Sunday, 25 October 2015

Recondite 2015

Fri, Sat, Sun Aug 7th-9th, 2015 Recondite Peak 3356 metres

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5, if you enjoy long days with plenty of solitude and plenty of Rockies choss (a bit of an acquired taste I realize).

This trip was an Alpine Club trip that I led, and we delayed the start by two days looking for a weather window, which came through as advertised! We had a slightly longer and higher approach given that Helen Lake area was closed due to bear activity.

Mike, Jamshaid and I left the mosquito creek parking lot at 7:30 am Friday morning. Fortunately I had checked out the start of the trail and turnoff up to Dolomite Pass the previous weekend. 1 hour in we made it to the third bridge along the trail to Mosquito Creek and back tracked a bit to find the easiest way through the bush. After following game trails with some moderate bush whacking we popped out at tree line and followed some very interesting terrain up to the pass, which was actually a fair way in. 11 am and 2590 metres we topped out and started to head down into the head waters of Dolomite River.

Rather than dropping down and picking up the trail we stayed high to our right, eventually skirting the waterfall and heading down into a small patch of bush. It actually worked out well as we popped out of some bush just across an easily crossed bit of river and jumped on the trail. It was just before 1 pm and at 2210 metres. We had a sense that not many people went this way, so it was a bit of a surprise when I found a Hot Wheels plastic bag with happy birthday written on it stuck in a bush - it looked like it blew in. 

Given that there were more stream crossing to come, we carried on with bare feet in wet sneakers. It worked well although one of our party had a blister issue. Once on the trail it was pretty straight forward travel on a clearly defined trail, with a surprising amount of descent. Fortunately water levels were pretty low so the two subsequent crossing were pretty much non events.

We finally came around a corner to see Isabella Lake in the distance. With the warning of slopping through the mud in our minds we stayed left and at one point got sucked into gaining elevation looking for a better trail. Not to be, the best way appears to be along the gravel bars and eventually picking up a trail just on the edge of the trees. We made the spectacular Park Warden hut at 4:15 pm and it was at an elevation of 1876 metres. 

We carried on just a couple of km's past the end of the lake (didn't see a campground) and came to an obvious place to recross the Dolomite River that went over to an old horse camp. It was funny to catch the first trail sign of the trip this far in.

Once across there was an obvious trail heading along the opposite side of the river bank, that lead shortly thereafter to a spot to cross the Siffleur River. Once on the opposite bank, we got our climbing boots back on. The old horse trail is pretty over grown and we quickly (too quickly) head up and right.

In looking at the beta we had and the topo, I was concerned about continuing along the Dolomite and wanted to cut up quickly. The others weren't convinced but followed and it turned into a bit of a bushwhack. We got into some thick bush and you really couldn't tell looking if we were going to pop out in the correct valley or cut right too early and find ourselves back in the Siffleur valley. Fortunately Jamshaid had a GPS and it helped immensely.

After some time, we came to the edge of the bush we were whacking our way through on a scree slope. After considering it we took a descending line and ended up in the valley floor, fortunately upstream of the waterfall mentioned in the beta.

It became pretty apparent that we weren't going to make Corbett's or Collier's biv site before dark. At about 8:30 pm we found a flat bit about half way along the valley and set up camp. It had been a little over 13 hours and 1300 metres of elevation gain, no doubt not helped by some of the decision making along the way. However we could see the end of the valley (not Mt Recondite yet). The three of us quickly set up camp convinced that we had a good shot at the summit the next day. It was a beautiful valley with really no signs of any human activity.

Given the previous days exertion, we set the alarms for 6:00 am and after a bit of a leisurely breakfast were on the road at 7:30. We actually had a discussion about how far to move camp towards the highway should we be up and down quickly, I should know better! It is actually pretty surprising how close you need to be to Recondite to actually see the summit, that's it on the left in the photo below.

We followed the right side of the river as far as we could before hoping across. Given that Collier's biv site was a more direct route to the summit we decided to stay on the near side of Recondite's Ridge and pick our way through the bush. We started up out of the valley at 8:50 am (2200 metres). 

