Two weeks of hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Click thumnails for full image.
Finally, our departure date arrived. All the preparation, trips to the store, more trips to the store, packing and list checking were done. Heading out of Calgary in our rented Outlander with my sister Pam's car-camping stuff in the back we had Pink Floyd turned up loud. Before long we had trouble hearing it above the racket the pouring rain made on the windshield. Thanks to the strike we got into the Park for free and upon arriving at Mosquito Creek campground 27 kms. up the Jasper Highway from Lake Louise found out that our camping was going to be free also. After setting up the tent we headed to L. Louise for groceries, came 'home' ate and, dead tired, went to bed .
Woke up to rain and no views of any mountains. The whole valley was socked in. We decided to check out Observation Peak up near Bow Summit. Armed with our trusty (we hoped) scrambler's guidebook we left the car by the side of the road and with the rain pelting down, began our holiday. Our objective was completely hidden and we weren't sure exactly where the summit was but we headed off in the general direction and went...up. Up through forest bushwhacking our way, making lots of noise so the bears would get out of our way. We hit a drainage and went up and up climbing scree and some rock, traversing, rounding corners, climbing through rock bands and eventually hitting snow. We kept checking our route to make sure we could find our way off the mountain. We were constantly in a whiteout but could see about a hundred feet. The snow got deeper as we climbed and finally we got as high as we could safely go. We were pretty sure we were nowhere near the summit but we were pleased to have gone way up high on a mountain in spite of no views. The way down was quicker and easier and it was nice to turn the heat on in the car.
(It took almost 2 weeks to get a roadside view of that summit and we saw that we headed off in the wrong direction and wound up a kilometre south along the summit ridge).
Rained all night, socked in this morning but not raining. Today's objective was Mt. Niblock 4500 vertical feet above L. Louise. We parked in the Chateau Lake Louise public parking lot, elbowed our way quickly past the tourists and hiked up to Lake Agnes. By the time we got there it was raining hard so we went in to the Teahouse and had...tea. After an hour, the rain had almost stopped so off we went towards the amphitheatre, a cirque consisting of two peaks (Niblock and Whyte)joined by a headwall. There was a faint trail that was a lot steeper than I remembered it from 20 years before leading to the first cliff bands. I remembered only that it was quite do-able but looked impossible when viewed face on.
This picture was taken on the way down. Niblock is the mountain on the right. The route up the first cliff bands is just to right of center at the highest point of the scree.
Today everything was socked in so I couldn't tell if we were in the right place or not. We hiked under cliffs and the cloud made for an oppressive, eerie feeling. After a wrong turn that led out to ledges we found a narrow crack with a cairn and decided to go on up. Now it was very steep and we were scrambling up little rock pitches using our hands plenty. Due to the thick cloud and my not remembering the route I decided to sit down for a while, rest, eat and think about the climb. Suddenly, a guy pops his head around a corner and asks if we're close to Niblock. Turns out 3 guys from Winnipeg had been following us and even though they couldn't see us they could hear us so they kept following. The skies cleared intermittently and Dominic actually got to see a Rocky Mountain or 2. Then it kept socking in. We didn't even get close to the summit but had a good day anyway.
Lake O'Hara here we come! With our 10:30 bus reservation and reservations at the campground and Abbott's Hut we got ourselves organized (gear, food, packs) for 4 days worth of L. O'Hara and were at the parking lot nice and early. As soon as we got off the bus (seven mile ride, 1500 vertical feet up a restricted road) at the campground it started to rain. By the time we'd set up camp, grabbed a bite, organized our day packs, filtered water etc. it was noon and not raining anymore. Off we went to climb a mountain. Our first objective was obscured by clouds but there's many others to choose from and we went up Mt. Schaeffer which was a fitting intro.
It's not too long, has lots of moderate exposure and hands on rock most of the way up.
The route up follows the left skyline ridge. We came down the face just to the right. You can see a lighter coloured scree trail right from the top curving left to right.
It was harder than I remembered as is everything 20 odd years later and a tiny bit stressful for Dominic. Half way up it began snowing and on the summit we were in a blizzard. Dominic thought we'd sit down and have lunch but I got us out of there. We descended a steep scree run down a face and got back to the campground in the rain. We were happy to dry our stuff in the cook shack. Dominic cooked us a big meal of canned chicken and pasta with lots of garlic.
Abbott's hut. In case you don't know this the hut is a stone building perched on the summit of Abbott's pass between 2 big mountains (Lefroy and Victoria) at elevation 9,600 feet. Getting there from O'Hara involves a long steep scree fest. We had more organizing to do. We needed 2 days worth of food and clothing plus our sleeping bags. We had our (well, mine and Dave's) big packs full of stuff when we left at 11:00 for what I figured would take 4 hours (it took 4:15). It was raining of course and half way up we had snow in the air and on the ground.
