Mount Robson via the Fuhrer Ridge (IV 5.4)


Saulnier, Chris

Dates of Trip: 

August 31, 2019 to September 7, 2019


Rick and I met at Red Rock while climbing with my friends Dave and Susan. After spending a day on Happy Lollipop Tower, a classic Dave/Susan adventure-climb special, and a "rest" day simul-climbing 14 pitches of easy climbing - we were keen to make plans to climb again in the future.

Rick is a master of the smash and grab - watching conditions on large climbs and at the last minute booking flights during a good weather window to increase chances of success rather than spending a week sitting in a tent waiting for bad weather to pass.

Our original objective was a large alpine rock climb in the Canadian Rockies. Unfortuniatly summer was slow to come to the rockies this summer, and new snow was starting to fall before all the old snow had melted off of the routes we were considering. Since it was already starting to look a little like winter and we were running out of time to make a decision - we figured that changing to a north face alpine climbing objective would give us better conditions and a much better chance at a productive climbing trip.

At just shy of 13, 000 feet Mount Robson is the most prominent mountain in the entire Rocky  Mountain Range and the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Short weather windows, long approaches, and mandatory technical climbing results in a very low success rate. Rick had previously submitted Robson via the Wishbone Arete (a rock route on the south aspect) but was excited to go back and climb an alpine route on the north aspect. It had been a while since Rick was up there - he climbed that route closer to the time I was born than the time I started climbing (and I’ve been climbing for over half my life at this point).  

The current normal route up Robson is the Kain Face which is named after a striking 250m face of steep snow and ice. We were also potentially eyeing the North Face which has similar conditions but is substantially longer.

Rick was emailing some friends of his for beta and we got a suggestion of a different route:

“Having done the north face and the Fuhrer ridge I considered the Fuhrer ridge to be a better route. No shortage of ice climbing and some good intermediate mixed climbing and very spectacular position.”

The guidebook didn’t provide much more information on the route - but it sounded like a great adventure:

Rick’s friend was also nice enough to send us his recommendation for the climbing gear we would need for the rock section:

Now I’m lucky enough to have met Barry at a house party when I was working as a hiking guide in the Canadian Rockies - so I instantly recognized the name when Rick forwarded me the emails. For those who might not recognize it a quick google search gives you an idea of what we might be getting ourselves into.

Watching the weather it was unclear if we would be able to find a decent weather window. We had a three week window at the end of August that we had both blocked off to be able to travel on short notice. Small storms were rolling through with some regularity. As we were getting to the very end of our travel window, the long term forecast for the next week predicted rain Sunday, a window Monday/Tuesday, another storm Wednesday, then a second weather window Thursday/Friday. This weather was still holding the next morning when we got up to check, so we booked our flights for early Saturday morning which gave me 48 hours to pull together the gear I needed for an alpine climbing trip before getting on the plane.

Getting Established

After driving around to borrow some pitons (thanks Dave!) and a winter sleeping bag (thanks Neil!) and some gear to protect snow climbing (thanks MITOC!) I landed in Calgary around the same time as Rick on Saturday morning. We quickly hopped into our rental car as we had another 6 hours of driving to actually make it to Mount Robson.

We had established a rather aggressive best case scenario plan in case we were able to take advantage of both of our potential weather windows. I needed to go back to work the following Monday as I had two new employees starting - and we were going to try and use every minute.

The standard approach to the most popular high camp on Robson (snowdome) takes approximately two days through somewhat technical hiking terrain. We didn’t want to waste one of our potential weather windows hiking to high camp, so we opted to take a helicopter up and hike out. While using a helicopter to opt-out of part of the approach is a somewhat contentious practice among some - it in increasingly common (especially on Robson) and allowed us to maximize our chances of being able to even get on the route. At the end of the day we were both more interested in finding some good climbing than proving (for another time) that we could carry a heavy pack uphill.


Arrive in Calgary. Drive to Robson


Get food/fuel and pack


Fly in / setup camp / scout out route


Climb Furher Ridge


storm/rest day


Climb North Face


Hike out


Hike out / drive to Calgary


Fly back to Boston

Our blue-sky best case scenario plan. Two routes on Robson in a week.

After running around town in the rain on Sunday getting fuel and food - we got packed and loaded into the helicopter Monday morning to fly into camp and get established.

The Climbing

After setting up camp we walked over to the robson-helmut col to make sure that the route we were planning on taking the next morning to get to the fuhrer ridge looked like it would go. As we would be starting in the dark, we wanted to make sure our plan was reasonable while we could see the route. Most parties attempting that route come from the other side - but we had heard that this looked like a promising option. While we would have to climb up the right side of the col to avoid cornices (and cross a bergschrund) it looked like it would work.

