By Eric Dumerac
October is likely the most undervalued month of the year when it comes to alpine climbing and mountaineering. The days are definitely shorter and colder, but not necessarily wetter. In fact, October in the Canadian Rockies (and often in the Coast Range as well) will often see a spell of high pressure, up to 14 days in a row of those sought-after sun icons on the weather forecast.
Cold and sunny conditions are the most suitable for alpine climbing, especially in the event of a stable high pressure system. You can usually find this by looking at extended forecasts and looking for consecutive sunny days, with little winds and low Probability of Precipitation (P.O.P.) Another method is to view a current 500 millibar contour map (the type used by weather broadcasters on TV) and look for a strong ridge of high pressure with good spacing between the contour lines. Also look out for weak or low pressure systems in the surrounding areas. If you are traveling beyond regional forecast ranges, it’s worth taking a Mountain Weather course on how to recognize certain weather systems and adapt travel plans accordingly.
By October, most or all of the past winter’s snow below the firn line has melted (firn line is the delineation where the past winters snow has become compacted into neve over the summer and does not melt). Any crevasses, snow plugs and bergschrunds should also be readily visible. October also means that the alpine freezes at night, building even more stability for walking on the glacier. If it does rain or snow, this will likely melt and dry off during the high pressure weather systems, changing to ice in runnels on alpine northern aspects, which is usually a good thing.
What this all translates to is perfect conditions for attempting alpine climbing missions. Rock climbing routes are typically dry with good ice where you want it. There is little rock fall as everything is locked in place, but you’ll want to make sure you are safely down and away from exposed slopes prone to rock fall or avalanches due to solar heating in the afternoon.
In my climbing career I have accomplished some of my finest ascents (first ascents no less!) during the month of October. For example, one year I joined fellow mountain guides Barry Blanchard and Philippe Pellet for a new route on Mt. Robson’s redoubtable Emperor Face – Infinite Patience. It was also on a cold October day that I completed the first ascent of Right of Passage on the North Face of Mt. Kitchener, to this day it is still one of the hardest ice routes in the world that is not bolted (WI 8).
Some tips for October alpine climbing:
So get out there, enjoy October’s high-pressure spell of great weather and send something in the alpine.rock climbing, alpine climbing