Made for the Mountains – Week 6
Attempting to summit a 11,483 ft peak with a 71-year-old client
My name is Tim Ricci and I’m an Internationally Certified Canadian Mountain Guide. My job takes me to some of the most remote mountain venues with some of the most difficult off-road terrain Canada has to offer. To do my job well, I don’t need good … I need the best. That’s why I’m testing out the 2022 Land Rover Defender.
This week was one I had been looking forward to for some time. For this objective I was meeting up with someone I climb with a couple times a year. The most impressive part is that he is 71 years young and still chasing down big objectives.
Mt. Bryce’s Southwest Peak sits at 11,483 ft and it offers some of the Canadian Rockies’ finest hard alpine routes. Plus, it’s in an extremely remote location. I have spent my fair share of days on the Columbia Icefields staring at the northwest wall of Mt. Bryce.
A lot of the snow and ice objectives have melted out substantially this summer due to the extreme heat. The lack of ice, along with rockfall, made the classic approaches unpassable. Our plan was to bypass the approach via the South Glacier and fly in by helicopter.
With the Defender once again loaded up we headed for Golden, BC, to jump in the helicopter to head to the mighty Mt. Bryce.
We landed high on the South Glacier the night before and were treated to a clear flight in with absolutely no smoke. This was one of the first smoke-free days in quite some time and we were all feeling quite fortunate to breathe in some fresh mountain air. Once on the glacier we set up camp.
The benefit to having a helicopter for these adventures is the ability to bring some extra supplies in. We packed in a small hibachi BBQ and cooked a great meal with unobstructed views of the following days objective. Around 9pm we crawled into our tents.
At about 2am I was awoken by the unfortunate return of the smoke. It made it almost impossible to sleep. So, we got up and began to brew up the morning routine of coffee and oatmeal. Right out of the gate we crossed the bergschrund and headed towards the col between the Centre and South Peak of Mt. Bryce. Our objective was the South Peak as this is the highest point in the mountain.
We began our ascent of the South Ridge that was technical and had lots of loose rocks, even by Rockies standards. Managing all the loose rock made for slow going. The final part of the climb is usually ascending a steep ridge to gain the summit. But with all the heat and receding of the glaciers we were forced to climb horizontally across the steep ice face.
Again: my client is 71 years old! What a legend.
After roughly 300 M of technical vertical climbing, we needed to make the hard call of pulling the pin. Time was not on our side and we needed to break down camp and catch our ride out. Plus, the smoke in the valley was getting worse, leaving us concerned for the helicopter making it up as high as we were.
We were within 50 vertical meters of the summit when the call was made to descend. Descending was extremely technical as well. We were able to avoid the ridge and descend a steep snow gully back to our camp. We quickly broke down camp just in time for the helicopter to arrive and fly us back down to Golden.
Often it is not about the summit, but the journey. This was definitely about the journey and the adventure. The other critical part of Alpine climbing is making it home safely to our families and friends. Although we did not summit the mountain on this day, it’s not going anywhere, and we will be back!
Another great trip in the bag with great people. We loaded the Defender back up and headed to Golden for a well-deserved meal where the next objectives were discussed for future trips…
About Tim Ricci
Tim moved to the mountains over 20 years ago and has not looked back since. Tim is a fully certified Mountain Guide and holds Canadian Avalanche Association Level 3 and Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) Level 3 certifications. Since September 2018 Tim has worked as Yamnuska Mountain Adventures Assistant Director of Operations. Located in Canmore, Alberta at the Banff National Park gates, Yamnuska is a premier provider of mountaineering, ice climbing, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, avalanche training and trekking experiences in the Canadian Rockies for over 40 years. Tim Resides in Canmore, AB, where he lives with his wife Wanessa and two kids, Ella and Miles.