On Sunday, September 09 Kevin Barton and I managed to bag both Victoria South and Huber in a long (ok for me - normal for Kev!) 15 hour day. It took us quite a bit longer than we planned because of new snow (2-6") and ice. Victoria was much more than just a scramble with snow and ice on down-sloping slabs and exposed rock. We were in crampons for over 12 hours on rock, snow and ice so our feet were NOT happy with us at the end of the day!
[A view of Mount Victoria from Lake Louise. We did not ascend it from this side, but rather from the "back" - from the Lake O'Hara region.]
[Another view of Mount Victoria from the Lake Louise side. This is from the Plain of Six Glaciers.]
The weather was simply gorgeous and I am quite chaffed that I forgot my camera in the hut!! (A huge thanks to Wietse for bringing it down for me.) Now for the details.
Wietse, Kevin and I left for the Abbot hut at around 1600 on Saturday afternoon from the Lake O'Hara trail head. Our real adventure actually began even earlier on our 11km bus ride up to this restricted access area! When we realized that there was only us three plus two campers on the bus we challenged our affable Swedish bus drive to beat his record time up to the lake. I think he almost beat it too! I actually felt a bit bus sick because of all the jolting and rattling on the way up. Someone is going to have to tighten a lot of nuts and bolts on that vehicle soon or it will fall apart half way up!
[Kev and Wietse hiking up the lower section of the Lake Oesa trail.]
[The weather was either snowing, raining or sunny depending which minute you had the camera out!]
[Getting closer to the lake - still rain-snowing.]
[A snow shower moves towards us across Lake Oesa as we work our way around the lake. We didn't have to go this way but it was nice.]
Not realizing that the trail for Abbot Pass doesn't actually leave from Lake Oesa, we ended up doing some unnecessary scrambling before intersecting the highway to the hut. The highway was very well marked with painted arrows and little blue and yellow flags (no wonder the Swedish guy works here). We made it up in just over 2.5 hours and walked into a very crowded environment. The hut was so full that we didn't really have room to sleep or sit. I only enjoy huts when they're half full of polite, quite people who don't snore. Since this has never happened to me except for one time in the Stanley Mitchell hut, I guess I just don't like huts very much.
[Wietse works his way up the rubble with Lake Oesa behind him.]
[Ringrose and Biddle rise up in the background as we get higher.]
[Part of Ringrose, and Biddle.]
[Kev works his way up beside a cliff band.]
[You're not going to get lost very easily!]
We were a bit nervous about the conditions on the hike up due to fresh snow falling on us and the sight of white stuff above on the rock. Once we got to the hut and looked at the lower section on Victoria we were more optimistic - it didn't look that bad. After talking with a couple of very accomplished scramblers / climbers in the hut we were a bit more nervous again. Alda and Sim were there with their friend Alan to try for Victoria South too. They had done some preliminary scouting and were not impressed with the conditions at all. The rock was slick and covered in fresh snow and since a lot of the lower route seemed to be on down sloping terrain this was not a good thing. After doing some scouting around ourselves we realized that they had a point. A guide in the hut (Sean) told us more about the correct route and suggested wearing crampons all the way up through the rock. This seemed like a good idea, even though it would slow us down considerably, so we went to bed in good spirits, still pretty positive we could make it work.
[Abbot Hut sits at 9,598 feet in the Lefroy / Victoria col. It was built in 1922.]
[Kev and Wietse looking sort of optimistic. We have just checked out the crux move on the lower ridge and have decided it's "a go" for tomorrow!]
[This gives a good view of what the conditions were like. Kev descends to the hut in front of me.]
[A beautiful view down the valley towards the death trap and Lake Louise.]
[The view towards the death trap (and the plain of six glaciers) from the hut.]
[A last look towards Biddle and the Goodsirs before heading to bed.]
At 0500 I woke up to the sound of Alan's alarm after a very restless night of 'sleep'. It's a darn good thing Alan was getting up at the same time as us because my watch died on me over night, but was going again in the morning for some reason. No one had a good sleep, as there was a very loud snoring ensemble in the loft that night. I'm so glad that my wife doesn't snore - I think I would need a separate bedroom if she did! :-) After scarfing down a tiny bit of breakfast, Kevin and I left the hut at 0545. Wietse wasn't feeling up to the challenge of a long, potentially difficult day so he choose to stay back at the hut and agreed to meet us at the tea house by Lake O'Hara at the end of the day. I led the way up the crux on the lower route in the dark, which was interesting for lack of a better word... The rock was slick and one or two of the moves were a bit sketchy. Kevin had some trouble with this initial section, but he's a rock climber and really needs solid holds before he's comfortable. Unfortunately for Kev, solid holds are not in abundance on the lower section of Victoria when it's covered in fresh snow and ice.