Almost exactly an hour later, the three of us popped out of the bush and climbed up to a grassy bench. A very cool area, it would have made a great camping spot. We stopped and left some items we wouldn't need on a large bolder and made our way up the valley before climbing the scree slopes to gain the ridge.

Once on the ridge, it was interesting to see down the far side to Collier's biv site, it would have worked equally as well and being a little higher would have led to a shorter summit day.

Ahead lay some interesting rock that made for easy ascent if you avoided the occasional dusting of marbles. Very textured so traction was great and calf workout reminiscent of a long ice climb.

It eventually petered out and became the more classic Rockies scree. Route finding wasn't as straight forward as I expected (is it ever?) and we climbed too high on the tower and ended up descending a bit before finding relatively straight forward terrain to climbers right. Straight forward it a Rockies kind of way.

Shortly beyond regaining the ridge, we climbed a second tower thinking it would be the rap station however it was clearly more than 30 metres down the other side. After a bit of faffing about we realized that we needed to pass this on on the right as well and found a way down to the right and onwards.

Interestingly enough, we found a coiled 1/2 rope stashed under some rocks very close to the point we originally thought we would be rappelling from. We originally planned to take it back and post it to see who turned up and find out the story behind it. As luck would have it we stashed it for the return trip and found a better way back so it is still there.

We finally did reach the rappel station at 2:45 pm at roughly 3340 metres. To save weight we chose not to bring crampons and mountaineering axes. We did bring an extra 30 metre rope in case it was slick on the final slope, thinking that someone may appreciate a belay. Once at the rap station I realized the error of my thinking, the top was a choss heap and there wouldn't be any pro. Fortunately it worked out, as expected there was very little snow in the notch and none above.

At last, we found ourselves on the top of the rubbly summit at 3:00 pm and after a bit of a break enjoying the view and some lunch we retraced our footsteps. We were the first party to sign the summit register in two seasons and it made for interesting reading, the names of a lot of  local legends were in it. On our way down, the most fun of the day was reclimbing the notch that we rappelled down with the rope left in place.

The return was much the same although we allowed ourselves to get sucked into attempting to rappel the first block by some tat we saw on the way up.  It turned out to be a mistake as it resulted in stuck ropes with the ensuing drama and lost time.

The remainder of the descent was straight forward, if not quick. The final scree slope back to the meadow as a good boot ski and once down to the meadow we collected our stashed gear.  At this point Jamshaid found a better way through the foilage to the valley bottom although part way down I took a tumble and broke my ski pole.

The three of us made it back to the biv site at 8:30 pm and had a good laugh at ourselves for underestimating the day and thinking we would move our biv site closer to the road. Come to think of it it's a lesson I've learned a few times. Summit day on Recondite has a bit to it, from where we camped it was just short of a 14 hour day and 1500 metres of elevation gain.

The next day was obviously a reversal of the first day, with a couple of improvements.  We left the biv site at 8 am and angled slowly upwards towards the patch of trees turning the corner into the Dolomite valley.  The was everything from 2 steps up, 1 slide back scree to hard morraine. Minus a pole I was at a bit of a disadvantage until Mike did an amazing job of fixing it using tightly wound surveyors tape, followed by a layer of duck tape.  1/2 a season later it's still taking abuse!

Near the trees we did a bit of awkward climbing to enter them on the shoulder. In following our noses and Mike's readily apparent bush sense, we found a pretty clear way down staying descenders right close to the top of the cliff band. It eventually joined the old horse trail back towards the Siffleur River crossing. The horse trail came and went but there were old tree blazings to help us along.

The rest was pretty much a reversal of day one, with the exception of the area just past lake Isabella.  We did much better following the gravel beds on the right hand side of the valley, eventually rejoining a beaten path in pretty obvious spot.

In keeping with our theme of finding odd stuff along the way, Mike came across a single insole along the trail near the Siffleur crossing.  Day three proved to be every bit as long as the first two as we were at the trail head in 13 1/2 hours with an elevation gain of 1,000 metres.

