Our Section is headed back out to the Wapta Icefield this summer from July 14-18, 2019. We recently came across some old stories from a couple members when they did a summer Section trip traversing the Wapta back in 2006.
Enjoy the trip highlights and if you are interested in this years summer Wapta trip, you can find the details here: accsask.ca/event/wapta-2019/
Registration for our trip this summer opens on Sunday March 31st, 2019.
WALK THE WAPTA 2006 – by Nienke Lindeboom
While packing for another trip to Yoho, some glacier travel tools come by which reminds me I should write a little note on the ACC Saskatchewan section trip Walk the Wapta 2006. July 6th till 10th with nine people (the two guides Ivan and Jesse, plus Jocelyn, Malcolm, Allison, Suzanne, Joe, Markel and myself) on what felt like the top of the world. After some practicing in the basics of mountaineering on the flat green glacier of Jesse’s lawn, the group was prepared to go for it. Some had stayed at the Protection Mountain Campground, others of us had stayed at the Alpine Centre in Lake Louise to refresh after spending some days in the backcountry before the trip hiking the Rockwall (well worth the effort) to acclimatize. Friday morning, after a little logistic lobbying so some of the vehicles would be situated at Bow Summit and some at Sherbrooke Lake, we were off in record time.
The first day was mainly hiking/scrambling to the start of the glacier. First through forest, then up a moraine, after which we roped up and put on our crampons to eventually reach the Peyto hut. Opposite to the reports of last years’ Walk the Wapta, this time everything went according to the books. In the beginning there was uncertainty: “my pack does not feel how it should feel”, “did we bring enough food”, “are the x-pair of socks, and y-pair of shirts sufficient”, “what if the weather turns really bad.” Probably more of the group had these concerns. However, at this time we did not know that one of our expedition had half his pack filled with chocolate that would save us all. Sun made room for rain that left for the sun again before we reached the little bit of rock Peyto hut sits on. Nice location by the way. We would stay here two nights, the first one shared with guides from Yamnuska, the second all in privacy and quietness.
The alarm goes of at 4 am to find out that it is pouring rain outside. The start gets postponed to 5 and then eventually to 7, so at least we have time to work the kinks out of our getting ready in the morning routine. Seven of the nine roped up to zigzag the ice field to the base of Mount Thompson. Ivan led the way through often knee-deep snow while Jesse closed the line, keeping an eye on all of us. Off the snow the real work of scrambling up started. Everyone at their own pace, we eventually all reach the top. On top of Mount Thompson the rumor went that a hundred years ago one had to climb a 10.000 footer to become member of the ACC. If that is still the case, at least we are illegal members no more. What is that with the mountain: you long to be on the top and once you are there you long to start moving again. Down again while the weather turned for the better.
Day three, we are quicker in getting up and ready. The destination is Balfour Hut. This time we follow the Jessie zigzag. The weather is clear and the snow still hard when we start. However after a while this changes and bodyweights start to become an issue. Light people stay on top of the snow crust, those who are heavier do not. We aim for the w of Vulture’s Col on the horizon. Step, step, step, step, it is meditative walking on the rope. Even though we are with a rope of 4 and one of 5, not much is said. Everyone in his or her own world, an amazing world it is. Hmmm, maybe the w is not the right place to cross this range as when we get there we realize it is a winter ski route and the steep and long cliff we stand above is not passable in summer. Mount Oliver Twist is named and thanks to Jessie we got the most beautiful views of the whole traverse. Then we backtrack to where we came from. Lunch (10 am) is served on a ridge in the sun beside St. Nicholas peak and than we go down through a heavily crevassed area. Very good route finding indeed, since not one of us ended up in a crevasse. The Balfour hut can been seen for hours but also the climb that will start the next day, the climb to the highest point of the traverse, the Balfour High Col. Wow, are we really going up there?
Yes, we are! While a dark red announces the day we are on our way. First a walk, than a scramble, helmet on for whatever falls from the ridges above us, crampons on for a bit of ice, crampons off to not trip on the snow and than a Jessie zigzag is put in motion. We climb and climb, at some parts along deep crevasses. Lucky enough there is a little snow bridge over the largest. What if not? Jump? Eventually we reach the summit. Victory. Yes I have to admit, feelings of pride and triumph came up. The surrounding landscape emphasized how little we are and that we are there because we can. After a climb there comes a descent, you can be sure of that. Unless you are prepared to spend the rest of your life on the top of a mountain. Maybe that is what Malcolm had in mind when he added the chocolate to his pack. And the descents are nice, especially when they are done on the snow where you don’t have to worry about slippery stones, loose gravel and all the other things that have made me fall down mountains in the past. My scarred knees and elbows show the evidence of past expeditions, but after walking the Wapta I had none of this. Maybe glacier travel is for some people the safest way of experiencing the mountains after all. Though I think few would agree with that.
