<-- Map of summer 2017
     climbing roadtrip 
     (click to enlarge)

Route: East Ridge (5.3, 5000')

TR #: 272

Category: British Columbia/Alberta       Summit Elev: 3,363 m / 11,034 ft       Rock Type: Quartzite

Partner: Robert Waye

A nice loop up and over one of the Canadian Rockies iconic summits.

Looking down East Ridge of Edith Cavell. The North Face is on the right. Aerial photo, May 2012. Looking down West Ridge of Edith Cavell. The North Face is on the left. Aerial photo, May 2012.


I'd wanted to climb Edith Cavell ever since John Scurlock and I flew past it on an aerial photography trip to the Canadian Rockies in May 2012. (The photos above were taken on this trip.)

Edith Cavell's East Ridge is a classic Canadian Rockies route, offering an athletic adventure with mixed climbing at a moderate grade. The peak is one of the more accessible in the Canadian Rockies and the East Ridge can be completed comfortably in one day. Depending on the snow conditions and weather the route can be bare rock the whole way, or snow and ice requiring crampons and an axe. Most of the climbing is 3rd and 4th class on generally good quartzite, with a short 5.3 section on especially beautiful quartzite. The descent is either by reversing the East Ridge (shorter but steeper and might be tricky if there is snow/ice) or heading down the West Ridge (longer but more mellow terrain).

In summer 2017, construction was being done on the parking lot in the Edith Cavell Day Use area, the trailhead access for the East Ridge. Because of this, the parks service had placed limited public access to the parking lot via a permit system* (a maximum of 180 vehicle permits per day, staggered entry times with the first being 8:30am, gates closing at 8pm, and 2 vehicle overnight permits per day for climbers wanting to sleep in the parking lot to get an alpine start). Rob and I arrived mid-day in Jasper the day before our planned climb, and were told that there were no more available overnight permits. So the earliest we could start hiking would be about 9am. And we would have to be back to the trailhead by 7:30pm to drive our cars out before the gates closed at 8pm. This gave us a 10.5 hour window to car-to-car the climb. We figured we could do that. (*Perhaps because the late-season crowds were minimal or because the park staff was worn out of enforcing the permits, but we felt that we could have easily gotten away with ignoring the permitting rules....)

Conditions were about as easy as it gets, allowing us to do the climb in just under 10 hours car to car, at quite a relaxed pace with a few short breaks thrown in. The route was entirely rock, and we never needed to touch snow, even on the summit ridge. We also decided to solo the 5.3 section in rock shoes (this part was the best climbing on the route, and we wished there was more of it than just a single pitch worth!). So we ended up bringing a lot of gear we never used: 60m 8mm rope, 4 cams, a few nuts, 6 slings, crampons and ice axe, and down puffies. (Being a bit unfamiliar with Rockies conditions and expecting possible ice between the rocks from late-summer storms the previous week, we had definitely over-geared a bit for this route. But on the other hand, it would have been frustrating to get up there without the right gear.) The weather was great too—it was an unusually warm and pleasant day and we did much of the climb in t-shirts. The main bummer was the smoke from forest fires that muted our views of the surrounding mountains. (Forest fires had plagued western Canada in summer 2017. Depending on the winds, one day could be smoky and the next one not, and vice versa. Unfortunately, it decided to be a bit smoky the day we climbed Edith Cavell.)

We had planned on descending by reversing the East Ridge, but at some point on the way up decided to come down the West Ridge. We were glad we made this decision, as it allowed for a nice loop trip over the mountain and brought us down into the beautiful Tonquin Valley. It was more "check out and enjoy the views" terrain, worth the perhaps 1 hour longer it took versus the East Ridge. 

The following page gives photos from our enjoyable athletic day up and over Edith Cavell. Thanks Rob for joining me on this climb!

Interesting tidbit: The mountain was named for an English nurse executed by the Germans during World War I for helping people held captive to escape.


Car to summit: 4 hours 55 minutes
Summit to car (via West Ridge): 4 hours 40 minutes
Total car-to-car: 9 hours 58 min




Photo descriptions:

1. Edith Cavell from near the trailhead. (Photo taken by Rob when he drove up to check out the trailhead the afternoon before the climb.)
2. In summer 2017, the parks service was doing construction at the Edith Cavell trailhead, probably making more parking spots for future summers. (The yellowish tinge to the air is caused by smoke from forest fires, which had been blown in by winds overnight.)
3. We scrambled along the top of the moraine for about 10 minutes before spotting this much easier trail to the left of the moraine. Should have known there would be a trail—this is the Rockies, not the North Cascades!

4. This marmot was either desensitized to tourists or too fat to move.
5. Looking at the talus/scree slopes to be crossed to get to the base of the East Ridge.

