Andromeda Strain

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Will Mayo is a climbing hero to most winter style wankers like me, so I’ve always wanted to get out with him. He happened to be hankering for some alpinization when he heard that I was heading to the CanRockies, so he invited me to try a route with him.

The Andromeda Strain is one of those routes that everyone should try at least once if they have the chance because it’s so iconic. According to the Dougherty guidebook, “it is now the most popular of the hard routes”, which makes sense because the approach is short and the climbing has character.

We left Jasper at around 4am, which is an hr later than I would shoot for if were to do it again in the same condition. The approach went quickly and the schrund was easily crossed via a snow bridge to the left of the gully that makes up the lower part of the route.

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Will led as we simul-climbed to the base of a traverse, where one can choose to take the direct line straight up the corner or to follow the original route by traversing right, then back left to skirt some saucy climbing that Mark Westman mentioned involves “a 6 meter section of dime-edge hooks above a single knife blade, with a ledge landing if you blow it”. I traversed horizontally, then got suckered into climbing up too early because of some tattered anchors in a corner. The climbing was hard so I lowered from an old fixed anchor then continued traversing.  The Dougherty description says that you should climb “a short corner up to a ledge”, but the line of least resistance is more like a big broad ridge than a corner. It’s something like ~110m from the base of the direct variation.

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Is this getting too specific? You’re probably bored if you are reading this for story substance rather than for beta. Well, you’re boring too.

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The traverse back left is pretty safe for the leader but sparse gear after a section where falling is possible makes it scary to follow. There’s a fixed knife blade with tat where it looks like someone lowered out, but it was pretty ugly so I didn’t want to weight it. I just climbed slowly and breathed heavily instead.

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Once we re-gained the main runnel, Will floated up the A1 corner above. Snow started falling, which caused some torrential spindrift. I took a long time to climb the “decrepit bulge” that bypasses a death mushroom in the corner because visibility was so difficult with the pounding spindrift. I was incredibly grateful to find a good belay under a roof that kept me out of the garbage chute for a while. I was soaked to the bone, so I began the drying dance while Will followed.

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Will blasted up the remaining rock that brought us into the long ice gully that we simuled up, then he continued to lead up the classic exit pitch which is the cover photo of the Dougherty guide. Some easy ice, exhausting snow wallowing, and scary choss balancing with no pro brought us to the summit.

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At this point the mountain was in a whiteout. With no visibility of the AA col where we planned to descend, we trudged way too far down the southwest face. The clouds opened up for a moment revealing the unfamiliar glacier below, so we slogged back up, being careful to stay close to the edge so that we might spot any sign of the descent ridge. In the last glimmer of daylight, the clouds opened up one more time, showing us that we were right on top of the descent col. There are very few times where I’ve felt that kind of relief in the mountains. We just barely avoided a heinous open bivi. We zipped down to the Col, made a a few threads, and flew back to the trail in no time. That was close. We could have had really uncomfortable night.

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