Wapta Hell Are You Doing?

Wapta Hell Are You Doing?

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 51.62995°N / 116.51825°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 31, 1969
Activities Activities: Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring

Wapta Ugly Seguay...

How Does that Prussik Knot Work?
Roping Up Day 3

It is day 3 of the traverse and we are situated at the base of the icefall on Mt.Balfour in marginal weather. Ferdl Taxbock, Dave Holmes and I are roping up for the delicate route finding that will see us through this objective hazzard and up onto the upper half of the mountain. Normally this is the crux of the route and a rope is essential. Given my relative inexperience I am situated in the middle of the rope.

And this is the setting that I find myself in as I go to work on setting up my Prusiks. Now how does that knot go? Hmmm...it hasn't been that long has it? I play around with things a bit and fabricate a rats nest that seems to lock down and slide appropriately but looks like shit. And then I hear it, someone has called my bluff..."What are you doing?" or was that "Wapta Hell Are You Doing?"

Wapta Start to the Trip - Day One

I met Ferdl and Dave at the West Louise Lodge at 9 am on Friday April 16, 2009. Some misjudgement in times had my partners wondering if the trip was fated to fail. Our fourth, Lee, had called in sick that morning with a serious flare up of his back from a night of volleyball and Ferdl and Dave were assessing the odds of making the Wapta Traverse as a pair as I pulled in 30 minutes after their arrival.


Peyto Lake
Crossing Peyto Lake
Just Past Peyto Lake
Just Past Peyto Lake

Dave had passed along the invite to have a go at the classic traverse on the Wapta Icefield some months earlier and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I mean this is truly a classic in our area as far as ski tours go, and 4 days with Homer and Ferdl was something I couldn't pass up. Dave and I were school mates at the U of A for our Physiotherapy training. We share a lot in common. A love of the mountains and the crazy things we do while in their midsts, the Physical Therapy profession, alcohol, coffee, fine food, sarcasm, humility as well as a passion for heated discussions. There was really no question as to whether I would take him up on the invite.

We organized our gear and were soon on our way to the Peyto Lake parking area several kilometres past the Bow Summit on the Icefields Parkway. With Lee sadly off the team, we reorganized our meals and geared up for the 5 hour trek into the Peyto Hut.

We descended through the trees to Peyto Lake. The trail was packed and icy and I demonstrated in classic Greg style just how long I had been off skis as I plowed into the trees at every opportunity. Ferdl snapped a pole near the lake and we quickly jerry-rigged a vintage Canadian repair with duct tape, Juicy Fruit gum, and the pelt of an early rising Rocky Mountain Barking Spider...I will have you know that we had several issues over the course of the next 4 days, but Ferdl's pole was not one of them. High five on that one...

We started out accross Peyto Lake and Ferdl pointed out were the hut was situated. Not so used to the perspective of everything I estimated we would be at the hut for lunch...what an idiot!


Midway up the Moraine
Midway Up the Moraine
Nearing the top of the Moraine
Nearing the Top of the Moraine

The trek accross the lake was great as Dave and I caught up on the families, new vehicles, work and the like. The weather was sunny and warm and I prematurely thought to myself that this was going to be one of those trips where it all just falls in place. Just like cheering for my Calgary Flames...I just never learn!

Once accross the lake Ferdl, who has done this traverse dozens of times, pointed out our route up a massive moraine to the right. Both Dave and I searched for some other structure that fit the description, but we were both eventually faced with the reality that were going to have to ascend a good 400-500 metres of moraine before dropping back down onto the Peyto glacier.

So it was that we flippped up our "high heals" and began the march up the moraine. The unseasonably warm weather preceding our trip had left the upper section of the moraine wind blown and bare in spots and we found ourselves post holing our way up over patches of rock and snow over the hump before descending down onto the glacier.

Once on the toe of glacier the weather quickly deteriorated and we ran into a group of 3 skiers coming off the traverse in the opposite direction. Truly impressive given the elevation gain.


Team Approaching Peyto Hut
Team Arriving Late at Peyto Hut
Peyto Lake From the Hut
Peyto Lake from Near the Hut

We ascended the Peyto Glacier in near white out conditions. With his years of experience, Ferdl was able to describe some more direct lines to the hut, but with the glacier receding drastically over the years, we were forced to take a round about to reach to the hut on its rocky perch up on the Wapta Icefield. The weather continued to deteriorate as we reached the hut. Ferdl, with some optimism, pointed out to us that the views were truly spectacular from the hut.

We watched another beleagured team reach the hut in blizzard like conditions. The weather lifted for a short time to allow for some quick photo oportunities. We cooked up a seafood pasta and with full bellies lied down for some sleep.

Wapta View - Day Two

The Wapta Icefield
The Wapta Icefield
The Olive-Nicholas Col
The Olive-St.Nicholas Col

I woke on Saturday morning to a nudge on the shoulder and the smell of fine coffee in the air. Ferdl and Dave were already up and had a handle on the morning kibbles and java.

The weather was showing signs of breaking and we soon found ourselves geared up and descending the short distance to the glacier below. The sun was breaking through the clouds as we worked our way up onto the icefield proper. Views of the Rhondas presented themsleves and we were able to watch a couple we met the night before work there way up Rhonda North as we trudged Southward toward the Olive-St.Nicholas col.

