On Saturday, April 29 Jason (JW), TJ (TJ), Ferenc and I headed out to ski Mount Rhondda via the Bow Lake approach to the Wapta Icefield. As we drove through pouring rain around the towns of Canmore and Banff we wondered if we really should have gotten out of bed at 4am for this! Of course I was wondering that even earlier in the day when I locked my keys in my car at the parking lot but that's another story for another day... :-|
The rain started changing to snow as we drove along the Icefields Parkway and we breathed a bit easier as we pulled into the parking lot amidst tons of snow and about 3-5cm of fresh fluff. The lake also looked pretty safe with a pretty white blanket covering it, so at least we would feel safe skiing across! We geared up and JW led us at a good clip across Bow Lake. Towards the end of the lake the snow turned isothermal and we began to sink to our knees in places. This was sort of uncomfortable because we were still on the lake and it just felt very unnatural to be sinking through slush in the middle of a lake... But there was firm ice about 2 feet down so we trudged on.
[Hoofing it through isothermal snow at the back end of Bow Lake. Lots of fun. Not.]
The canyon approach to the Bow Hut went without a hitch and within about 2 hours of leaving the parking lot we were munching on various energy boosters in a nice, warm ,cozy shelter. We didn't stick around long but rather headed back out into the blustery wind and began the ski across the icefield to Mount Rhondda. We followed another party up the headwall but soon JW split off their trail and we continued on our own towards our destination.
[TJ negotiates the creek on the way up the canyon.]
[Jason and TJ break through tree line on the approach to the Bow hut.]
[TJ disappears over a hump of snow - the Vulture ice cap is in the distance above him.]
[Jason and Ferenc in the Bow hut taking a quick break on the way up.]
It never ceases to amaze me how little depth perception you have when the clouds are white, the ground is white and even the mountains are white! Whenever we could spot Rhondda it looked like it was right in front of us, but it never was! To make up for this, we had excellent views in between white-outs and eventually we started climbing the lower slopes of Rhondda. I was dragging my tush a bit on this trip but I tried to force myself to keep up some sort of pace behind the others. JW climbed a steep snow slope and we headed up after him. Once on top of this slope the angle eased considerably.
[Jason and TJ breaking trail up the Wapta with St. Nicholas in the background.]
[Ferenc coming up behind me with a stunning views of Crowfoot Mountain and Little Crowfoot making up for the nasty Wapta winds.]
[Ferenc and JW and the nasty Wapta winds! You can see how bright it was and how flat the light was. You can also see Mount Rhondda in the distance - still about 3+ km away.]
[St. Nicholas towers over another ski party.]
[Mount St. Nicholas and Olive on the right and Gordon at center as we continue our trudge across the Wapta.]
Once on the final ridge to the summit you still have about 600 meters to go (horizontal). We thought we were at the summit once but a quick GPS check showed over 400 meters to go. You'll know you're at the summit because you will literally fall off the mountain if you don't stop! (So if you do fall off, you went a bit too far...) I'd like to say the views from the summit were stunning but if they were (and I'm sure they are), they were hidden from us this day. We could make out Mount Habel and Ayesha through the cloud and snow but not much else. Oh well. Time for a good ski down!
[You can really see how nasty the lighting was! It was tough to make out anything but the other guys when the wind came up. Rhondda is still in the background.]
[Vern and JW on the summit of Mount Rhondda.]
[Ferenc and TJ on the summit of Mount Rhondda.]
[Mount Habel (also known as 'Rhondda North') as seen from the summit Mount Rhondda.]
[It was hard to see, but Mount Ayesha was still there after JW and Blair did it in a marathon day a couple of weeks ago. Those guys are nuts. (And in very good shape, obviously.)]
The ski down was awesome. At the bottom of the steep slope accessing the summit ridge I was caught in a small sluff. This gave me a feeling for what an avalanche would feel like. It was kind of peaceful in a way because when I stopped I just kept moving on a slab of snow! When I realized that I might be caught in an avalanche I became slightly more concerned but by then it was over already and all was good.
[Looking back at JW and Ferenc on the summit as TJ and I start skiing down the summit ridge.]
We made the trek back to the hut and after nearly deciding to spend the night there we skied crud down the headwall below the hut and made it back to the cars around 16:30. It was a great day with great company, highly recommended as a spring ski trip.
[Down past the hut already, most of the good skiing done we take a brief rest before hitting some tree skiing and then the canyon.]
[A grand view confronts us as we begin the slog back across Bow Lake.]
[Did I mention the lake slog? TJ with Jason and Ferenc behind him. You can just make out St. Nicholas in the clouds in the center of the picture and The Onion to the right of it.]
[Num-Ti-Jah Lodge from the middle of the lake.]