Monday, 5 September 2016

The East Ridge of Mt Edith Cavell 2016

Fri, Sat Aug 19th-20th, 2016 East Ridge Mt Edith Cavell 3363 metres

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5. Where it's good it's very good, and it's a long way up to get to the good stuff.

Andrew and I had climbed the East Ridge before, like 14 years before, and Brenda hadn't and wanted to. A great excuse to revisit the climb as we were both keen to see if it lived up to our rather idyllic memory. The one memory that we wanted to avoid repeating was the long slog down the west ridge. We therefore planned on bivying at the base of the East Ridge, committed to coming back the same way we went up.

I met up with Andrew and Brenda in Lake Louise and headed North, complete with 3 mac and cheeses from Laggan's to be reheated for supper before heading up. We were nice and early so it was a pretty relaxed drive and hike up to the biv site below the East Ridge. 

The hike up in the late afternoon sun was fantastic, the area was lousy with marmot's and pica's (shh, don't tell the bears). I missed the last of the trail up to the col and we ended up bashing up the scree to the ridge to the left and higher than the col itself. Kind of funny when you consider it was daylight and it usually gets down in the dark! It ended up taking a little over 2 1/2 hours given our lively detour. We also didn't take the optimal route out of the parking lot, ideally take the paved trail until the Cavell Meadows sign and go left. There is a sign further up showing the way for the climbers, this must be becoming a popular route. The hike up to the biv site did involve a climb of 633 metres and I was happy to deduct that from the summit day. 

Brenda found water 10 minutes down the other side of the col and we made good use of the biv sites complete with stone windbreaks. There were two up higher however no water there so we stayed at the first one. It was a beautiful night, not cold but plenty of stars. Just before the alarm went off at 3:45 am the wind shifted to the south and picked up which woke me up, the forecast was for it to be mostly clear with the wind picking up to 30 km/hr and that was pretty accurate.

One party of two passed by as we were getting geared up, they had no gear or rope and planned to solo and descent via the west ridge. Given we watch their headlamps disappear above and didn't see them again I assume that is exactly what they did. We got on the road at 5 am, after dealing with a pesky pack-rat who actually attempted to drag my biv sac off! I wanted to kill it however the pacifists prevailed. 

Brenda lead the initial push by headlamp, it definitely isn't early July anymore! There is a pretty beat in path up the obviously gully eventually involving scrambling up some fairly solid rocky bits. Cairns festooned the upper part of the trail and I was surprised to pull up on top of the initial pitch to find a couple more biv sites. We made it this far at 7:30 am at roughly 2900 metres and it starting to brighten up about half way up.

There was some discussion about going left to keep from having to climb the next hump, it worked quite well as there was several well worn trails in the scree. Not a huge savings but worth looking for. The ridge then bobbles along for a bit and we had second breakfast while eyeing up the upper ridge. Our plan was to solo up however we had a two 30 metre ropes and alpine rack ready to go should someone call uncle.

There were a couple of steps on the upper section that reflected my memories of originally climbing the route, the first shorter than the second. Fairly steep with some exposure, great quartzite with incut holds. It goes at old school 5.3 so if it felt more difficult we just looked around a bit. 

Once on top of the last serious bit the angle backs off considerably, as does the rock quality, and I was surprised how long this section was up to the summit. We did cross 4 or 5 small snow patches, some were a little icy on the margins however we didn't make use of the crampons we hauled up. Having said that I wouldn't want to be up there without them if they were needed.

Some interesting moves to be made here and there but mostly careful scrambling. The first snowy summit looks to be the highest however we went to the next two and found the summit cairn and register just to be sure. We managed to summit at 10:30 am, a 5 1/2 hour trip up. 

In the end we soloed it all, however I could see someone calling for a rope given the exposure. The summit was windy and cold, we took photos, filled out the summit register (thanks Andrew) and started our way down. Right behind us were two parties of two making good time.

