On Friday evening, July 25th 2008, Raff, Keith, Wietse and I hiking into the Little Yoho campground in Yoho National Park with plans to ascent both the President and the Vice President early on Saturday morning.
We left Calgary at around 17:00 and arrived in the Takkakkaw Falls parking lot around 19:30. By 20:00 we were hiking into the Yoho Valley on a good trail. This is the 4th time I've gone into the Little Yoho Valley and it's never let me down before. You can count on several things happening to you every time you enter into this wonderful area of the Rockies. They would be, gorgeous views, rain, rain and rain. We experienced all of those things. :-)
My 3 previous trips to the Yoho Valley had me staying at the luxurious Stanley Mitchell Hut but this time we were going to cram 4 guys into my MEC Wanderer 4-person tent to keep things more 'real', or something like that anyway. My record time for hiking into the hut is 1 hour, 52 minutes with a big pack. I set that pace with Dave Stephens on our RMB hike into the area a few years ago. I tried to match that pace but couldn't quite manage it again. I'm going to blame the extra glacier and tent gear for the extra 18 minutes it took me this time!
It was nice to get the tent set up while there was still some daylight left. By 22:00 I was in bed while the other boys enjoyed a stiff shot of Jagermeister (Raff carries that stuff everywhere - I'm starting to wonder about that lad...) and one of our crew even decided that mixing it with Advil would be a good idea. I never did find out how that worked for him but he didn't talk in his sleep so I guess it certainly didn't hurt any.
Everyone survived the cramped quarters and precisely at 04:00 two alarms went off simultaneously. We all leaped out of our sleeping bags, refreshed and ready to tackle the climb. (Ok, the truth is that we dragged our sorry butts slowly out of our warm sleeping bags and reluctantly decided to climb now that we were awake anyway. Plus we figured that climbing a mountain would warm us up a bit.)
On our way out of the campground we could see 3 headlamps bobbing their way along the opposite side of the river. Obviously we wouldn't be the only ones on the Presidents this day. We were actually a bit relieved because now we wouldn't have to do any route-finding (or so we thought). There are two or even three route choices you have within 30 minutes of embarking on this climb. You can either cut off to climbers left immediately upon arriving at the sign indicating Kiwetinok Pass is still 4km ahead. If it's pitch dark and you're not familiar with this area I would not recommend this approach. You could end up climbing Barometer Peak by accident. Or you could end up on the knife-edge moraine and slip off. Wouldn't it be embarrassing to miss your climb because you fell off of a moraine?! That would be seriously uncool. Trust me.
The other two choices are a bit easier to negotiate in the dark. As it turns out, we did one way while the other ascent party did the other. Most recent trip reports and advice that we got from climbers who had done the Presidents in the past 5 years all advised us to go up the climbers left hand side of the glacier before traversing over and crossing the 'schrund on climbers right. This is to avoid the rockfall coming off the President on the way up the glacier. I liked the sound of not having rocks falling on me so when we got to the terminal moraine I followed an obvious trail going up the left side of it. We caught up to the other 3 climbers at this point and after a brief "hello", we went our own ways. (It looked to me like there was a guide and two clients, and we found out later that the guide was Tom Wolfe, a well known local guide.) The other party started ascending a lateral moraine after crossing the stream coming from the Presidents glacier. We stuck to the left side of the stream and followed cairns and a good trail all the way up past a waterfall and right up to the glacier just left of center. The other party gained some extra height and we stayed just ahead of them the rest of the trip.
After roping up at the base of the glacier, Raff led the group up towards the col between the President and Vice President. We started out on bare ice but soon were in supportive snow. Raff set a slow-but-steady pace and we inched our way up through the fantastic early morning light. Alpine glow lit up the President as we started to inch towards the right side of the glacier. The bergschrund (where the glacier breaks off of itself and opens a huge crevasse) started to look quite large as we approached it. We had a clear track to follow and Raff wisely did just that! We all had to stop to take photos of the 'schrund as we climbed over and above it on a firm snow bridge to climbers right. The size was more obvious when Tom and his clients walked up next to it. Not a good place to fall into! Once over the 'schrund we found ourselves at the col, staring up at a steep, snowy slope that led to the summit of the President.
We decided to leave the rope at the col and proceeded up the President without crampons, although we could have worn them as there was quite a bit of snow above the col. The climb to the summit was only moderate scrambling, even with all the snow. (Raff led us all up a 5.10 section that was over hanging but since it was only 3 feet high we didn't think the whole route deserved this rating. :-)) The snow may have actually made it easier than without, in any case we were on the summit pretty quickly after leaving the col. It was a bit strange being on the summit before 08:00 in the morning but the views were incredible and the air was crisp and cold and clear so we did not regret getting up so early. We could also see clouds building up off to the west and knew that with thunder storms in the forecast we should not linger too long at the risk missing out on the Vice President. Looking over at the Vice President we became very curious about a pointy little peak to the Southeast across the Emerald Glacier. Could that be Micheal Peak? If it was we determined that we were going to give it a shot since we were so early anyway.
On our descent back to the col we met Tom and his clients coming up the President. We exchanged brief pleasantries and continued on our ways after confirming that they too were going up the Vice President next. It worked out perfectly that we were not right behind or in front of each other because the rocks were very loose on both peaks. We sent Wietse across the col to the VP to make sure there were no hidden crevasses before Keith, Raff and I followed him across. There were actually some big cracks at the col but we could see them clearly and there were tracks leading beside them so we felt fairly safe being unroped here. If there's snow covering the col I would seriously not recommend crossing it without a rope. I've heard of people being surprised (and not in a good way) by the cracks up there!
