By Laverna Hards and Chris Goulet
I watched helplessly as my water bottle tumbled and vanished in a dark abysmal crevasse...
As some of you may recall, Chris Goulet and I attempted Mount Clemenceau in August, 2010. This is the fourth highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,658 m (12,001 ft). He had trained me up but alas we did not make the summit, only seeing the mountain in the far distance. We continued training the following winter and obtained better gear. I finally bought my own ice axe and got a really good deal on a Gregory 75 liter back pack! I was excited when we opened the box; most ladies are happy with new jeans!
In Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada we started the arduous task of sorting and packing all the food and gear for a month. This year, I even downsized the amount of my 'undergarments' and toilet paper to be more lightweight. The next job was to practice fitting all the gear into the paddleboat, like a puzzle. It had been sitting for 16 years waiting for another journey. It was a huge compromise from plan ‘A' which was to get a SeaCycle to traverse the Kinbasket Reservoir. Chris wanted to do a human-powered approach to this most remote major peak in the Rockies. We had travelled to Haines, Alaska to purchase a used SeaCycle. Chris was devastated when he realized that it was not seaworthy and beyond repair!
The day arrived and the gear was in the car and the boat was on the roof. We drove in sunny weather through Golden and Revelstoke, BC. We returned to our 2010 spot at Potlatch Creek, just past the massive Mica Dam. We were very happy to see Bob and Penny whom we met last year. They have been camping here in an old school bus for a month each year for the last 30 years! The afternoon of August 8th we were loaded and Bob bid us farewell as we pushed the paddleboat off from shore with sunshine leading the way!
Pushing the paddle boat off from shore on the Kinbasket Resevoir.
We were hopeful of sighting Clemenceau in a week. The SeaCycle that we had dreamed about would have had us speeding along at 12km/hr (7mph), but alas we crawled along at 3km/hr (2mph) for two days. We winded our way through large patches of floating logs and stumps left over from logging, then flooding of the reservoir.
Paddleboat pushing through debris.
One evening, Bob and Penny came by in their fishing boat and tossed dead fish into our paddleboat. We didn't want to invite the local bears to our next camp, so we had to cook and eat them immediately.
Finally we arrived at base camp and buried the extra food and cached the boat by an old logging road. In the morning we were ready for the long haul of 16 days mountaineering. My pack weighed 29kg (65lbs) and Chris carried 36kg (80lbs).
Leaving base camp
The sun shone down on us making it a hot first day. We lumbered up switchbacks on logging roads. After precariously crossing a raging creek over logs, we continued into deep bush and light steady rain. It was class 7 (of 1-10) bushwhacking over dead falls. We reached the delighting mossy alpine meadow and made camp. Another food cache was buried here. Next, we needlessly traversed several kilometers of boulders, then realized there was an easier route just below.
Traversing several kilometers of boulders.
According to the map from the 70's there was a gentle glacier leading up to the Clemenceau Icefield. To our shock, the glacier was gone, only to expose sheer cliffs on all sides of the terminus lake! Just then, the skies opened up and rain fell upon us so we quickly set up camp. Being held up in our tent for the rest of the day gave us time to plot a new course.
Vanished glacier lake.
The morning was better and Chris was eyeing a possible route. He keeps me feeling better by saying "We'll just go and see." So we scramble over boulders and up a steep notch that might be possible to ascend. Chris leads the way and loosens rocks and gives me the okay signal to follow up. Then up to alpine, more rocks and lakes, up and down we go. Now through a rolling mossy hillside and cresting a pass we finally get a distant sight of Mount Clemenceau!! It was a moving sight for Chris as the possibility was within our reach!
First sighting of Mount Clemenceau.
The following camp, on a wide ridge gave us a great view of the roaring Cummins Falls and Tusk mountain. The next day, our ridge narrowed to a rocky knife edge and we looked hopelessly down on to a meadow that seemed impossible to reach. Chris searches and is puzzled on how we can get down. After a time he decides that we will put crampons on to descend the steep moss and rock. This will give us grip.
We put crampons on to descend the steep moss and rock.
In joy, we are at the bottom and cross the meadow. We come upon the Clemenceau Icefield but we are far above the actual touch down. We skirt the rocky hillside for almost two hours until reaching ice!
