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Quentin Roberts and Alik Berg tick the first known ascent of Mt. Forbes' East Face
Posted on: October 19, 2020
Mt. Forbes (3612m) with the East Face line (M4 WI3) climbed by Quentin Roberts and Alik Berg drawn in red. [Photo] John Scurlock
The east face of Mt. Forbes (3612m) in the Canadian Rockies has presented a proud and obvious objective for generations of climbers, but it only just recently saw its first known ascent, on October 2, when Quentin Roberts and Alik Berg scampered up a line they are simply calling the East Face (M4 WI3+). The two made the round trip from October 1 to October 3.
"People have been looking at that face for a long time," Roberts told Alpinist in an email. "It is just way back there and hard to gauge conditions. Alik and I both had to apologize to other partners [whom] we had discussed trying the face with. There are a few faces like this left in the Rockies, but everything has to line up well if you want to do them!"
Berg commented via email:
It was a fun mission with a great friend. Cool to get to climb an unclimbed face on such a prominent local peak. It was definitely on a lot of people's to-do lists, especially since David Jones' guidebook came out in 2018 with an enticing aerial photo of the east face on the second page. Like so many of these things, someone just needed to go try. Technically the line we climbed wasn't very hard (we simulclimbed the whole thing), and is really only noteworthy because it was an unclimbed aspect of prominent big peak of the area. If it wasn't for the long approach and the fact you can't see the face from the road it would have been climbed in the '60s or '70s.... There was some technical climbing done in the area in the late '80s on Rosita and Outram peaks, but the most prolific of the guys involved (Ken Wallator and Tom Thomas) have both passed on. I would think that these guys (especially Wallator) would have been interested in this face and maybe had attempted it?
Roberts climbing low on the route. [Photo] Alik Berg
Higher on the route. [Photo] Alik Berg
Roberts summed up the route:
It was fairly sustained moderate mixed climbing at M3 with a little bit of M4 and bits of alpine ice. Interesting alpine terrain and a little complex with the heat. By no means a walk in the park but non-technical enough to have running belays. We compared it to the Super Couloir on Mt. Deltaform that we'd climbed a few days earlier. Overall more difficult (the Super Couloir is just a really long couloir) but with a similarly tricky crux.
Will Gadd, a prominent Canadian alpinist familiar with the area and its history, expressed enthusiasm for their ascent.
"It's not every day that a new face gets done!" he wrote in an email. "Forbes is a really cool peak, too, with a long approach. Highest in Banff National Park, and to go way the hell back there and do the 'classic' route is an accomplishment, really, never mind a new route. That's also a relatively unvisited area, with a lot of potential. I did a TV commercial on Mt. Mons to the west years ago, it's just a wild, wild place! It's also maybe worth noting that Quentin isn't of the modern spray generation. If he says it was M4 and 'interesting,' it means most people would find it significantly harder. That's the lowest grade he can say with a straight face, not the highest..."
Barry Blanchard, another Canadian climbing legend, confirmed what he told Berg—that he didn't have any recollections about attempts on the face in the 1980s.
"I know people have talked about it in the past," he said, "I just can't think of anyone who walked rather than talked."
Berg on mixed terrain. [Photo] Quentin Roberts
Berg following. [Photo] Quentin Roberts
Berg keeps the pace. [Photo] Quentin Roberts
Roberts, left, and Berg on the summit. [Photo] Quentin Roberts
Roberts elaborated about how the details came together for the climb:
Alik had seen various possibilities for the ascent, when he did a new route on Mt. Outram (a neighboring mountain) with Maarten van Haeren last year. I was going off the Dave Jones guidebook, and some pictures online. We knew it was a very warm window, but we had recently heard from our friends Uisdean and Ethan who were on the summit of Robson (Yuh-hai-has-kun) after climbing frozen terrain on the upper Emperor Face. We hoped that conditions might be similar on Forbes. Warm in the valley and cold and frozen up high.
To access the face you have to approach for 27ish kilometers (about 17 miles) to a bivy below the North Glacier. From here you can see the North Face (which Jon Walsh and Ptor Spriceniecks first skied in the fall of 1997), but you can't see any of the east face. You only really get to see it the day you go climbing. The approach is an adventure in itself. We hiked for nine hours to our bivy, walking along beautiful lakeshores, up moraines, and had a customary grizzly [bear] encounter. It took us less time on the way out, perhaps because it was downhill and we were soaked from the rain.
We accessed the face via a shoulder off of the North Glacier under a bright moon, gaining around 800 meters and losing around 200 meters [of] elevation in the process. The face came into view, just as the first light was cresting the horizon. At this point, we didn't really expect much to be frozen. We had both woken up sweating and hot the night before. Sure enough, a lot of the features that we had planned on climbing on were not there because it was so warm for this time of year. It wasn't too hard to find our way around the features, but we were lucky everything connected at a moderate difficulty and we could connect into the same system to access the summit. The climbing was sustained and technical, but never overly difficult (M4) and we climbed the route in mostly short simul pitches from sheltered spot to sheltered spot. The conditions were perfect in every way apart from the temperature, and we were lucky that we were still able to manage it.
On the descent. [Photo] Quentin Roberts
[Photo] Quentin Roberts
This interactive map on Native-Land.ca shows the Indigenous territories. The highlighted box includes names of the tribes associated with the region of Mt. Forbes and the Canadian Rockies. The webpage for the Town of Banff indicates that, according to a treaty signed in 1877, the region "encompasses the traditional territory of: the Blackfoot Confederacy...comprising the Siksika [Sik-see-gaa], Kainai [Gaa-Naw], and Piikani [Bee-gaa-knee] nations (also called Peigan), the Tsuut'ina [Soots-in-naw] First Nations, the Stoney Nakoda Nations of Chiniki, Wesley and Bearspaw."
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