On Friday through Sunday, 27-29 June 2003, five of us (Blair Piggot, Dan Ronsky, Gervais Henry, Randy Colwell, and myself) took advantage of the nice weather and went after a few peaks above Aster Lake. For those who don’t want the details, we basically went up Joffre, Cordonnier, Warrior, and 90% of Mangin. Terrific conditions existed all weekend. Now for the details:
In our planning stages of this trip, we were only planning to do Joffre, but we wanted to camp higher than Aster Lake. We asked the Kananaskis Conservation Officer, but we were going to have to stay at Aster Lake like everyone else. So, we came up with a much more involved agenda by adding Mts. Mangin, Cordonnier and Warrior to the mix. We told the warden it would be silly to camp at Aster Lake and make repeated trips up to the toe of the Mangin Glacier. I'm not sure if it was our added objectives or our obsessive whining, but we got permission to camp at the toe of the Mangin Glacier. As the weekend came closer, the objectives started to look more reasonable. After all, we only came up with the agenda in order to camp higher up.
So, on Friday morning, Gervais and Randy left the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot around 0530 and started their trek into Aster Lake. About an hour behind them, Blair, Dan and myself departed. Shortly before Aster Lake, our group of five was together. A brief argument over which was the trail to Aster Lake took place, and Gervais and Randy went SW, while Dan, Blair and myself went S. Unfortunately, my sub-group went the wrong way. We headed up Foch Creek valley for about 2km, which is when I stopped the group and convinced them that we were in the wrong valley. Rather than backtrack to Aster Lake, we came up with the bright idea of going up and over the NW shoulder of Mt. Marlborough. So, up and over we went. Unfortunately, the west side of Mt. Marlborough brought us back to the same elevation as Aster Lake. Hindsight is always 20/20.
After crossing the valley on the west side of Mt. Marlborough, we ascended towards Mt. Cordonnier, where we found a great camping spot surrounded by slab rocks and running water. Our camp was at GR257026, on 82/J11 (8,500 ft). This was basically at the bottom of the north face (gully) of Cordonnier and due east of the Warrior/Cordonnier col. The slab rocks provided a great place to dry out gear and bask in the sun. The running water was a huge plus, and the snow made for a comfortable place to sleep.
Speaking of snow, there was no snow until we got above Aster Lake. Even at 8,500 ft, we were only postholing about 6-8 inches in the late afternoon.
We reached our camp location around 1230, set up camp, and had a nice lunch. We lounged around on the rocks for a few hours until Dan came up with the idea of going to bag Cordonnier. Dan, Blair and myself headed up Cordonnier’s north face, which leads directly to the summit ridge. The summit ridge was exposed in a couple of places and with the snow on the route, we had to make a couple of careful foot placements, but nothing too bad. There was no booklet in the register container, so we couldn’t sign our names. We enjoyed the views, scoped out Mangin and Joffre, then headed back down. The north-facing gully provided some great glissading for Dan and Blair. I unfortunately, left my shell pants in camp, so I was reduced to plunge stepping my way back to camp. 1:15 up and 0:30 minutes down. One down, three to go. We were now starting to believe in our schedule.
While Dan, Blair and I went up Cordonnier, Gervais decided to go up Warrior. Randy stayed in camp nursing a sore knee.
Once back at camp, we relaxed in the sun, ate a nice dinner, and went to bed by 2000. The next morning, we got up at 0300, had breakfast, drank coffee, and at 0430, we started hiking toward Joffre. Nice frozen snow provided the perfect terrain for crampons. With no postholing to be had, we quickly made our way up the western edge of the Mangin Glacier. We reached the Mangin/Joffre col and started up the north face of Joffre. No crevasses, ‘schrund, or other features could be seen on the glacier. Feeling very safe with the conditions, we all just solo’d up the North Face. Blair was the first to reach the summit by 0700, followed shortly by Dan, then myself at 0730. Gervais and Randy arrived at 0745. It was nice that everybody could just go their own pace.
As I arrived at the summit, the sun has been on the face for about two hours, and the snow was becoming soft. I was starting to posthole about 3 inches as I approached the summit. While on top, we soaked in incredible views, especially of the Royal Group. With no clouds in the sky, we were able to make out Temple, Assiniboine, Sir Douglas, and what really impressed me, was being able to see Crowsnest Mtn to the south. Blair thinks he could see Chief Mtn near Waterton, but I couldn’t figure out which peak he was talking about. Regardless, the visibility was fantastic.
While at the summit, we were thinking of glissading down the north face because of the nice run out. We could probably coast back to camp, but we all chickened out and walked down the NE ridge to the big gully the dumps you back onto the Mangin Glacier. We rappelled the top part of this gully, then plunge stepped the rest. Once back on the Mangin Glacier, Dan, Blair, and I decided to cut across to Mt. Mangin to give that a try. Gervais and Randy returned to camp for a nap.
The gully the Rick Collier ascended on the South Ridge was full of snow, and we had limited rock gear with us, so we decided to walk around to the NE face of Mangin. We went up the second gully from the south, which was very steep. We reached the top of the snow, and Blair accidentally poked through to the other side. As it turned out, it was a big cornice that stood up more vertically than out horizontally. Blair had a peak at the rock step, which would get us onto the summit, and he decided that we would not be able to climb that with the gear we had on us. Dan and I were about 30 ft below Blair at the last rock horn that we could see. We rappelled from there, down the first gully, and back onto the Mangin Glacier. About an hour later, we returned to camp by lunchtime. After a few more hours of lying around on the rocks, we decided to go bag Warrior Mtn. We left camp around 1600, hiked up the snow (postholing about 8 inches), and reached the col very quickly. From the col, up the South face of Warrior, there was no snow. We hiked up to the summit and soaked in more fantastic views. Some unpleasant scree bashing on the way back down, then a couple of nice glissades led us back to camp. 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down. While we went up Warrior, Gervais went up Cordonnier, and Randy stayed in camp.
As we continued to enjoy our campsite, we soaked up the last bit of sun, then decided to have dinner. Then Randy surprised us all by pulling out a nice bottle (yes, glass bottle) of Australian Shiraz (red wine). So, we each had a sip and went to bed around 2100.
The next morning we woke up around 0530, slowly packed up our things, ate breakfast, drank coffee, and started our hike out. Much to our surprise we found about six tents camping at Aster Lake, but nobody (that we could see) tried Joffre. We continued our slog out, and were back at the parking lot by 1130.
We ended the trip with a stop at the Boulton Creek Trading Post, where we each enjoyed a big burger and a couple of beers. It was a fantastic weekend with terrific weather.
I think that this past weekend was the optimal weekend for Joffre. Weekends after this one will have some crevasses showing. They were actually starting to show on Sunday as we headed out. Weekends prior to this one would have had too much snow on the approach. I noticed the ACC trip that went up Joffre two weeks ago, and they were postholing past their knees. What a difference two weeks can make.
On a side note, but sort of related, I came up with an interesting proposition for the Canadian Treasury Department (or whatever the equivilent is called). On my Friday morning drive through Kananaskis, we came across the standard moose and lots of dear. That got me thinking. I was thinking that they should replace the two polar bears found on the back of a Toonie with two male dears. Get it? Two bucks? Two Dollars? Ha Ha. And this was just the start of the trip. :-)