"This oatmeal is very average"
That deadpan quote was uttered by Bob Parr at 6am, August 12, 2006 in preparation of attempting Kiwetinok Peak, Mount Pollinger, Mount McArthur and Mount Kerr in Yoho National Park. Apparently plain oatmeal and water is not a gourmet breakfast. As it turns out, Bob provided a lot entertaining, deadpan quotes which made a weekend in Yoho's Stanley Mitchell hut very entertaining.
It all started with Linda Breton planning a group trip to the Stanley Mitchell hut in hopes of having a more successful outing than the group trip last year. In June 2005, Dave, Sonny and I summitted Isolated Peak and then the weather prevented us and the rest of the rmbooks group from getting anything more significant. We thought that we had bagged Mount Kerr but a year later we found out to our dismay that the map and guidebook description had led us to an outlier of Kerr - not the main summit! (It was worse for me because I'd already 'summitted' that false peak once before!!)
As it turned out this year, due to bad weather and a full hut, only Bob, Hanneke (my wife) and I hiked into the hut in gloomy conditions on Friday, August 11. Bob was already at the hut when Hanneke and I arrived, and soon after we got there the skies opened up and the rain came down hard. After a lengthy philosophical discussion with Rebecca, Carl and Cohen from Montana and a brief hike up a local moraine with Hanneke to scout out the conditions (some fresh snow on all surrounding peaks but not too much) it was time for bed.
Bob and I woke up with the dawn of a new day and by 7am we were hiking up to Kiwetinok Pass under a partly cloudy sky.
We ascended the lower slopes of Kiwetinok Peak and before the large snow patch we tried short-cutting up through the lower cliffs to climber's left. This was, of course, not smart and soon we were backing out of a very slippery (ice / snow) situation and traversing over to the Pollinger / Kiwetinok col. We worked our way up the steep slopes of Kiwetinok and with a mix of (lots of) luck and (some) good route finding we managed to make the summit.
It would be impossible for me to describe the route in detail but in a rare stroke of mountaineering prowess I actually did a pretty good job of route finding this day! Every time I found a way through a crux section I would spot another cairn proving my decision correct. The snow made it hard to pick a line but the general key to the top is to trend climber's left and traverse under cliff bands until obvious weaknesses appear - sometimes on climber's right. This was by far the most difficult ascent of the day. We had to cross several patches of ice and snow that even crampons wouldn't have made easier. The snow was more like a layer of slush residing on a slab of ice. Crampons would have balled up on the slush and then slid off the ice! The ice / snow / cold didn't help any but this peak has far fewer visitors than any of the other three we visited - it still had a half empty register placed by Alan Kane in 1995.
We enjoyed a stunning panorama from the summit and Bob commented that the region around us had a very 'wild' feeling to it. I think that's what has brought my into this area 3 times already. Once you get up to Kiwetinok Pass the remoteness of the terrain is apparent. From Kiwetinok Peak the majesty of the surrounding peaks combined with the difficult of the climb, is right in your face and leaves an impression that will not soon fade from my memory.
From Kiwetinok Peak we traversed over to Pollinger. The climb down Kiwetinok to the col was a bit tricky because we couldn't risk glissading the slush / ice slabs and had to pick our way down wet slabs. The terrain is also horribly loose and even though we were extremely careful, we still managed to set loose a number of large rocks. On hindsight it's a good thing we didn't have a large group on this mountain.
Pollinger is only a 'bump' but it's higher than I was expecting. The down climb was very steep (i.e. vertical) and exposed. Some verglass on the bottom section made things very interesting but Bob and I both enjoyed the challenge.
The weather was sending us some nasty signals as we started the trudge over to Mount McArthur from Pollinger. The perspective also threw us off a bit because it really looked like we had a long way to go. After crossing a freshly coated snowfield we arrived at the ridge and picked our way up to the summit. It was cool to look down on Isolated Peak, knowing that we didn't have to do that one again! We arrived at the summit much quicker than anticipated with dark, grey clouds swirling all around us. Just as on Kiwetinok, the clouds dissipated as soon as we stood on the summit for a few moments, leaving us with another breathless summit view.
Fields of ice and snow, combined with small ponds of glacial runoff glittering in random spots of sunlight refreshed our spirits and reminded us once again why we choose such a demanding sport for leisure.
We took some photos and began the descent to the Pollinger / Kiwetinok col. Once we got back to the crux climb to regain Pollinger, Bob headed out on the 'possible traverse' on the east side to bypass the crux. This traverse was very exposed ( i.e. you start to slide you're toast) but the scree was pretty solid and overall the traverse is less dangerous than the down climb. To do the traverse, simply go back about 10 meters from the down climb and peer down the east side of Pollinger. It looks nastier than it is but pick your footholds carefully... ;-)
From Pollinger we spent some time side-sloping down from the col to Kiwetinok Pass. We had a fun time going through the various cliff bands but the large scree proved tedious after a while. Finally we made it down to the pass, feeling quite tired and very impressed with Andrew's recent accomplishment of all four summits AND a trek to and from the Takakaw Falls parking lot! We didn't really feel like taking on Kerr but we knew that it was a better option than waiting till Sunday morning before the trek out to do it. The weather seemed to look a lot worse than it was and so with another threatening band of grey clouds heading right at us, we started traversing around the base of Mount Kerr.
I do not like Mount Kerr! After traversing around the base and breaking through the cliff's leading up to the false summit, we started heading climber's right to the summit that was in our view. Guess what? This is NOT the summit of Kerr!! In hindsight the route that we took up Kerr was actually more interesting than the scree slog it could have been if we stayed climber's left. We had an interesting time going through a field of massive boulders followed by giant stone ledges. By the time we got half way to our 'summit' we realized that Kerr was to climber's left and we had to lose some elevation to get to it! The elevation loss wasn't very much and soon we were heading up the final summit block of Kerr. By this time the dark clouds had reached us and it was snowing / sleeting pretty hard. We reached the giant cairn just as the clouds started to thin out and we were treated to some decent summit views once again.
We looked for a register but the cairn was darn big and quite unstable I really didn't feel comfortable taking pieces of it out to look! We didn't bother signing anything. Looking over at the false summit we were both glad we chose the traverse over the down climb. It looked like the recent snow and rain would have made the descent from the false summit quite interesting. The way back down Kerr was fun and we enjoyed down climbing some moderate terrain before traversing back to Kiwetinok Pass.
The trudge back to the hut was quick and painful but the glow of a very successful 4 summit day dulled the throbbing in our feet. Bob and I both agreed that it was a very memorable excursion and we both ranked it pretty high on our mountain experience list. The combination of difficult scrambling with lots of route finding and varied terrain made for a very interesting day out.
Hanneke was waiting back at the hut and was very generous in making us supper. Linda surprised us with her company after supper and following some good laughs and discussion we hit the sack and passed out rather quickly!
Sunday morning dawned overcast but we set off down the Iceline Trail at a brisk pace. Soon there were sunny patches of sky, opening up the beautiful Yoho vista. Linda regaled us with her hopes of bagging a prominent Yoho outlier and soon Bob and I were glancing at that peak wondering if it was possible... ;-) Lunchtime was spent enjoying the incredible views from 'Tupperware Nub' and crossing 'Leather pants Stream' was interesting to say the least! We had a very pleasant stroll for the remainder of the trail and parted ways in the parking lot with promises of getting back together in the near future.