Coming down the east ridge involves a lot of down climbing, even if you use the two rap stations set up. Funny, it took my a bit to get into the rhythm however after about 20 minutes I loosened up and started to have fun. The upper part is pretty straight forward with a little awkwardness (on my part) getting onto the snow sections where we couldn't avoid them. We ran into 2 more parties of 2 making their way up the route. It does take a bit of finesse to work around each other on the upper sections without knocking rock however it was a good day and everyone played nice.

One party passed us on the descent and the second caught up just as we had set up the first rappel on the upper steep section. There was a obvious well used anchor with pins, a quick link and fresh tat. We had 2 30 metre ropes so were able to rig up a full 30 metre rap which worked out well, a 35 metre rappel would have worked out a bit better and there is an intermediate rap station to climbers right if needed. We let the other party rap and descend through although we all had something to eat at the bottom of the rappel, in the sun and out of the wind. 

By the time we got down to the lower rap station the same guys had rigged a rope and gave us a free rappel. They had a 70 metre rope and there wasn't much of it left on the ground, it's not completely necessary but made quick work of some tricky down climbing. 

The three of us made it down to the top of the first long section of climbing above the col right about 2 pm. Obviously there was still a lot of down climbing to do and this was the part we either did in the dark or had very little recollection of. A little futzing found our way down looking for cairns and foot prints skiers left of the big gully. It did try and suck us into the gully every now and then but we avoided it by down climbing on more solid rock. By this point is was starting to feel like a long day and a degree of concentration was still required given the exposure and not fantastic rock quality in spots.

We eventually made it back to the biv site 11 1/2 hours at 4:30 pm. By my watch it was 1150 metres up and down from the biv site to the summit. Fun route, not quite the quality of rock that I had remember but some darn good rock, exposure and fun moves up high. Andrew and Brenda have done a lot of climbing in Rogers Pass and they rated it better than many of the routes there which says something. I would still down climb the East Ridge rather than do the West Ridge slog any day. Interestingly enough, of the 6 parties on the route this day 1/2 chose each way down.

It was great to be back at the biv site with lots of daylight left and no imminent storms moving in. We took our time, packed up, drank tea and soup and eventually departed at 5:30 pm. We stopped for snacks along the way and a bit of a wash up in a creek getting back to the car a little after 7. 

Best of all we made it back to Canmore for pizza and beer. Yeah!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mt Aberdeen and Haddo Peak 2016

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 Mt Aberdeen and Haddo Peak 3,151 metres

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5, in the right conditions it is a varied and interesting climb with the opportunity to bag 2 good sized peaks in brilliant surroundings. We took the Paradise Valley descent which added some interest, and some bush whacking.

The three of us had a somewhat alpine start out of Canmore and left the car at 6 am, nice to be able to get a parking spot at Lake Louise. The approach follows the trail around Fairview and we made the junction with the trail down to Paradise Valley at 7:30 am with an elevation gain of roughly 600 metres. We continued up the Fairview scramble trail for 10 or 15 minutes until an obvious path cut left.

This trail works through the trees and eventually breaks out onto packed scree. 

As per the directions, we followed along and eventually crossed to the other side of the valley and followed a cairned trail to the base of the Aberdeen snow slopes, arriving at 8:40 am and roughly 2550 metres. Much quicker than my last attempt when we followed the valley bottom.

Jackie, Steven and I donned helmets, harnesses, crampons and roped up. Steve led and I was the lard ass at the end of the rope. We were very lucky, even though the cloud cover didn't allow for the freeze we were looking for over night the continued cloud cover kept the snow from getting sloppy and even more important kept the rock fall at bay.

The recent snow made for easy steps and we followed the right hand edge of the snow slopes until we ran into the ice proper. Steve did a great job of leading and we simulclimbed with a couple of screws between us at all times. The ice was pretty good however there was some excavating necessary along with the spindrift associated with it.

I don't know whether it was due to it being my first alpine day of the season, the fact that 24 hours of adrenaline was a couple of days before, or just being out of shape but I struggled a bit. 10:45 am saw us at the top of the technical climbing at 2750 metres and over a couple of big slots. One I managed to penetrate into trusting Jackie's foot prints, failing to consider the likely 75 lb difference in our weights!  Steve built an anchor and we took a breath. There were a few rests along the way but my calves were pretty much screaming.  We calculated that the more technical climbing amounted to 160 metres of elevation gain and took us roughly 1:15 hr. The bottom line is that it went well and the cloud cover stuck around so we didn't have much for rock fall. Using one technical tool and a mountaineering axe did take a bit of a toll on my right hand knuckles though!

