What a fantastic day in the hills! That about sums up my Mount Olive (and St. Nicholas) outing. After spending a fun but bone chilling day out on the Wapta 3 weekends ago in our Mount Gordon trip, this was just a great way to see the other side to ski mountaineering.
Raf came up with the idea of going after Mount Olive already about 3 weeks ago, just when Dave, Blair, Jason and I were planning our Gordon ascent. When Raf's Roger's Pass trip fell through for the weekend of Feb 11 he let us know that we were back on for Olive and as the day got closer we all found ourselves getting more and more excited. The weather forecast was actually improving as each day progressed! No one wanted to say it out loud but we were getting psyched for a bluebird day on the Wapta with views for miles and no wind.
February 11 'dawned' (we actually left well before sunrise) clear and cold. After meeting Jason, and finally meeting Andrew in person, we piled into Raf's 4x4 and headed off down highway #1 for the Icefields Parkway and the Bow Lake parking lot. The sky was just starting to lighten up as we stepped out into the frosty air at Bow Lake. Ironically the two coldest moments of the day were standing in the parking lot at the beginning and end of the day! Soon we were skiing across Bow Lake on an icy ski track, which helped move us along at a good clip. It also didn't hurt to have 6.5 foot Jason leading the way.
[A clear, cold morning as we cross Bow Lake - always the coldest place around. Bow Peak in the distance at left.]
I'm always surprised how fast the trip in to the Bow Hut goes and how bloody long it seems to take on the way back - even though half of it's downhill on the way back. I guess that long flat lake just takes it out of you after already going 25+ kms. We were soon across the lake and after the always entertaining 'bump' that avoids the summer trail's creek crossing, we were heading up the narrow Bow Hut approach canyon to the slopes below the hut. Jason made very quick time and soon we were staring out across the back bowl to the hut with beautiful views of St. Nicholas and the Vulture Glacier hanging off Vulture Peak high above us. The sky was clear and the air was crisp as Jason and I took the rope from Andrew and Raf so they could have a break from carrying that load.
[Getting near the back of Bow Lake with Bow Falls at center and the Onion and St. Nicholas at far left.]
[The approach canyon for the Bow Hut and Crowfoot Mountain is a narrow and dangerous terrain trap, which is why you should only attempt it in stable avalanche conditions.]
[After exiting the slot canyon we were on broad slopes beneath the Bow Hut with this view across the valley. St. Nicholas looming above the Bow Hut here. Ascent slopes to the Bow Hut out of sight on the left.]
We made quick time up the steep slopes to the Bow Hut and at the 2:03 mark from the parking lot, we were on the doorstep of one of the premier huts in the Canadian Rockies. We decided to have a quick snack and drink outside the hut so we wouldn't warm up too much but as it turns out the door to the kitchen area was locked anyway so we didn't have much of a choice in the end.
[The deluxe and luxurious Bow Hut - flagship hut of the ACC.]
After forcing down some food and liquids we started up the Wapta. If you've never done this section, don't under estimate it. Up to this point you've only gained about half the elevation to the icefield and have a long way to go. Soon we were in the bright sunshine for the first time that day and things started to warm up really fast. Jason and Raf set a good pace and in between taking pictures I had a hard time keeping up with them! It didn't take long before we were skiing right under the daunting ridge of St. Nicholas - which we were also planning to climb. We kept going past St. Nicholas and with a small burst of energy came out on the Olive / Nicholas col.
[The view of St. Nicholas from the Bow Hut is intimidating.]
[Following the skin track up the Wapta Icefield headwall beyond the Bow Hut. There are many crevasses here but thanks to westerly winds, they fill in completely most years.]
[Skinning up the headwall in brilliant sunshine.]
[Wind packed snow on the Wapta makes for quick traveling.]
[The Onion is a small summit on the Wapta above the Bow Hut (oos at lower right). Portal Peak just visible at far left.]
[Thompson (L) and Portal (C) are both scree slogs of a different nature.]
[St. Nicholas doesn't look easy from this angle on the lower Wapta Headwall.]
[Rhondda (L) is an easy ski, Habel requires some tricky 4th class scrambling to attain it's apex (C) and Baker is a pretty steep snow climb. Tilly (R) is pretty easy in comparison!]
[Andrew comes up behind me with St. Nicholas rising on the right.]
[A gorgeous, sunny, February day on the Wapta as we gain more height to the Olive / St. Nich col. Mount Collie is the beautiful peak in the distance. It would take me many more years before I'd finally tackle her tricky summit cornices in April of 2014.]
The ridge on Olive looked hairy enough from the col, but the ridge to the summit of St. Nicholas looking positively scary from our vantage point! I think Jason and I both secretly wrote St. Nicholas off the summit list for the day at this point but we didn't say anything and after cramponing up we set off up the north ridge of Mount Olive.
[St. Nicholas Peak doesn't look trivial from the col!]
[Gorgeous view of Mount Collie.]
[Looking towards the main summit of Collie and the Gordon / Collie col.]
[Olive's north ridge doesn't look trivial either! We ended up skirting the lower ridge on climber's left before cutting up very steep snow to the ridge proper.]
