock, I was only 20m above Tom. I only had one small cam left on my left harness, with a steep wide crack above, that I would definatley need cams to protect. Very unsure if I was in the right place, I hung on a less than bomber wire, and lowered down to Tom. After a fair bit of debate and looking at more photo’s we decided we were in the right place.  However, we couldn’t decide if we should carry on. 12 pitches at this grade or above, in this condition would take us two full days, just to climb the headwall. In the end we decided to come back another time, when the route was in better conditions.


Looking back at the plastered headwall.

We made a long leftwards traverse to the north east ridge. Tom did a really good job leading the down climbing on the east face.  The snow was deep and wet from the morning sun, making for an exciting descent. Not something either of us want to repeat in a hurry.

The feeling of commitment and remoteness while standing underneath that headwall is outrageous. Looking out you can see for 100s of miles around,  there are no sign or sound of human civilization, just snowy mountain tops, glaciers, forest and rivers.


Looking out from the headwall into the wilderness.

I still can’t decide whether we should have pushed on up the headwall, or if we made a sensible choice after pushing our luck far enough already. I don’t suppose I will ever know. I do know I will come back, to try and climb that face again, and this experience will stand me in stronger position next time.


Back on flat ground, relaxing in remoteness and the stunning view of North Twin 

I have really enjoyed every minute I have spent in Canada. Good sport climbing, good food, blue lakes for swimming in, very few people in the mountains, huge alpine routes and really friendly welcoming people. Why don’t more people come out here climbing?

I would like to thank all the people who have helped make this trip so enjoyable. Nick Sharpe, Raf Andronowski, and Jon Walsh for gear, guidebooks and valuable advice Duncan Machin & Richard Bailie from Mountain Equipment for providing me with really good kit for the trip. Tom for coming along and always being psyched.


Tom enjoying some multi pitch sport on our last day of climbing in Canada at Ghost Valley 

This weekend I am heading to the US to climb lots of cracks. fun in the sun and hopefully this will help me improve at this style of climbing. With a bit of running while I am out there I can keep my fitness up. So I can get stuck into the Scottish winter climbing, as soon as I get home in November.

Below is an entry from the hut book by Dean Erger who injured himself badly on the walk to the Alberta hut and was stuck there unable to walk out. You will have to read his fascinating notes to find out how it ends.