The next step up to the Aberdeen/Haddo col was prefect snow bucket steps most of the way. We passed the 'shrund on the left hand side and once we made it up to the upper rock band and went left above there was some ice that made for two great screw placements for a running belay.

We were on the col shortly after noon at roughly 3000 metres. The three of us essentially walked to the edge of the snow and left behind the crampons, rope and packs as the summit of Haddo looked pretty close. 30 minutes later were on topwhich by my watch was 3070 metres. Yes it's farther than it looks, however we were lucky to have an easy packed scree slope that we made good time on. There was a summit register that went all the way back to 1973! Either a lot of people skip the peak or don't bother filling out the register. Here's a look back at Aberdeen from Haddo.

15 minutes later we were back at the col, roping up for the final snow slopes. When the sun popped out you could see the old tracks under the new snow and we pretty much stayed on the left hand margin of the slope. The snow did get a touch sloppy, especially close to the rocks however as soon as the pitch backed off the snow firmed up. Jackie did a great job leading the charge and we set up a belay up the final slope and rock step.

2 pm and 3151 metres saw us on top. What a vista! Victoria, Lefroy, Temple and Valley of the 10 peaks all laid out before us. The view of the final snow slopes of the east ridge of Temple were superb. A great place to be, the sun was coming out from time to time and although the wind was around it wasn't terribly strong. It's nice to be able to enjoy the summit!

We took the Paradise Valley descent, which basically headed straight down the other side. However contrary to directions down a couple of hundred metres the more packed trail goes descenders left side of the ridge line and we followed it pretty much straight down all the way to the Paradise Valley creek. The start was actually pretty quick descending with great scree followed by snow, easy on the legs.

Quite a ways down right in the middle of the photo above there is a small col, we continued through it and found a fairly established trail on the left side of the creek. It took us a fair ways down until a small amount of bush whacking was necessary to reach the creek itself. The three of us arrived at the creek directly below the lower col at 4:30 pm at just over 2000 metres in elevation.

Once down at the creek we lost a little time monkeying around a bit getting to the main trail. We crossed the creek and found a decommissioned trail going the right direction however came to an area without a bridge. We then attempted to go up the slope to find the Paradise Valley trail. The bush whacking got pretty bad and we failed to find it so ended up going back to the creek and following a variety of animal trails and making the best of it, afterwards finding that the trail had been decommissioned some time ago.

It took us 1:45 hr to find the bridge down stream and the trail proper which lead us back to the car at about 8 pm. Having said that I would take this way down again is it avoids rappelling, potential rock fall and the climb back up to the col in the heat of the day. It looks like it is best way is to traverse skiers left just above the creek and stay on the near side of it until you find the bridge. In the end it was a 14 hour and 1750 metre day. Great to complete a climb I had been hearing about for years, in good condition and it sure was good to get back in the alpine!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Wapta/Yoho Traverse 2016

Fri - Mon March 18th - 21st, 2016 Wapta/Yoho Traverse

Synopsis: 4 1/2 stars out of 5, a classic traverse now serviced with huts, enough route finding to be interesting and fantastic views.

We heard the the new Guy Hut was open for booking noon on March 1st. I called in at 12:15 and managed to get 4 spots in the Bow, Guy and Stanley Mitchell Huts. I was familiar with the terrain around Stanley Mitchel and Bow Huts however there was a lot of new discovery to be had.

Our plan was to leave two cars at the Takakkaw Falls parking lot so the BC folks could head back straight from the trail head. Some forgotten food and a road closure due to avalanche blasting delayed the start a bit. We finally headed out of the Nam Ti Jah Lodge parking lot onto Bow Lake at 11:15 am on Friday under a beautiful blue sky.

