Tuesday, May 25, 2010

South Twin / Columbia Icefields

from    Ross
to      Andrew
date    Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 12:12 PM
subject Re: Columbia
Yes it's a bit of work, however you know that you'll have to do it 
sooner or later and face it, you're not getting younger!
Ross doesn't do subtle; but I will admit that this little barb finally did convince me (ie: provoke me) into making a trip with him to the Columbia Icefields. Remarkably Brenda was keen as well and two weeks later, under towering packs, we made our way towards the upper reaches of the Athabasca Glacier to access the Columbia Icefields beyond.

The route up the Athabasca forces you along a narrow bench that threads its way between an icefall on the left and hanging seracs on the right. During our ski up the glacier we hadn't seen any activity from the seracs, and there was little sign of any recent debris. Predictably, just as we were making final preparation to dash underneath the seracs, a large chunk crashed down onto the glacier. Followed by another a few minutes later. You can make out the dust cloud.

Needless to say we sprinted across to the other side. After this there wasn't much else to do except put our heads down and endure the long tough grind further and further up onto the icefield. This we did this for next several hours. Thankfully the ever expanding vista of spectacular scenery distracted us from our heavy loads. It's an amazing place on a massive scale; everything is just so far away.

After 10 hours of toil we finally ran out of steam. In an ocean of white the very spot that we were standing seemed as good a place as any to set up camp so we shrugged off our leaden packs and dug in the tent.

We had an excellent supper and we were all in bed before it was dark. Ross had warned us of the potential for really cold temperatures and I had borrowed an expedition grade sleeping bag so voluminous that it single handedly endangered the world's Eider duck population. It was a cozy night. The morning dawned cold and clear giving us a great view of South Twin, our destination for the day.

North Twin is on the right and South Twin is on the left. The route crosses the glaciated face of North Twin from right to left and climbs to the col between the two peaks. From there we would drop down and then climb back up South Twin along it's right skyline.

That's pretty much how things went except that it all took about three times longer than even our most conservative estimates. Everything is just...so....BIG. And far away. The place is colossal. It took ages just to get to North Twin. The traverse across the face seemed to go on for hours. The drop down into the col and the climb back out seemed an eternity. By the time we had swapped skis for crampons below the summit ridge we were having serious doubts about the endeavor.

The altitude and hot sun began to take their toll. We soldiered on in the quiet heat with tongues hanging out of our mouths, up and over one heart breaking false summit after another.

Finally, at 4:00, my altimeter read 3540 meters and there was nowhere else to go but down.

I wouldn't say that we were elated or anything. Quietly satisfied perhaps? I suspect we were all thinking that it was a long, long way back home!

I won't prolong this blog post with too many details of getting back down. We left the summit under a warm afternoon sun and by the time we reached the tent it was nearly dark and we were wearing every stitch of clothing against the biting wind. Dinner, gallons of hot tea, and sweet, sweet bed.

It was an easy trip out the next day; blissfully downhill most of the way. We delighted, and I mean really delighted, the folks in the snocoaches.

And then the final grind up the snocoach road back to the car.

Climbing peaks on the Columbia Icefields is like repeatedly banging your head against a wall...it feels really good when you stop. So good that I think Ross could provoke me into going again next year. How many 11,000'ers are there Ross?

Complete photos are here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Youngs Peak

I pulled into the Asulkan parking lot all by myself on Thursday night; Brenda had to work the next day, and much to her chagrin, I didn't want to give up on the idea of skiing on Friday. Nick would join me the next morning.

It was quite pleasant hanging out in the van; a bit of dinner, Tom Patey's "One Man's Mountains" providing a good read, various Marley brothers playing on the stereo. It was a real coup when I discovered the hip flask in the bottom of the food bin.

Nick and I made our way up the Asulkan Valley the next morning. There is still lots of snow but there were a few places where we were reminded that spring is well on its way.

We stopped for a bit of lunch at the hut and noticed a solitary figure up on the Youngs Peak headwall. As we were leaving we came across a video camera perched on the rocks outside the hut, filming, and deliberately aimed at the headwall. Kind of a neat idea. We idly wondered if it was Greg Hill up there.

Turns out that's exactly who it was. He stopped to say hello on his way back down to the hut. By the time we got to the summit of Youngs there he was right behind us again.

By this point in his day he had already climbed 9500' or something after doing 23,000' the previous day. We ultimately did a 6200' (1900m) and considered that to be a big day! The headwall was still holding good snow and we managed to squeeze in a couple of really nice runs each in between Greg Hill's numerous tracks.

On our way back down the snow transitioned from shallow powder into a tricky crust before finally softening into creamy spring-like corn by the time we were behind the Pterodactyl. It even held up well through the mouse trap as we dodged the avalanche debris back down into the valley.

A nice day out and one well worthy of being our last of the season if that does turn out to the case. There are some more photos here.