Mount Ellis

August 5, 2018


Sullivan River / Clemenceau-Chaba Icefields, BC

Mt. Ellis is rather an insignificant summit on the remote Clemenceau-Chaba Icefields. This peak itself is more like a bump attached to the much-bigger Mt. Somervell but neither of the two catches enough attention, partly due to the difficult access and partly due to the close proximity to the famed 11,000er – Tsar Mountain. This is arguably the most remote area of central Canadian Rockies that the access requires either a week-long trudge over unknown terrain or taking one of the most expensive (longest) helicopter rides. Among the selected few parties having their eyes on this area the sole reason is to finish the 11,000ers list – the requirement to climb Tsar Mountain. That was exactly the case for me. I got the oppourtunity to jump into Robb Schnell’s group and the second day after landing we decided to check out Mt. Ellis as a reconnaissance mission. Most of this trip is written in my Tsar Mountain’s trip report.

Ascent routes of Mt. Ellis and Mt. Somervell

There’s no reason to rush in the morning so we all took our time waking up and cooking breakfast. We didn’t get going until a very un-alpine hour but that’s OK. The biggest challenge was the uncertainty in how to get onto Mt. Somervell’s south glacier. Asides from the brief accounts by Rick Collier and David Jones (both trips over 10 years ago) there’s virtually no information to be find anywhere, not even useful beta photos. The only way was to guess and this time, the luck was (sort of) on our side. I managed to convince myself the easiest access point is far on climber’s left that we had to gain an upper bench but the others didn’t like it so we kept traversing on a lower bench. The problem was, at some point we had to break the cliff bands. I thought for sure we had to turn around and use my way but we somehow managed to find a waterfall gully that barely worked – 4th class on very loose rocks. Jeff, Lyle and I went for it and gained the glacier but Robb, Raff, Gen and Pedro somehow decided to explore farther down the ledge. They ended up turning around to use the same waterfall gully but at that point they were about half an hour behind us.

Alpenglow on Mt. Rhodes and Mt. Livingstone as we geared up in the morning

The same view of Mt. Rhodes and Mt. Livingstone but a little bit later

Traversing due NE on the lower bench. This is Raff hopping across a stream

A long ways later we came to this corner and could see the south glacier

We explored a bit and found this waterfall gully

Lyle after climbing up the waterfall gully to access the glacier

Looking back we could see Tsar Mountain – our main objective

The east side of Tsar Mountain has some very broken glaciers

Meanwhile Jeff, Lyle and I roped up to gain the glacier. The lower reach was pure ice and quite steep. The correct attack was by going up and climber’s left but we went climber’s right into a maze of crevasses. A couple of them required a strenuous step-across and one of them required a jump. I did not feel comfortable jumping that gap but did it nonetheless. We took a long break after merging onto the flat, snow-covered section, and the rest of the plod to Somervell/Ellis col was a long, but easy slog. It took over an hour but there’s very few crevasse to work around. About 20 minutes later the other group joined and we all took our time relaxing at the col.

Jeff leading the steep ice at the start of glacier travel. It was tricky

A sideways view from this ice section. Mt. Ellis is that bump center of shot

Lyle coming up the ice stretch.

After negotiating a few troublesome crevasses we finally reached the flat part

Lyle on Mt. Somervell’s south glacier with Tsar Mountain behind

Jeff leading the way aiming at Mt. Ellis

Fast forward. Now we were at Somervell-Ellis col

A panorama view looking north from the col. Click to view large size.

The glacial scenery in this area is beyond Rockies’ scope

The rarely-seen south side of Mt. Shackleton

This pointy peak is Mt. Odell. We didn’t get a chance to climb it in this trip

A closer look at Tsar Mountain

The other team slowly catching up with Tsar Mountain behind

Raff posing at the col with Mt. Shackleton behind

Me posing at Somervell/Ellis col

At this point the group split up again with Jeff, Lyle and I going for Mt. Somervell. That’s a much more important summit than the bump of Mt. Ellis. We managed to scramble some sustained 3rd to 4th class terrain to gain the first bump before deciding it’s too late and complicated to continue. That peak needed some detailed plans and we certainly didn’t have much clue, so turned around and slogged up Mt. Ellis. The ascent of Mt. Ellis from Ellis/Somervell col was mostly a Class 2 scramble. The ascent could also be done on snow slopes but it seemed like sticking to the dry ridge crest was the least complicated. In no time all 7 of us were on the summit.

Jeff climbing up an exposed 4th class step on the lower NE Ridge of Somervell

Lyle climbing the NE Ridge of Somervell with Ellis behind

This is as far as we got on the NE Ridge of Mt. Somervell

Meanwhile I took a photo towards Chaba Icefield. The glaciers are huge

Carefully down-climbing what we just climbed up on Mt. Somervell

Fast forward again. Now we were halfway up Mt. Ellis

Summit Panorama from Mt. Ellis. Click to view large size.

The NE Ridge and East Face of Mt. Somervell

Mt. Rhodes and Mt. Livingstone with their massive south side glaciers

That glaciated peak is Pic Tordu. The bump to its right is Cowl Mountain

Mt. Shackleton with the 11,000er Tusk Peak poking out of its right shoulder

Tsar Mountain in black-and-white

Apex Mountain and Mt. Norton and the glaciers flown out of Chaba Icefield

The immense Chaba Icefield. This is looking towards Eden Peak

Another shot of the iconic 11,000er – Tsar Mountain

This is looking south down the headwaters of Sullivan River

Me on the summit of Mt. Ellis

Our group shot on the summit of Mt. Ellis. Photo by Rafal K.

The views were expansive towards all direction so we spent at least half an hour up there, but eventually it’s time to descend. We easily reversed our tracks back across the glacier and then I proposed to try my experimental route traversing the upper bench. Jeff and Lyle were convinced but the others didn’t like that plan. It turned out that although not very pleasant, our route was at least 1 hour faster than the others’. They had to deal with ice, broken glacier and a rappel over a waterfall but their route was more fun.

Heading down now. This is a wider view of Mt. Somervell

Raff hiking down the upper ridge

Raff climbing up a short but easy 3rd class step

Another review shot of the upper ridge of Mt. Ellis

Down to the glacier now. Robb, Raff, Gen and Pedro leading in front

Cannot stop shooting Tsar Mountain

The east side glaciers of Tsar Mountain

A zoomed-in view of the west faces of The Twins on Columbia Icefield

This is how broken the glaciers are… Glaciers are everywhere…

Exploring a route down from this hanging glacier

The other team opted to retrace our ascent line.

The last shot of Tsar Mountain in this trip report…

Just one of the many tarns by Tsar-Somervell col

Meanwhile Jeff, Lyle and I were exploring our route down

We found a way getting down to this upper ledge. It wasn’t very pleasant

The Kinbasket River valley lies more than one vertical 1000 m below

Lots of scree…

This alpine meadow is really lovely though

The lower ridges on the south side of Mt. Somervell.

Just another shot of this area.

Jeff almost down to our camp. There’s another lake not too far from our camp

I went to the shore of this lake but the lighting wasn’t that great

Back to camp in late afternoon.

Another photo of our camp. Time to rest for Tsar Mountain

The rest of this evening was spent relaxing and resting, and the next day we went for Tsar Mountain.