SNOW DOME           11339 ft. / 3456 m

Location:  Alberta, Canada
52.190156N    117.317933W

Sections

Snow Dome - Overview
Snow Dome - The Hydrological Apex of North America
Snow Dome Trailhead
Climbing Routes on Snow Dome
Climbing Season in the Columbia Icefield
Mountain Conditions and Weather in the Columbia Icefield
Red Tape, Fees and Legalese in Jasper National Park
Disclaimer - Hazard Warning
Columbia Icefield Center
Maps
Snow Dome - Acknowledgements and Photo Credits
page one
Snow Dome - Overview

Snow Dome is located on the Continental Divide in the Columbia Icefield of the Canadian Rockies, directly on the Alberta - British Columbia border. It is found northwest of the Mt. Athabasca / Mt. Andromeda massif, on the opposite side of the six-km-long by one-km-wide Athabasca Glacier. Its normal ascent routes on the south and west slopes are easy ski tours, once the huge headwall, steps, icefall and crevasses of the glacier have been gained. Often a failed ski tour of the elusive Mt. Columbia will result in a ski ascent and traverse of Snow Dome and neighboring Mt. Kitchener.

Snow Dome's most famous mountaineering features, however, are the four or five major ice routes that cling precariously to its steep North Face, highlighted by the infamous Slipstream, a dangerous, three thousand foot vertical ascent under the seracs of Snow Dome's sheer cliffs, which form a natural border at the edge of the Columbia Icefield. Slipstream requires the ultimate commitment from climbers who risk their lives on this notorious route, which for many is the pinnacle of North American waterfall ice climbing.
 The summit of Snow Dome is seen at center, with Mt. Andromeda in the foreground and Mt. Kitchener at right
Discovery
The first known explorers to discover this peak were Walter Wilcox, Robert Barrett, and two guides who accompanied them. This was in the year 1896, and the purpose of their expedition had primarily been to find the Athabasca River by way of Bow Pass and the North Saskatchewan River.

First Ascent
The first climbers to ascend this major peak were J. Norman Collie, Herman Woolley and Hugh Stutfield in 1898. They climbed this peak after the first successful ascent of Mt. Athabasca. The explorers had actually made an attempt on Mt. Columbia, but gave up after the sheer size of the icefield overwhelmed them, and they salvaged the trip by making the first ascent of Snow Dome. Collie named it "The Dome". The name was changed to Snow Dome in 1919. Snow Dome was one of the first major peaks to be climbed in almost two hundred years of Columbia Icefield exploration history and travels in the northern Canadian Rockies, which began in 1807.
        The North Face of Snow Dome seen from low on the East Ridge (left) and from Wilcox Pass (right)
Snow Dome - The Hydrological Apex of North America

The Columbia Icefield, a gigantic field of ancient ice and rock, covers 325 sq km (125 sq mi) and reaches depths estimated at 365 m (1300 ft). The Columbia Icefield is composed of a massive plateau of ice, includes six major glaciers and several smaller ones. Hydrologists have estimated that the ice on Snow Dome could be up to 5000 feet thick in places. It is located on the Continental Divide, and the icefield drains into three North American river systems: the Columbia River to the southwest, the Athabasca River to the north, and the North Saskatchewan River to the southeast. These meltwaters from the icefield flow to three different oceans: the Pacific, via the Columbia River system; the Arctic via the Athabasca and MacKenzie River systems; and the Atlantic, via the North Saskatchewan River system to Hudson's Bay (considered to be part of the Atlantic Ocean).

It is the dominant hydrological apex of North America; the actual summit, or "triple point" of the apex is the summit of Snow Dome. This is one of only two such geographical wonders in North America which run into three oceans. The other such apex in North America is Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana. A third is located in Siberia. Snow Dome is the small starting point for waters that journey all the way to the sea, contains the cleanest water on earth, and is arguably the most important water source on the North American continent. The Columbia Icefield was created during the last Ice Age, and produced a profound effect on the surrounding landscape. Markers at the icefield and near the foot of Mt. Wilcox indicate the rate at which the toe of the Athabasca Glacier has receded this century. The remnant of the last major glaciation that once covered Canada 20,000 years ago, it has survived through the ages due to its high elevation, cold weather and heavy snowfall. The icefield once covered the area where the Icefield Parkway now runs through. In a typical year, Snow Dome can see twenty to thirty feet of new snow, but sadly, the overall meltoff of the glacier has become more noticeable in recent years, due to warming trends and lower than average snowfall.
    Left:  Snow Dome's East Ridge seen from low on the route;  Right: Snow Dome seen from Mt. Andromeda
Snow Dome Trailhead