It was an odd feeling at the end of the trip; I'm very glad to have the experience of getting back there, and equally as glad we bagged it and I don't have to go back! The gpx coordinates indicate it was 87.9 km of travel and 7,548 metres of elevation gain, which helps explain why it took me a week to recover.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Willingdon in a day 2015

Saturday August 1st, 2015 Mt. Willingdon 3373 metres

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5, a fairly straight forward 11,000er in a spectacular area that doesn't get visited much (other than August long weekend)

Ever since Deanna and I had headed into the Devon Lakes area at the foot of Willingdon in 2012, I had thought of attempting Willingdon in a day, solo. Can't say why, why not? What I had forgotten is what a spectacular area it is. I was attempting to go light and not slow and didn't bring crampons, ice axe or harness. Really the only "technical" gear I brought was a short rope in case I needed a handline down the crux.

I left the car in darkness at 3:45 am and easily found the start of the trail just north of the creek. The moon was bright, so bright it was a bit eerie as it was behind me and it felt like someone was coming up on me with a headlight. Unfortunately, with the position of the moon and the tree cover I still needed a headlamp.

My notes from the last time in were, take the path left just before the third bridge to Quartzite Col. As I approached the third bridge I did think for a minute that things may have changed since the 2013 flood, however it looked good so I jumped in. The "trail" started off well however soon I was bush whacking and gaining more elevation than necessary. Given the hour, and my grogginess, it took longer than it should have for a light to go on. Finally I took a moment, sat on a log and figured out where I was, realizing that I was one drainage to early. Fine way to start off a long day! I found a better way down in the dark (the only thing worse than bush whacking is bush whacking in the dark!). Easily reaquanted myself with the Mosquito Creek trail and wasted 1:15 hr. At least the sky was starting to get lighter!

At 6 am just before the 4th bridge, I took a more obvious left (there was a cairn there I saw on the way down) and headed up the correct drainage. Without the detour it was 1 hour to the turn off. The trail is initially a fairly easy to follow one, and the dew wasn't heavy so I wasn't getting wet. After following the left bank of the creek for an hour, there was an obvious old creek bed heading up the far side. It looked good and ultimately went, with some interesting rock formations at the top.

Basically once in the meadow I headed up and west and in short order Quartzite Col came into view. Recalling my previous notes I came at it low and went almost straight up rather than traversing high. Much easier scrambling on mostly solid quartzite blocks, with the most amazing spider webs everywhere. I even went around a couple of the bigger ones where there was some action going on.

Made the col at 8:40 am, pretty much 5 hours in although it would have been 1:15 less without the recon, and an elevation gain of 750 metres. (tough to say I was doing recon given it was dark!). The great part about making the col is that the route finding challenges are behind you, you can see the route and the peak itself - all pretty straight forward, and spectacular!

The steepest part of the whole day is going up and down the backside of Quartzite Col, and eventually you lose 360 metres of the hard won elevation gained. The start of it is somewhat tricky although thankfully no snow, just went SE on the ridge and followed some scree ledges that traversed right to easier terrain. Once down and clear of the rocky debris it was a case of nice soft footing and working to keep the feet dry. 

Making my way towards the opening of the valley, I was surprised to see two people coming towards me. Unusual to see people, but it was the August long weekend. They had climbed Willingdon two days before and reported that it was good and dry. I didn't see any wildlife, however given the humpy terrain I was sure to make lots of noise. 

After coming out of the smaller dip that makes way for the Siffleur River, I basically picked up the second obvious horse trail in just under an hour from the col and followed it up and around the left side of the valley heading to Devon Lakes. Fortunately, it looked like the horse trails hadn't been used for their original purpose in awhile. 10:30 am found me at the biv site by the creek draining into Devon Lake and I had something to eat, donned the lid and moved the rope on top in case it was needed. There was a party camped however they were out and about.

