Glaciers on the Mind

Spring has sprung. In fact, summer may feel like it is now in full action, but it really wasn’t too long ago that we, a motivated bunch of 19-44 year olds, each strapped on 45lb packs, put skins on our touring skis, crossed a frozen lake, plastered our faces with zinc and climbed up a glacier to cuddle up to katabatic winds each night in our winter camp with prospects of mountain adventures the next day.

Yup – we are all motived by different forces. Some initially by our morning coffee and at the end of the day our home-made dehydrated dinners, but mostly summits, creating guide worthy up-tracks, curiosity of the next move and the physical challenge of the uphill for the powder skiing of the downhill. Okay – so really, the powder skiing of the downhill – and that we had. It dumped, for spring in the Rockies anyway. We walked in on 20cm of newly fallen snow in what had been a thin snowpack and while we were there the skies added another 20-40 centimeters of fresh (orientation to wind and elevation dependent) on top of that. The new snow was, aside from some wind deposited zones, largely bonding with the previous layers. We were in luck.

Back to the beginning, from the Icefields Parkway, northwest of Lake Louise, we crossed Peyto Lake, ascended a moraine and moved past the old glaciologist station. We crossed the Peyto Glacier tarn, put on our harnesses, suited up on our rope teams and climbed up the snout of the Peyto glacier. This proved to be an easy move, which due to glacier movement and recession, isn’t always so. This is the typical start to the well-known hut to hut ski traverse called the Wapta Traverse. After ascending to view the impressive ring of ice- and snow-covered mountains – no trees in sight– we decided on our campsite.

Our aim was to stay here a few days and then traverse the route to camp just off the Wapta Glacier. Snow kept on falling and the weather forecast was yielding more. We changed our plans to avoid the objective hazard of traversing under the Vulture Headwall on our exit day. Managing risk and uncertainty is a constant in the mountains with the environment itself often giving the greatest learning moments. While this decision was a pro and con type of thing, here are a few of the pros. A number of folks in our party were able to summit a mountain each day (Trapper, Mistaya, Rhonda and Habel), everyone had powder skiing at the end of March in the Central Rockies, and we navigated glaciated terrain identifying crevasses both visually and underfoot with probes.

While there is glory in all of this, there were also dark moments for some – those of cold mornings, motivation and digging deep, but mostly the not-so-glorious fact that we carried out our poo in bags. We call them Wag Bags. Hardy plastic doubled up bags with a magical chemical which absorbs the moisture and makes them non-hazardous waste. We buried them in the snow for travel days and dug them up on our last day to bring out. While we cannot escape the fact that we leave some impact going to places such as these - we can make conscious actions to reduce these for future environmental health and user groups.

All this said, at the end of each day and without a doubt at the end of the trip there is a type of elation of happy exhaustion which Fernie folks can truly understand. We arrived at the van full of ski mountaineering experiences, inspired for the next adventure and also hungry for the chips and candy which we had left in anticipation.