Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mt Brazeau ski attempt 2013

Sat/Sun Apr 20th/21st - Mt Brazeau attempt

Synopsis: A spectacular area that doesn't appear to be frequently visited. A long way in makes for a big first day.

Humbled in the mountains once again. The forecast called for spring conditions with scattered flurries Saturday and partly cloudy on Sunday. Given most of the guidebooks talk of a 3 day trip we knew it was going to be 2 full days, however our thinking was descent would be much quicker on skis.

James and I met at the Rampart Creek Hostel, great digs and not very busy this time of year. Up at 5 and out the door at 6 was the plan. In reality we took the time for a great breakfast - meusli with warmed milk and cafe mocha's - feeling modestly decadent. The drive to the parking spot beside the Sunwapta Warden's station on highway 93 took 45 minutes, along the way we passed Beauty Creek Hostel which would have cut some time off the morning commute.

We geared up in light wet snow and modest visibility and left the car at 7:30 am, my watch showed an elevation of 1555 metres. It had definitely been warm however we were lucky enough to have a mostly supportive crust.

We started off working our way up Poboktan summer trail which follows much of the creek. We were lucky enough to have tracks to follow for the first couple of hours from folks doing the 6 pass route.

After 1 1/2 hours we were starting to look for the turn onto Poligne Creek towards Maligne pass, I had a bit of a laugh when it was obviously signed. Route finding skills not needed quite yet.

Pretty cruisey so far. The tracks continued up towards Maligne Pass and, as Chic Scott mentions, the climbing begins in earnest. We were happy to still have easy travelling conditions and the sun actually started to make an appearance.

We blew by the turnoff up to Coronet Glacier, however James's mountain sense (and handy GPS) kicked it and we quickly backtracked and started breaking trail to the north. At this stage we were just under 4 hours of travel and 345 metres of elevation gained. Likely we could have turned earlier but we followed a pretty obvious drainage (photo taken on the way out).

Even though we didn't have the benefit of tracks, a supportive crust and very little ski penetration kept travel pretty easy and we quickly found ourselves in a small box canyon which we climbed out of on climbers right. The sound of water rushing under the snow kept us focused (once again photo taken on descent).

From the top of the box canyon I lead us on a bit of a wandering route through the trees to climbers right. On descent we found the route much more straight forward to just get back on or beside the creek. In fairly quick order we broke through the forest so see the route up to Coronet Glacier. Lunch was at 1 pm and 2055m taking refuge from the wind behind a large rock that wasn't being particularly effective.

While eating there were a couple of waves of wind and blowing snow, funny enough the closest experience I've had to it was sandstorms in the desert. At this point we were at the 6 hour mark and I had steeled myself for a 10 hour day so after a quick bite we shouldered the pigs and carried on, James seemed to be doing fine.

As is often the case this time of day, things seemed to slow down a bit. It was definitely longer to the turn east onto  Coronet Glacier than it appeared.  We took a line to climbers right attempting not to drop into the valley.  It worked but I wouldn't want to be up there if avy hazard was high.

We finally rounded the corner and wound our way through some moraines before dropping down and gaining the glacier proper. The wind did start to pick up and cloud cover increased.

We put the rope on at the glacier toe at 3:30 pm and by then had made our way up to 2340m.  At that point it looked like an hour to the top, however Coronet Glacier was a gift that just kept giving.

James lead the vast majority of the way up the glacier and it was a slow grind, taking a full 3 hours to get to the top. Lot's of false summits and elevation gain. To add to it the weather started to close in and the wind, although mostly at our back, became a factor.

Shortly after this photo, the weather closed in and got a little ugly. I was under the incorrect assumption that we needed to descend and then turn north to gain the Brazeau Glacier. We ended up pretty much exhausted (speaking for only myself of course) with viz coming and going on terrain that was steepening and just didn't feel right. We backed off and could just catch the rocks from Mt Henry Macleod above us so backtracked directly into the wind up to a somewhat sheltered spot close by. 

By the time we picked the spot we both had some frostbite going and were pretty knackered, it ended up being a 1500 metre 11 hour day. A quick platform got dug out, the tent erected and gear sorted, slowly. I knew I wasn't doing well when it took me 15 solid minutes to get my harness off! With the tent up and sleeping bags installed we both jumped in and shivered pretty violently as the tent bounced around in the wind. Funny thing, we both fell asleep and woke up at 10 pm wondering why it was dark!

After some quick rehydration and nosh we tucked back in and got up at 8 am, just 10 minutes before the sun hit the tent. We later heard that it was -16 at big bend 700 metres lower so it was definitely a cool night. I thanked my lucky stars I left the -3 bag in the car and took the warm one! 

Given where we were at it was a pretty simple decision to bail. We originally were thinking of going down to the lunch spot for breakfast however in the sun it was warm enough to cook while breaking camp. With the blue sky and valley cloud the views were fantastic! 

Fortunately the wind was minimal. Looking back the view of Brazeau, in the middle with the sun, was staggering. There was much discussion of coming back for a 4 day trip and doing the Macleod, Valad, Brazeau traverse one day and running around to Warren, on the left, the next. 

Making it back to the lunch spot only took two hours, including skinning back up after the glacier snout. 

The remainder of the trip out was quicker than expected. There was a fair amount of up and down, especially after we hit the Poigne Creek trail, however we made it without putting the skins back on. There were what looked like lynx tracks following our old ski tracks for several kilometers on the way out.

We were fortunate that it did freeze well as the track was still crusty with no real isothermal snow. The one grass patch at the end grew a bit however.

In the end it was just under 5 hours out and we celebrated with beer and chips in the parking lot. Tingly fingers for a couple of days and a funny looking toe were the only casualties. 

As I said humbled in the mountains again, but I'll be back! Beautiful area and my sense is it is a bit easier doing it on skis.