On July 9th Stacy, BJ and I parked at the upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot
and hiked 5.2K to the Hidden Lakes access at the southwest corner of the
lake. There is not an official trail head here and in fact we overshot it and went
to Lower Kananaskis Falls before we turned around. In early season, it is
easy to miss. It is on the left and there is a very narrow trail, so just stay alert.
Proceed up to Hidden Lake (which is not hidden at all) and travel around the
east shore. This early in the season, the trail was "hidden" under water, so
we bushwhacked somewhat. There was considerable bear scat on the east
shoreline. Continue to the south end of Hidden Lake and climb the steep
forested trail up to scree skirting the west side of Sarrail. As you continue
south, you will cross several angled snow fields this early in the season,
some exposed, some not. (This particular early July, 2004, would be
equivalent to late May in many years) This obscure trail takes you up and
over the headwall and Fossil falls dumping into Hidden Lake. You pass Foch
Pond on your left going in and stay right at a fork following the trail to Aster
Lake. They now have 6 camping permits, an outhouse and bear bin storage
east of the lake. An alternative is to bivy at the west end of the gravel flats,
which is what I would do without wife and dog.
At camp we were treated to the rare Northern Goshawk and not so rare "man
eating" porcupine at the campground. This porcupine kept us up all night
(which is never great before a climb), as he/she continued to try and get into
our tent. Since we had our dog, I had to constantly haze it away and finally, at
2:AM in the morning, as I was circling the tent, it came right up to me and I
sprayed it with bear spray. A leg full of quills are not in a climbers best
interest. The wardens are on order to shoot these critters as they are
becoming overpopulated and cause damage to campers and their
equipment. They want to eat anything, particularly rubber, etc, that might have
an ounce of salt or sweat on it. They also make a shrieking noise not unlike
that of a lost bear cub. That is hard to sleep to. We also were treated to Grey
Crowned Rosy Finches at the west end of Aster Lake.
You have heard me vary from the published books before regarding routes.
This mountain is no exception. Take notes off the Internet, from summit logs,
etc. The notes in The Selected Alpine Book cost me unnecessary hours July
10. I departed camp at 5:30am with an overnight freeze at my feet (perfect!).
However, I chose to leave my one map behind for my wife and dog so they
could enjoy the day. (There is only one trail to Northover Pass, and there was
not another sole around this early in the season.) I took the book notes and
thought it was a no brainier to get to the Mangin Glacier. However, I wasted
precious energy, elevation and hours off course. When you get to the gravel
flats, cross over at a southwesterly angle and you will see Joffre on the right
and Petain on the left, their views split by a protruding rock summit. This
phenomenon makes it look like one and the same mountain (4th picture at
right). At this point, you want to make an angled elevated bee line for Joffre on
the right. Ascend (this early) snow slopes, intermittent with rock croppings.
You will top out over a glacier lake, move right around this lake and continue
straight south for Joffre. Again, varying from the book tremendously, I
recommend gaining a glacier ridge on the upper left side of the glacier and
head straight for the lower left face. Here is where you have the choice of
ascending the ridge via an ice/snow/rock gully on your left or heading straight
up the North Face angling all the way to the right. Point avalanches take off
below the summit rock buttresses, so the safest (and of course full of strong
winds) route is the right side of the face. I used two axes at the steepest
sections where I ran into intermittent ice.
The summit is amazing of course, Assiniboine to the north, a huge perfect
white sheet of the Petain Glacier to the south. This is (if you scramble at all in
the Rockies, you are more than familiar with Joffre's unusual broad summit) a
broad snow-ice summit with some rock exposed on the south side.
Again, varying from the book considerably, if one ascends the north face, I
believe the ridge should be avoided for descent and chose myself to glissade
down the north face. I say this as it is difficult to descend something
technical, when you never ascended it. And in early conditions, the gully to the
ridge looked rather technical. The argument towards not descending the
north face of course, is that you must be extremely confident in your self arrest
capabilities. I made a quick descent all the way back to camp on the east
side of Aster Lake. Because Selected Alpine Climbs recommends
ascending the center of the Glacier, my entire route this day basically took me
to every corner of the Mangin Glacier. Route finding skills are always
essential in solo glacier travel and of course I would never recommend
anyone traveling on a glacier solo. Just because I chose to do so this day, by
no means makes it a safe consideration. The hike back out of camp the next
day took us 4 hours. I made this an 8-9 hour summit day, but it could be done
much faster if one went direct to begin with.
""You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.""