In "Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies", there are two approaches described for the President & Vice President mountains - the N Glacier route on this page, and an approach from the other side, through Emerald Lake. There was no information I could find on this alternative approach outside of the guidebook (scarce as usual), and that's the reason for this trip report. Essentially, we turned around at the foot of the glacier, and I would not recommend this route due to the objective hazard... read on.
Me and Nayden were very excited about the excellent weather coming up this weekend and made plans to do a one-day attempt at the President & Vice President. The day was forecasted to be very hot and sunny, so we decided to get an early start to take advantage of the frozen glacier for the ascent, and be off of it before the afternoon heat (my thoughts were that it was possible to be off by noon). I had researched photos and had the map of the area (82N10). I got up at 1am and ate breakfast/dinner, after which I set off to pick up my partner and we were at the Calgary city limits by 2:30am. It takes about 2 hours to get to the trailhead, and we were hiking at 4:50am with our headlamps on.
Less an hour from starting, you are in Emerald Basin (approx 3-4km from the start), with a creek running through it. The guidebook says to follow the creek, and the map we had only has a single creek shown on it. Here's where we made the big mistake of the day... it was dark, and the landmarks were hard to make sense of. We decided to trust the book/map and just follow the creek... even though it appeared to lead up another valley. In fact, this initial feeling turned out to have been correct, and once the light came, we realized the big creek (including 2 fairly large waterfalls) runs down another valley (toward Mt Carnarvon and Mt Marpole), and we were off-route. This cost us over 2 hours total, and we backtracked.
Looking back the way we came, now on the correct route
Eventually, we started making our way up toward the glacier, now with everything in sight. The gulley leading to the glacier was much slower-going than we anticipated, being loose and quite steep in places, and remaining snow/ice patches required us to take our crampons on/off. The main thing about this route, is that on your left (and directly above you) is the spectacular South Ridge of the President, which is an enormous overhanging wall. Of course, we had killed our early start advantage and the sun was already baking this wall (being SE facing). There was water starting to seep down it and the possibility of rockfall was increasing. We were close to the foot of the glacier and the call was really tough to make, but we turned around. We didn't want to descend through this way in the heat of an afternoon bombarded by rocks, and were glad we made the call as we witnessed a few rockfalls as were were retreating. Note that there exists the possibility to ascend a line further away from the S Ridge line of direct rockfall, but the terrain there seemed steeper and harder, plus the Vice President ridge is threatening you from the other side. If I've not made that clear yet, on a hot day like ours, this gulley is a scary place to be, but as always it depends on your comfort level.
Our turn-around point
Perhaps had we not gotten off-route the outcome would be different, and it's tempting to go back and finish this off... however in all honesty, the N Glacier route on the other side looks much more aesthetically pleasing, without the objective hazard, and therefore probably a better choice despite the longer approach (typically a 2-day trip). The area there is much prettier as well, and one can stay longer and do scrambles in the area.
Overall it was a good day we both enjoyed, and we are now at least familiar with the area for the future - if we do get back there, we'll be able to make a speed dash even if it's dark. We did carry an awful lot of gear for not using it, but it impressed the hundreds of tourists in the popular Emerald Lake parking lot. :-)
Looking back at the route on our descent