Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ski Conditions: Wapta Icefields (Mar 21-26)

I spent 5 days on the Wapta Icefields as a practicum with Brian Webster and his 6 guests. Dick, Wendy, Reed, Rick, Peter and Ben were keen for an adventure on skis and that is what we got. The plan was for a Wapta traverse from Bow Lake to Sherbrook Lake. The weather was surly right from the first day as we skied across Bow lake in a vicious headwind. As we worked up the final gully to the hut, a size 1.5 slough poured off the headwall right of the ice cliffs. but did not travel far once it hit the flats.

We had day 2 planned for touring above the Bow Hut and maybe bagging a peak but that night, the wind reached extreme values. With the glacier scoured, Brian made the call to drop down and spend the day on Crowfoot Mountain which offered a bit more shelter from the Patagonian-esque weather. We worked up the moraines to the toe of the small glacier on the backside of Crowfoot Peak where the snow became more wind affected and crusty.

Day 3 dawned calm but the wind picked up again once on the glacier above Bow Hut. Glaciers seemed well covered with 240cm of HS at lower elevations and 300cm+ at upper elevations. With heads down, we trudged over the St Nicholas - Olive Col then cruised down the Vulture Glacier to Balfour Hut. The ceiling lifted enough to give us a quick view of the crux of the traverse, the Balfour High Col. Friends had warned that a large crevasse has been causing many groups to turn around as it bars the safest route pushing you close to the steep face and ice cliffs on Mt Balfour. This crevasse combined with poor stability due to strong-extreme winds for 4 days and poor visibility the next morning, made Brian decide to turn around and return to the Bow Hut. Everyone else at Balfour Hut agreed and bailed as well. GPS and Compass work got us back to the Olive-St Nick Col where we "enjoyed" some flat-light skiing back down to the Bow Hut. Of note, cornices were growing rapidly with the wind and new snow. We observed a 4-5 meter layered cornice on the Onion and other lee features.

The final night it was snowing (straight down as opposed to sideways) steadily (almost 4cm / hour). Almost 30cm of HST but over night the incessant wind returned blowing most of it towards Saskachewan. From the hut we observed a few new slabs (up to size 3) that must have pulled out over night with the new load. All was not lost, as the best section of the slope was sheltered enough to preserve the fresh snow. 4 laps of knee deep goodness made up for all the headwind slogging of the previous 4 days. Brian rated stability on March 25 at P / F / G.


David Bowens said...

This sounds familiar. We were at the bow hut from March 23-25th. On our way up on March 23rd, a very large section of the ice cliff/seracs came down nearly on top of us as we were about halfway up the headwall. Quite the epic conditions that weekend! I'm sure we must have seen you guys at the hut. I was with the group of about 11 that was up there at that time. Such a fantastic area. I'm glad the conditions were clear and sunny for out ski out on the 25th.

David Bowens said...

photo from the trip ^

france pope said...

Very nice post, thanks for sharing the information. Keep up the good work.

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