Mount Andromache

Rising to 3394 meters (11,135 feet), Mount Hector is one of the tallest and most recognizable peaks along Banff’s Icefields Parkway. Immediately north of Hector stands Mount Adromache, less familiar and much more modest in stature. In 1948, the Alpine Club of Canada named the peak after the wife of Hector, revered Trojan Prince and Troy’s greatest warrior. Like her husband, Andromache was known for her fidelity and virtue, and her name meant ‘fighter of men’ (i.e. courage). Emulating her legacy in Greek lore, the eponymous peak stands steadfastly alongside Hector. While the name may seem fitting, Mount Hector was not actually named after the Trojan war hero of the same name. Rather, the summit was named in 1884 to honor Dr. James Hector, a member of the 1857 Palliser Expedition that explored and surveyed this part of Canada’s Southern Rockies.

Back in the middle of September, we scrambled Little Hector – an outlier of larger Mount Hector. While we’d initially planned to pair the summit with neighboring Mount Andromache, some unpleasant gales compelled us to turn around prematurely. Knowing Andromache was likely still attainable under a light fall of snow, we decided to press our luck and delay a return trip by a few weeks as we prioritized some larch hikes and a return visit to Mount Engadine Lodge. While several inches of snow had fallen during this time, conditions remained safe and accessible enough to warrant a summit attempt.

We set out on a gorgeous Saturday in early October for what would be our final scramble of the season in the Main Ranges. After parking in the empty pullout along the Icefields Parkway, we followed the same initial approach that we took to Little Hector. First, we made our way along the south side of Hector Creek for about a kilometer until we reached a headwall near a waterfall. We then scrambled up the rock (hands and a bit of care required), crossed the small stream, and entered the rocky basin below Hector Pass.

Shortly after entering the bowl, the trail splits. A more obvious path trends hiker’s left as it heads uphill, while the righthand branch heads toward Little Hector. We headed left, which is the preferred (and more direct) approach for Andromache. The route here tracks below a series of ramparts on the south side of Andromache for about a mile. While the mountain looks impenetrable from here, the tall cliff bands eventually peter out and give way to an open scree gully near Hector Pass.

Most of the summits we’ve scrambled here in the Canadian Rockies have required just one nasty grind up some sort of loose scree or rubble. Andromache is special, however, in that there’s not one but four distinct scree ramps you must ascend to reach the true summit. Each time we’d reach the top of something, another steep wall of rubble would immediately come into sight. It kind of made it feel like we were on a journey to nowhere, but the views along the way compelled us to keep on moving and stop rolling our eyes.

From Hector Pass, the first scree gully climbed 800 vertical feet (240 m) in just a quarter of a mile (0.4 km) until it gained a shoulder on the east side of the mountain. As soon as we reached the top of the loose scree, excited to have finished the slog, we were greeted by a second pile of rubble. Made up of slightly larger chunks of rock, this one climbed 400 vertical feet (120 m) in a tenth of a mile (0.2 km) – roughly the same steep pitch as the previous.

After clambering up the second scree slope, we popped out onto a sprawling plateau. On the heels of 1,200 feet of gain in less than half a mile, the gentle incline across the wide bench was a welcome relief. The half-kilometer of easy rambling was short-lived, however, with the next scramble to gain the unnamed east peak lying just ahead of us. Here, the third scree ramp was akin to the previous, gaining another 400 vertical feet in a tenth of a mile.

The views from the east peak (false summit) were pretty exceptional. The highpoint’s position offered a head-on look at Hector Glacier, spilling down the mountain’s north side between Mount Hector’s Snoopy-shaped crown and adjoining Little Hector. To the north, a deep-blue tarn added a pop of color to the otherwise barren landscape surrounding Noseeum Peak.

Although the east peak is marked with a huge cairn and summit register, the general consensus is that the true summit is further west. The two highpoints are nearly identical in height, with most measurements well within the error of current GPS capabilities. In 2005, local scrambler Bob Spirko reported that the unnamed east peak was 8 meters (26 feet) higher than the true summit. Vern DeWitt’s 2006 measurements, on the other hand, suggested the true summit was slightly higher. Stephan’s and my Garmins both agreed that the true summit was higher, with mine estimating it at 1 meter taller and Stephan’s at 7 meters taller (depending on exactly where we stood). In the end, I have no idea which apex officially edges out the other, but they’re about as close as you can get.

Reaching the true summit from the east peak required us to lose about 300 feet (100 m) of elevation as we dropped down to a ridge between the two highpoints. The traverse was about a half mile in distance and offered some gorgeous 360-degree views. The best part was that we finally had some crisp air and flawless blue skies. After two smoke-filled summits earlier in the season on nearby Bow Peak and Little Hector, we were so grateful to finally get those unobstructed views we’d be hoping for.

After making our way across Andromache’s undulating spine, we scrambled up one final section to gain the summit – another 200 feet of vert over a tenth of a mile. As we made our way up the summit block, we were careful to stay hiker’s left of the large glacier that sits on Andromache’s north face. It took us only about 40 minutes to reach the true summit from the east peak, and that time could have been even quicker if we hadn’t had to pick our way somewhat cautiously around all the talus. With a good ten centimeters of fresh snow blanketing Andromache’s long ridgeline, we made an extra effort not to roll an ankle in a hidden gap between all the loose rock.

The views from Andromache’s 2996-meter (9,829-foot) summit definitely exceeded our expectations. In addition to a sweeping panorama of Mount Hector, Little Hector and Hector Glacier to the south, we finally got our haze-free look at Hector Lake and Mount Balfour to the southwest.

To the north, the views across to Noseeum Peak, Watermelon Peak, Mosquito Mountain, Mount Willingdon, Crown Peak and South Tower were similar to those we enjoyed from the east peak. To the northwest, we could also now finally gaze up the Icefields Parkway at the many prominent peaks around Bow Lake and beyond: Bow Peak, Crowfoot Mountain, Jimmy Simpson, Cauldron Peak, a distant Mount Forbes and Mount Lyell, Howse Peak, White Pyramid and pointed Mount Chepren, as well as the Dolomites, Observation Peak and Mount Murchison. When we hiked nearby Bow Peak the first Saturday in September, we couldn’t see beyond Jimmy Simpson.

Gazing east beyond Andromache’s false summit, we got a gorgeous look at Molar Mountain and Cataract Peak, which was even more striking with a fresh coat of powder. Further in the distance to the southeast, well across the Pipestone Valley, we could even make out a handful of Skoki giants, including Mounts Douglas and Saint Bride, Ptarmigan and Pika Peaks, and Mount Richardson.

After reveling in the warm sun and relatively balmy fall temps, we made our way back out the way we came. While it’s possible to finish out a full traverse of Mount Andromache and scramble down the northwest scree slopes, rather than returning back over the east peak and down through Hector Pass, a few trip reports suggest the alternate scree descent sucks much worse than the standard route. Additionally, descending the northwest slopes would require a 2 km walk along the highway to get back to the car. Since neither part sounded particularly tempting, we decided that a simple return through Hector Pass would be much more pleasant.

All told, we really loved Andromache. The endless scree ramps felt like a bit of a grunt, but there sure were some fine views to be had up there. Moreover, as with last summer, it just felt great to still be scrambling summits at nearly 3000 meters in the early days of October. I hate that this time of year is so fleeting as it really is our favorite time to be up high.

Total distance: 7.7 miles (12.5 km)
Elevation gain: 4,578 feet (1400 meters)
Scramble rating: Moderate (Kane)

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