August 23, 2015
Mt. Robson Provincial Park, BC
Mt. Fitzwilliam isn’t nearly the highest in its vicinity, but the proximity to road (Highway 16) and the huge vertical relief (1800 m) makes it one of the most impressive peaks visible when driving eastwards from Mt. Robson towards Jasper. Having driven this section for quite a few times I knew I had to get up Mt. Fitzwilliam someday. There wasn’t much useful information from simple Google search, but thankfully my friend, a Jasper local mountaineer Liam Harrap had ascended it more than 10 years ago. With the brief description provided by him and my photos taken from the nearby Ghita Mountain I could clearly picture the route out, that was, via a gigantic gully then the upper S. Ridge from Rockingham Creek to the west, with possible extensions to other peaks nearby.
Maurice (Maury) Perreault and I had been chatting for quite a while on Facebook and I was glad to finally do a trip with him (unfortunately, towards the rear end of my 4-year stay in Alberta)… Maury is a very hardcore climber and has climbed almost all of the Rockies’ 11,000ers as well as a handful of first ascents of some super-technical and obscured alpine mixed and ice climbing routes. Comparing to him I’m pretty much just a beginner in the world of alpine climbing. We had a big objective in mind but unfortunately an August snow storm came in dumping 40+ cm of the white stuffs two days prior to this trip. Not liking to take a chance and waste a couple days we eventually decided on Mt. Fitzwilliam which was oddly enough, in the same broad area as the original objective.
The strategy was to do an early start, travel light and attack Fitzwilliam, Bucephalus and possibly a few others in one very long day. We started at roughly 5:30 am and with Maury setting up a blistering pace we cruised up the initial 7 km trail in just 1 hour 10 minutes. We made to the campground by Rockingham Creek and other campers were still sleeping… We crossed the creek on a good bridge and then the adventure began. For the next 3 km or so to the base of our ascending gully we were supposed to travel alongside Rockingham Creek but the underbrushes were dense and the ground was wet and boggy forcing us to do some bushwhacking in the forest just to the left. It wasn’t bad though and we made progress fairly quickly.
Then for the next 500 vertical meters or so we had to do some bushwhacking to hit the alpine. Given the location and my experience on the nearby Ghita Mountain I was fully expecting hours of horrendous work. The terrain was steep and the bush was still dense but by Jasper’s standard I’d say it’s fairly “easy”, and again, we made pretty good on time. Once exiting the trees we got our first view of the ascending gully. It looked narrow, steep and snow covered but not overly tricky. Oh by the way, this marked the official start of this boulder-hoping fest. If you don’t like a full day of endless quartzite boulders of all sizes then don’t come to visit Fitzwilliam area… The gully was somewhat sheltered from the sun on the NW aspect so higher up we encountered a lot of fresh snow. Adding to the moss those quartzite rocks were super slippery and required some extra cautions. Some of the boulders were horribly loose as well adding to the “fun” factor… But, high on motivation it didn’t take us long to make to the high col.
There’s more snow accumulation on the upper south ridge than expected (at sections it was post-holing), but the sky was more overcast than sunny so that might explain why. The cold temperature and chilly wind didn’t help neither. We generally stayed on the ridge crest as long as possible but did do a few short detours to either left or right. With a bit of route-finding the route was nothing harder than Class 3 scrambling and soon enough we stood on the summit – a place I’d been wishing to hang around for a few years already!
Maury replaced Liam’s summit register (broken) with his newly bought waterproof one, then we quickly made our way down. Despite the slippery boulders the descent was still much faster than the ascent.
Looking ahead it’s apparent Bucephalus Peak was only half an hour away. Despite the fresh snow Maury and I were fast and motivated so it made perfect sense to at least bag another peak while we were there anyway…