The Urban West
we are off to Calgary, since we need to drop Peter off at the airport
for his flight back home (Peter has decided that for him it is best
to head back a few days early to relax a bit before starting work
again). Markus' friend's brother, Tony, has generously offered the
use of his apartment for all of us. Upon arriving at his place in
downtown Calgary, we discover that he's even left food out for us.
Soon several of us are busy preparing a barbeque chicken dinner.
It seems strange to be doing all of this in an actual residence,
rather than on a picnic table with a tiny stove. Tony's laptop +
internet access is used generously by all to get in touch with the
Dinner at Tony's
While Caroline, Peter and I plan to go see a movie, Markus digs out Tony's bike - he is itching to go for a ride around Calgary. Unfortunately the bike has flats that cannot be easily fixed. Turns out, though, that Luc and Ewart are heading to a grocery store near where Markus can get items to fix the tires, and so he is happy. The three of us end up seeing "Pirates of the Carribbean", which is a fun campy adventure flick. Johnny Depp is one cool actor!
Tuesday, July 29 (Mount Hector)
Peter heads home
The next morning Luc fixes us a fine breakfast of mixed fruit and yogurt. Afterwards, while everyone else gets ready to move on, I duck out with Peter to deliver him to the airport, and he is off to Ottawa. For the rest of us, the next destination is Banff national park. We plan to climb a mountain near the Icefields parkway called Mount Hector. Hector is a relatively high (for this area) 11,000+ foot peak with a precipitous southern aspect and a more gentle but glaciated north side. It is this north side that we plan to climb.
In Their Own Words...
Peter: "After some sleep in a Hotel (and some styling of Markus's hair), we headed toward Calgary to crash at Tony's place (acquaintence of Markus). This was a recovery day. Caroline BBQ'd a fine dinner. Later some of us checked out Pirates of the Caribbean, which was fun summer fare.
The next morning Luc prepared a hearty, healthy breakfast of diced fruit, muesli, and yogurt. After my goodbyes I was dropped at the airport by Andrew. I departed for Ottawa, while the others continued thier adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
Westjet is fun to fly with, they have a sense of humour, which only became tedious when trapped on the runway in Ottawa. They wouldn't let the ground crew out for half and hour due to potential lightning strikes (we are becoming a nation of risk-averse weenies). Eventually I met up with Chuck and Magda, who had been patiently waiting for an hour inside the terminal (Thanks Guys!).
Soon I found myself home and doing nothing. Which was fine by me. I had much eating and sleeping to catch up.
A vacation with a bit more adventure than I was expecting. But all is well that ends well. My thanks to everyone involved.
our sunny drive out with a short grocery stop in Canmore, and a
short ranger check at Lake Louise. Things seem to be a go for our
climb. We continue up along the Icefields parkway until we reach
creek campground (not liking the name much), where we find a relatively
isolated camp spot. It is only early afternoon, so I push for a
good glacier travel training session at the camp site. I am determined
to make sure that we are well prepared for this climb, especially
since this time there is significant glacier travel. The next couple
of hours are filled with crevasse rescue practice setup, practicing
how to tie into the rope, and going over possible scenarios. I also
wanted to cover lots of self-arrest/snow travel practice but there
are no snow slopes handy down in the valleys around our campsite.
This means we'll have to take a time-out on our climb tomorrow to
do some good practicing. During all of this training Caroline discovers
that her lower back is still bugging her and is worried about whether
she is up to the climb.
I set the get-up time for 3am. I'm secretly thinking 2am but I don't want a rebellion on my hands. In hindsight I probably should have stuck with 2. in any case, it puts the poor sleepers among us in a better mood, and as I've learned, attitude and mood have a lot to do with the success of an outing. We get all of our packs ready in advance and hit the sack at about dusk.
Twilight on Mount Hector
At 3am my alarm clock goes off and we are up and at another adventure. We are finished our morning prep in an hour and by shortly after 4am we've driving the handful of kilometres to the starting point of the climb. It is tough to find "non-official" routes in the middle of the night, let me tell you!
Little and Big Hectors
We start up a path on the right-hand side of a creek leading up to the south of Mt. Hector. All is going well until I ignore good judgment and my GPS and discover us heading back to the road on the opposite side of the creek! tsk, tsk, Andrew! quickly turning around, we retrace back to where I made a fairly obvious mistake, and head up the proper way.
Luc ascending Hector
Soon twilight begins and we emerge from the forest in front of a headwall with a waterfall coming down it. there is a line of weakness to the left of the waterfall and the faint track heads up that. Above the waterfall(s) we reach a much more open upper basin with scree and meadows. Markus is starting to look pretty ragged already and seems not too pleased (one reason is the fact that his mountaineering boots are hurting his feet). Down below us we see another party approaching through the brush.
