The approximate headwall section (ca. 1000m) of Haley-House (WI5 M8, 2500m) on Mt. Robson (12,989′), established by Colin Haley and Steve House from May 25-27. Their route is just left of (and shares the same last pitch with) Stump-Logan (VI 5.9 A2, 2500m), the first line that ascended the Emperor Face in 1978. [Photo] Joe Josephson
Excited by a good forecast, Steve House drove north from Bend on Wednesday, May 23, for his sixth attempt on the Emperor (northwest) Face of Mt. Robson (12,989′), the Canadian Rockies’s tallest peak. Fortunately all of the more talented climbers he approached could not go, so I met him in Seattle on Wednesday evening, and we drove up to Valemount, British Columbia, the next morning.
That afternoon we flew by helicopter into the Helmet-Robson col at the base of Fuhrer Ridge (IV 5.4, 2500m, Carlson-Hainsworth-Fuhrer, 1938) to avoid the twenty-seven kilometer trek. Steve had made the approach a number of times before and didn’t want to chance the traverse under The Mist Icefall, a dangerously active serac, again. We left the col (10,200′) at 4:30 a.m. on May 25 and descended the Mist Glacier to 8,000 feet, where our line on the Emperor Face began.
We found excellent, firm ice conditions on our route, which roughly followed the gully system immediately left of the eminent rock climb, Stump-Logan (VI 5.9 A2, 2500m, 1978). Infinite Patience [VI 5.9 M5 WI5, 2200m, Blanchard-Dumerac-Pellet, 2002], to the right of Stump-Logan, Steve had attempted twice before (for a firsthand account of the first ascent of Infinite Patience, see Issue 2‘s Climbing Notes).
We climbed the face in two long lead blocks, both seven pitches long. My block had longer pitches (about 80 meters on average) and moderate climbing on WI3-5 ice slopes connected by short, M4/5 rock steps. Steve’s block had normal-length pitches (about 55 meters on average) and much steeper and difficult climbing, especially in the last few pitches. At the top were two pitches of M7, and Steve was fully on his arms for the final 30 meters of the route.
On that last pitch we unexpectedly encountered three fixed pitons. Presumably Stump and Logan finished left of the arete that most photos show. Our route shared at least the last pitch with theirs, perhaps the last two pitches. I believe this pitch, which Steve climbed as M7, was climbed as A2 by Stump and Logan.
I reached Steve’s belay at the top of the face that evening, May 25, at 10:30 p.m. We spent the short night sitting on a small ledge chopped out of the ice. In the morning Steve led two easy mixed pitches up to the crest of the Emperor Ridge (V 5.6, 2500m, Perla-Spencer, 1961), which we then crossed onto the upper southwest face. We traversed across the south face (I was now feeling very sick, probably from an everlasting virus I picked up in Patagonia) and joined the Wishbone Arete [IV 5.6] in deteriorating weather. The upper Wishbone included some funky gargoyle rime climbing unique to Robson’s western location, high elevation and wet conditions. We topped out in a whiteout, with visibility between ten and 100 feet, at 1:00 p.m.
I had descended the Kain Route before, and by consulting a compass and getting our bearings, we found our way out of the cloud, which opened up 1000 feet below the summit. From the base of Kain, Steve hiked up to retrieve our camp at the Helmet-Robson col while I sat and contemplated vomiting. Our camp-to-camp time to establish House-Haley (WI5 M7, 5,800′) was approximately thirty-six hours. On May 27 we descended the Robson Glacier, sometimes stressfully off route due to poor visibility, and hiked down to Kinney Lake, leaving the last seven kilometers of walking for Monday morning.