We have a rest and put crampons back on. We head across the vast icefield and camp on ice near Reconnaissance Ridge.
Another cache was made to store useless items that are not needed for the next leg. We zig-zagged around crevasses to the base of Clemenceau.
Weaving between crevasses.
Clemenceau, so close!
Base of Clemenceau
The weather soon changed to rain and snow, so we set up camp on a snow patch. The rock face was now before us! We knocked the night's snow off the tent and proceeded up a talus notch to the left of the Tiger Glacier, then along and up benches to a snow-covered ridge. Now we ascend to find a hopeful place for high camp at 2750m (9000 ft). It started to snow lightly and we came upon a snow-filled crevasse bowl which would protect us from wind. Chris probed the area for safety. I asked him "have you camped in these before?" Yes he had and assured me that it would be fine. There was even a hole for 'facilities'.
Probing a filled crevasse for camp.
Chris went for a scout in the evening to check the route we would follow in the morning.
After 11 days of human-powered approach, it is now summit day! On this Aug. 19th, we are up at 5am and the weather is in our favour. The packs had been organized the night before. We brought all our clothes, Therm-a-Rests, stove (to melt snow) and three days of food. I follow Chris up the first insane ascent, then do intimidating traversing (for me) which I still did not have great skill at. Eventually we get to a better section of gentle upward slope, and walk slowly and sluggishly up.
Upper Tiger Glacier
I felt like I was in a picture in Climbing magazine! Now onward toward the summit. In the middle of another steep traverse, Chris decides to stop for a drink. A minute later, I watched helplessly as my water bottle tumbled and vanished in a dark abysmal crevasse. In my tense state, I had forgotten to secure it to my pack. Chris had gained the top of the slope and was out of my sight. I panicked as snow balled on the bottom of my crampons! Chris hollered instructions to knock it off with my axe, so I did this nervously a few times. I approached him with relief and took a breath and had a sport gel to boost me to the top.
Laverna in deep concentration
Summit of Mount Clemenceau from upper bench.
I followed carefully again as we crossed the upper bench and crawled my way up the summit ridge.
Final push up West ridge.
Finally the last step to the summit! Chris took my hand and all I could say was "is this the top?" The clouds had rolled in but he assured me that this was it!! I took off my pack and we hugged with tears.
Summit after joyful embrace!
Actually, the next thing in my head was "Oh God, now I have to get down." It was 3pm and we had amazing glimpses of the view as clouds came and went. It was like looking out of an airplane window. We had brought a meaningful offering to leave at the summit. It was a charm from my bracelet from my childhood Yukon holiday. Chris and I had also shared a great trip there in June. He made a hole with his probe and we offered it to the mountain.
Offering to the mountain.
Chris checked the cornice from the side and decided it was okay to lay flat on his belly and look over it. Then he said, "Do you want to see something crazy?" I answered, "Ahh, no, it's okay."
Peeking over cornice.
Were now ready to descend at 4pm. This would be a long slow process because I was more nervous on the down climb. At a rest break, I said, "I just want down," but I knew it would be many, many hours. Chris was helpful and patient. Just before the final descent, we put on headlamps. Chris had to kick steps for me as I was intimidated because the snow had a covering of thin ice, which gleamed in the faint beam. We were relieved to finally approach camp at 11:45pm! We were both exhausted and I just wanted my boots off! The descent had taken longer because of my nervousness. Chris commented, "Maybe this is not your sport." I said, "RUNNING is my sport, at least you get a medal !" We had a snack and crawled into bed. With aching legs and sore hands I slowly and painfully drifted off to sleep with some tears of relief. In the morning, I stared at my hands and cried. They were cracked and peeling as if I were a 100 year-old woman. Chris asked, "What are you doing?" I exclaimed, "My hands are a mess!"
Knowing all the possible wrong routes, the return journey was much faster. Our packs were 20 lbs. lighter, but my feet were sore and Chris's neck was aching. After four days, we finally approached the logging road. I tried to hold back my tears of joy and relief as we shared our last step to base camp. It was too emotional for me, so I could not hold back. The trip had been an amazing effort. I had pushed my abilities and it made me feel like I had done something wonderful !
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