May 8, 2015
Columbia Icefield, AB
Mount Cromwell is among the few candidates that may or may not join the 11,000er club depends on the GPS technology. The official height is listed slightly above the magic number while over the past few years, a few friends of mine had gone up there reporting elevation right on the “edge”. Last year when Vern, Ben and I ascended Woolley and Diadem we were all impressed by Mt. Cromwell’s shear NE Face making this mountain like a Himalayan giant with all the fresh snow. Putting all reasons together it’s an “interesting” peak to bag to say the least.
While it has been climbed from many routes, the most obvious one is via S. Ridge from Stutfield NE/Cromwell col, which itself approached from a long slog across the Columbia Icefield on skis. It itself is a 3-day trip requiring solid weather window and snow conditions. I hadn’t got any peak on the Northern branch of Columbia Icefield yet (The Twins, Stutfields, Cromwell and Kitchener) so it made natural sense to combine all of them together, and Mt. Cromwell was bagged as the 2nd objective after successfully summitting the nearby Stutfield Peak.
Bagging both peaks of Stutfields as well as Cromwell in the same day from camp near the Twins is really pushing one’s physical limit especially considering the long and exhausting approach day beforehand. Vern, Ben, Kevin and I are hardcore so that’s not going to be the deterring factor for us. Mt. Cromwell is one of Vern’s primary objectives in this trip so we all agreed to ascend it first before Stutfield NE. The descent from Stutfield Peak towards the base of Cromwell was long and frustrating due to the massive amount of height loss (knowing we’d gain all of them back later in the day). While the general direction was very obvious, there were numerous crevasses along the route as well as some steep slopes to traverse under. Near the Stutfield NE/Cromwell col we also had to negotiate some rocky and steep sections which I bootpacked down while the other 3 stayed on skis.
Thank to the thick snowpack and the recent snow storms the entire south ridge/face of Mt. Cromwell looked skiable to us. There’s one narrow and steep section about 1/3 of the way up which looked questionable but at least we had the option to carry skis up and over it. I agreed it should be doable on skis, but had other thoughts as usual. In my mind if the post-holing was tolerable (less than knee deep) I’d want to boot-packing it. My ski gears are heavy and my skiing skill is far less from “efficient” so if I have a choice I’d usually prefer travelling on foot/snowshoes. It might be slower but on a peak-bagging trip like this it’s crucial to save even a tiny amount of energy. Kevin somehow managed to convince himself following my boot tracks up (so ditched skis) but Vern and Ben insisted on skiing the face.
The upper face was as expected, foreshortening. The snow was loose and unsupportive making some post-holing but thankfully it was right on the edge of “being tolerable”, that is, I was able to keep up with Vern and Ben even though they were skinning efficiently up. Near the summit Vern carefully probed the cornice and we managed to get pretty close to the edge. Our GPS devices showed elevation averaged at 3340 m which we didn’t quite like (since that meant it’s definitely not an 11,000er). But in the end I guess it doesn’t matter as it’s still a beautiful mountain and worthwhile objective to climb. This is by far the most remote, as well as the northenmost point on the Columbia Icefield.
What we also noticed while resting on the summit was that the CSMC group we met earlier in this trip was following exactly our tracks down from Stutfield towards Cromwell. Selfishly we were all hoping them to ascend the Twins on this day so that we’d have a broken set of tracks to follow but I guess they made a smart choice, as the trail-breaking on this day was far from “easy”. On the descent I managed to plunge down the soft snow in short time, consuming very little energy. The snow condition turned out not as good as Vern and Ben expected but at least they also managed to ski down fairly easily.
After some quick chatting with the other group at the base of this mountain (Stut NE/Cromwell col) Kevin, Ben and I set off towards our final objective in this day – Stutfield NE2, while Vern decided to ski back to camp solo following our uptracks so that he could dry off our gears while the sun was still high. A big thank to Vern!