Christian Peak (Lyell V)
June 27, 2015
Lyell/Mons Icefields, AB/BC
Christian Peak, or commonly known as Lyell V, is the lowest peak among the 5 11,000ers on Mt. Lyell massive but is more interesting than some of the higher neighbours. The easiest route up is a steep snow climb via the south ridge/slopes with one tricky bergschrund crossing, while the more-challenging north ridge offers an exposed way up for folks doing the Lyell IV-V traverse. Ben, Vern and I climbed it on the second day of our Lyell Icefield peak-bagging trip, after successfully ascending Lyell III, Lyell II and then Lyell I on the previous day.
Our original plan was actually to ascend Lyell IV via “Collier’s west bowl bypass” and then the south ridge over a couple rock/snow pinnacles near the summit (which is also the original ascent route) but didn’t turn out well. To access the west bowl of Lyell IV we picked a more-or-less direct line from the Hut passing a few gigantic crevasses. Once around the SW shoulder of Lyell V we got to see some really massive holes, with one nearly spanning across the entire slope. There were more large crevasses and saggings further along the route too, along with areas exposed to serac/cornice fail. The objective hazard was too high for Ben and Vern’s like so we didn’t go further. In retrospect the “broken tower traverse” would very likely not going to work anyway given the shitty snow conditions. So we re-directed our attention to the closer Lyell V. To get to its base from the SW side we still have to cross a few massive holes on saggings.
We crossed over to the normal south slope ascent route and then ditched our snowshoes. As observed earlier there’s a massive bergschrund about midway up the slope. Trip reports from earlier years did not mention this so that’s definitely a sign of glacial recession. Crossing this ‘schrund on a 40-degree slope with deteriorating snow condition was no trivial neither, and even after that the knee-deep post-holing snow combined with the 40-degree convex roll did generate a few thoughtful moments. But we all made through, and shortly after we arrived at the false summit. The true summit was only 20 meters away but required a tight balance on a very exposed snow arete. Normally it’s an easy move for us but on this day the right side had already turned a bit slushy making some questionable holds.
Despite the bad snow we still wanted to try the traverse over to Lyell IV. It’s overall the hardest summit in this area so there’s no way to easily give it up. We unroped and then I immediately led the way down around a few large cornices and rock steps. Soon I got to see the committing terrain ahead. After a short, but sketchy down climb on shitty snow I came to a knife-edge part. The only two options would be au-cheval or hand-traverse given the conditions and the terrain ahead would only get harder. The conclusion was simple – this route was not in shape yet… So we went back to the summit of Lyell V and then focused on getting down that steep slope before it got any worse.
The descent was not too bad but did require some careful footwork thank to the slushy snow. Back across the ‘schrund, snowshoes on we then leisurely plunged down the southern slopes all the way until we joined our tracks from the previous day. Now it’s time to make another decision…
After failing the “Collier’s west bowl bypass” and then the Lyell V-IV traverse we only have 1 option left to attempt Lyell IV, that was, via the more technical N. Ridge from Lyell III/IV col. That’s the recommended as well as the aesthetic line so we all “sort of” agreed to give it a try by waking up at 2:30 am the next morning. In my mind I wasn’t totally counting on that as based on the conditions that route could only be worse and with the 30+ degree temperature the snow condition could only get worse as well. There’d be guaranteed no freeze at all and the upper ridge was still entirely snow covered making some 50+ degree snow climbing on thin areas, not even mentioning one of us must had the balls to lead that crux mixed climbing pitch. Ben was keen on just going back to Lyell Hut for a short day but Vern and I (the peak-baggers) figured that’d be too many hours sitting around doing nothing so we preferred a long traverse to Arctomys Peak. I wasn’t so sure neither as I probably should give my feet a bit more rest but since they were doing good so far I couldn’t complain on it. The conclusion in the end – Arctomys Peak would be our next destination.