[Early morning sun starts to light up the ridge. We are about 1.5 hours into it at this point. (Kevin Pic)]
[Morning cloud hugs the valley and Lake Louise below as we continue up the ridge. (Kevin Pic)]
[The Goodsirs from the summit ridge on Victoria. We have just popped up onto the ridge at this point. (Kevin Pic)]
Sim, Alda and Alan headed up shortly after Kev and I, and they passed us lower down, well before we were at the ridge. It seemed to take a long time to get to the ridge. It was largely fun scrambling, but the snow and crampons made it uncomfortable. Crampons are great but on rocks they tend to torque your feet in every direction which really strains the ankles and knees. Crampons are also made of sharp steel and the noise of steel scraping across solid rock gets annoying after a while! I am going back to do Vic again in dry conditions because I really think it would be a totally different experience. It was still fun the way we did it, but more nervous fun than relaxed! We were following cairns all the way up the east face to the southeast ridge but still ran into some tricky climbing. On one section in particular the scrambling became a bit dicey and Kevin and I had our turn to pass Alan's group as they roped up for a short section and we soloed it around them. After this section we pretty much climbed as a group of 5 for the rest of the way to the south summit. I was enjoying the climb immensely but was seriously chaffed at my own stupidity. I was on the biggest climb of my life so far, which clear blue skies and views that blew my mind and I didn't have my camera!! Yep, that's right. I forget half my liquid for the day and my camera in the hut. Since we left in the dark, I didn't check my pack till over an hour into the climb before I realized this stupid mistake. On over 140 peaks I've NEVER forgotten my camera till this particular day. ARGH!!
[Looking ahead at the ridge. The rock was covered with just enough white stuff to make it slick. (Kevin Pic)]
Finally we popped out onto the southeast ridge and started making our way slowly and carefully along it. The ridge was the best part of the climb - the views were simply stunning. You couldn't look around while walking though, because of the slick rocks and the fact that our crampons made us walk like drunks! The east face also drops away vertically and a fall would take you hundreds of feet down into the death trap - and that would not be enjoyable. Eventually we came to the famous 'sickle' part of the ridge. The sickle was very interesting to say the least! I'm not gonna lie to you, I was a wee bit nervous stepping down a knife edged snow/ice ridge with the entire east face of Victoria just waiting for one of us to trip or miss a solid placement! We probably would have been well advised to belay at least the very first section but we all made it so no worries! :-) It wasn't even close to the easy 2 foot wide sidewalk that we were expecting, but it was a fun challenge for sure. Thanks to Alan for leading this section.
[Our second objective of the day, Mount Huber. We still have quite a ways to go on Victoria! (Kevin Pic)]
[Vern and Allan on the summit ridge. (Kevin Pic)]
[Vern and Allan further along the ridge. (Kevin Pic)]
[Vern (behind the guy in red coat) and Allan (red coat) contemplating the fresh snow as we prepare to head into the Sickle section.]
[Vern, Alda and Kevin on the summit ridge, just before the sickle. (Allan pic)]
[Vern, just before the sickle. (Allan pic)]
[Alda and Vern descending (carefully) down the sickle. (Allan pic)]
[Alda, Vern, Kev and Sim descending part of the sickle. (Allan pic)]
After the sickle there were a few more narrow spots on the ridge. Sim belayed Allan up a particularly tricky / exposed section and the rest of us simuclimbed it with Allan bringing us up on belay. The ridge really seemed to take forever because of the snow and crampons on rock, but the views were incredible with clear, cold skies around us. We could clearly make out the Bugaboos and a lot of 11,000ers. Good thing I forgot my camera! Eventually we finally did make the summit and we all exchanged hearty congratulatory handshakes while admiring the awesome views.
[Vern (with Sim in background) just before the summit of Mount Victoria. (Allan pic)]
[Kev and Vern on the summit of Mount Victoria (Sim in background). Note the flask - 10 year old port for Kev's 200th summit! (Allan pic)]
[Summit view looking southwest. Huber is on bottom left of picture. (Kevin Pic)]
After a few moments in the cold breeze and some quick summit snapshots from Kev's dying camera we were ready to go back. I presented Kev with a small gift on the summit (Vic was his 200th official summit) and the two of us took off on our bid for Mount Huber. Sim, Alda and Alan stayed on the summit for a lunch break before they would head back down the ridge to the Abbot hut.
Next up for us was a jaunt up Mount Huber.