It was a little chilly but promised to warm up. The avalanche hazard was considerable, moderate, moderate and we were interested what the last steep section up to the hut would look like. In spite of a little new snow early in the week, the trail was pretty beaten in and travel was pretty quick.

In no time we were making our way up through the canyon to the slopes just below the Hut. There was a Yamnuska group at the hut and they had explored Crowfoot earlier and left some great looking ski lines down the south side of the bowl below the hut. The fresh snow and blue sky was just spectacular!

There was a good trail beat up through the bands below the hut and stability was good. As you can see from the photo below there was a large group going in just before us. In all we were roughly 3:15 hours to the hut at a pretty leisurely pace with a lunch break, it was too nice to rush it much.

At the hut Frank opted to chill (read sleep) and the three of us went for a wander up the toe of the glacier to the shoulder of Gordon to get a read on the line for tomorrow. There was some debate on which mountain was which, and as per usual Andrew was right. Collier is the peak on the left side of the photo below and the route gains the left hump through the crevasse field which isn't nearly as bad as it looks. Great views in all direction and the ski back down to the Bow Hut was pretty hero. 

After a great supper, complete with wine and scotch - yes everyone wanted to lighten their packs - we hit the sack in a half full and blissfully quiet Bow Hut. The morning came clear and cold, -15 C outside so we didn't really get going until just after 9 am. Frank did have some trouble with his harness, but eventually got it figured with a little help from the peanut gallery.

I was stoked to be heading into new territory and it didn't disappoint. There were two parties of two ahead of us, one were assistant ski guides heading up Collie and the other were two heading for Guy Hut after skiing a great looking line on Rhonda.

The views once past the Rhonda shoulder were simply staggering. At the high point it was cold and windy enough that I put in hand warmers, however 20 minutes later on the low point before the Collie col in the sun I had to take them out because they were too hot! We made it to the initial high point in 1:30 hours and it was roughly 300 metres above the hut.

Once closer to the crevasses up the Mt Collie shoulder, there was a great route to the right that gave the larger holes a wide berth. It felt like cheating having great visibility and an awesome skin track set by the party ahead of us. We stopped for a snack at the bottom of the Collie shoulder and basked in the sun until some high cloud came over.

Once on top of the shoulder of Mt Collie we headed south leaving a subsidiary peak to our right and finally had to break our own trail. It was a slow continued climb until we reached the second high point for the day and the view to the south opened up.

Spectacular! We could see right from Temple, to the Goodsirs, to the President and Vice Prez. Perfect place for lunch and were soon joined by a pair of Ravens, they don't miss much. Looking back on Collie in the photo below you can just see the up track of the party in front of us earlier on heading for the top.

We had a good discussion surrounding route finding. The dead give away with visibility is Yoho, the low peak in the middle of the photo below. The Guy hut is on the shoulder running down the right hand skyline. You can see the notch we aimed for at the bottom of what looks like a ridge off Yoho (actually the ridge coming off Collie behind us).

Once we got to the notch and attempted to boot pack with post holing results (at least for us nearing the Clydsdale class) on went the skins for a short trip up hill. 

There is some talk about going down on the left side or even down right to the bottom of Des Polius however my sense is that this is the easiest route however obviously challenging in a white out.

Then it's pretty much a case of following the high point in the ridge. The hut actually doesn't come into view until you are right above it. If you value your ski bases ski gently down the final slopes to the hut, when we were there it was faceted crap on top of moraine with more than a few rocks poking out.

In all, it took roughly 6 hours for the trip across from Bow at a pretty leisurely pace although with good visibility. According to my watch it was a gain of 711 metres and a descent of 549. The hut is perched right on the ridge with great views of Des Polius, complete with a fantastic ski line down it (photo taken on the climb up Yoho Peak).

We lost Frank to hut suck, but Andrew, Brenda and I headed up to bag Yoho Peak and get a few turns in. It was actually closer than it looks, highly unusual I know, and took us a little more than 1:30 hours up and down including plenty of neck craning. Here's a good look back at the hut showing the route down the ridge in the photo below. You can also see the crown from a recent avalanche above and lookers right of the hut.