This picture really re-creates the mood of the day.
The snow was a big help as we kicked steps and slowly ascended.
This shot was taken from the deck of Abbott's Hut and looks done the way we came up.
When we arrived only 2 people were there and they had the hut nice and warm (wood is flown up by helicopter) and for the first time since we'd arrived out west I got all my stuff bone dry, including my boots. It snowed and snowed while we were there but from time to time it let up and we got partial views of the odd mountain. The sun came out for about 2 minutes and then it felt like being in an oven.
We left the hut after re-organizing our stuff. One pack acted as a day pack for us both and the other held whatever we didn't need. We descended the pass with 2 climbers who had turned around almost immediately on their attempt on Mt. Victoria due to the rock being coated with a layer of ice (verglas).
One of the guys we descended the pass with took this shot of Dominic and I several hundred feet above Lake Oesa. It looks like we're right on shore.
We had in mind doing Mt. Yukness (yukness = sharpened knife in Stoney Indian) and had a couple of hours hiking to do in order to get to its easily scrambled route. After starting up the wrong scree gully we quickly corrected our trajectory and got on route. Lots of uphill and guess what? It started raining. As we climbed, the rain came and went. The conditions weren't all that bad until we neared the broad open col between the mountain's 2 summits. A big, thick cloud rolled in and dumped tons of something half way between snow and hail and enveloped us. We hunkered down between 2 rocks and waited for 20 min until it stopped before proceeding. The cloud lifted enough so that the col was in the open but both summits remained socked in. We settled for the col which was almost as high and had stunning views straight down to Lake Oesa and straight across to the hut we had left that morning. Sorry, the camera was left behind lower down. We spent 20 min. on the col and as soon as we left it socked right in. We hiked back to the campground in a torrential downpour, ate, dried our stuff etc.
Another climb. Little Mt. Odaray (neighbour of big). This mountain never came out of the clouds the whole time we were there but we did it anyway. On the summit we could see 50 feet, it was a balmy 4 degrees and naturally it was snowing. We summitted with a family from somewhere north of Toronto and we all went down together to avoid anybody getting bonked on the head by flying rock.
Dom and I went first because we had hard hats. We had to watch our time because we were taking the 4:30 bus down to the car. We got to a little lake (Scaeffer lake) where I pulled out my flute and began to fill the area with echos. I had been hurrying us along just to get 20 min or so of playing time. As soon as I started to play it began...raining so I had to pack up the instrument and head down the trail. Because we had organized all our stuff, broken camp etc. all we had to do was wait for the bus for 20 min or so. Upon boarding I heard someone say,''there's Neil''. It was the people Sylvie and I had worked for 25 years ago! When we got back to our campsite on the Jasper Highway we settled in to wait for Pam and her family and it turned out to be a long wait especially since they were bringing dinner.
Party time! Two days of gentle hiking, late starts, wine filled late evenings and of course tons of...rain. By now Dominic and I had wet weather hiking down to a science.
Mount Little Hector: 4000 odd feet above the campground and only a 5 min drive to the starting point. We were starting to figure out the guide book and stayed on route for this long uphill slog.
We carried an air horn that can be repressurized with a bicycle pump whenever we had to bushwhack through likely looking grizzly habitat. We sounded it off every couple of minutes until we were above tree line. We made the summit in just over 4 hours and were totally socked in so I said to Dominic that we would wait for 30 min. in case things improved. Yeah, right. After 15 min it seemed like a stupid idea so down we went. 20 min later the skies cleared and the views opened up. That'll teach us.
We had lots of fun scree skiing (note that Dominic is air born) and revelling in the sunshine. We took our time descending and when we got back to camp it was raining.
Mount Temple, Banff's highest, the ultimate scramble and it was a beautiful sunny day! 5500 feet of vertical and views that will knock your socks off.
The route basically goes from lower left to upper right detouring around cliffs. That long, snowy summit ridge goes on forever into the thinning air.
What luck to have such a sunny day! The second picture is from internet and shows the same mountain from a different angle and with no snow.
To boot we almost had the whole mountain to ourselves. (Mt. Temple is routinely summited by 40 - 80 people per day). The route is described as an unscary way up a very scary mountain.
On the top it was 4 degrees and the winds were at least 80 km/hr. Even with tons of clothes it didn't take us long to get cold. I could really notice the thinner air up at over 11,000 feet. The descent was long but we went slowly because we met up with 2 guys who had just decided to turnaround with a long ways still to go. One of them was quite uneasy on the steep slopes so we eased our way down enjoying the magnificent views. We needed to be with them anyway because the law says you have to be in a group of 6 people minimum to hike down the trail to Morraine Lake. This is because there are grizzlies in the area and they are less likely to attack a group than a solo person. We found another group of 4 who had left the summit as we were arriving and all 8 of us headed cheerily down the trail. Going to bed that night I was thinking that we'd have good weather for the remainder of our trip but during the night: more pitter-patter.
