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Pipes Over Mount Robson - 2 to 6 September 1998
extracted from an official report by Sergeant Fabio Lacentra, Unit Medical Section

Pipes Over Mount Robson Post Ex Report

Objective: To assemble a small team of climbers from within the Calgary Highlanders to ascend Mt. Robson (alpine style) and place a unit piper and unit flag on its summit.

Dates: 2 Sep - 6 Sep 98.

History: Mount Robson, the jewel of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is the highest peak in the range (3954m) and maintains a glacier all year.

The team consisted of:

Sergeant Fabio Lacentra - Expedition leader

Master Corporal Chris Schmidt - climber

Master Warrant Officer Kent Griffiths - band member

The ascent was accomplished via the South Face Route which was a mixture of rock, glacier and some steep 60 degree ice. . The climb began with the drive to Jasper and on to Mount Robson Provincial Park on 2 Sept. and the gruelling march in which resulted in a bivi at 7200'. The next day was spent moving to an alpine hut which was to be the base camp at 8000'. A close weather watch ensued that evening and at 0300 hrs the decision was made to make a summit attempt. The team moved off and cross under the first major hazard (sarac falls just above the hut) at approx. 0415 hrs. Then they climbed through a maze of cliff bands for approx. the next thousand feet. From here the ice began and the first set back took place, one team member lost his footing which resulted in a 20m fall of all team members. Injuries were slight (Sgt Lacentra: laceration to left cheek, twisted left ankle and some slight bruising right elbow and left knee. MCpl Schmidt bruised both elbows, MWO Griffiths bruised a hip and both elbows (one elbow developing severe swelling and restricted movement) and we retreated to the safety and comfort of the hut. The team worked at regrouping itself and prepared for another attempt. As always on large mountains weather was a key concern. As night fell and the cloud cover descended over the summit concern heightened as to whether another attempt could be made.

A vigilance on the weather was held every 2 hrs and at 0300 hrs a break presented itself Sgt Lacentra and MCpl Schmidt allowed the change in luck to make their decision for them. At least the sarac's would still be frozen. The rock would be climbed by headlamp in order to put the team in a good position for the summit bid. Next came the ice where the team had fallen the day before. Steps were kicked carefully and axes were plunged deep. As the team moved to the top of little Robson and across the col to the next set of ledges named the black ledges, and for good reason. The ledges were covered with verglass (a thin very slick ice sheet) which makes the climbing treacherous and the 1000 feet of drop off forced the mind to stay focused.

The main summit lay ahead and 2000 feet up. All that was left was to gain the sum the glacier and descend to a place were we could cross the burgsl'rund (large crevasse that separates the main glacier from the summit glacier). From there more ice presented itself and we found ourselves in the most technical part of the climb. At this point the team had to work there way through a sarac field and onto ice bridges which allowed age over large crevasses and onto the summit ridge. At this point the long climb had started to take its toil, dehydration and the 7 hrs of climbing were being felt.

The team stepped onto the summit 12972 feet (3954 m) at 1115 hrs 5 Sept.98 and promptly unveiled the pipes and let the sweet tune fill the air, to mark the celebration of their victory at making the first bagpipe assent of the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

After a flurry of photographs a quick survey of the peaks spread below them as far as the eye could see and many congratulations the team turned its attention to the long descent that lay ahead and the changing conditions of the of the ice bridges they would have to cross. The decent went smoothly; most of which was down climbed or lowering Systems were used to bypass technical sections. In the true style of the infantry (in leading the way) the Highlander team made improvements to the route as they descended. Cairns were added to mark the way and fixed lines were recovered and reattached to reduce the risk on the dangerous sections. A sigh of relief was felt as the team moved past the last hazard (the large sarac falls, which were releasing pieces of ice and groaning) under the mid afternoon heat of the sun. A little further and the hut came into view and they knew they had made it. The climb had taken ~ 3 hrs hut to hut, a good time considering the maintenance that had been done on the rout and that most people do the route in an average of 16 to is hrs.

Another night was spent resting at the hut and then the decent to flat ground and civilization would begin.  

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