Conditions + huge serac (icefall) release off Snow Dome

Columbia Icefields Jasper National Park

Ken B√ČLANGER_Elevation Guides , Friday 14th May, 2021 10:30PM

We were up on the icefields 11-14 May. We were fortunate to experience excellent spring ski-mountaineering conditions with mostly clear skies, warm(ish) temps and virtually zero wind. Much more pleasant than my previous trip up there early May.

Crevasses are showing signs of sagging, but still mostly well-bridged with well-filled in routes to/from the summits.

There are three icefall steps on the Athabasca glacier, with the most problematic being the second (middle). Every time I've climbed this glacier, I've seen parties taking the righthand direct route, exposing themselves to serac fall off the south face of Snow Dome. On the 11th when we climbed up onto the icefields, I set track as I always do: on a lefthand traverse above the first icefall. Although longer, it nearly eliminates our overhead exposure to Snow Dome.

Sometime on the 12th or 13th (whilst we were up high on the icefields), a HUGE icefall occurred that obliterated the righthand approach and the uptracks that were there. This would have been an UNSURVIVABLE event: it was 100+ metres wide, and easily 300 metres long with ice blocks the size of cars (see photo). This is my third time seeing substantial serac fall in this area. We skiied down this route, moving briskly & efficiently to minimise our exposure time. We were through there in less than 3 minutes.

IMO, this is a place where the objective hazard is too high to rationalise a shorter approach. Not often in the mountains do we get the opportunity for direct feedback on our decisions. I'm thankful nobody was caught, and wanted to share this here so others may benefit.

Elevation Guides

Source: Mountain Conditions