Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wapta Icefields

After a week of ice climbing with Rolf I dropped him off at the airport and picked up Brian Gardel, my backcountry ski partner from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Brian Gardel, aka "Frenchy"

Brian and I met kayaking but have spent just as much time if not more skiing together. A few years ago he told me about skiing in Canada, namely Rogers Pass. I was hooked. We had made plans to ski for a week at Rogers Pass, arguably the best roadside ski touring in the world, and Brian's favorite place to ski. Unfortunately touchy avalanche conditions and an incoming warm winter storm meant that Rogers Pass would undergo an avalanche cycle and should be avoided. We quickly went to work on plan B once Brian arrived.

Plan B was the Wapta Icefield, near the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies. Better avalanche conditions and generally drier than the Selkirks (Rogers Pass) to the west, we made an ambitious plan to complete the Yoho traverse across the Wapta Icefield and into the Yoho Valley.

 Brian Heading into the Wapta

Our first destination was the Bow Hut, built on the edge of the Wapta Icefield.

Bow Hut (Center of Photo)

 Brian Nearing the Hut

We spent the evening poring over maps, entering coordinates into our GPS and planning our route into the Yoho valley. The next morning we awoke to heavy snowfall, winds, and extremely limited visibility. We were grounded. We skied a little near the hut, and rested, hopeful that the storm would break the following day.

The next morning the storm showed no signs of abating. There would be no Yoho traverse, we were now onto plan C. We decided to make the traverse to the Balfour Hut, a relatively easy traverse in good conditions but one that promised to be challenging in the current conditions. We mapped our route and headed into the whiteout.

Once on the glacier we lost all visibility. The only way I could walk in a straight line was by constantly looking at my compass. 

Where are We?

It took us nearly 8 hours to make the traverse. Most of the way we were totally disoriented and had to trust our instruments completely. It wasn't the epic powder skiing we'd been dreaming of but it was a good adventure and great for improving our navigation and glacier travel skills.

 Brian in the White Room

It was quite a good feeling to see the hut after following our compass bearings all day. 
 Brian Arriving at the Balfour Hut

 Balfour Hut

 Shelter From the Storm

The next morning the we woke up to strong winds and continued snowfall, the blizzard wasn't letting up. We took our time getting ready, drinking multiple cups of tea, trying to psych ourselves up for the long slog back. The wind and snow had obliterated our tracks; we bundled up, broke out our compasses, and headed out.


 Back in the Whiteout

 Descending the Col Between St Nicholas and Olive

The storm started to break as we skied the toe of the glacier down to Bow Hut. We dropped our packs and spent the afternoon skiing the 2-3 feet of new snow that had fallen. Things were starting to look up.


The next morning we awoke to relatively clear weather and we feasted on all the new snow, trying to track out the slope near the hut. Finally we were treated to views of the peaks.

Enjoying the View

 Brian with St Nicholas in the Background

 Our Tracks

We predicted that with the passage of the storm, the avalanche conditions would improve at Rogers, so we headed out.

 Brian Skiing Out

 Bow Lake

Nearly 3 feet of snow had fallen since we left the car and it took a long time and lot of digging to get back to the Icefields Parkway.

 My Car After the Storm

We finally struck gold in the 9th inning of the trip. Blue skies, fresh snow, and improving avalanche conditions at Rogers Pass created all the ingredients for an unforgettable day of ski touring.

Brian Heading up the Asulkan Valley

 Track to Asulkan Pass

More Terrain than One Can Imagine. View from Asulkan Pass

As a photographer I'm constantly in awe of the forms in snowy landscapes.

Youngs Peak

 We skied over 7,000 feet and drove back to Calgary tired, sore, and content.

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