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.
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
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
I traversed back left into the main gully system to reach the base of the famous “A1 Crack” pitch. Photo: Kurt Ross
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 GTX, Castle Pant, and Cham 2.0 Down Jacket.
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.
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