May 31, 2015
Lyell / Mons Icefields, AB/BC
Mons Peak isn’t a significant mountain by size comparing to its 11,000-foot neighbours (Lyells and Forbes), but situating at the heart of the connecting Lyell-Mons Icefields this peak guarantees to have magnificent views on a clear day. The ascent of its aesthetic summit pyramid is a steep snow climb approaching 50 degrees despite what’s suggested in Chic Scott’s Summits and Icefields book, and folks who approached Forbes from Glacier Lake side are all likely impressed by this pyramid-shaped mountain on the opposite side of Mons Icefield. All in all, it’s a worthwhile objective to climb even on its own as a 3-day trip, let along being combined with the 11,000ers nearby (then it’s a simple day-trip from camp). Ben and I managed to squeeze in this ascent on our Mount Forbes trip. Obviously Mons Peak was only our secondary objective so the approach and return is all written in my Mt. Forbes trip report.
This was the Day 2 of our trip. It rained on us overnight but the forecast was calling for “Okay” weather. We woke up at 2:30 am at the Mons Glacier bivy hoping for an ascent of Mt. Forbes, but unfortunately the sky was overcast, the clouds were low and the air temperature was ridiculously high so there’s no freeze at all. Here came the advantage of planing a spare day to climb an 11,000er. Instead of attempting it anyway (and possibly summitting in a white-out wasting one of the best panoramas the Rockies offers), we decided to sleep in and ascend Mons Peak instead. We were all very bagged from the long approach so didn’t wake up until 9 am in the morning. It was still cloudy outside and the clouds even got lowered so that Mons Peak was soaked in a white-out.
The morning was slow going but by 11 am we were already roping up ascending the lower Mons Glacier. I was on lead on my 25′ Lightning Ascents while Ben following behind on skis. The snow was surprisingly supportive on thick areas but on thin sections where the depth was about 0.5 m we sank all the way down to the ice. That was quite freaky and I had to probe carefully. The headwall had a lot of huge crevasses based on the summer photos and again, the snow was thin and isothermal on the convex roll. We could see sags and open crevasses nearby and it took us a good hour or so probing the holes. We discovered 3 crevasses but managed to make through this section without stepping in anything. Then we were on the way crossing the Icefield towards the distant Mons Peak’s N. Ridge.
Thankfully the weather was lifting so we didn’t have to ascend in a white-out. Once hitting the base of the broad N. Ridge we had some disagreement with the micro-terrain, mainly because we were on different gears. Being on skis Ben would prefer less steep but traversing line but on snowshoes it’s very difficult to do steep traverses (especially given the hard base layer), but easier to ascend straight-up anything less than 35 degrees. The decision was made to ascend separately with me strapping crampons on kicking step straight up the 40-degree roll, while Ben doing a long detour traversing climbing right up a gentler slope. We topped out on the next flatter section at roughly the same time, and then it’s a slog putting one foot in front of another all the way to the base of the summit pyramid.
The summit pyramid appeared to be very steep even when getting close to the base, and apparently being threatened by a big cornice on the summit, as well as a gigantic bergschrund below. The ascending line after crossing the bergschrund on the extreme climber’s left side was a traversing line towards right avoiding rocks, and the majority of it would be subjected to both the cornice and the ‘schrund, but oh well.. We were glad to have brought 2 axes for this objective. After ditching the backpacks and ropes I took the lead, kicking in step after step. The terrain was a sustained 45-50 degree slope but thankfully the snow condition was reasonable. So after a while I reached the cornice, traversed underneath it, broke through a steeper roll and topped out on the summit. Ben followed shortly after and the views were fantastic despite the cloudy skies. One view this peak offers but Mt. Forbes does not is the expansive vistas into the BC Rockies including the Icefall Brook and Valenciennes River valley and the jagged peaks nearby.
After carefully down-climbing the summit pyramid we got to enjoy some fast return. The surface snow was getting a little bit slushy at this time of the day so wasn’t the greatest for skiing, but was perfect for snowshoeing as I could slide forward for every step. But even that, it was faster for skiing.. Lower down I decided to use Ben’s gentler roll and the side-hilling turned out not as bad as I was expecting but mainly because of the softer snow. Had it hardened up it would be very twisty on my ankles. Down the Mons Icefield headwall the snow bridges had become even weaker but after some probing I managed to step across the suspicious bridges one after another (while Ben just skied right over them). The rest of the descent back to camp was uneventful.
Our round trip time was about 6.5 hours from camp on a leisurely pace so it was a relatively relaxing day for us. I even managed to squeeze in another nap before dinner time and at the same time weather kept improving. Ben got the newest weather forecast via his Delorme inReach and there was good news for us. Both the night and the following day was supposed to be clear so we were really expecting a successful summit bid on Mt. Forbes.