Mt. Assiniboine

North Ridge

August 22 - 25, 1996

Climbers: Mitch Hungate, Ron Husa, Bruce Kolpack, Terry Mataya, Mark Swanson

Climbing Mt. Assiniboine was Terry's idea. After climbing The Matterhorn last year with Mitch, Ron, and Mark, he was obsessed with climbing all of the "Matterhorns" in the world. Terry learned about "The Matterhorn of the Rockies" while vacationing in Banff last spring and planned the climb of the 11,870 foot peak. Somehow I got invited and readily accepted.

We flew to Calgary on Thursday afternoon. From there we rented a minivan and drove to Canmore, about 20 minutes from Banff, where we rented a couple hotel rooms. It was about 1 1/2 hr drive from Calgary.

That night we drove into Banff and had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. In the process of leaving Banff, we noticed a huge gas leak in our minivan and had to pull over. We called Hertz and they arranged a cab ride back to Canmore for us. The next morning, they delivered a new minivan to our hotel. A potential disaster avoided!

Friday morning we drove to Alpine Helicopter and hopped aboard for a short flight into Lake Magog (6000 ft.) which is in Assiniboine Provincial Park.

The ride was quite thrilling. It was my first time in a chopper and this one was piloted by a cute little blonde named Monica. The first views of Mt. Assiniboine as we topped the last ridge were ominous, but we just told ourselves "it just looks steep."

At the end of Lake Magog is a lodge run by a Swiss guy who also coordinated the helicopter traffic. He kept telling us that we were carrying way too much equipment. We ignored him.

We hiked to the base of Mt. Assiniboine where we stayed in the R.C. Hind hut operated by the Canadian Alpine Club (9000 ft.). The "hike" up to the hut was no picnic as we had to ascend a cliff with narrow ledges carrying 55 lb. packs. At the hut, we talked to other climbers and gauged the conditions and difficulty of our upcoming climb.

The mountain was unusually icy for this time of year. Our original plan was to climb the North Face, but because of the conditions we switched our plans to the North Ridge, still a major undertaking. We had thought that the climb would take about 8 hours, but we were getting reports of the climb taking from 11 to 18 hours.

We got up at 2:30 AM and were climbing by 3:30 with headlamps. By the time the sun came up, we were just below the "Red Band", at about 10,800 ft. -- 1000 ft to go, but all technical climbing.

We roped up and put on crampons. Even though the rock climbing was up to class 5.5, we had to keep our crampons on because of the many ice patches..... classic "mixed" climbing.

I roped up with Terry who led every technical pitch including a couple crux pitches at the "Grey Band", the prominent step a few hundred feet below the summit. Ron, Mitch, and Mark had the difficult task of managing a 3-man rope team. With Ron leading most of the pitches, they had no problem keeping up.

From the Red Band, it took us another 5 hours to get to the summit at a little after noon.

While ascending the ridge, we were continually marveling the incredibly steep East Face. We were also checking out the North Face and were glad we chose the route we did.

Once we topped out the ridge, there was a gentle, but exposed, traverse to the heavily corniced summit. The weather was perfect.

The downclimbing was very slow because we had to rappel everything down to the Red Band. The climb down took as long as the climb up. We strolled into the hut, again with headlamps on, at 10 PM.

The next day, we got up, hiked down to the lake, took the chopper back to Canmore, drove to Calgary, and flew to Seattle.