Two hundred and eighty square kilometres in size, Columbia Icefield is the biggest "chunk" of ice south of Alaska. The area is a mountaineering paradise. It's vast, isolated and (the best part) surrounded by eleven peaks over eleven thousand feet (3353 m).
In total the Rockies claim fifty four eleven-thousanders. One of the peaks near the Icefield is Mount Columbia (3747 m); the second highest summit in the Canadian Rockies, after Mount Robson (3954 m).

This was my second attempt at a solo ascent of Mount Columbia. The first one (years ago) ended as a total failure after an overnight rain suddenly changed into a heavy snowfall turning my gearless bivouac on the glacier into a nightmare. This time, being older and smarter (one would hope), I had a tent and a sleeping bag with me.

My plans were as follows:  first day; acclimatization ascent of Snow Dome (3451 m) and then, renowned for its extreme routes, Mount Kitchener (3480 m). The extreme side is the north side so I was planning to use the much easier south side of the mountain to reach the summit. Second day; ascent of Mount Columbia. Third day; sunbathing (a glacier suntan is the best) and leisurely descent back to the highway and my car parked at the Visitors Center.

Tired after a long and complicated glacier hike with a heavy backpack the day before, I stayed in the sleeping bag far too long. The sun was already up and in a full force when, after a speedy breakfast, I started to walk towards the massive white body of Snow Dome. The snow was not too bad but the heat of the day was quickly turning it into a soft and sticky substance accumulating under my crampons. My pace was getting slower, the mountain was getting higher, and the time was passing more quickly than it should. Finally, around noon, sweaty and thirsty I reached the summit. The views of the Icefield and the crown of high peaks around it were spectacular.

After catching my breath, eating a banana and drinking some water (the heat was brutal), I started a problematic (due to crevasses) descent towards the high col between Snow Dome and Mount Kitchener. Once reaching it I turned right towards the visible summit. The snow started to be deeper and softer making crevasse spotting more difficult. Just as the thought “It is getting too dangerous!” crossed my mind, I heard a noisy cracking sound and in a split of a second only my head was poking out of a hole in the white surface. Well... not the head only because instinctively I managed to spread my arms and I was hanging on them while my legs were helplessly dangling in the cold and dark belly of the glacier. Everything happened so suddenly that I didn’t even have time to panic.
I could hear a clear voice in my head yelling “Use your legs!” as I was desperately trying to prevent further slipping into the gap. After a few hard kicks the crampons were placed solid in the opposite walls of ice crack. The worst had passed but it took me over ten minutes, using an ice-pick and wondering if the edges of the ice are going to hold, to crawl out of the hole.

I lay by the crevasse for some time staring at the cloudless blue sky. I was surrounded by a white, silent sea of ice. My head was totally empty. I could hear the blood rushing though my veins. Even with a belay crevasses are very dangerous. Without one you had better make sure “The Gods” are on your side. The list of mountaineers who died this way is long and full of famous names, unfortunately.

I guess I had some good “karma” accumulated in my life to that point. When I finally got up it was obvious that it was too dangerous and too late to continue to the summit. I turned back and started a slow descent towards my little camp. I got there just in time to watch one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.  A magnificent reward for such long and stressful day.

I woke up around three in the morning. Something was not right. I couldn’t move without an excruciating pain in the left side of my ribcage and my face was hot, swollen and sunburned. Shit!

"Third time is a charm" I kept telling myself while slowly packing my stuff,  getting ready for a long and not very pleasant hike on the Athabasca glacier towards the highway, and making plans for a third attempt the next season. Fortunately for me, there would be a next season.