After climbing Mount Victoria, it was time to give Mount Huber a try. We found the descent gully to the Huber glacier (First obvious gully on the way up - pretty wide at the top) and here the snow finally became our friend. Instead of loose scree, we carefully down-climbed a steep snow patch to the first rap station. An easy 30m rap and another careful down climb on snow / ice covered scree brought us to the last rap station. A 30m rap and were half way down an open snow/ice slope leading to the Huber / Victoria schrund.
[Mount Huber as seen from the ridge on Mount Victoria. (Kevin pic)]
[Kev and Vern descending Victoria's southwest face en route to the Huber Glacier. (Allan pic)]
Because of the fresh snow with underlaying ice we felt that I should belay Kevin over the schrund so we set up an anchor (ice screw) and Kev walked over the schrund, no issues. Of course when I went over it I plunged one leg into it - my first schrund and I have to experience it close up I guess!! I should also mention that at this point both Kev and I were absolutely starving. We had wanted to rap the west face of Victoria before things started heating up too much because of the fresh snow and potential sluffing and rock fall issues associated with the warming afternoon sunshine. This concern led us to skip a lunch break on the summit and now after spending all this time rapping and crossing schrunds we could concentrate on our stomachs again - and they were not happy with us. Kev suggested we stroll across the Huber glacier for a bit to get out of the fall line of Victoria's cliffs. This was a good idea because junk was starting to come down all around us and some of it wasn't small either.
[Victoria's southwest face with our descent tracks. You can see where we crossed the schrund. (Kevin pic)]
A very pleasant stroll across the glacier (probing carefully for crevasses because of the fresh snow) brought us to Huber's lower slopes. We had a very pleasant lunch in the warm sunshine before proceeding up an easy slope to Huber's upper schrund. Then we spent well over an hour trying to figure out a safe way across it. With the fresh snow drifts and some dicey looking bridges a safe path over the gaping void was certainly not obvious to us. Finally Kev stepped up and with me giving him a shaky belay off a couple of moderately solid snow stakes he made a committing 'lunge' move and made it across. Kev quickly put in an ice screw and gave me a belay and we were looking up the east face of Huber. With about 2" of fresh, but solid snow on top of hard ice it was in shape but not in perfect shape. Since I still have to get used to even moderately steep snow / ice climbing, I actually wanted to place pro on the way up this part of the climb and Kev kindly agreed. There's something amazing and mesmerizing that happens deep within yourself as you peer hundreds of feet down an uninterrupted frozen, white plane beneath you. There's also something a bit discomforting in the same situation when you realize that a tiny mishap will send you sliding down, out of control to an unpleasant end. That is why I felt much more comfortable with some protection in the form of well placed ice screws. This, of course, took a lot longer then soloing the slope unprotected would have.
[Looking ahead at Mount Huber's northeast face. We went straight up it (after spending well over an hour trying to negotiate the schrund), just to climber's right of that beautiful summit cornice. (Kevin pic)]
[It's a bright world on the glacier! Kev poses with Huber's esthetic form behind him.]
We went straight up the face, kind of between the two recommended routes but it worked out nicely. Right near the top we went up over a soft snow ridge onto the northwest face an climbed to the summit on a beautiful snow arete, which was extremely steep with soft snow. I'm actually quite surprised that the snow stayed on a slope that steep - I think the wind really packs it on there. 2.5 pitches from the upper schrund and were on top of our 2nd 11,000er for the day. It felt awesome, but we were way over our estimated time and it was becoming obvious that we were going to miss our bus ride down from Lake O'Hara.
[Vern on the summit of Mount Huber. Mount Victoria South is in the background. (Kevin pic)]
[Kevin on the summit of Mount Huber. Hungabee behind him.]
We made our way carefully down Huber and cautiously back over the schrund and onto the glacier proper. The Huber glacier is beautiful, but has some MASSIVE holes on it! I was quite surprised how crevassed some parts were - especially on the Victoria side. With darkness heading our way we certainly didn't have time to fall into anything and Kev did a great job getting us over the main glacier safely. Once over the main glacier we realized that there was a slightly technical down climb to the small Huber glacier. This was not a huge problem but again, time was not on our side anymore! Thanks to some route beta from JW we knew where to aim for on the other side. Once across we realized that we only had about 1.5 hours of light left to get through the tricky Huber ledges!
[Part of the lower Huber Glacier with Mount Victoria's southwest face looming above. (Kevin pic)]
We were both dying from thirst (I also forgot my 2nd bottle of Gatorade so I only had 1 liter of drink all day!) but with no water sources around we had to 'suck it up' and get out of there. I led us through this section as quick as I could, and actually it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. There are rumors floating around that it's easy to get lost on the ledges due to an over abundance of trails and cairns. I simply followed the obvious cairns and trail, even though sometimes it looked like an impossible route. The trickiest section had us doubling back from the ridge and traversing a 12" wide ledge along a 30 foot cliff before coming back to obvious trails again. The scrambling was upper moderate to even difficult in places but the ledges were quite firm and a lot of fun. After what seemed like forever (but was only about 1 hour) we were at the gap. At this point out peace was interrupted loudly by a chopper that came thundering up the valley and promptly landed right in Wiwaxy gap just above us! A warden proceeded to get out of the chopper and flagged us down. Kev and I were surprised to find out that we had been reported over due (by Wietse) and since the wardens were busy rescuing a broken ankle case in the area they were just checking to make sure we were ok! We said we were fine and asked for a lift but the chopper was full. The warden hinted that we might get a ride down from the lake though.
[Vern is very relieved to be taking off his crampons after 12.5 hours in them! (Kevin pic)]
After swearing at the never-ending trail down to Lake O'Hara from the gap we were delighted to find a young warden (Eric) waiting for us at the trail head. He very graciously offered us a ride down the 11km approach road from the parking lot and we didn't refuse that offer! Wietse was waiting for us at the West Louise lodge. It turns out that Wietse ran into a warden on his way out from the ACC hut that evening and casually mentioned that his two buddies were going to miss the last bus ride out from the lake. The warden then offered to check in on us just to make sure that we were ok, since there was a chopper going over our area anyway. Over all we were very impressed with the friendliness and professionalism of the Banff Wardens.
It was a long 15 hour day but what a great day out! My first two 11,000er's will not be forgotten soon. While I'm sure that the stuff we did is 'old hat' to many experienced mountaineers, it left me with a deep feeling of satisfaction. I never felt too unsafe because Kevin is naturally a safety conscious kind of guy and I owe him big time for taking a chance on a rookie.