Friday, 29 March 2013

Good Luck & Bad Dreams 2013

Sunday March 24th, 2013 Good Luck & Bad Dreams WI4, David Thompson Country

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5, a great pitch of ice up top and if the column low down is in it would be fantastic!

Geoff and I got spanked the day before on Elliot Left Hand, the deep snow took us 2 hours for the approach and after climbing the first fun pitch realised that there was a lot of new snow higher up and it had avalanched in a previous cycle and covered the chains. We spent quite a bit of time digging, managed to get wet feet and struggled on the descent.

Our goal for day two was to find something with a trail into it and spend more time climbing. We heard that two parties were on Good Luck & Bad Dreams the day before, one bypassed the initial curtain and one climbed through so we thought we'd give it a try.

Given we had a bit of a party the night before at Shunda Creek Hostel the day didn't start too early and we left the climbers parking lot just before 11. Sure enough there was a beaten path in and we were standing below the curtain in a little under an hour.

The day started out -10C but there wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was definitely getting warmer. I checked out the pillar and thought it looked a little spooky, especially given it was in full on sun and detached from pretty high up. We checked out routes around this bit and settled on following Eric and Craig's trail up and to the left from the day before.

Once up in the trees it got a little sketchy with some consequences so we put on the crampons and pulled out the tools. After that it was fine and we were soon standing below the upper pitch.

Just a beautiful place to be on a blue bird day with fresh snow and great views in all directions.

The top pitch of ice was excellent, given the fiddle farting it was 1:15 pm by the time I set off and we were out of the sun. The ice wasn't plastic but it was pretty close. I was happy with the lead and focused on staying relaxed, keeping the heels down and enjoying the climbing!

Once at the top there were two fresh abalakov's already in place and Geoff gave it a crack. Rapping off was a pretty quick affair as there were bolts and rap rings set up at the bottom of this pitch.

From that anchor 60 metre ropes were just tickling the snow at the bottom so we were out in two raps.

All in all a pretty short day, we were just under 5 hours car to car. As mentioned, the top pitch was stellar and if the curtain was in it would make for an excellent day!

French/Haig/Robertson 2013

Saturday March 16th, 2013 French/Haig/Robertson Circuit

Synopsis: 3.5 stars out of 5, a great day out traversing 3 glaciers with the potential for a great ski out.

David was good enough to make room in an Edmonton ACC section trip for me and we all met at Beamer's in Canmore early on. Having said that the avalanche hazard was upside down with high, considerable, considerable something I hadn't seen before. The high below treeline and notes talking about isothermic slides didn't seem to jive with a weather forecast calling for -8 early morning however sunny and a high of +3 did cause concern. I was pretty convinced we weren't going anywhere and didn't even bring a camera, thanks to David and Paul for the photo's.

After some discussion at Beamer's in Canmore  we agreed to head to the parking lot up spray lakes road for a look, given the options in the area. En route the snow banks grew larger as we approached and the temperature stayed just below zero with heavy overcast.

All 8 of us left the cars at 9:15 am and gingerly made our way towards the French glacier. Everything was stuck together pretty solid with a hard overnight freeze which made for fast travel. The sun made a few brief appearances however it looked like we weren't going to get the solar effect that was called for and we all gradually got more comfortable with the snow pack. The group stopped for a brief snack at 11 am and as we gained elevation one could start to feel the layers of sun crust and the faceted snow beneath but things stayed stuck together. 

We took a moment to don our harnesses before gaining the French glacier itself however given the hard shell didn't bother with a rope. Frank and Marc chose to descend the French col rather than continue on which brought our group down to a more manageable half dozen. The climb up to the col was aided by the tracks from the party in front and as it neared the clouds parted and it made for a neat moment.

We reached the French col at 1:15 pm having gained roughly 800 metres of pretty easy going. However the fun was about to start. We could see the group of 5 ahead of us and caught up as we contoured around on the Haig glacier.

We caught up to the party ahead and passed them as we headed up to the col. Unfortunately about then the visibility was drastically reduced with strong wind and snow. The snow pack got pretty thin around the rocks and we decided to put the skis on the packs and kick steps upwards.

Kevin, David and Paul did most of the trail blazing and eventually the clouds parted enough for us to see we were actually a little to the climbers left and above the col. We all managed to make our way to the Robertson col at 2:15 pm and had a quick snack to celebrate.  The wind was strong enough hanging out wasn't any fun so we went over and down.

The ski quality was a lot better than I expected with the blowing snow.  No real slabs, just a little heavy in spots but nothing at all to complain about.  All 6 of us had great runs down and finally ended up in the flats.