Satisfied it was worth an attempt (and not happy that temperatures were warming up the longer we were out there) we returned to camp. The route we had taken in crossed below quite a bit of overhead hazard and old avalanche debris. We decided it was prudent to take a different path back to camp with much less overhead hazard. We did end up passing somewhat close to (but not directly in the fall line of) a rather large serac which we remarked looked like it could fall over. This proved prescient as we actually would see the serac fall over the next day.

Safely back at camp we made an early dinner and set our alarm for 2AM.

After a quick breakfast and coffee, we stuffed our pockets full of bars and set off for the robson-helmut col. We roped up at the bergschrund, which was easily passed, and simul-climbed to the col. The climbing was mainly steep, supportive, snow, which would be the theme of the day. While it made for easy climbing, it was mostly unprotectable.

We reached the col at approximately sunrise, and for the first time could see what we were getting into.

After a break to check out the path to the North Face in case we decided to come back for it, we hiked up to the bergschrund at the base of the ridge and roped up. I led the first block, simul-climbing about 1000 feet and finding somewhere to place a piece of rock gear  approximately every rope length. At this point the climbing became more sustained and we started to pitch everything out.

As this route is very rarely done, and given the nature of the rock in the Canadian Rockies, there was plenty of loose rock to contend with and avoid. While the ridge itself was safe from overhead hazard, it was bordered on either side by two gullies that funneled rockfall and were shedding all day as the temperatures increased. The sound of falling rocks and small sluffs that bordered on avalanches brought a regular cadence to the day as we were climbing. The technical crux came high on the route as a 30 foot vertical rock band.

With a few hours left before sunset we reached the summit ridge. While it had been clear with good views for most of the climb weather was starting to roll in and we quickly couldn’t see very far in front of us. The summit ridges of Robson are well known for being complex, with ice gargoyles and double cornices in places. It wasn’t too hard to follow the ridge to the summit, and then start our descent down to the Kain face.

Another party had climbed the Kain face that day (which was likely the first successful ascent of the season - we’ll get to that later), so we were able to follow their tracks occasionally as we headed down from the summit. It was getting dark by the time we got to the Kain Face - so we would be rappelling in the dark. The party that had climbed the face earlier had been a party of 4 - so they were able to do full length rappels on two ropes. We only had one rope - so they while they had pre-rigged half of the v-threads for us we still had to build the other half. However we were able to make quick work of the 8 rappels down to the bergschrund and then plunge stepped down the final few hundred feet.

We finished rappelling and got back to our tent around 10PM. This meant we had a 19 hour summit day from tent to tent. After making a quick dinner and some warm water we crawled into our sleeping bags looking forward to the planned storm / rest day the following day.

Rest Day

After sleeping for a very long time we spent the day mostly hiding in our tent. The storm that rolled through seemed much worse and longer than the forecast, and seemed to bring a lot of new snow. Rick was getting weather updates from a friend back at home - and on top of the snow from the recent storm the next two days were now forecast to bring significant warming.

After a lot of discussion - we decided that the prudent thing to do was to start the descent the next day as the warming trend was likely to cause a lot of the recent snow to move around and there was a lot of objective hazard to get over to the North Face. The warm new snow would also make travel slow and difficult as we would be having to slog along.

The Descent      

Before descending we decided that we should climb the Kain Face, as we were already there and it was already pre-rigged for rappelling! We ran up it in the morning, simul-climbing the face in two blocks (so that we would both get to lead). The most difficult part was finding and digging out the v-threads (which we clipped as our only protection) as they were buried by all the new storm snow. After a quick break on the summit ridge we made quick work of the 8 raps back to the bergschrund.

We packed up camp and started heading towards the descent. Another reason we decided to take off in the good weather was we were warned that the 4th class descent was slabby and that you would not want to be on it when it was wet. This turned out to be very true as it was quite a technical ridge, and then dropped into the valley with somewhat challenging route finding at times.   

The first night we slept on the green ledge visible in the above photo. The second day we hiked back out to our car. In true smash and grab fashion we drove straight to Calgary (with a brief stop in Banff for dinner at 10PM), got a hotel beside the airport, managed to switch our flights to a flight early the next morning, and flew back to our respective homes.

Boston to Boston with a summit of Mount Robson in under 8 days.


Conditions on Robson were difficult this year. Talking to our helicopter pilot - he had 12 parties that had booked flights but cancelled at the last minute due to the weather / conditions. The climbing rangers didn’t know of any other successful summits that season before the day that we summeted.

The route we climbed was also fairly unique. We found two trip reports separated by a decade online, and the ranger we spoke to had been working there for 4 years and never heard of someone else climbing it. We suspect that the route is climbed around once every 5 years, and it certainly felt that way on the way up; there was a lot of trundling of microwave sized blocks.

The other climbers that beat us to the summit by a few hours had a slightly better PR team than we did…