To get back to the descend, the descend was sweet. Where is the hut? At the base of the mountain right in front of you. Look to the snow hat on that mountain there, Mt. Niles (Jesse is that a technical term?). Then go to the left to what looks like a pyramid, and then keep going left. Do you see it? Why don’t they paint those huts bright yellow or red? So people won’t think they are close when they see it. No trees or houses around to give you perspective, everything actually is farther away than it looks. So once the hut was spotted we enjoyed a long walk down with at our left Mount Lilliput and at our right Daly glacier and the lake above Takkakaw falls. Just in time we reached the hut. A pot of snow was melted while rain and hail poured down making it impossible to see anything through the windows of the Scott Duncan hut. But after rain comes sunshine. Is that an English expression, or is it only used by the Dutch? However, there is truth in it. And so with eagerness four of us left the somewhat claustrophobic hut soon after the rain left. We crossed part of the glacier, this time Markel in front to have his first taste of glacier route setting. ‘Aim for the middle‘ came from the back (Jesse). ‘Middle’ had two meanings and after a slight detour we came to the middle between two peaks instead of the initially aimed middle of the unnamed peak that we were going to scramble. An easy scramble it was. The view was astonishing, encompassing all the surrounding valleys, peaks and glaciers (Yoho, Lake Louise, Mount Hector, Balfour, Temple, etc.). This time the top was remarkable pleasant which made us stay there for a while enjoying the mountains as well as more of Malcolm’s chocolate.
The last day started as the second, with a delay of departure. Too bad, as this time we would have been all ready far before the planned 5 am departure time. Finally, after the dark clouds subsided, there was the needed light to help us descend the last part of the glacier. It was rainy, grey and cool. Since we were relatively early in the season, the snow reached to the bottom of the glacier, so no need to put crampons on. You come off the glacier and then it is just a matter of finding the path that goes down to Sherbrooke Lake. Maybe leave the just out. This time Ivan supplied an exciting detour by means of balancing on a moraine. But eventually we were on the right way down. After a few days on top the world everything seemed so green. To emphasize this we bush whacked our way down to eventually reach the real path to the lake. Then it was like a stroll in the park. A stroll feeling pity that the glacier was left behind and normal life would start again.
Thanks again Jesse and Ivan as well as the rest of the Wapta warriors for this amazing adventure!!
Walk the Wapta, again – by Jesse Invik
On the summit, or close to it, of almost every mountain I’ve been on, there will be a raven cocking his head and then taking off, sometimes flying in advance of my path, stopping again to repeat the process. While I gasp for air and move feet that feel encrusted with lead, they swirl around on the thermals amusing themselves. And I know they are laughing at me, always laughing.
Stepping onto the glacier that first day of my fourth Wapta, full of undeserved confidence in my role as co-leader of the trip, I made my first error. I was to close to the gaping mouth of the glacier, water flowing voraciously out from under it. I walked out a ways on the bare ice and starting laying out the ropes, the knots indicating positions for tying in. The glacier made an odd hissing noise, something I hadn’t heard before, a noise like it was settling. I figured I was probably standing over an air space and I retreated, forgetting my axe. Holding my breath, I walked back out to retrieve it. Confidence shifting. Later in the day, perched on a small island of ice in the middle of a crevasse, trying to get up my courage to jump over the gaping maw. Much better to jump than stand on a one foot square island of rotten ice and think about it.
A hut full of tired happy people. Baking in the sunshine and nursing sore feet and knees. The next day brings rain, snow and suddenly blistering sun. We climb up Mt. Thompson, and there is the raven, cocking his head, not quite eyeing us up, as though we aren’t worth the effort. He takes off and soars, not moving his wings in the least. Mocking us and laughing.
The summit offers great views of the Vulture col. I think of the next days’ efforts. Back at the hut, standing surrounded by these snow-capped giants, Nienke says “we are the luckiest people in the world.” Allison, who was not quite given full information about the nature of the trip is not so sure about this statement. I think it over and silently agree with Nienke. We are reduced for a few days to the very basics. Food, of which any and all kinds taste great, cleanish water, shelter and great companionship. And one foot in front of the other. Much less difficult to take things for granted than at home.