The trailhead is found just west of Highway 93, the Icefield Parkway. The small Snocoach Road leading to the trailhead is across the highway from the Columbia Icefield Centre, located 103 kilometers south of Jasper, Alberta, or 189 kilometers north of Banff, Alberta. If travelling from Banff, you must drive on Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway, to Lake Louise, then turn north on Highway 93, the Icefield Parkway, to reach the mountain.

Follow the Snocoach Road through the first set of metal gates. These gates will be open at night to allow access to climbers and backcountry users; but during the day they are closed, and you must stop in front of the gate to wait for the next passing Snocoach shuttle driver to open the gate for you. This is not a problem as a shuttle bus will pass through the gates every fifteen minutes or so; do not attempt to open the gate yourself. Follow this paved Snocoach road uphill to a second gate, which is always locked, (just past a small bridge) and pull into the left side, where there is a small gravel parking lot, and park. You will see a small metal registry box on a pedestal at the right side of the lot, in front of a well-worn trail leading up the moraine, to Mt. Athabasca. This is the trailhead for climbing routes on Snow Dome, Mt. Andromeda and Mt. Athabasca.

Snow Dome can also be accessed for a ski ascent via the far eastern end of the Athabasca Glacier by pulling off of Highway 93 just slightly north of the Snocoach road at a large tourist parking lot by tiny Sunwapta Lake, near the toe of the glacier. If approaching from the climbers' parking lot by the normal trailhead, walk up to the paved route to the Snocoach Station and walk down the dirt road on the moraine leading to the glacier far below. Stay on the ice road, rope up and continue past the Snocoach tour viewing area, aiming for the left side of the glacier's headwall. The right side is threatened by seracs at the cliffs on Snow Dome.

If approaching the ice climbs, park at the far north end of the giant parking lot of the Columbia Icefield Centre and walk overland, aiming for the Dome Glacier at the bottom of Snow Dome's North Face. The sheer cliffs are unmistakable, and the lines of ice will be obvious long before reaching the jumbled icefall of the glacier.
           The East Ridge of Snow Dome, with skiers on the Athabasca Glacier, seen from Mt. Andromeda
Climbing Routes on Snow Dome

Snow Dome is a gentle ski ascent from the south and west slopes once off the Athabasca Glacier and past the headwall. It would appear to be a simple pristine snowfield, easy angled, with no objective danger. That, however is a myth, as these beautiful slopes have been the scene of many epics, brought on by crevasse falls, storms and the whiteouts for which the mountain is legendary. No one should attempt an ascent of these slopes without being skilled in the use of a topographical map, compass and altimeter. It would be an added measure of safety to have a GPS, be skilled in its use, and to set and check waypoints often. Proper navigation equipment and experience is an absolute must in the Columbia Icefield. The wind on these slopes is generally quite strong as well, adding to the difficulty of navigation. It generally takes a competent party around three to four hours to reach the summit once the headwall has been gained. On a clear day from these slopes, it is possible to see Mt. Columbia, Mt. Andromeda, Mt. Athabasca, Mt. Bryce, The Twins, and Mt. Castleguard.

As mentioned previously, there are several world-class alpine ice routes on the north side of the mountain. Slipstream, as mentioned previously, is a 925m, grade VI WI 4+ chop route, which was once soloed by Mark Twight in two hours and four minutes. It has claimed at least six lives in the past twenty years. A new route, For Father, grade VI WI 6, was sent last year, and climbers are pushing the limits every year to raise the bar. Other routes include Aggressive Treatment, 925m, grade VI 5.8 WI 4, located just to the left of Slipstream, and Borderline, 800m, grade VI WI 5. Any grade VI route is dangerous and requires total commitment in the face of the possible deadly consequences of the type of situations which often arise on this unforgiving terrain.
      The menacing seracs of Snow Dome, right, overhang the three-tiered headwall of the Athabasca Glacier
                                                                 SNOW DOME continues on page two