My now it was snowing pretty heavily although still below freezing. From there we basically put our heads down and plowed through for 1 1/2 hours to the parking lot.

All in all a great day out, especially given the low expectations.  It was just over 9 hours and 1150 metres of elevation gain by my watch. Thanks to David, Paul, Kevin, Katharine, Kristina, Marc and Frank for a great day out! Needless to say we convened at the Rose and Crown to celebrate.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mt Hector 2013

Saturday March 9th, 2013 Mt. Hector 3394m

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5, a 1600 metre ski ascent followed by a 50 metre scramble with unbelievable views.

Darcy and I had attempted Hector several years ago on May 9th and had a bit of an epic, compounded by isothermal snow and some suspect decision making. I was keen for another go at it, definitely earlier in the year. We set the date aside and during the week before it appeared that there was going to be an ideal convergence of stable avy hazard, clear blue sky and a weekend!  

The usual suspects; Andrew, Brenda and I, met at Laggan's at 6 am only to find that their website lied and they didn't open until 7. Fortunately, I scarfed a egg mcmuffin on the drive from Canmore but Andrew and Brenda were forced to go without. Thinking we were lucky if that was the worst of it we carried on and found the parking spot easily, got ready and headed out at 6:40 am. Perfect timing as it was just getting light enough not to need a headlamp.

It was 15 below C in the parking lot, so a little cool for those from west of the rockies. Fortunately it made for a hard pack trail on the way in and easy climbing. There was one other guided party on the route that left about the same time we did.

There were a few kick turns up towards the waterfall area however we were fortunate in the snow pack was sufficient and crampons weren't really needed. Once past this area we picked our way around some rocks and up to a bench with a view. 

We were pretty much following a highway at this point as there was definitely a fair amount of traffic since the previous dump a week before.  At 9 am after gaining roughly 650 metres, we finally popped over a ridge into the sun.  Ah warmth!

There was some obvious avalanche activity on south facing slopes from the week before.  From here you turn southwards and climb a longer slope to get close to little Hector.  I remember this as being the biggest avy hazard of the trip however it wasn't really a concern, we were more worried about the bases of our skis!

There was a lot of evidence of the strong winds we heard about the previous week but they weren't really an issue (yet).  

Once we gained the slopes in front of Little Hector (complete with quite the cornice!) we choose to climb up on the climbers left of a moraine.  It was a bit of a gamble however definitely the safety play given the slopes above and paid off nicely.

We descended the moraine onto the toe of the glacier and put the rope on. It was 10:30 am and we had gained just over 900 metres. Although the sun was shining, there was really no impact on the snow. Tracks faded away on the glacier but with boot top snow the trail breaking wasn't bad. (I think, as I was enjoying things at the back of the line, the joys of being the heaviest of the group!)

Once on the glacier you start to appreciate just how far you have to go.  A beautiful setting however I must admit I spent more time looking at my ski tips than anything else.

The guided party caught up about now and we started to play America's Cup racing as we both set out to find the easiest way up to gain a slight advantage.  Eventually in the bowl just before the headwall they stopped for lunch and we overtook them.

By this time we were in shirts and baseball caps, partially due to the extra work as the slope angle increased. I took a bit of a turn breaking trail close to the top and with a healthy slab set up it was a bit of work. It was starting to feel like a long day, however the views back were spectacular!

We gained the col at 1:30 pm, totally unprepared for the change in temperature and wind. The wind was blasting through as we all struggled to get all of our warm clothing back on and then set up for the scramble up top. To add to the mayhem I realized that I hadn't adjusted my crampons to fit my ski boots so was busy readjusting with numb fingers.  The spin drift off the top was something to behold.

The guided party caught up and was first up the scramble, another party of three caught up but elected to climb the "skiers" summit across the way.  

Andrew scrambled up and gave us a hip belay through the tricky bits and soon we were on top.  Very windy but fantastic views. With all the fiddle farting it took us an hour from the col, but it was totally worth it. While on the way up, we met the guided party descending. The client was particular pleased, but nearing the end of his rope.

I had a friend, David, leading an ACC trip into Balfour hut and it was great to look over and see most of their route. Between the breeze and cold we didn't stay on top long and couldn't wait to get back on the skis.

Once on the skis and down out of the wind we stopped for a long lunch in the sun. Ski quality wasn't fantastic as there was a bit of a crust, but it was good to be going downhill! I pondered the results of pulling my skins in a hurricane!

We pulled the skins at 3 pm and were back at the car at 5.  As mentioned, the ski quality wasn't great and it did get pretty isothermal at the bottom with some evidence of new slides down low.

