Day 6 - Friday, July 14
Today was our 'putting it all together' day. The plan was to get out and onto the trail by 6am, and, providing the weather was ok, make our way up and climb to the top of some peak. Most of our gear had dryed, and, better still, there were a few patches of light, some of them blue-ish, in the early morning sky. It wasn't much, but our spirits quickly latched onto this feeble bit of good weather.
We were about 3/4 of an hour late in leaving the hut. Peter was still feeling under the weather and again decided to stay back for the day. The general thinking was that Peter was doing more than just resting - quite possibly part of the reason was that he felt concerned that he might hold us up by being too slow. I don't personally think this would have been the case, but.... he decided not to go anyway.
We hiked back up the ridge towards our motel 66 campsite. Tufts of clouds floated by us, and in the distance we could see bits and pieces of clear sky. It was quite pretty, actually. It took us about 45 minutes to reach our old campsite. Still looked pretty muddy and wet! A quick break, and then we headed up to the snow slopes adjacent to the Anniversary glacier and roped up. Class started again here, with Chris and Kirk separating us into two rope teams and then going over some basics of glacier travel. The sun actually came out and shone on us during this bit of time. Glorious! (and.... finally! and... how long would it last??)
Transition to Glacier travel
Our route was to take us directly up the glacier to the col between Mounts Matier and Joffre. The direct line from where we were to that point looked to me to be fairly free of crevasses, which normally would be nice. However, I thought it might be good to get in some instruction on crevasse navigation before we climbed more, while everyone was fresh and the weather was relatively good. After some debate amongst our group, this was agreed to, and we veered over to the center of the glacier where we could see some crevasses through the snow. We went over some crevasse navigation techniques, with lots of probing around snow bridges, carefully examining crevasse bridges from the side, and good rope management between climbers. We even had a simple punch-through, with Brian (the last person on our rope team) punching a foot through into a crevasse we had all just crossed.
Now above the crevasse field, we continued our ascent to the col. The weather and cloud deck descended on us again, cutting us off from the outside world once again. The precipitation also started again, but up here at 7500+ feet, it was sleet and snow. Always fun to be snowed on in the middle of July!!
A quick break at a low rocky ridge on the col, and then it was time for the next phase. Chris had long ago decided that the best peak for our particular combination of group skill and weather was Mount Hartzell. Mount Hartzell is one of the lesser peaks of the main Joffre range, and was fairly easy to reach from our present location. The route crossed the flat upper part of the Matier Glacier to another col (between Matier and Hartzell) and then climbed a short steep section of snow and a bit of rocky ridge to the summit.
A tiny bit of view
We got one tiny view down the matier glacier before the clouds completely settled in. From here on, it was a complete whiteout. The traverse of the upper Matier Glacier was done in what seemed like a blank, featureless, white room. We trudged and trudged, with nothing to break the monotony of floor to ceiling whiteness. The only indication I had of our actual position was my mapping GPS, which showed us more-or-less heading for the Matier-Hartzell col (perhaps a little ways off to the right, though).
prep for the final bit
Eventually, Chris noticed that we were slightly off course, and stopped and pondered his bearings. I put in my two cents (based on my GPS) and confirmed what he sensed - that we needed to head left a bit more. Soon afterwards, we were at the col, and stopped for one final break before the summit. We donned crampons here, even though the snow was still relatively soft (I personally thought it was not hard enough to warrant crampons and in fact made things worse because of all of the snow balling under our feet - but perhaps the experience of using the crampons was useful to the class).
The final bit to the summit started off with a nice moderate bit of 45-degree snow, and here the instructors suggested we put some of our snow climbing skills into practice. Our group climbed with what is sometimes called a running belay. We climbed in unison without a fixed belay while periodically putting in snow pickets for protection. The steep bit of snow was only about a pitch or so, and at the top it ended in a rocky, blocky ridge. Swirling rime ice covered the edges of some of the rocks.
Awkwardly climbing in crampons on the large bouldery ridge, it was a short and easy climb up to the summit. Still not being able to see more than a few feet past our noses, we gathered together for a cold, wet lunch and a few summit photos
The way down was a simple reverse of the way up. We downclimbed the steep snow the same way we came up, by simulclimbing, then reversed the kilometre-long complete whiteout traverse of the Matier Glacier, then started down the Anniversary Glacier, this time keeping to the non-crevassed section for directness and speed.
Chris initiated a few glissades as we neared the edge of the glaciation, which got us all in the mood for going faster down the slope. At one point, I slipped onto my butt, and decided... hey, I'll just start glissading myself, and off I went, down the slope. What I didn't realize was that Brian was behind me, over a hump, and unable to see my impromptu glissade. I caught him unawares and he started sliding down the slope, backwards... sort of. Kirk, ahead of Brian on the rope, saw Brian sliding down, backwards, passing him, and he decided on the spot to stick his ski pole in the slope around the rope. This slowed Brian, but also snapped his ski pole. Brian eventually regained control and slide to a stop, and Kirk was none too pleased with me. With good reason, I suppose. I should not have started glissading without first getting a positive acknowledgement from the rest of my rope team. Sorry, Brian!
Crevasse Rescue simulation
Now off the glacier, I was hoping for a bit more instruction on items we had been shut out of due to the weather. Specifically, crevasse rescue techniques and practice, which we had done none of at all. This wasn't met with much enthusiasm by anyone, but Chris and Kirk did indulge (mostly me, because I more-or-less the one asking for it) in a short session not far from our old campsite. We were told that we'd cover this again down at the hut tomorrow, before we hiked out.
Crevasse Rescue simulation
Now back at the hut, we lounged around again, passing the time and playing more games. It was now Friday, and a few weekend climbers had shown up. We received some disturbing news: the rental van had had its window smashed in! This was disheartening, and we wondered if anything had been stolen. Also of concern was the rainy weather and whether or not the inside of the van was getting drenched in the rain. As the night wore on, more and more people appeared, and I was starting to wonder where they'd all sleep! These additional climbers brought some good news, though - apparently someone had stopped to tape up our broken van window. Bad people followed by good people...? better than the other way around, I guess!
Interactive Trackmap - Mount Hartzell Climb - Click map to Expand
Mount Hartzell Climb - Elevation over Distance
Mount Hartzell Climb - Elevation over Time
Mount Hartzell - Climb Data
* : +/- 75 feet