We also had a good look at the route up to Isolated Col, the plan A for getting to Stanley Mitchell Hut the next day. You can see it in the photo below at the bottom of the right hand ridge of the President and just to the left of Isolated Peak, a bit of a nondescript hump in the middle of the photo.

Back to the hut to bask in the warmth of the sun through the windows, you gotta love longer days come March! My turn to cook, however Ichiban and wine applied generously beforehand keeps the expectations low. The new hut is a marvel, bring ear plugs.

We were all aware that the trip up to Isolation col can be a serious one, however we were very lucky with weather. We planned on being out at 8 am, modestly early, however also benefited from a fairly cold night and cloudy skies in the morning to keep down the solar heating.  

Of course that meant pretty poor visibility coming down from the hut. We traversed skiers left, did a couple of turns and then traversed hard skiers right to meet up with tracks heading to the lake. At the toe of the glacier along the lake there was an interesting ice feature that I wouldn't have wanted to ski over!

The route to isolated col was pretty straight forward although at one point we were skirting under a large slope on climbers right. With cool temperatures, overcast skies and results from a couple of hasty pits we felt pretty comfortable with the avalanche hazard and opted to go up and over Isolated Col rather than around the Whaleback.

Route finding was pretty straight forward and we had some down tracks of a party going the other way the day before to give us some depth perception. The climb itself started steeply, eased off midway and then got quite steep near the top.

We found that climbers right had a bit of dust on crust so we opted to crest the col to the left of the col itself. Andrew broke trail most of the way, however being a gentlemen he let me finish the job to the top. Kick turns were our friend!

By my watch we were on top of the col at roughly 11:15 am or 3 hours from the hut and a gain of 320 metres. There is some big country on the other side and we were happy to have a crusty ski down.

We were originally sucked into heading skiers left at the col by the uptrack however soon realized that was foolish and we pretty much survival skied straight down from the col picking our way. The photo below is looking back up at the col on the right side of Isolated Peak showing our descent route.

Once we were out of harms way, right on queue the sun came out. We decided that the meadow above tree line was the perfect spot for lunch. Great view of the President and Vice President below which gave us a good idea of where the hut was.

After lunch we worked out way down just to the left of my skis in the photo above. We got some good turns in the trees and bumped into an up track that took us right to the hut. You gotta love Stanley Mitchel hut, especially when you don't have to slog up the road to get to it!

We were at the hut at just before 1 pm and lost roughly 550 metres of elevation from the col. 5 hours from Guy Hut including some faffing about route finding and a long lunch. It was far too nice a day to spend in the hut, so after cleaning pack rat shit off the tables we headed out to see how far up the President Glacier we could go without a rope.

Great fun, even Frank joined us and we did get some sweet turns off the moraine.

A great last night was spent in a classic hut, definitely quite a difference from the previous night. The pressure was off, we knew our way to the car from here so had a great time eating and drinking all that remained of our provisions (not enough for a full scale bender unfortunately, or is that fortunately?). We even had the pleasure of spending the evening with one of the patron saints of the area, good times.

The four of us had our own room downstairs and managed a bit of a sleep in. There was originally some talk of going out the Iceline trail as opposed to the road however cloud base was about navel high and it was snowing when we left at 9 so we opted for the tried and true - the dreaded road. (Yes I had to put one photo in with a finger in the corner!)

The first two hours were kind of fun, following the trail in light snow to Takakkaw Falls. We stopped and had lunch outside the picnic shelter, it stopped snowing and the sun even came out from time to time.

Then it was time to hit the road proper, half of us managed to make the uphills without skins and the other half needed them. It was pretty warm and as we got lower the snow got slower, however on the whole is was pretty painless. Half way Andrew got bored and made a snow man, perfect snow for it.

The road inevitably gave way to the parking lot and we were down in just over 6 hours at our typical relaxed pace. By my watch we gained just over 100 metres of elevation and lost just over 900. I must admit I wasn't in all that big a rush to get back to it, the end of a fantastic trip!

I've got a gpx track of the route, if your interested leave a message.