Mt. Andromache. Right across the highway from the campground and only 4000 vertical feet. A day off! Dominic was really dragging his feet on this one and said he was real tired, I wonder why? We went about 3/4 of the way up including 1500 feet up a steep gully and then sat down, ate and went back down. Yes, it rained and was overcast but not all the time.
This picture shows the Bow River, Jasper highway and our car. Can you see it bt the side of the road? I can't but I could when I took the picture. You can also see part of our route up.
Running out of days. I wanted to check out the Icefields and had 4 different scrambles in mind to choose from. We drove up in pouring rain, got out of the car at the icefields info centre. It was so cold, there was fresh snow roadside! We proceeded to bushwhack through thick forest straight uphill to a ridge that leads to the top of Mt. Willcox. It was raining but as we ascended that turned to snow. My synthetic T-shirt was coated with snow when I stopped, stripped bare and put on a dry shirt and my Gore-tex anorak. In spite of, or rather, because of the snow the plateau we attained was a beatiful place. The land was rolling and the ground reddish brown with fall colours covered with a layer of fresh snow. We got glimpses of a wall across the way but the icefields were socked in. That was a pity because the guidebook says the views are like nothing you can imagine for the effort required to get high enough. We got close to the summit but the last bit was steep, hands-on rock and much to Dominic's disgust I turned us around. For me it was a no-brainer: steep, slippery, snow-covered rock, no views, cold wet weather and not a soul around. For him it wrecked his day. Tough titties. On our way back we saw mountain sheep and goats. Back at the car I was completely soaked and very, very hungry. We stopped at the Sask. River crossing and took in the all-you-can-eat buffet in the dining room. They sure lost money on us and Dominics mood improvement was proportional to his food intake.
Last hiking day. Our objective: Mt Weed. 4500 vertical.
We had no problems finding the starting point and bushwhacked and honked our way above treeline. This one we knew was a gamble because there was a lot (more) fresh snow on the mountains whose tops were hidden by cloud and surely had even more snow.
This picture is from internet, we never, in two weeks saw the summit! The route follows the white squiggly line just left of centre. That line is a gully and its nowhere as steep as it looks.
I offered up some smaller mountains that for sure we could do in spite of the snow but Dominic wanted big, steep stuff. Off we went. This WAS a toughie. Any steep uphill hike with no trail has you at the limits of your physiology all the way. You pause briefly every minute or so and keep going, endlessly. Normally, the views keep you going. In my case keeping up to Dominic kept me going.
As usual we ascended into a cloud and lost all views. You can see that it's not as steep as it looks in the first photo. It was snowing and the feeling was sinister. We were always a bit unsure of the route, the rock walls towered above, dissapearing into cloud and it got steeper and steeper as we followed a gully upwards.
Almost at the top! The snow got deeper, up to our knees, the gully narrowed and the pitch approached 45 degrees. There were big, one and two foot diameter snowballs that had rolled down and had just stopped which was reassuring - if they stopped so would we. The temp was minus one and my enthusiasm for the summit was pretty cool. I was thinking of a warm fire, a book and a beer but Dominic was driven by a force that I could understand so we crawled and clawed our way up. What was tough was every so often you placed your foot on a smooth rock under the snow and your foot slipped back downhill real fast throwing you off balance. Then we'd pause, let those physiological processes catch up with the workload and keep plodding. My reckoning of 1000 feet per hour had us very close to the top, in fact we thought we could see it just ahead through the clouds when we hit a 4 foot band of vertical ice coated rock that we just couldn't seem to get over. It was Dominic who said that he figured we had arrived at our summit for the day. I was pretty easy to convince even though I'm sure we could have gotten past that obstacle if we really needed to. I didn't feel any pressing need to tag the summit so we did an about face and down, down we went.
And that was our last scramble. I've never, in all my years of outdoor adventuring, have had such terrible weather. Oh well, might as well get it all in one shot. I sure learned a lot about keeping my stuff dry.
If I don't look overjoyed in this picture it has nothing to do with the fact I just spent two weeks in the rain. I was a very happy man at the time.
Days 14 &15
Golden B.C. We drove down to my friend Jerry Cook's B&B and enjoyed hot showers, sheets, great visiting, roast chicken and all the trappings of civilisation before driving back up the hill to L. Louise and Calgary. And you what? We drove out of the park on a beautiful sunny day.