Next day I’m out front of the whole group. I pick a perfect line up, set a perfect pace. Try to race the sun, which is busy warming the snow. In a short time it will be mush and we’ll be sinking in to our knees. But right now we are moving fast and efficiently. My head is swelling. Gee I’m pretty good at this, this is working very well. Pride before a fall runs through my mind. Okay, what stupid thing will I do, or have done already and not noticed it? We take a break, Ivan comes up and congratulates me on my line. I swell more. “Where are we going now”, he asks. Is he testing me, or just inquiring? “Up there I say smuggly”, pointing at the Vulture Col. I’ve looked at the Murray Toft map, just last night, studied the pictures on the back, looked at the route lines on the front. I can’t really remember the route along this section from when I last did it, 2 years ago. But the pictures, the map. “Vulture Col” I say, “Right side of the nub”.
I get there first, of course, and I look down the other side. I get a little nauseous. No way are we going to handle this. Where did I go wrong? Ivan, when he gets up to me says “I’ve never gone this way, I was curious as to what it looked like”. A quick glance at the map reveals I was taking us up a genuine route – a ski route for winter travelers. Ivan just chuckles. I say “Ivan, next time you think I’m wrong, tell me!!”. I’m forgiven quickly and kindly by all my team mates, and the rest of the day goes fine. But my pride has indeed fallen.
The Balfour Hut is in such a beautiful place, very different from the Peyto Hut. There is lots of space to wander around. Still feeling a bit foolish, I wander alone and find a very Jamaica- Ocean blue cave in the ice at the foot of the glacier. I’m a little scared to venture in and settle for a few pictures from the outside. Mt. Balfour calf’s hunks of ice as I continue to walk on. They resemble what I think mortar-fire would sound like.
In the morning the trudge through rock and scree up to the glacier seems to take forever. In contrast, we go up the ice very steadily and quickly. Until we get to the giant crevasses. Once these were easily passable, to the left away from the falling debris. When I get past the first couple and up to the third, I find it stretches all the way to the end on the left and very far to the right, past the line where the debris from falling seracs is thick. There is a tiny snow bridge in the middle. I poke it, and prod it and poke it again. It’s not ice, it’s snow, its very narrow and the crevasse very deep. I’m not keen on this, but there is no other way. Gingerly I walk across. It holds. I keep moving and the team comes up behind. I wait for a sharp pull on the rope but it never comes.
One more test. The entrance to the Scott Duncan Hut. I’d forgotten about it until I saw it in the distance. Sloping snow leading to a cliff of dirty blue ice. A slip on this snow slope would require very quick action to prevent a nasty fall. Everyone makes it in. I breath a huge sigh of relief. Why do I do this to myself? I could be home teaching the neighborhood kids the parts of my car engine. They love it and nobody gets hurt. But no one is hurt and everyone is happy, crammed like sardines into the Scott Duncan hut, pulling duct-tape off their feet and melting snow for snacks. It was a pretty spectacular day. All of a sudden it seems very sad that this is the last night up here. A lighting bolt breaks my train of thought and distracts me from my melancholy. I start to think about rain and whiteout in the morning.
We rope up inside the hut, it’s a first to my knowledge, and very practical. Poor visibility dogs us on the way out, but the rain isn’t too bad. Everyone is wet, but nobody is really suffering. Abruptly the glacier ends and we happily ditch the toolbelts from our waists and continue on down rock. This time Ivan makes the navigational mistake, and I’m still smarting from my mistake so I don’t argue much. We turn up on top of a very daunting cliff face. Again, everyone is very forgiving and we only lose about 1/2 hour. It makes it more interesting anyway. The drudge of walking in the trees follows and seems to take longer than the whole rest of the trip. The highway noise starts to waft up to us and suddenly its over. Gear is all over the ground, car lids opening up to accept piles of stinky clothes and muddy boots. And everyone is gone. The road to Saskatchewan opens up and I feel exhausted and depressed watching the mountains fade in the rear-view mirror. That drive home is always so anti-climatic. But I’ll be back, I still have to have a chat with a raven.
Thanks so much to my most excellent co-leader, Ivan Hitchings, and my wonderfully forgiving participants: Suzanne Mills, Allison Mills, Joycelyn Kelly, Joe Hitchings, Nienke Lindeboom, Markel Chernenkoff, Malcolm Lesser.