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Will Mayo - Andromeda Strain

Will Mayo and Kurt Ross top out of Andromeda Strain in a whiteout

On the day after the autumnal equinox, in a snowstorm, Kurt Ross and I climbed the "Andromeda Strain"

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Toward the end of September, on the day after the autumnal equinox, in a snowstorm, Kurt Ross and I climbed the seminal alpine climb "Andromeda Strain" (Grade V, M6, AI4) in ten hours from bergschrund to cornice. Kurt showed his alpine mettle when he freed Barry Blanchard’s infamous, poorly protected and technically difficult “decrepit bulge” pitch in a deluge of spindrift. This pitch bore not a speck of ice, but was plastered with snow mushrooms. Somehow, I got to lead the safer, iconic pitches.

We topped out in a whiteout, and I led us astray descending to the Andromeda/Athabasca col. I kept too far away from the corniced ridge, in the name of safety, due to the extremely low visibility. Somehow, we wound up halfway down the remote southeast ridge, requiring an arduous climb back up it in order to make the risky descent to the AA col in the waning twilight. In a way, it felt like we climbed Andromeda more than once that day.

Mount Andromeda in the Canadian Rockies

Mt. Andromeda: "Andromeda Strain" (Grade V, M6, AI4), one of the “grand-cours” of the Rockies, first climbed on April 16 and 17 by Dave Cheesmond, Barry Blanchard and Tim Friesen, bisects the Northeast face in the center of the photo. Photo: Will Mayo

Will Mayo and Kurt Ross climb Andromeda Strain

Kurt Ross beginning the route’s deviation from the gully system at one-third height. Though it is possible to climb straight up, the rock quality is poor and the protection questionable, and there is a certain elegance to the traverse pitches, a switchback of sorts. Photo: Will Mayo

Will Mayo climbing Andromeda Strain

I traversed back left into the main gully system to reach the base of the famous “A1 Crack” pitch. Photo: Kurt Ross

Will Mayo climbing Andromeda Strain

I left the belay at the top of the “Decrepit Bulge” pitch, which marks the end of the difficult climbing on the route, catching a glimpse of the 700’ ice couloir above. Photo: Kurt Ross. Will Mayo is wearing La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTXCastle Pant, and Cham 2.0 Down Jacket.

Will Mayo and Kurt Ross top out of Andromeda Strain in a whiteout

Kurt graciously gave me the iconic exit pitch of "Andromeda Strain". Most North American alpinists have stared at this patch of terrain hundreds of times, as a photo Sean Dougherty climbing this pitch appears on the cover of his guidebook: Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies. Kurt and I joked that the first guy would lead it, lower off, pull the rope, and the second guy would lead it as well, so we would have photos of each of us doing it. Photo: Kurt Ross.

11/29/2016 1:54 PM
Posted in Climbing By Will Mayo

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drew cunningham

posted on 10/2/2017 9:36 AM
I remember going up to look at Andromeda Strain just from the base a year or two after Barry and Cheesmond climbed and my partner at the time had heard all the stories but were 21 and psyched to make our mark... way man = this way too serious for our skills we decided wisely ...Blanchard sure was an amazing climber and a super nice guy as well....I took a couple winter Alpinism courses with him when I was thinking of becoming a guide and living in the Bow Valley - he sure made us suffer but I really must say I enjoyed most every moment of our time with him except a -40 degree bivi in the middle of January on Mt Fay with only my summer bag to keep me warm- my mistake but I never slept a wink just shivered for ten hours straight as Barry and the two other guys on the course snored away the night in their Everest rated down loft bags......last time I ever grabbed a stuff sack making the assumption that the bag I wanted was inside.....I remember in the morning Barry saw me shivering and asked if that was all I was in all night...I nodded as I could barely speak...he quickly grabbed a big down belay jacket from deep in his pack and I managed to warm up a tad before we started across the glacier post-holing in waist deep snow - the "Suffer Machine" - to be I am an out of shape fifty-year-old armchair alpinist - still love looking at imagery and reading articles about all the adventures going on these days - the mixed routes young guns are putting up blow my mind as grade five ice - polar circus was my biggest achievement....
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