Sunday, March 31, 2013

Wapta icefields 2013

Stephen S. and Paul C. joined myself and James Y. for an excellent weekend adventure on the Wapta icefields this past March 8-10. James and I drove down from Lethbridge on Thursday, March 7th and hooked up with Stephen and Paul at the hostel in Lake Louise. Stephen and Paul had driven up highway 93 from Montana in about 8 hours.

We did the mini-traverse from Peyto to Bow and en-route tagged Mt. Rhonda, before cutting our trip short Sunday due to poor weather. We had a late (and painfully slow) supper at the hostel restaurant Thursday night but we were able to get up at 6 AM on Friday and had a reasonably early start from the hostel.

I had a hard time remembering a few minor details from 2009 (where to park for the Peyto approach, for example.) Luckily we brought my GPS tracks and we started from the closest parking area, which, in my defense - was unmarked and quite easy to miss!
Photo 1. Friday, Day 1.  Paul and Stephen skiing above the moraine feature at the end of Peyto Lake (Peyto Lake is below us on the left side of photo). The route goes above the moraine and up a short boot scramble before dropping back down to Peyto glacier.
Avalanche conditions had briefly been high the prior week due to a 30 cm dump, but things had stabilized back to moderate in the alpine over the course of a few days. Or so I had thought! Just before leaving Lake Louise, Stephen pulled up the updated avalanche report on his smartphone, which showed orange for considerable. We took note of the update and resolved to assess conditions as went, but we never dug a pit.

Photo 2. James skiing up to the crux of the Peyto approach. I had forgotten how daunting the Peyto approach appears. The crux looks devastatingly hazardous (avalanche-wise) from afar. We discussed bailing but figured that we had to at least go take a look. However, the angle is really deceiving and once we got close, the avvy hazard that we worried about from afar was pretty minimal.

Photo 3. James on the glacier at last with Paul and Stephen in the background

Photo 4. Another group caught us on the glacier and we followed their tracks (unroped) to the hut.

Photo 5. Instrumentation on the glacier for a research project.

Photo 6. Peyto Hut was cozy. Luckily it was not filled to capacity.
Photo 7. Peyto Hut.

Photo 8. Our ski tracks descending from the hut to the glacier
Photo 9.  Bluebird skies on Saturday! Photo taken just after cresting the rise from Peyto to Bow Glacier. Unsure of the mountain on the far left, but other peaks in the background are Vulture, St. Nicolas, Mt. Olive and Mt. Gordon.
We debated hauling ass to Bow Hut to stash our gear first thing in the morning (in order to be fast and light for touring later in the day) but ultimately we decided to tag Mt. Rhonda en route and beeline it to the hut afterwards. (We did stash some of our heavier items on the glacier, although we dug a pit and hid them under some snow to avoid our stuff getting chewed by ravens, which we spotted circling about.)

Photo 10. Skiing up Mt. Rhonda.
Photo 10a. A strong group of 7 makes their way up Habel (we shared Peyto hut with this group the previous night)

Photo 11. View from Mt. Rhonda summit.
Photo 12. Paul and Stephen on Mt. Rhonda's summit.

Photo 13. Yours truly on Mt. Rhonda.

Photo 14. View looking West and connecting ridge to Habel.

Photo 15. Descending to Bow Hut. Mt. Thomson and Portal Peak on the left.
Photo 16. St. Nicolas peak.
We had great views from Rhonda and saw lots of ski tracks on the surrounding peaks, including a couple of groups on Rhonda North (Mt. Habel). We saw a couple of snow shoers ascending Thompson; as we descended to Bow Hut, we saw skiers descending from Vulture glacier/peak and viewed tracks in the Crowfoot glades. Talking to some others at the hut, we heard that there had been a pair of kite skiers that had made it up Gordon and Rhonda as a day trip from Bow Lake.

Sunday, conditions were pretty snowy at the hut. We debated waiting it out and doing some touring if things cleared up but it was not to be, as the white out conditions persisted late into the morning. Finally, we decided to bail and head back to town, rather than simply hanging out at the hut all day. (There was beer in Lake Louise but none at the hut!) Overall it was a great trip.
Stephen's merged photo set at his picasa album (includes my shots, as well as a few of Jim's and Paul's)
My complete photo set at my picasa web album