As we worked our way south we saw several teams working their way up Mt.Gordon to the west of Mt.St.Nicholas. The touring was great as we alternated leads and soaked up the views into BC to the west and Alberta to the East.


The View Accross to Mt. Balfour
The Descent to the Balfour Hut
Carving it Up in Classic Rockies Wind Crust
Dave Carving It Up on the Vulture Glacier

We reached the base of the Olive-St.Nicholas Col and worked our way up to the notch pleased to find only one small section of exposed rock that did not require any sort of boot backing.

The descent down to the Balfour Hut would be the most sustained section of terrain that we could turn the ski tips downhill and carve it up. The snow was generally good and we made great time dropping down to the hut.

Once we got set up in the hut, we were joined by a 2-man team from France in the hut. Ferdl laid down for a nap and Dave and I went looking for some glacier fed turns. As is so often the case, we found terrain, but were forced to negotiate inconsistent wind crusted snow on the descents prior to returning to the hut for a meal of bean burritos a la Dave that was truly fit for a king.

Wapta Hell Happened to the Sun? - Day Three

Thumbs Up
Dave at the Rope Up Area
The Ice Fall on Balfour Pass
The Icefall on Mt.Balfour

We woke early on Sunday morning to marginal weather. Visibility was reasonable low on Mt.Balfour, but the icefall we would need to negotiate was fading in and out of view. We agreed to go have a look and make a decision at the base of the crux.

We made our way up the open slopes in reasonable time and soon found ourselves discussing the rope order and rescue sequence we would use as we eyed up the icefall that poured over a rocky out cropping midway up the mojntain. The visibility was deteriorating but enough that Ferdl felt confident he could navigate the sea of crevases that would get us through to the upper 1/3 of the mountain on our way to the Balfour High Col.

And so it was that Ferdl called my bluff and realized my sorry attempted at my Prusiks was just that. With Dave, I am sure shaking his internal head, Ferdl fell back on his years of experience guiding and calmly reminded me how to set one of climbing's most basic knots. Thoroughly humbled and now properly roped up we began the cautious march up through the icefall.

Ferdl's nose for navigation was stellar and in under 60 minutes we found ourselves atop the icefall in a complete whiteout. We continued marching upwards into thicker and thicker clouds with only momentary glimpses of rock and ice fading in and out of view. Ferdl stopped unknowingly at the crest of the col to get his coordinates from the GPS and set his bearing.


Whiteout on the Wapta
The View Most of Days 3 and 4
The Scott Duncan Hut
The Outhouse at Scott Duncan

The whiteout was so thick that as we desended onto the Waputik icefield that with the blowing snow it was at times difficult to tell whether or not your were accelerating out of control or stopped dead in your tracks. At several points along the way I almost fell over to stop the descent only to realize I wasn't moving at all. It was a wild experience.

As we marched along the the Waputik Icefield toward the Scott Duncan Hut I can only say that the obvious lack of views were compensated for by the impressive navigation of Ferdl and Dave. With only a couple stops to get position and set bearings we made our way to the hut that faded in and out of view and was "conveniently" situated atop a large cliff band high up on Mt.Daly.

The blowing snow had all but covered the entry to the hut and we dug our way in and went to work on meals. With a belly full of soup and brownies I took some lessons on navigation from Dave and Ferdl as they described how they had brought us accross the icefield.

So This is Wapta It Feels Like to Live Inside a Ping Pong Ball - Day Four

Scott Duncan Hut
Gearing Up for Day 4
The Wapta Traverse Day 4
More of the Same on Day 4

The wind and snow howled the entire night. We woke up to more of the same weather and repeatedly were forced to dig our way out of the hut to make the exposed traverse accross to the outhouse. The hut is situated in just a wild location at every level.

We scarfed down some breakfast and drank the last of the fine coffee Dave had brought and geared up one last time for the descent down the Schiesser Ledges below Mt.Niles.

The weather failed to let up as we weaved our way accross the icefield to the col between Mt.Daly and Mt.Niles. As we traversed the only exposed sloped onto the ledges the clouds lifted slightly but the light remained flat. The Sherbrooke Valley started to more consistently come into view as we methodically dropped elevation enjoying the occassional stretch of turns along the way.


Sherbrooke Lake
Sherbrooke Lake - Nearing the End
The Team
The Team

We hit the trees and for the first time in 2 days we were able to gain some perspective in the flattened light. The next few kilometres down to and accross Sherbrooke Lake were uneventful if not enjoyable. We had all been anticipating a nasty descent down to the West Louise Lodge, but with the cooler weather and recent snowfall found the trail less icy and more manageable than we expected.

We arrived in the West Louise Lodge parking area in the early afternoon. A quick sorting of gear and good byes had me back on the road on my way back to Hinton. I had to thank Dave and Ferdl repeatedly for organizing and planning the trip. With a family at home it is tough to play all the sports you want, so hen an opportunity like this presents itself you approeciate it all the more. It was a wild experience.

Along the way home I eyed up Curtain Call, a classic grade 6 piece of ice that I had fully expected to see fallen down. Hmmm...if the weather holds perhaps that could be the Curtain Call on the 2009 Ice Season...oh who am I kidding?


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