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!