Deep Knowledge: Jon Walsh

The mountain ranges of North America are beautiful and diverse.  From the prominent glacier cones that dominate the skylines of the Pacific Northwest, to the rugged granite plutons of Yosemite Valley, and the sawtooth razor points of the Tetons, the mountains of North America are a veritable playground for mountaineers.

But for climbers and alpinists looking to put their physical, mental and psychological fortitude to the test- perhaps no range is better suited, than the Canadian Rockies.

Although the Rockies offer opportunities for mountaineers of all abilities, it’s the giant peaks, with their menacing and fearsome north walls, that have cemented the Candian Rockies as one of the world’s most storied alpine arenas. 

And today, I’m chatting with one of the rockies most accomplished, and enduring alpinists of his generation, Jon Walsh.

Jon’s alpine resume is uniquely impressive – with dozens and dozens of first ascents ranging from Patagonia, The Karakoram and The Bugaboos.  But it’s his climbs in the Canadian Rockies, particularly his routes on the legendary peaks like Alberta, North Twin, and Robson, that stand out the most (at least to me).  

I recently got a chance to speak with Jon about his career in the Rockies, and in some ways, this conversation was special.  In the next hour, you’ll hear deep wisdom, and unmatched experience.  For aspiring alpinists, and folks who are interested specifically in the Candian Rockies – you’ll want to pay extra attention.  It’s not so often you get to hear first hand accounts, from true masters of the craft.

This conversation is focused primarily on Jon’s experiences on the North walls of Mount Alberta, Robson, and North Twin – but like a lot of conversations on The Firn Line, we started by talking about Jon’s early years, and how he got into climbing in the first place.



Mount Robson’s Emperor Face


The Canadian Rockies are home to some of the most iconic alpine peaks in North America.  Mountains like Alberta, Columbia, Edith Cavell and North Twin (to name a few) are synonymous with classic rockies alpine climbing: variable rock quality ranging from total choss, to flint hard quartzite – hanging glaciers and double cornices, veins of pristine alpine and water ice – and the classic sandbag grade of 5.9 A2.  

But if there’s one mountain that stands out from the rest (Literally) – it’s Mount Robson.  Topping out at nearly 13,000’ in height, and with huge relief on all sides, Robson is truly a sight to behold.  It’s massive south face rises nearly 10,000’ from the Yellowhead Hwy – luring tourists, hikers and climbers for a closer look.

But it’s the northern side of Robson that speaks the language of the true alpinist.  In 1913, mountain guide Conrad Kain led a group of clients to the summit after navigating the crevasse-laden Robson Glacier, and chopping steps up the northeast face and on the the summit.  This ultra-classic line, aptly named the Kain Face – was in some ways ahead of it’s time – and is still a serious route.

The ante was upped in 1963 when Pat Callis and Dan Davis ascended the intimidating apron of 60 to 70 degree blue ice and steep snow, known as the north face.

But it wasn’t until 1978, that the biggest face of all – The Emperor Face – was finally climbed by Mugs Stump and Jamie Logan.  The duo spent four days on the route – a line that more or less takes the central rib that splits the 8,000’ face – and with that, established one of the most committing Grade VI lines in the rockies.

Another line on the face was climbed in 1981, by the legendary Dave Cheesmond and Tony Dick.  

And finally in 2002, after multiple attempts over many years – Barry Blanchard, Phillipe Pellet and Eric Dumerac climbed “Infinite Patience” – a classic line following couloirs, ice runnels and interesting mixed pitches up the right side of the Emperor Face.

Although Infinite Patience has now been climbed multiple times (and even soloed by the late Marc Andre LeClerc), it is still one of the most serious lines in the Canadian Rockies – and like other classic rockies routes – an ascent is largely based on finding the face in perfect conditions.  

That’s why I was excited to hear about the line getting repeated again in September of this year by the Canadian / Dutch team of Jas Fauteux and Maarten Von Haren.

I recently got a chance to talk with Jas about his experience on Robson – what it felt like to find that face in perfect conditions – and what it means to have climbed such an iconic line on the emperor of the rockies.


• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Trails / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Corn Flakes / Andrew Tholberg /  Unreleased (2016)
• Lucillia / Easton Stagger Phillips / Resolution Road (2014)


Mount Robson Emperor Face 1st Ascent – AAJ 1978
Evan Phillips


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