The route up the VP looked pretty intimidating from the President but once we started up the snow slope it wasn't too bad. There was ice under the snow so that made things a bit interesting in places. The loose rock was hazardous like all the peaks in the Rockies seem to be - so that was certainly no different on this climb. After about 15 or 20 minutes we topped out on the summit ridge to a fantastic view and a much warmer temperature than we had on the President an hour earlier. The Emerald Glacier was glistening with a coat of snow and all around us were the amazing peaks and valleys of Yoho and Banff National Parks. We quickly made the summit and settled in for some sight-seeing and breakfast. We were a bit surprised to discover that the bump we thought was Michael Peak was actually an unnamed GR and Michael Peak is actually quite a bit lower than this nub. It's a fantastic nub but was not really worth the effort, especially when there was definitely thunder storms moving in quite rapidly from the southwest. Instead, we contented ourselves with the views and the warm sunshine before deciding that we should head down and beat the storms. We all agreed that the summit view from VP is at least as good as the one from the President, definitely worth going up if you're in the area and have clear skies.
We met Tom and his clients on our way down VP, thankfully right near the ridge so there was no rockfall hazard for either party. We agreed to leave our email addresses in the Stanley Mitchell hut so that we could email some of our pictures of eachother's groups back and forth and we agreed that it was amazing that these peaks were seeing so little activity on such a glorious day (but we were thankful for the solitude). The trip back down the glacier was pretty smooth. Raff and Keith both found "leg biters", or small, hidden crevasses that make one of your legs magically dissapear while your body tilts alarmingly in one direction. Keith was third on the rope and just stepped about 12 inches off Raff's downtrack when his right leg dissapeared. Raff thought to himself that he should be taking a different line but went ahead anyway and found his leg biter! Guess there's a good reason not to solo this simple glacier - there are still holes in it and some of them are still not that obvious!
We managed to get our tent and sleeping gear packed up just as the first drops of rain and peals of thunder started in the Yoho Valley. We made our way over to the hut and I left my email address for Tom in the hut register. On our way out of the hut we met Tom again! He was quite soaked and obviously happy to be down. He remarked how different the 'schrund was than last time he saw it and we chatted for a bit before parting ways again. We set a good pace back to the parking lot but that 10km trail seemed to never end! I still can not believe the stamina that Andrew Nugara and Kevin Barton had to have to do the whole hike in to bag Mounts Kerr, Kiwetinok, Pollinger and McArthur and then still hike all the way out to the parking lot again in the same day. I think it took them something like 17 hours total! I couldn't link to Andrew's trip report but that is a crazy day out. We had intermittant thunder storms all the way out of Little Yoho Valley so it's a good thing we didn't take the Iceline Trail out.
A highly recommended trip with some of the best scenery you'll ever have, that is pretty well suited to beginner alpine climbers as long as that 'schrund is closed.
Leaving the parking lot on Friday evening after work.
Wietse and Keith crossing a stream on the hike into Little Yoho Valley.
Our first view of The President (peak on the right). Barometer Peak is blocking the view of the Vice President.
The moon is above the Vice President as we climb the lower glacier towards the col.
The sun kisses The President with early morning light. It's not kissing us yet... You can clearly see the red bacteria in the snow (look at the footprints along the rope). This is known as 'Watermelon Snow'.
Raff is finally in the sun and the rest of us are getting there too. VP to the left.
From left to right we have Kiwetinok, Pollinger and McArthur. Far right is Isolated Peak. I've been on all of them.
The rising sun emphasizes the texture of the glacial snow.
The group behind us.
Crossing the 'schrund (which is out of sight to the left). I'm still below it here while Raff (the lead climber) is right above it.
Yep! You don't want to fall in that thing. Tom Wolfe and his clients survey the bergschrund up close and help convey it's size.
Organizing gear before climbing The President. The Goodsir Towers are in the center of the photograph.
Wietse comes up a snow slope on The President with the Vice President's slopes and part of the 'schrund in the background.
Keith and Wietse with the Vice President and the Emerald Glacier in the background.
View to the west from the summit of The President. Mount Kerr and Kiwetinok in the foreground with Kiwetinok Lake just visible.
Looking north. McArthur, Isolated Peak and the Whaleback are in the foreground. Mount Forbes, Baker, Habel, Rhondda and many other peaks are visible behind them.
Wietse, Vern, Raff and Keith on the summit of The President.
Vern takes in the awesome views.
Looking through President Pass on the way up the Vice President.
Using snow to ascend the Vice President. The President's ascent slope in the background.
The President from the Vice President. You can just spot Tom and his clients descending the upper snow slopes (3 tiny black dots).
Looking southwest down the Emerald Glacier.
The view to the north from the VP.
Looking more northwest from the summit. Ayesha, Collie, Des Poilus, Gordon, Rhondda, Thompson and other peaks are visible here.
Looking northeast off the summit.
Looking northwest. The iceline trail runs past those glacial tarns in the bottom of the photo. The Little Yoho Valley trail comes right up the valley bottom.
Vern on the summit of the Vice President.
View to the west showing Hector, Daly and Mount Niles. Also shows the Daly, Fairy and Waputik icefields.
The view to the south includes Mount Vaux and the Goodsir Towers.
Tom and his group ascend the last bit of nasty scree before the summit ridge on the Vice President.
Raff descending steep snow.
Gearing back up for the descent down the glacier.
Keith disappears around the corner...
One last shot of the 'schrund. Mount Gordon in the background.
Tracks to the col. Looking back on descent. The snow is getting pretty slushy.
Lower glacier is bare ice again. Clouds are building rapidly to the north.
Sucking back the great vista. Not the Bill Gates version either.
VP on the left, President on the right. We accessed the glacier on the left, the other party on the right.
Isolated Peak looks like a mountain again and the Stanley Mitchell hut is lit up as the clouds race past. Our camp is at the bottom of the avi slope to the left of the hut.