On March 23/24 I joined Kevin Papke for the first summit attempt on his quest for 50 summits in a "Summits for Seniors" fundraiser in his 50th year. Considering his birthday is on March 22nd Kev wasted no time to start his summit bids! We decided that in order to make a big day trip slightly shorter we would ski into the Bow Hut on Friday evening and summit Habel on Saturday before heading home. We left the parking lot under warm conditions, lots of fresh snow and cloudy skies - but with high hopes that the weather forecast for Saturday would come true with a mix of sun and cloud and little wind.
[Kev skies up the canyon on approach the evening before our climb.]
Right up front I should comment on the name of this peak. I mentioned that we were climbing "Habel" to a few people in the hut and since then and everyone assumes that I've made up the name. Not so my friends! Habel was named already back in 1986. "North Rhondda" may be a more common name but it's not the real one in this case. The trip into the hut went smoothly. There was much more snow than when I did Little Crowfoot a few weekends ago and the trail was very conservative in avoiding avalanche terrain where possible.
At the hut we met a bunch of interesting folks, including John from Edmonton who is a regular on the clubtread.com forums (Johngx) and who was leading a Grant McEwan club trip up Mount Gordon on Saturday. It's always cool to meet fellow mountain aficionados, conversation is easy and pleasant! Around 20:30 we went to bed but sleep didn't come to me until well after midnight, thanks to a full hut and a LOT of snoring, sniffling and I think even some farting on my bunk level (not me)... Add to that people with small bladders and the 'party crowd' coming in at 21:30 and I remembered why I should never forget ear plugs while staying in a hut. There's a reason I love bivying...
Oh well. We got up at 06:00 and after a leisure breakfast we were on our way up the headwall to the Wapta Icefield above the hut. The headwall went quickly. For some reason after spending 2.5 days on the Columbia Icefield in February, the Wapta seemed nice and cozy! The headwall used to seem quite large, and the peaks were far apart but now I thought everything was much closer together than I remembered - except the peaks at the far reaches of the Wapta like Collie, Ayesha or Mistaya of course.
[Kev skis out of the morning shadow with Collie, Rhondda, Habel and Thompson in clear view. ++]
Kev broke trail almost all the way up Habel on his super-light gear. My gear felt heavy and I felt sluggish. I was carrying the rope but that shouldn't have made me feel so heavy. The views continued to impress as we got higher, most impressive was the north face of Mount Rhondda and eventually the very impressive summit cap on Mount Ayesha. The ridge was heavily corniced to our left (east side) but we managed to avoid too much exposure to them and soon found ourselves looking at the final summit block over a small notch in the ridge.
[What a trudge that was! Mount Thompson evokes good memories of a slog in ski boots!]
[Kev breaks trail towards Habel. Despite appearances, Rhondda (on the left) is lower than Habel (right).]
[Gorgeous views of Rhondda with Olive in the far distance at left.]
[Kev breaks trail onto the ridge. Click for full size view of the Wapta below us.]
[Peyto Peak, Peyto Lake and the approach to Peyto hut from the lower east ridge of Habel.]
[Looking south off the east shoulder of Habel. Many peaks on the Wapta are visible here including (from left) Thompson, Vulture, St Nicholas, Olive, Balfour, Gordon, Rhondda and Habel. ++]
[Kev follows me up the shoulder of Mount Habel on route to the summit ridge. The access bowl for Peyto, Baker, Trapper and Mistaya is on the lower left of the photo.]
[Kev negotiates the ridge ahead of me. ++]
The summit of Habel is actually not often ascended. Apparently most parties are content to 'almost summit' due to the exposure of the final block - especially while wearing ski boots and usually in the winter when the weather isn't the most pleasant to be setting up belays etc. Goldenscrambles.ca had a nice picture of their route up the summit block, but TJ had sent me an easier option that him and Jason Wilcox did a few years ago, not even bothering with any protection. After putting on crampons and setting up a belay around a huge rock, Kev proceeded to check things out. He didn't really like the exposure on TJ's route so he tried the other one, not liking it either. Eventually we decided to let me check things out and I found a 3rd route up the summit block! :-) In the following photo, Josee and Fab's route is in red, TJ and JW's route is green and our route is blue. The 'x' is the crux. The rocks are the crux for the red route. Kev also tried the crack to the left of the red route but it was almost over hanging with no good holds so he backed off that one.
Our route was nice because we could easily protect both sides of the crux off of slings, but a fall would've hurt like heck no matter what, due to the direction of the fall relative to our gear. A 30 meter rope was just enough to cover the entire blue line of our route!
[Picture courtesy of goldenscrambles.ca]
[Kev waits at our belay. We didn't really need it for the section between us here, it was set up for the following section. A fall would still have hurt with this placement (too much lateral runout) but at least it wouldn't kill.]
[This gives a better idea of the terrain around the crux of the summit block. Lots of exposure to a steep gully below and loose rock and snow for foot 'holds'. Kev tried a few other routes after not liking the exposure here and eventually I led us through the gully to Kev's right and up the obvious ramp just left of center. The boulder on the right side of the ramp was our second sling / protection point.]
[Kev comes up to the summit while I belay him off the summit cairn. (Just kidding about the belay - it was around a rock horn.)]
Once on top we were treated to fabulous views of the entire Wapta. Habel is even higher than Rhondda, which surprised me a little. Kevin was ecstatic to make the first peak of his 50 in such great conditions! After a few photos we headed down - we still had a ways to go before heading home and with 3 hours of sleep we didn't want to be driving too late.
[Mount Baker from the summit.]
[Kev at the summit with his cool "Summits for Seniors" flag. Cool cause too.]
[Summit panorama includes Thompson, Portal, Crowfoot, Vulture, St. Nicholas, Olive, Rhondda and Gordon (L to R). ++]
[Kev descends to the crux.]
[The crux is much easier now that there's tracks and we're ascending it rather than descending.]
[Our crux on the left, Ayesha in the center and Baker on the right. Mummery and many other peaks in between! ++]
[Kev on the descent ridge. Patterson to his left and above him.]
[Looking back at our tracks. Mount Collie is calling my name to the right of the ridge.]
[A very fun (but way too short) descent off Habel's ridge!]
The ski down was fantastic! Even the headwall above the Bow Hut was skiable - usually it's wind scoured when I try to descend it. After a quick hut-stop to pack up our sleeping bags and extra gear we completed the easy slog back to the car. Habel surprised me with outstanding views and a great little summit block challenge. Highly recommended.
[There is a slight ascent on the way back to the Bow Hut. Not bad, but I skinned up for it. Kev had some kick wax that worked very well. I think I'll do that next time!]
[Looking over at a couple of skiers ascending the headwall under St. Nicholas.]
[49 to go!]