Continuing up the open basin, we eventually reach a spot not far from the first snowfields. It is here that the party behind us catch up and pass us. It is clear that our group is not able to go that fast today. At the first snowfields, we drop packs and we go over self-belay, then self-arrest, in more serious detail. I force Markus to practice self-belay and to take it a bit more seriously than he has, and to show me that he has it down. Luc, after having done a few practice runs, is showing great skill at self-arrests. We practice more self-arrests from various starting positions as well.
Caroline is having a bit of a problem getting the self-arrest down. Seems that her sore back is preventing her from really getting hard into the self-arrest position. After several tries we reluctantly conclude that it is probably safer if she does not head up onto the glacier without being comfortable with self-arresting. And so after equipping her with my bear spray and a communicator she heads back down to spend the day with Ewart (who is relaxing back at camp).
Ready for the glacier
Down to three now, we head up towards the base of the North glacier. The combination of a later start, my navigation mistake down below, the snow practice and the general slowness of our group has meant that we are at this point later than I'd like - the day is getting on and I'm wondering about how soft the snow might be getting on the glacier (soft snow over crevasse snow bridges is not typically a good thing).
Luc ropes up
We reach the snout of the glacier and rope up. The party that passed us earlier is now over an hour's time ahead of us and well on their way to reaching the summit, which looks impressive from here.
We can see boot tracks all the way to the top. The glacier appears mostly covered, with open crevasses here and there. The snow on the lower part of the glacier seems relatively firm and the going is pretty good. Markus, however, is getting more and more bonked (low on energy/lethargic) and I'm starting to wonder if he'll be able to make it. We have a couple of stops to allow him to catch his breath.
Higher up on the glacier, the snow starts to get softer, especially over crevasses. I begin to notice holes where other people have punched a leg through, and when I look into the holes I don't see any bottom. I start to sink in quite deeply when the snow goes over a crevasse. I'm starting to not feel to keen about the snow conditions, and we still have an ascent to do before starting the descent (which will be later in the day when the snow is potentially even softer).
Threading my way around trouble spots carefully, we make our way up to where we can see that the route goes over some icy sections. We stop and fasten our crampons, then continue up into the icy section and yet more tricky snow-covered crevasse sections.
Another summit shot
At the top of one rise, we come to the conclusion that
Markus' difficulty combined with the worsening snow conditions is making the ascent a bit more dangerous than we'd like. So after a bit of humming and hawing we decide that it is best to turn around right here before things get too soft and head back down. Markus is totally bummed because of course he sees himself as the primary reason that the ascent has not succeeded, and proclaims that his mountaineering career is over and that this kind of stuff is simply not for him. I'm not going to argue with Markus over comments like that and so I offer to buy his mountaineering gear from him - at least if he is going to quit I can get something out of it.
The way down goes well, we are careful and no untoward incidents occur. The snow is definitely softening - Markus puts a leg through into a crevasse, but the rope and his hips/pack stop him from going anywhere. In no time at all we are back at the glacier's snout and we've unroped. Even though we aren't going to make the top, the scenery is beautiful and the weather is wonderful - it is sunny but not too hot and there is this very nice stiff wind to cool us off.
The hike back down through the open alpine areas is very pleasant. We reach Caroline and Ewart by radio and they inform us that they are cooling their feet off in the river not far from the campground.
In Their Own Words...
Caroline: [on the Mt Hector climb] "Even
though we spent some time practicing some crevasse
rescue techniques the day before, and knowing
we will practice self-arrest some more before
reaching the glacier, I feel totally unprepared
for this. Also, my back is bothering me. The day
before I realised I may have hurt my spine on
Teewinot more than I previously thought. About
half way up, we find a decent place to practice
self-arrest. Luc is a natural, and the others
are also doing well. Me, not so well. On top of
that, the position I need to achieve hurts my
back. I'm really disappointed but I have to admit
to myself that the wise thing to do is to turn
back. I'm thinking the others should go on. I
make my way back without incident, feeling utterly
alone in the world... well, at least on this mountain...
this is cool! "
Once down past the lower headwall it takes us no time at all (less than 30 minutes) before we are back at the road. I've forgotten to give the keys to Caroline when she left and we realize that she had had to walk all the way back to the campground (turns out that took about an extra hour - sorry Caroline!)
consensus is that we are all a bit tripped out - and besides that
Ewart is not really in a position to do any hiking with us, so given
that we are back early (shortly after noon) we decide to pack up
camp and head up the icefields parkway for a bit of sightseeing,
and then start heading east from Jasper back home. We pass all of
the spectacular sights at the Columbia Icefields, including Mount
Athabasca, which Markus and I climbed a couple of years ago (click
here to see the account of that trip
). Continuing up north past
Jasper, we encounter more of the persistent wildfires that seem
to be everywhere in the west this summer. We could see flames from
the road this time, and a procession of water-bomber helicopters
working on the fire. The helicopters would reload their water-carriers
in a small lake right by the road. We get shooed off by the police
who are present but Markus manages to snap a picture anyway.