In the end it was a 10 hour day complete with 1650 metres of elevation gain, some exercise for sure but a great day on a classic peak with great company!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Wapta 2013

Feb 22nd - 24th, Attempt of the mini-Wapta Traverse

Synopsis: 5 stars out of 5, a great stretch of above treeline skiing with new discoveries all made easier with huts.

A great plan was hatched, Steve had last been to the Bow Hut in 1988 and Marni hadn't been on the traverse in 25 years, D was lucky enough to go across 2 years ago and I hadn't been past the Olive/St Nick col.  We booked huts for the mini traverse, Bow, Balfour and Scott Duncan, prayed to the weather gods and made meal plans.

The four of us pulled into the closed Num-ti-jah Lodge parking lot just before 11 am after dropping a car off at the Great Divide Lodge.  After getting our gear organized and shouldering the pigs, wine is amazingly heavy, we were off across the lake at about 11:30.  Yes, one member of the team was in leather tele boots however I spent a good deal of the weekend trying to keep up!

The trail up to the Bow Hut was pretty packed which made for fast travel and we stopped at the end of the trees in a bit of shelter for lunch 1/2 way.  

Out of the trees the wind was definitely a factor however the visibility was pretty good and soon we could see Bow Hut up on the ridge.  In all it took us a little under 4 hours to gain the 530 metres to gain the hut and when we arrived there was a small crowd huddled around the fire, always nice to arrive at a warm hut!  

After getting all our stuff stowed in various place we headed out with Dave and Dexter from the hut for some turns.  Given we didn't head out the door until 4:15 pm we kept it to an hour and climbed above the hut for a run.  Snow was nice and light boot top powder with less wind effect than I expected however visibility was close to nil.  We played leap frog on the way down to keep our bearings and made it back to the hut without a major garage sale.

The next day dawned fairly clear and cool - around -12C - and we got organized for the trip to Balfour Hut.  Our party left the hut close to 10 am, looking forward to getting up on the glacier.  Given we felt the need to rope up at some point we pulled it out at the tongue and Steve lead us up the never ending slope towards St Nick.  

Visibility did come and go along with a bit of a breeze however we crossed the Olive/St Nick col just after noon after gaining just over 500 metres and the sun come out to greet us.

We had a few good turns after coming around the corner after the col and started down the shallow slope towards the hut.  We were very happy to pass a large party going the other way; it meant that the hut was likely empty (it was) and we had tracks to follow to speed things up on the flats on the way down.  

We arrived at the Balfour hut just after 2 pm, had a late lunch and headed out for a bit at 3:30.  Deanna and Steve hiked around the hut, checking out the views of Hector Lake.  Marni and I scoped a route up to the Balfour high col.  The weather was looking better and visibility on Balfour actually came in from time to time.

We spent a great evening with the hut all to ourselves.  The only glitch was the co2 alarm waking us up in both official languages, but an open window soon took care of that.  However during the night the wind really picked up and it was cool, about -15C in the morning.  With all the wind and no fireplace the hut wasn't warm. We woke up to seeing our breath, however Marni got up and made us all cafe mocha's to get things going.

Once we scraped the ice off the windows, we could see spotty visibility up to the high col however the wind was hammering.  It was one of those days you wanted a belay to the outhouse!

After a bit of humming and hawing we headed out into the teeth of it just before 10am and headed up Balfour.  Once we were out of the venturi, the wind wasn't bad however the visibility did start to go.  

We carried on for and hour and got to the point that we could see the final passage to the col.  It didn't look good and after a huddle with the usual discussion in situations like this, we turned around.

We got back to the Balfour hut at noon and after a quick lunch (glad we left some water) we headed back to Bow Hut.  Visibility wasn't bad until we got mid way up the Vulture glacier, then it got pretty soupy.  Fortunately we were able to use the moraine on the climbers right as a handrail and with a few huddles complete with map study and healthy debate, we crossed over towards the col at the right time and Deanna lead up to the Olive/St Nick col at 4:15 pm.

Once to the col the wind was absolutely honking, although the viz improved a bit.  We skooted across to the start of the descent to the Bow Hut however the wind continued.  At one point I skied ahead of the group and turned back to watch as their heads slowly appeared above the blowing snow.

Needless to say the ski quality left something to be desired and we were all very happy to land at the hut just after 5.  After a 1000 metre day with overnight packs it was a pleasure to find we had the Bow Hut all to ourselves.

We had a great night, quite a bit warmer than the previous one and woke once again to cafe mocha's.  After a leisurely morning we had a quick, largely uneventful ski down to the car.  

It was hard not to gloat as we passed 3 parties totally more than 25 on their way up to the Hut.

Great weekend, great place with great people!