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.