August 15, 2009
Participants: Rick Checkland, Kelly Sloan, Martin Davis, Tomoko Hagio, Jeanette Gasser, David Wasserman
Elevation gain: 660 meters
Back in 2002 when I took the Yamnuska Snow-and-Ice Weekend course, I assumed that I would at some point climb a peak requiring glacier travel skills (as opposed to the nontechnical scrambles I already had under my belt). By the summer of 2009, I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen.
Many people get their first technical summit on the third day of the Yam course, climbing Mount Athabasca. Those in my class were forced to settle for Wilcox Peak (a scramble in summer) when rain put Athabasca out of condition. Over the years to follow, I planned at various times to take part in climbs of Athabasca, Castleguard Mountain, the President, and the Vice-President, all technical climbs within the reach of a beginner. A variety of circumstances put every one of these beyond my grasp, with problems ranging from forgotten sunglasses to stomach upsets and bad route conditions. The closest I came was the summit of Boundary Peak, which we ascended using a technical glacier route, but which can be climbed (with more difficulty) by the nontechnical route we used to descend, so it doesn�t quite count.
In fact, it seemed I was becoming a good luck/bad luck charm. If I was along on the trip, and fell behind or stayed at base camp for some reason, everyone else made the summit. If I stuck with the group, we all had to turn back.
Not quite ready to admit defeat despite the encroachments of age (I turned 62 in June), I signed up for a Grant MacEwan Mountain Club beginner mountaineering trip based on the ACC Bow Hut, under the capable leadership of Rick Checkland and Kelly Sloan. Although the other three participants had only slightly more experience than I, they all had at least one technical summit to their credit.
We drove out Wednesday evening, spent the night in the comfortable confines of the Lake Louise Alpine Centre, and by 10 a.m. Thursday were on our way to the Bow Hut. Following the well-beaten trail (occasionally searching for it in the rocky parts), we reached the hut by 3 p.m., and filled the time until supper by reviewing crevasse rescue techniques on the balcony. We had some rain on the way in, and although the ground was clear, the hut�s roof was snow-covered.
During the night it started to snow, and by our planned 5:30 a.m. wake-up time, there were about two inches of wet snow on the hut deck and twenty feet of visibility from the windows. It didn�t matter that much to me, because once again my stomach was upset, and I decided to stay at the hut while the others had fun in the damp and the whiteout.
The snow continued throughout the day, later turning into rain and finally ending around 3 p.m., while I kept a fire going in the hut�s kitchen-area stove. By lunch time I was finally able to eat, and by about 4 p.m. I went out to find my companions, who were just coming off the glacier after getting as far as the St. Nicholas-Olive col in whiteout conditions. For the first time, my absence from the group was not enough to guarantee a summit.
At 4:30 Saturday morning I looked out the hut windows to find a clear sky studded with stars. I was far too excited to get back to sleep before our wake-up time of 5:30 a.m., and my stomach felt fine. Our objective for the day was Mount Rhondda, the summit of which is just 5 kilometres from Bow Hut at a bearing of 282� True, but more like 7.5 kilometres by a practical route over the Wapta Icefield.
At 6:30 we left the hut, and by 7:15 we were roped up to two groups of three on the unnamed glacier above the hut. The sky was still clear, and St Nicholas Peak was catching the early rays of the sun.
We kept near the north edge of the glacier until the terrain levelled off into the Wapta Icefield, and then picked a route winding among the crevasses toward the Continental Divide where it passes between St Nicholas and the southeast ridge of Rhondda. In spite of the snow of the preceding day, the crevasses were visible and traction was good, so we left our crampons in our packs.
Once on the crest of the Divide, we made our way to the rocky east ridge that leads up to the southeast end of Rhondda�s summit ridge and kicked steps up the snow slope just north of the east ridge. About halfway up we stopped for a snack break on the rocks. From there it was a straightforward snow climb up to the summit ridge.
The ridgeline itself was mainly only lightly covered in snow. Shortening our ropes, we walked up the gentle slopes of the long ridgeline to the summit, with only a short section of knife-edged snowdrift causing any concern and no true difficulties. We reached the summit at noon.
None of the three cairns on the broad summit seemed to have a summit register. We unroped, took photographs, ate lunch, and enjoyed the views for about an hour, and then returned the way we came.
Not until we reached the final section of the descent of the glacier above the hut did we experience any difficulties with traction. There we considered putting on our crampons, but determined that there was just enough grip to make our way carefully down to where we could leave the ice and get back on rock. Ten-and-a-half hours after leaving the hut, we returned to its friendly confines, with the monkey finally off my back.
Photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=96797&id=857344690&l=cf2edc9d0e