Friday, April 27, 2007

Wapta Icefield

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!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sapphire Col Traverse

Sunday's weather forecast was brilliant so we headed to Rogers Pass on Saturday night with Fred and Junko and stayed at the always weird Glacier Park Lodge Hotel. The plan was to meet Steve on Sunday morning and try the Sapphire Col traverse.

The traverse begins up the Asulkan Valley as if heading towards the Asulkan Hut except that rather than trending left after the "mousetrap" area it heads up climbers right towards the Dome. After crossing an expansive glacier you work your way to Sapphire Col where there is a small climbers hut. From here you drop down a short but steep slope to the Lily Glacier and an exit via Loop Brook and Bonney Trees.

Confident of good weather we woke up bright and early on Sunday and opened the curtains to reveal...

Heavy snowfall. Doh.

About 5cm had fallen and it was still coming down heavily.

We shuttled a car to the Loop Brook parking area. By now the snow had eased off a little so we figured we'd give it a go. At worst we could make it to the col and return the same way we came rather than dropping over onto the Lily Glacier.

Our perseverance payed off since it turned into a beautiful day. In fact of all the times we've slogged up the Asulkan Valley during the winter I think this was the first time that we'd been able to actually see anything!

The Asulkan Hut is located just above and to the right of the highest patch of trees in this photo.

We experienced the full gamut of weather conditions on the way up. One moment it was partly cloudy. The next it became overcast and difficult to see anything only to be followed by a break that would leave us absolutely cooking in the hot spring sun. Minutes later we were scrambling for jackets and gloves as a cold snow squall blew through freezing us to the core.

The pyramid-like peak in this photo is Mount Castor. Sapphire Col is at the end of the right skyline.

After 6 hours of steady climbing we arrived at the col. We ain't fast but we do get there eventually. After clearing a snow drift away from the front of the hut we ducked inside to get out of the wind and have a bite to eat. The log book was pretty beat up and I couldn't find the entries from my two previous visits here (remind me to tell the story of how Brenda almost burned the hut one time!). There's something special about finding your own handwriting from years ago in a log book, but I find there's also something a bit unnerving about it as well -- tends to make on very aware of the passage of time. Perhaps just as well that I couldn't find them.

The decent onto the Lily was a bit dubious with the new snow tending to slough off in the midday sun but we all got down safely and marveled at the spectacular view. It's great to ski in places where you've never been before and to see some of the old familiar sights from a unique perspective.

The run down the Lily and into Loop Brook was really good -- long, gentle, and wide open for hundreds and hundreds of meters. We were surprised to find such good snow so late in the day and so late in the season.

A sure sign that the ski season is drawing to a close. Booo.

Here's the GPS track in Google Earth and a couple of short videos:



All in all a great trip. One we'd been thinking about since last year. A quick Backhand of God at The Burner on the way home capped a fine day out. Thanks to Steve for all of the camera work.