This was the first trip with a new toy, the InReach Explorer. Kind of cool although evidently I still have to figure out how to use it for navigation. I sent out an email showing where I was and giving the all good a few times along the way.

The early part of the climb consists of scrambling up and on to an obvious ridge with the BART (big ass rock thing) at the end, pretty straight forward with one steep scree bit getting up to the more solid rock ridge. The rock ridge itself was likely the most fun of the day, going up and over pretty solid rock features, a lot of it quartzite.

Once up to the BART at 1 pm, it really became more of a scree slog although it was rarely too bad. After skirting a few rock features to climbers right the rock step appeared. There was a small first step that I climbed right on the ridge and then there was an obvious 8 mil white coredelette hanging 10 metres to the left. It was only 2 metres of climbing, down sloping and loose as advertised with a bit of exposure. Having said that it was straight forward and went quickly. Once above I checked out the anchor and it was pretty bomber, a pin and 2 nuts with newer webbing.

From the top of the step it is just a few minutes from the top and I made it at 2:15 pm, well early of the turnaround time I had in my head of 3 . I was happy that my recon in the dark didn't keep me from summiting. It was a great day, sunny with a bit of a breeze however no jacket necessary. The team camped below had summited at 10 am however carried on for a traverse of Crown, explaining why I hadn't run into them. It was an interesting feeling having the whole mountain to myself.

After a short stay on top, I reversed direction and made quick work down. As mentioned, I had a short rope for the crux but just (gently!) used the cordelette in place and made it down to the BART in 1/2 an hour, roughly 375 metres of descent. I had a small bit of excitement down climbing some of the blocky quartzite when a microwave sized hand hold broke off. No harm, no foul however it was a good reminder to leave a little extra margin travelling solo.

The remainder of the descent went pretty quickly and at 4 pm, I stopped to soak my feet in the creek draining into Devon Lake, do quick wash up and grab some food. A 20 minute break felt good, the longest of the day. I even had the luxury of a change of socks which felt very good. Funny enough as I climbed out of the drainage I met someone who had just arrived for the night planning on a two day attempt of Willingdon.

The old horse path between Devon Lake and the Siffluer was probably the only part of the day I could zone out, so zone out I did, nothing like a mental holiday. Soon enough came to the valley and the trail heads North, I had a good bead on Quartzite col and made my way back. It is pretty obvious bear country and I made a bit of noise although got a little excited when I saw movement just over a hump. It turned out to be 4 German's on their way to Willingdon, the Siffluer is becoming a crowded place on August long weekends!

Soon I saw at the bottom of the slog up Quartzite col, to the right near the remaining snow was a small cairn and a bit of a trail through the scree that made things easier for a bit. I made the error of carrying on to the high point of the visible scree slope rather than cutting right on the lower angled terrain. Then compounded it by not wanting to loose elevation. The net result was I climbed some of the nastiest, steepest scree I've come across to gain the col a bit to the South. Not recommended, however I was happy to be on top of Quartzite col at 7:30 pm. With the sun getting lower on the horizon the view was incredible!

Having said that I really was interested in finding my way through the route finding before the sun went down so didn't dally. Essentially, I was able to follow my footsteps and made it back to the Mosquito Creek trail at 9:30 pm with what felt like a brisk pace. I managed to make it back to the car without a headlamp (just) at 10:30 pm for an 18 1/2 hour day.

A fantastic day in a beautiful area, it ended up being 43 km and 2630 metres of elevation gain. I can't believe how fast the day went by, a whole lot faster than the recovery!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Pumpkin Traverse 2015

Sat April 18th 2015

Synopsis: 4 out of 5 stars, it's a classic tour and a lot of fun in the right conditions. A big day from the Fish Creek parking lot but a must do for anyone who has skied the Louise Resort and looked over the back longingly.

I had put this trip in the ACC Rocky Mountain schedule for April 18th and pretty much wrote it off by the end of February given the cycle of warm temperatures and rain. However, April was a good month, Louise received a fair amount of snow and the avy hazard had slipped into "classic" spring conditions, i.e. bullet proof in the morning, watch for solar radiation and cornice failures once it heats up. I felt better about the objective given warmer days earlier in the week and a forecast for some cloud and cooler temperatures.

