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.
Raff 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 Raff'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 forecase 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 left well before sunrise) clear and cold. After meeting Jason, and finally meeting Andrew (!) we piled into Raff'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!
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' we were heading up the narrow canyon to the slopes below the hut. Jason made very quick time and soon we were staring out across the valley to the hut and the beautiful view of St. Nicholas and the Vulture Glacier. The sky was clear and the air was crisp as Jason and I took the rope from Andrew and Raff so they could have a break from carrying that load.
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!
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 Raff 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. Nick and with a small burst of energy came out on the Olive / Nicholas col.
The ridge on Olive looked hairy enough from the col, but the ridge to the summit of St. Nicholas looking positively insance from our vantage point! I think Jason and I both secretly wrote St. Nick off the summit list for the day at this point but we didn't say anything and after cramponning up we set off up the north ridge of Mount Olive. We skirted the ridge to the east on the way up and this was a mistake. The slope was fairly steep and the snow was deep so we learned right away to stick to the ridges whenever the chance was there. 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! ;-)
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.
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 papporazzi 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 Nick but delayed his decision for the col.
The trip back to the North summit was quick and painless (although the walk back up to the summit was quite tiring). We soon ended up back at the Nicholas / Olive col where Jason decided he did have energy again and while Raff, Jason and I headed up St. Nicholas, Andrew (who's already climbed it) started back.
After summitting St. Nick 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.
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.
|Jason skis across Bow Lake as the sun begins to brighten the cold morning sky.|
|Going up the avalanche gully.|
|Bow Hut - one of the premier backcountry huts in the Canadian Rockies. What an amazing location!|
|Panorama from the Bow Hut looking towards Crowfoot Mountain (click to view).|
|The Wapta is reflected in the windows of Bow Hut.|
|Andrew comes up the slope above the Bow Hut where the slope gets nice and steep and the view start openning up.|
|Raff and Jason cast shadows on the snow slope above the Bow Hut.|
|Untouched powder just waiting to be tracked!|
|Andrew on the Wapta with Mount Thompson in the background.|
|Andrew skis below the daunting ridge of St. Nicholas on the way up to the Nicholas / Olive col.|
|South Rhonda rises over the icefields as we get higher onto the Nicholas / Olive col.|
|Mounts Collie, Ayesha and Rhonda present a tempting view above a stretched out icefield.|
|The ridge and two summits of Mount Olive, as seen from the descent ridge of St. Nicholas.|
|The group ascends the north ridge of Olive with St. Nicholas shrinking in the background. You can clearly see our ascent trail snaking up and over the col.|
|The Wapta starts to resemble clouds as we ascend higher up the north ridge of Olive.|
|The views keep getting better and better! It also appears that someone has lost their shirt... (mouseover)|
|The afternoon sun is warm as we look over the ridge to the south (true) summit of Mount Olive|
|Andrew led the group around and over the crux section of the ridge to the south summit.|
|Raff comes up behind me to the South summit of Olive.|
|Mount Gordon as seen from the summit of Mount Olive|
|Mount Balfour and the Diableret Glacier from the summit of Mount Olive.|
|Vern, Andrew, Jason and Raff at the summit of Mount Olive.|
|An amazing 360 degree view from the top of Mount Olive. Have fun recognizing the summits! (Click to view or click here for a labelled version.)|
|Vern at the summit of Mount Olive.|
|Jason looks pretty small as he negotiates the ridge back to the north summit of Olive.|
|Andrew downclimbs the crux on the way back to the South summit while Raff looks on.|
|Vern on the North summit of Olive.|
|Jason descends from the North summit of Olive.|
|Jason descends Olive with St. Nicholas starting to loom bigger again...|
|Skiing untracked powder under a glorious sunny sky. Nothing beats it. Jason descends back to the Wapta from the Olive / St. Nicholas col.|
|A mini-panorama in wide angle from beside St. Nich showing Nicholas, Olive East and Olive West.|