The Smileys from above- Photo by Reiner Thoni
The Smileys from above- Photo by Reiner Thoni

Few climbers ever succeed in climbing to the top of Mt Robson at 13,000 feet – and fewer still using the notorious Wishbone ArÔªte.

But three ambitious adventurers managed to conquer the Wishbone route two weeks ago. Part-way up, they discovered a real wishbone and paper note that a previous climbing group had left in 1951, before anyone had succeeded that climb.

Valemount’s Reiner Thoni said the note and the wishbone were in a copper matchbox canister about two thirds of the way up. The wishbone had been spray painted silver. The note named the climbing party that had attempted the ascent. Because the note was getting wet and would likely disintegrate soon, Thoni and his climbing partners took it back with them. The wishbone they put back in the canister and left on the mountain.

The climbing attempt of 1951 had climbers within 1,800 feet of the summit. The party included Fred Ayres and John Oberlin.
Thoni says the wishbone is definitely one of the hardest climbs he’s done – and his climbing partners Mark and Janelle Smiley said it was one of the scariest.

Loose rock and icy chunder snow guard the summit.

The crux is getting over “the gargoyles,” bulging snow formations that loom over a crest close to the peak.
“People don’t know how to describe the snow at the top of Mt. Robson,” Thoni says, adding that climbers would probably call it “rimy chunder.”

“There’s no ice, just rimy snow you can’t put protection in.”
It took two hours for them to climb through a gargoyle. They had to hack away at the fluffy snow to make a path, while pinned against a windy cleft of the mountain 9,000 feet above Kinney Lake.
“You have to be super delicate not only for yourself but the people below you,” Thoni says. “There’s so much hazard on that mountain.”

The climbers thought they would get to the top with enough time to get back to the closest hut, but they didn’t reach the summit until 8:30pm; the sun was already setting. They hiked down until about 11pm. With only one sleeping bag between the three of them, they dug a shallow snow cave and huddled together until morning light came.
The three climbers huddled in the bivouac sack – a lightweight, waterproof shelter – and watched the cars go by, envying their warmth.

“We thought ‘They’re only 3 km away and in nice climate control!'” Thoni says.

In all, it took the climbers, 30 hours from hut to hut, to do the climb, with only a few hours break and a few hours of sleep.
The Smileys are on multi-year quest to climb all 50 Classic Climbs of North America, as identified in a 1972 book of the same name. Janelle Smiley is the women’s North American Ski Mountaineering Champion and Reiner the men’s.

This was the Smileys third attempt at the Wishbone Arete. They decided not to attempt it a few weeks ago due to poor weather conditions. The couple plans to produce a documentary about their quest to conquer the 50 climbs. One climb – the Hummingbird route on Mt. Logan has only been done once, and has taken the lives of dozens of climbers who have attempted it.
No one has done all 50 “classic climbs” so the Smiley’s would be the first.

The first attempt at the Wishbone ArÔªte was in 1913 – and the first successful attempt in 1955. Since then, it’s not known how many successful attempts have been made.

Thoni says the limited equipment available in 1913 and in 1951 would have made the climb “pretty much impossible.”
Climbers back then didn’t have front point crampons and Thoni says you can’t chop steps in the snow near the summit.

“If you have a hard time getting up there with advanced ice tools, I can’t imagine what you’d do chopping steps. It’s amazing to think about the epics they had.”

Read more about Reiner Thoni here-

Read more about Mark and Janelle Smiley here-

In 1913 Walter Shauffelberger, a Swiss Guide, Canadian Basil Darling and H.H. Prouty came within 400 feet of the summit. Their high point was reached just 14 hours from high camp.

In 1951 Fred Ayres of Oregon, John Oberlin and Al Creswell made a determined attempt and reached a point some 1,800 feet from the goal.

In 1955 Don Claunch, Mike Sherrick and Harvey Firestone successfully conquered the wishbone.
From “Climbing in North America” By Chris Jones

Read more about Reiner Thoni here-

Read more about Mark and Janelle Smiley here-