Mount Somervell

August 8, 2018


Sullivan River / Clemenceau-Chaba Icefields, BC

Mt. Somervell is a fairly sizeable massif by any measure but thank to the close proximity to Tsar Mountain, this peak is significantly overlooked. Prior to our trip this peak has only three recorded ascents with two of which done without air support. However, since the decommission of Sullivan FSR about 15 years ago the access to this area had become extremely challenging. The main objective of this trip is by no doubt Tsar Mountain because it’s an 11,000er so if you are curious about the planning and stuffs then check out my Tsar Mountain’s trip report.

Getting to the summit of Mt. Somervell is by no mean an easy fair. There are only two published routes and the original F.A. route is long gone due to glacial recession and global warming. Both Rick Collier and David P. Jones’ group used a combination of snow and choss on the NE Ridge and E. Face and that’s exactly what we would do. Jeff, Lyle and I had spent a couple days discussing the route choices and having already made an ascent of Mt. Ellis helped confirming our decision. The complete NE Ridge was very attractive but we wanted to avoid steep snow for as much as possible thank to the ridiculously warm temperatures.

Ascent routes of Mt. Ellis and Mt. Somervell

But even so a lengthy glacier travel was still required so we set the alarm at 4:30 am and started in pitch dark. We had just done the approach two days earlier so navigation in dark was no problem. We correctly found the waterfall gully and for some reason the ascent of this gully felt a lot easier than the first time I did it. The rocks were more solid because the loose stuffs were already knocked down. Upon hitting ice on the edge of glacier we decided to go farther out to climber’s left. The decision was to avoid that sketchy jump-across. We still had to deal with a bit of steep ice and a maze of crevasses but most of them were easily navigable. In short time we had arrived at the flat, snow-covered glacier and took a long break. Onward we aimed at the higher of the two cols connecting Mt. Ellis with Mt. Somervell.

Lyle just after climbing out of the waterfall gully

We reached the glacier right before alpenglow time

A super zoomed-in shot of Tsar Mountain and its alpenglow

Now it’s sunrise time!

Jeff leading up the steep ice to start the glacier

Now we merged onto the flat, snowy section. Looking back at Tsar Mountain

This is Mt. Ellis our first objective in this trip

The broken east side glacier of Tsar Mountain

Jeff and Lyle crossing the long, long glacier

Aiming at the higher col

Looking back at Tsar Mountain. Note the smoke…

The first challenge was actually gaining that aforementioned col. At least two major crevasses required careful detouring and probing and the snow bridges were very questionable given the soft snow, but we did find a way around. A bit of steep climbing later we crested the col, but right on the col there’s another hole. To get around it we had to down-climb and detour on the north side. After that bit of excitement we were finally on the NE Ridge removing crampons and storing the ice axes. Climbing the lower NE Ridge was mostly 3rd class and the aim was a not-so-obvious ledge traversing across most of the E. Face. This ledge was much wider than expected and upon hitting its base we confirmed the previous decision of traversing all the way across this ledge. The crux was crossing a 45-50 degree snow gully. Even with two tools we did not feel super comfortable because of the slushy snow.

Finding a way weaving around a couple giant crevasses

Then climbing some steep snow.

A hole in the sky. Good thing we didn’t trust that bridge

We dropped down the north side of the col to bypass that hole..

After removing snow gears we started the NE Ridge.

Lyle ascending the NE Ridge. This line is good…

The north face of Mt. Somervell

At the wide ledge we opted to traverse across. It was easy going

The crux was crossing this snow gully.. It’s very exposed too…

Jeff ascending snow with Mt. Ellis behind

Jeff finishing the snow section. We didn’t like it.

But we made across nonetheless and then the choss part began. Much of the climb on east face was a mere 3rd class “scrambling” but the terrain was not very pleasant. The colour and the layers of these rocks actually reminded me the lower part on Mt. Alberta so that states how loose this face is. However, loose rocks weren’t an issue for the three of us and we made quick progress up the face and crested the uppermost NE Ridge right above the snow arete. The arete was successfully bypassed just as planned. The hardest climbing was encountered on the summit ridge (5.3 ish) but the rocks are generally solid. We soloed the ridge no problem and the next thing we were on the summit celebrating another success. The register has only three entries – the F.A. party, Rick Collier’s group (1993) and then David P. Jones’ group (2007). We made the 4th recorded ascent of this majestic peak. Not bad, not bad…

Jeff and Lyle scrambling the typical terrain on the upper east face

Typical, typical… Not pleasant but not difficult.

Carefully working our way up. Just up and up…

Cresting the uppermost NE Ridge now

Lyle and Jeff on the upper NE Ridge

Lyle leading the crux 5.3 step

Approaching the summit.

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

The glacial flow out of Chaba Icefield with Apex Mountain behind

This unnamed peak is interesting. Jeff and Lyle made a F.A. of it later in this trip

Looking 2000 vertical meters down into Kinbasket River Valley

Pic Tordu

Mt. Shackleton

Mt. Clemenceau

A closer look at Tsar Mountain

A wider look at Tsar Mountain

Lyle and I celebrating the summit of Mt. Somervell

Register placed by Rick Collier

David Jones’ entry more than 10 years ago

Me on the summit of Mt. Somervell

Another panorama from the summit. Click to view large size.

We thought about rappelling the technical crux but opted to just down-climb. It was fun. Descending that east face wasn’t as bad as expected neither probably because the gravity was on our side. I always found descending choss much easier than ascending for some reasons. To get back across that snow gully we did some body belays just in case the surface snow went. In terms of climbing it was quite easy. And then we carefully traversed back across that ledge and descended the lower NE Ridge. The complicated crevasses issues near that col did require some rope work but generally speaking there’s no route-finding anymore. The rest of the descent back to camp was uneventful because we just did the same two days ago. The “upper ledge” that I discovered worked perfectly as a descent route.

Down-climbing the 5th class crux

Down-climbing another 4th class tricky step on the NE Ridge

Now, descending the loose E. Face

Lyle drinking some water…

Fast forward, back to the lower NE ridge now

Huge icefalls on the north side of Mt. Somervell. This peak is surrounded by glaciers

Descending the lower NE Ridge

Traversing steep snow above a bergschrund. The snow was really soft by now

Lyle looks tiny in this terrain

Another photo of the glaciers on east side of Tsar

One last look at Tsar Mountain

Finding our way down a series of small ledges to the “upper scree bench”

We were pretty much home free now.

Checking out this lovely lake. Too lazy to go down to its shore though

Almost back to camp, looking at Mt. Rhodes and Mt. Livingstone

Overall I would probably not recommend Mt. Somervell due to the loose rocks but this is a very attractive peak nonetheless. If you have another day besides climbing Tsar Mountain (and still have plenty of energy and motivation), then why not… Asides the 11,000ers project I was just as stoked to climb this peak as Tsar Mountain…