6. Looking up the East Ridge from the col below it.
7. Metaconglomerate near the start of the East Ridge route.

East Ridge
8. The East Ridge starts with a bunch of 3rd class.
9. We went up the dark rock on the right, crossed just below the snowfield peeking around the corner at the top, and then went up dark rock on the left.
10. We crossed just under the snow and the orange gully and headed up the more solid dark rock.

11. Approaching the final steeper section of the ridge. There is still about 500m / 1600' to go at this point.
12. Looking back along the East Ridge at a flattish section of ridge.

13. More 3rd class climbing.
14. Looking down at Edith Glacier and Cavell Pond and Cavell Lake below. (Photo by Rob.)
15. Beautiful quartzite. Jelly beans for scale.
16. Some fun 4th class climbing on solid quartzite.

17. The remnant of a cornice.
18. Steph on the East Ridge. 
(Photo by Rob.)
19. Steph on the East Ridge. (Photo by Rob.)
20. Looking up the crux 5.3 section of the route. We decided we were comfortable soloing this in rock shoes. This was the best section of the route, but only lasted about a pitch worth. Wish there was more of this kind of climbing on the route!
21. Rob on the East Ridge.
22. The fixed rappel anchor at the top of the 5.3 pitch. We would have used this to rappel this part of the route if we had come down the East Ridge.

23. A hole in a melting snow patch.
24. A hole in a melting snow patch. Steph for scale. (Photo by Rob.)
25. Looking up the final section of the East Ridge after the 5.3 step, which is 3rd class again. After this step, there is still about 400m / 1350 feet to go to the summit.
26. A hanging snow patch. 
(Photo by Rob.)
27. A hanging snow patch. Rob for scale.
28. Some interesting peacock-like coloring on the rock approaching the summit. One theory is it could be caused by bacteria, which can cause an "oily sheen" on a rock surface.

Summit 3,363m / 11,034 ft
29. Approaching the eastern summit (the western summit is a bit higher). Late season conditions make this just a mellow hike along rock, but earlier in the season this section is snow and can require crampons and axe. (Photo by Rob.)
30. Due to the leisurely start to the day (I did not leave Jasper until 7:45am), I had stopped at Tim Hortons in Jasper that morning for coffee and picked up a sandwich for lunch. Yum!
31. Most of the stuff in this pack I never used....
32. Water on the summit. We could have gone lighter on our water as well.

33. Looking down the North Face, with Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond far below. (Photo by Rob.)
34. The steep, rugged North Face is on the left. We talked to a party that climbed the North Face route the day before we climbed the East Ridge. Definitely a more serious endeavor than the East Ridge.
35. Steph on the higher western summit of Edith Cavell. (Photo by Rob.)
36. Colorful prayer flags on the west summit. 

via West Ridge
37. Rob at the start of the West Ridge descent. If you squint through the smoke, you can make out a beautiful anticline displayed in the mountain across the valley.
38. Interesting bulbous formations in the slate near the summit. Foot for scale. Maybe fossils of some sort?

39. In this photo it looks as if I am headed back up, but I am actually turning right, as the West Ridge route goes right and maintains the ridge here. (Photo by Rob.)
40. The West Ridge route takes a path across this and then goes down and left on the scree/talus.
41. The first bit of the west ridge descent gives great views of the Angel Glacier and Edith Pond far below. This photo is practically a glacial geology lesson: Firn line between grey glacial ice and remnant snow, slide debris on surface, greenish-blue lake caused by glacial silt, prominent end moraine, no prominent lateral moraine (thus showing steady glacial retreat), and "ogives" (concentric bands in the ice).
42. Rockies choss.

43. At the base of the chossy slope. We came down just right of Rob's head in the photo.
44. A nice path through pretty meadows. Too bad about the smoke, as I imagine the views would be pretty without the smoke.
45. The last few kilometers of the west ridge descent follow the Tonquin Valley trail back to the car. This is a really nice trail, and flat too.
46. Apparently there are a fair number of bear sightings in Tonquin Valley. We did not see any bears, but we saw evidence of their existence....

47. Edith Cavell as seen from Cavell Lake, just before the trail meets the road.
48. The West Ridge descent dumps you out on the road about 2km from the parking lot for the East Ridge. Although we had two cars and could have easily left one here, we had foolishly left both at the upper trailhead, initially having planned to descend the East Ridge. But at some point during the day we decided a round trip would be nice, and came down the West Ridge instead. It took Rob 9 minutes to run up the road to collect a car. Thanks Rob!

49. While Rob ran up the road to get a car, I photographed this grey jay aka "camp robber" feasting on a discarded bagel.