The Wapta Icefield traverse is the classic Canadian Rockies hut-to-hut ski tour. The icefield straddles the continental divide on the Alberta-BC border north of Lake Louise. The traverse is typically done from north to south starting at Wapta Lake or Bow Lake and continuing southwards to an exit at Sherbrooke Lake near Field on the Trans-Canada Highway. There are four ACC huts along the route -- Peyto, Bow, Balfour, and the Scott Duncan. We planned a slightly shorter traverse over 4 days and 3 nights with stops at the Bow, Balfour, and Scott Duncan huts.
Alas, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men...
The Bow is a really well designed hut with separate sleeping and living quarters connected by a short passage way. I'd been here a couple of years before in October for some early season skiing. That time we'd carried our skis on our backs and been forced to hop from rock to rock up the canyon since we were ignorant of the summer hiking trail that stayed above the canyon! This time we arrived in good time but in crap weather so we had a leisurely afternoon and evening playing cards.
The next morning we made our way up onto the glacier and headed towards the Olive-St.Nicholas col. At first the visibility was really poor and at times it snowed heavily and the wind howled. We aimed vaguely in the direction of the col and hoped for some visibility. Eventually it cleared just at the right time and we found our way over the col and to the Balfour Hut without too much trouble.
Above the Bow Hut
Brad at the col
The Balfour Hut with the St. Nick-Olive col to the right of the peaks in the distance
The next leg of the traverse travels over the Balfour High Col to the Scott Duncan Hut and is apparently the most difficult part of the traverse. According to the guidebook "advanced route finding skills" are required, especially in poor weather, which is exactly what we woke up to the next morning.
To make a long story short, some in the group weren't comfortable attempting to go over the pass and we were forced to backtrack to the Bow. I was bitterly disappointed. I think we should have at least put ourselves into a position where we could make a dash over the top if the weather broke. It wouldn't have been much worse than heading back to the Bow! We were forced into the classic navigation technique of one person breaking trail and the next person in line holding a compass on a bearing and calling out "left!" or "right!" as the first person drifted back and forth in the mist. Good fun that.
Brenda setting waypoints at the Balfour (with slippers!)
We spent another night at the Bow and thank goodness we did because the next day was nice and clear. We had a few really nice runs above the Bow Hut before heading out.
After that we once again shouldered our still heavy packs and tottered off down the canyon, across Bow Lake, and back to where we started from three days earlier. Next stop - Lagan's for coffee!
Conditions Update Apr 11 2017
2 weeks ago