For most of us, the day started at 6:30 am at Beamer's in Canmore and we were on the road pretty quickly with cups of Joe in hand. All 8 of us met up at Fish Creek parking lot on the road up to Lake Louise ski resort. With minimal fuss we were skinning up the road in to Temple Lodge at 8:15 in the morning. The day was starting off cool (single digit minus C) and some dissipating cloud.

I was a bit surprised at the climb involved in getting to the first run on Larch, it was a gain of 300 metres and took us an hour. A quick right turn and we were climbing on fresh corduroy, a new experience. Another hour and a quarter and 350 metres of elevation put us on top of the Larch chair, it was a bit longer than I expected and there were a few downhill skiers which kept us watchful (given they were all wearing helmets) but we stayed to the side and out of the way.

At the top of Larch chair we were lucky to find the start of a skin track just to the left of the boot packed trail. After ducking under the rope we stopped for a second breakfast and to take a breather. It was starting to turn into a fine day!

The skin track lead all the way to the summit ridge of Lapalian Mountain gaining the ridge after a traverse below the rocks climbers right. There a couple of the slower members of the party took a breather and the rest whipped up to bag the summit. It was a full 1000 metre gain from the parking lot and was 12:15 pm on the summit. We were moving although not setting any records.

It was about then that we realised that it was going to be a bigger day than Chic Scott's description of 900 metres and 13 km, my sense is that it is from the top of Larch chair. A little more exercise than anticipated.

Once we regrouped on the ridge the next step was getting over to Purple Peak. There is a pretty obvious ridge making it the easy line and the elevation loss was low enough that we chose to leave our skins on. Some great double corniced features at the col made for interesting terrain.

1:00 pm found us at the top of purple peak. Tracks lead straight down and a little right, however we chose to go to the left and stay high on an interesting ridge. Probably the technical challenge of the day what with a cornice on the right and fairly steep rocks to the left, however it allowed us to stay high.

From here, I initially thought the rocky knoll in the background was Unity Peak. Fortunately stability was excellent as everything was still solid and we found an easy way through the cornice. Once half way up the knoll it became very apparent that it wasn't Unity however we bagged it anyways and completed a high traverse over to Unity Peak.

Once on the shoulder of Unity Peak we divided into three groups; some waited for a bit on the shoulder and then headed down towards Redoubt Lake, some climbed half way up and 3 of us skinned to the top of the peak reaching it at 3:30 pm. The top part of the climb was fairly steep however soft enough that there was no need for ski crampons. We were fortunate enough to have great stability and skied the northeast bowl, the best turns of the day (okay almost the only turns of the day!).

Once we were down low and starting the slight climb to Redoubt Lake the sun started to make itself known. We were lucky enough to have tracks to follow, but it was getting warm out. If you look carefully in the background of the photo below you can see our ski tracks high on Unity.

Now it was really just a case of climbing up to Redoubt Lake, doing the long crossing and cutting up and around the corner to Boulder Pass. There was enough coverage that we were able to stay high and after a short climb from Redoubt rip the skins for the last time and ski down to the pass.

It was 5:30 pm by the time we hit the slopes just above Boulder Pass, and after 9 1/2 hours some of our party were starting to flag a bit. I was concerned it was going to be a lllooonnnggg way out. However we were lucky, at the pass you join the trail back from Skoki and the trees had kept it from getting too soft. It was hard packed and just the right slope to make fast work of getting back.

I was very surprised to pop out of the trees just above Temple Lodge on the backside of Lake Louise ski hill just 40 minutes from Boulder Pass. Our only regret was not stashing beer in the snow on the way up.

From there it was a quick hop down to the cars. All in all, it was a 10 1/2 hour, 1670 meter day. A fit party could obviously do it more quickly, although I'm not sure they would have as much fun! A highly recommended day out.