We skirted the ridge to the east on the way up and this was likely a mistake. The slope was fairly steep and the snow was deep so we learned right away to stick to the ridge whenever we could on Olive. Once we were on the ridge proper, it was obvious that Olive was not a real technical challenge - or at least not the north summit. It didn't take long and we were all standing on the north summit. Jason was so warm in the sun that he actually climbed the last part to the summit without his shirt on! At first I didn't want to keep going until I realized that the true summit of Olive is the south one - than there was no choice! ;-)
[Ascending the north ridge with St. Nicholas already looking small beneath us! You can see our track veering off the lower ridge before ascending directly onto it.]
[A stunning ocean of white stretches out beneath us. Collie, Mummery and Ayesha in the background.]
[St. Nicholas Peak]
[Yes, JW has his shirt off in February. He must be proud of his guns or something... :). Mighty Mount Forbes rises in the background over Tilly and Trapper Peak.]
[Mount Hector from the north summit of Olive.]
[Looking over the Balfour Glacier (which I've exited to Hector Lake on skis before) and Lilliput to Mount Temple and Daly on the right.]
[A nice panorama looking east and south from the north summit of Olive. ++]
[Great view of many of the large Wapta peaks including (L to R), Gordon, Des Poilus, Collie, Ayesha, Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper. ++]
The ridge to the south summit looked quite intimidating at first but it wasn't too bad once we got on it. There was one tricky section that we couldn't have done with crampons. It involved going up a rock pinnacle and then down a steep snow chute that had questionable snow quality. When Andrew was kicking steps into the slope I could feel the snow moving at the top of the gully. Good thing there were handholds to the side that offered some security.
[Andrew negotiates around the crux on the ridge between the two summits of Olive.]
[Looking back at Raf and the north summit of Olive. The tricky section is just behind him.]
Once over the crux we quickly made our way up to the south summit and soon we were clicking our cameras like a bunch of paparazzi at the Oscars. In a way it was the Oscars! It was the most dazzling display of summits that I had ever experienced in the mountains to this date. Everywhere we turned there was another famous summit jumping out into view. After taking way too many pictures it was time to descend. Jason didn't think he would have the energy to go for Nicholas but delayed his decision for the col.
[Raf makes his way to the true summit of Olive with a dazzling display of summits in the background including (L to R), Portal, Murchison, Corona Ridge, Noyes, Weed, Jimmy Simpson, and Observation.]
[JW, Andrew and Raf make their way to the summit of Mount Olive with an ocean of snow and ice covered peaks in the bg.]
[Summit panorama over the slightly lower north summit of Mount Olive and Vulture Peak just right of center. ++]
[A stunning view south with Andromache, Hector, Balfour, Gordon and Collie clearly visible and many other peaks in the far distance. ++]
[Willingdon, Crown and South Tower.]
[Wapta peaks including (L to R), Gordon, Collie, Ayesha, Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper, Peyto, Thompson, Portal and St. Nicholas Peak. ++]
[Mighty Mount Balfour is king of the Wapta peaks at 10,735'.]
[Chancellor (L) and Mount Vaux (C).]
[Mount Collie is one of the trickiest peaks on the Wapta to climb. It's a long way from the nearest parking lot and has a massive summit ridge cornice which can be very nerve-wracking to balance over due to the exposure. It also has significant avalanche exposure, so pick your day to do this peak carefully. I finally managed to bag this beauty on April 29, 2014.]
[Mount Mummery looms impressively over the unofficial "Collesha" peak that sits between Collie and Ayesha.]
[Looking west along the ridge connecting Olive to Gordon.]
[Mount Balfour with the Diableret Glacier to it's right. In the background are a number of familiar summits including Stephen, Goodsir Towers, Field, Wapta, Chancellor and Vaux (L to R). ++]
[Vern, Andrew, JW and Raf on the summit of Mount Olive.]
The trip back to the North summit was quick and painless, albeit a bit tiring. We soon ended up back at the Nicholas / Olive col where Jason decided he did have energy again and while Raf, Jason and I headed up St. Nicholas, Andrew (who's already climbed it) started back.
[Starting down in late afternoon sunshine.]
[It's big terrain out here.]
[Looking back at JW and Andrew negotiating the crux between the two summits.]
[Vern on the north summit (cornice?!) of Olive.]
[Descending the north ridge towards an ocean of white.]
[The shadows are lengthening as we near the St. Nicholas col.]
After summiting St. Nicholas it was time for a fantastic ski run back to the parking lot. We cruised down the Wapta in about 2-4 inches of fresh snow flying up around our skis. The slopes about the hut provided some fantastic turns and my legs were burning as we skied up to the hut. We didn't have time to stop in so off we went down the headwall below the hut. The skiing here was absolutely amazing and all too soon it was over.
[JW skis off the col down to the main ice field.]
[Following our tracks back off the Wapta.]
[A last look back along St. Nicholas (L) towards Olive's two summits (C). ++]
[Our tracks with Mount Olive rising impressively. There is a direct route up the snow / ice slopes between the two summits but this slope has some big holes and is obviously avalanche terrain so be careful if you try it.]
The run down the canyon was good too, I poled the whole way and with the moon rising over Bow Lake we arrived at the parking lot after a very satisfying day. I would say my best day yet in the mountains.