Mt. Edith Cavell, North Face. Chouinard/Beckey/Doody Rte.

By: Michael Anderson | Climbers: Mark & Michael Anderson |Trip Dates: August 20, 2001

Photo: Chris Brislawn

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Looking through my worn-out copy of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, there are several climbs that stand out as "must-do" routes; climbs I've wanted to do since I first opened that book. The North Face of Edith Cavell was never one of those routes. Nothing about Steck and Roper's description jumps out at you; it doesn't sound particularly difficult or high quality, and not too historically significant either. Then you have the pictures, which look like they're straight off of a souvenir placemat. In a list of the "best of the best" it certainly doesn't stand out among the 49 other gems. But that's just a book….

Over the last year or so, I had heard from several different people about their failed attempts to climb this face. I heard horror stories about constant rockfall and bad weather. About how the approach was harder than the climb itself, and how it was never in condition. These stories slowly started to build up the climb in my head and struck a nerve with my competitive spirit. After a while, I knew I would have to try this climb as soon as I could get a trip together up to the Rockies.

On the afternoon of August 19th we found ouselves at the Angel Glacier Moraine loop trail studying the face. The ground was still very wet from a recent storm and the face was obviously coated with snow. It was about 4pm and it was clearing, so we had time for the face to dry. We had already had tremendous luck with the weather the past week and the forecast for tomorrow was for partly cloudy skies. We scouted out the approach cliff from the viewpoint and decided to give it a try the next day. We didn't expect the weather to be good the entire day, but figured if we could haul ass, we would be off the face by early afternoon when the weather typically gets bad. We would travel super light, as always, and simul-climb the route.

We awoke at 2am at the Wapiti Campground, and were at the trailhead by 3am. Within 30 seconds we had lost the approach trail. Note: there are many "social" trails at this tourist stop, so make sure you know for sure which is the right one-it's hard to find in the dark. Fortunately it's not too hard to find the cliff, but we completely blew the approach climbing. We were way too far to the left on the middle cliffband, but we found a good route that was probably only 5.5. However, it was directly under the seracs. About four hours later a serac collapsed and landed right where we had been that morning - another good reason to get up early. We cut way to the right to pass the highest cliff band and were soon on the upper moraine hiking around the crevasses on the Angel Glacier.

We got to the Bergschrund and passed it at about 6am. The approach took us longer than expected but we were moving fast now, and didn't foresee any problems. We crossed the 'schrund easily with some steep (80 degree) snow/neve climbing, and got on the rock. By now it was light enough that we could evaluate the weather: Not good. There were definite storm clouds brewing and the face above the rock buttress was still covered in clouds. We needed to move quickly. Our plan was to get to the large snow ledge before the sun hit the face and started loosening rocks. Once on the buttress, you are supposed to be safe from rock fall. Getting to the snow ledge was very straight forward, about 500 feet of class 4 climbing with a few very short (6 feet or less) sections of very easy fifth class. We climbed up quite a bit left of the prow of the buttress, and once on the 45 degree snow ledge, we had to traverse about 150 feet to the right to begin the rock climbing.

Remember the snow storm from yesterday? Well, we thought it would melt off by the next morning. It melted, but then it re-froze and gave the rock a nice coating of verglas in several places. Other spots were still snow, and a select few holds were dry. This made the climb quite a bit more exciting, but not too much harder. It did eliminate several holds, and required some more devious route-finding to avoid especially wet or icy spots, but otherwise wasn't too bad besides numbing the fingers every few minutes.

We started the main rock band about 100 feet left of the prow of the buttress with a plan to work our way to the right and the crest of the ridge. The first couple hundred feet was fun face climbing with one tough (5.7) move about 30 feet off of the snow ledge to traverse under an overhang. We were able to get over to the prow of the buttress pretty easily and found the rock to be surprisingly excellent, and the climbing fun. The first several hundred feet was mostly face climbing between a few dihedrals and shallow chimneys, all the while trending right to get on the nose of the buttress.

The crux (5.7) came in the vicinity of the 4th pitch or so; getting around a 3 foot roof which is formed by a right facing dihedral changing to a left facing dihedral. There was a fixed stopper there to assure us we were on route and the climbing quickly eased off. Another 100 feet led us to a big ledge where I stopped to belay Mark so I could get some of the gear back. From there I traversed 30 feet right on good ledges to get around a large overhanging buttress, and then about 50 feet straight up where the angle eased way back and I encountered broken snowfields.

