Mt. Birdwood: Lizzy's Ridge

July 31, 2005August 1, 2005| (II, 5.7) | |
participants: mike warren / esther visser / florian jungen /

Some photos from Florian are now available. Also at Flickr.

I have heard it suggested that Lizzy's Ridge should be a grade III, not II; I agree — the climb is pretty long and retreat wouldn't be a picnic. Although Dougherty's description about good rock and sound belays definitely applies to the ridge section of the climb, the chossy south-east face enjoys neither and is quite loose.


Originally planning to head into BC, the great weather reports for Calgary and area over the long weekend convinced us to try something closer and we settled on Birdwood via Lizzy's Ridge with possibly some playing around on Burstall Slabs as well.

A late start (due to too much Friday evening and not enough Friday night) had us hiking during the afternoon up the mostly-pleasant (and very, very busy) Burstall Pass trail. We had the good fortune of spotting a grizzly on the avalanche slopes near the pass and spent some time watching him (or her) rip up the slopes for tasty root treats; awesome!

We continued slightly above the meadows until we found a water-source from a melting snowpatch and made camp. While cooking dinner, a group a backpackers joined us to warn us of the grizzly, who had startled them galloping past their group at the pass, both parties intent on heading into the next valley. The backpackers then chose to camp nearby, not wanting to continue their plan by following the bear.


We woke up to a beautiful morning and the swarms of mosquitoes that lie in wait for hot-blooded climbers. A quick bit of porridge and we were off to the base by just after 0800, which turned out to be many, many hours too late.

Working our way up ramps and breaks on the left side of the ridge, we roped up after about 250m of climbing, all on decent rock. The rock improved to excellent as we followed the ridge for the next several hours. Belays were, as promised, sound — but only due to pitons. In many places, there weren't a lot of gear placements between belays, but the climbing was easy. However, the very high winds kept the exposed sections extra-entertaining.

Near the mentioned junction with the south-east face, we encountered some rap-slings and promising-looking ledges below; ignore these and just stay on the ridge until you get onto sloping scree ledges on the face and continue for a couple ropelengths to the first major gully leading up left. This (which was snow-filled for about 120m when we hit it) is very loose in most spots; continue up the gully systems of your choice until you hit the ridge again and follow loose scree ramps and short exposed ridge sections to the summit. We made it to about a pitch below the ridge when it got dark and had a highly uncomfortable mostly-sitting bivy in the mud and scree before continuing the next morning. (However, the sky was quite beautiful to look at and there were a surprising number of meteors.)

All told, it was about 16 hours up. We weren't as efficient as we could have been on belays (compounded by the fact I was leading everything, so gear and rope re-stacking wasted some extra minutes on each belay) and could have soloed a lot of the terrain at the top, but shattered nerves necessitated roped climbing on this ground. It would be feasible to save around 6 hours with an efficient group of 2 who knew the route, but there is still a lot more climbing than "Selected" implies.


After I went to the summit (Florian and Esther were far more interested in getting down and didn't want to bother with the last couple hundred meters of ridge) we started exploring the descent, which turns out to be more-or-less as described in the book (although we made four rappels on the way down in the interests of safety: we were all pretty tired and not interested in a lot of concentrating).

The first gully mentioned is about 250m south of the summit down the south ridge; you can look down the southern-most gully of the south-east face you just ascended (and, depending upon route-finding choices, may have been your top-out point) and will see a slung rock pinnacle which tops a low-angled, rubble-over-slabs gully down the south-west face. A 60m rap takes you to the scree, then down and decender's-left over a rib leads to another rubble-over-slabs downclimbing pitch (or ca. 30m slung rock-horn rappel), some more scree and then straight down towards cairns above the final slabs to the major scree slopes. There is a steep gully leading south (fixed pins for rapping) and another short bit of downclimbing to another fixed-pin anchor before you get to obvious scree trails north and then down into the drainage.

Down to the scree took us around 4 hours, although we weren't trying to go quickly as we had all day (and made four rappels). There is a trail through the cliff-bands tight against the Birdwood side down into the Burstall pass trail area.

All-in-all, a pretty decent climb although I'll probably not do it again any time soon. If you go expecting a very long day at about grade III with some choss up high, you won't be quite as sandbagged as we were. We definitely earned our burgers and coffee.

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