I decided to climb about one hundred feet higher until I could get a good belay in solid snow where I would then relinquish the lead to Mark. For me, the next one hundred feet turned out to be the most difficult of the entire climb. I had my one ice tool out, but I had left my gloves in my pack, expecting to pull them out at a nice ledge when I got to the snow. Well, there weren't any nice ledges and I didn't want to stop on the slopey snow-covered quartzite I was perched on at the moment. So I did some glove-less and very cold mixed climbing to get to a spot where the snow was deep enough to carve a ledge. This stretch had some pretty bad rock and only psychological pro, but fortunately the climbing was pretty easy. And I was able to reach a good-sized snow field and kick a ledge.

By this time in the day, or maybe it was just height on the face, we were totally enveloped in clouds. A few snow flurries were flying, but nothing too Biblical. Mark arrived and calmly stated: "I feel like Mark Twight". It was a strange thing to say. Usually, if he feels like Mark Twight, it's because he's scared out of his mind, and in such a situation, he would not say "I feel like Mark Twight". The strange thing was that this climb so far seemed very "extreme" and "alpine", and, therefore, should have been scary, but it wasn't. We were moving very fast over difficult terrain under adverse conditions and it was kind of fun!? We weren't really scared at all. Mark quickly grabbed the rack and started up the low angle snow gullies. These were more like a snow face with the occasional rock, than a gully, but the climbing was easy and that's all that mattered. We thought we were done rock climbing, but about 300 feet higher we were forced into some more rock. It turned out to be pretty easy and offered some good pro. By this time I could barely see Mark leading 100 feet in front of me. Slowly the rocks started to fade away, then we were alone on the large final snowfield. Mark shouted down that he saw the shale bands, and we began a steep leftward traverse.

We went about 200 feet to the left when we saw the sun attempt to break through the clouds. For the first time that day we could see the summit, less than 100 feet above Mark. Within a few seconds the clouds quickly covered it again and left us with visions of what we thought we had seen. Mark reported that he had seen huge cornices hanging from the ridge. This made us nervous. He found a path straight up the snow between chunks of shale. I yelled up and asked about the cornices, which he must surely be able to see by now, but I got no reply. Hmmm….That's either really good or really bad. The rope kept going up, slowly, and I could see he was engaged in some steep climbing. Suddenly, he disappeared, and let out a blood-curdling scream. My heart stopped. Then his head poked over the ridge and he yelled, "woohoo". He had made it to the top. He soon had me on belay and I cruised up to the summit ridge. We had lucked out, and our path through the shale led straight up to a path between two gigantic cornices. The final 10 feet of climbing was about 80 degree snow, but nothing I couldn't do with one tool.

The decent was an epic of hiking on down-sloping shale covered with 1-3 inches of snow, with crampons. I was reminded of how Mallory and Irvine supposedly died on Everest. At one point I slipped and slid about six feet down the shale before "self arresting" with my fingertips. This descent was definitely the hairiest part of the "climb" for me. By the time we reached the saddle on the west ridge, the snow had changed to wet rock, which was much more manageable, and we enjoyed an uneventful hike back to the car.

Despite all the bad things I've heard about this climb, I think it is definitely one of the best alpine routes I have done. It is possible that we lucked out with the conditions. Maybe a storm the day before is just what is needed to keep the loose rocks in place? From the reports I have heard from other climbers, I can be sure that our experience was an exception, but we didn't see any rockfall whatsoever. We saw much more rock fall and more loose rock on Mt. Temple, and it's supposed to be relatively safe. The rock climbing on Edith Cavell was very enjoyable, the rock on the buttress was excellent, despite its appearance, and the ice and mixed climbing was plentiful and difficult enough to keep it interesting. If you are competent at climbing moderate rock in mountaineering boots in cold, alpine conditions, then this is an excellent route and if you can move fast in the mountains then the route has little objective danger and should not be missed.


  • 2 #1 TCU's
  • 2 #2 TCU's
  • 2 #.5 Camalots
  • 2 #.75 Camalots
  • 1 #1 Camalot
  • 1 #2 Camalot
  • 3 pins (1 angle, two bugaboos) - didn't use
  • 2 17cm Ice Screws - didn't use. (rock gear was always available, and ice quality was questionable)
  • 8 shoulder length runners and about 12 free biners
  • I used one ice tool, Mark had two. The route can be done with one ice tool each.


  • 3 am Depart Parking Lot
  • 6 am Crossed 'Schrund
  • 1245 summited
  • 5 pm returned to parking lot

Editor's Note: The author is a Major Contributor to the North American Classics project.