Foolishly I decided that if Sunwapta Peak was in shape for scrambling two weeks ago, and since it's even higher than Tangle Ridge, I would have no problems what-so-ever on Tangle. To be fair, I was aware that temperatures were going to be very warm and the snow would be going isothermal already early in the day. I was also aware that the Columbia Icefields area had gotten some snow over the past week but being an eternal optimist I was of the opinion that the objective was going to be a cakewalk.
It wasn't a cakewalk. It wasn't even a five-course-meal-walk. It wasn't even a walk. It was a brutal snow slog! Sonny warned me after Sunwapta that Tangle may be a lot less elevation gain ('only' 1240m compared to over 1750m) but it still was a slog in its own right. I kind of scoffed at the idea that a peak with over half a kilometer less height gain could be in the same league but now I admit I was wrong.
[This is what Tangle Ridge looks like from about 1km up the road towards the Icefields Center at a tourist stop. The route follows the left side of the drainage in the middle of the photo to the summit which is not in view here.]
Of course when Sonny and Linda did Tangle Ridge back in December 2005, they didn't have to wade through ankle to crotch deep snow! That's not to belittle their trip but with the amount of snow we had I think Tangle came close to being more exhausting then it's giant neighbor to the north.
Jeff hasn't scrambled in over two years so I thought he did very well to make the summit on this particular day. We started out under a mostly cloudy sky but the weather continued to improve over the course of the day. There was a tiny bit of confusion when the trail dipped down near the ruins of an old log cabin and we initially considered crossing the stream here. We continued down the Wilcox Pass trail and after climbing through the forest we descended to creek level again and quickly spotted three obvious cairns on the opposite side of the creek.
[The morning started off cloudy but by the time we started to break tree line the clouds were lifting.]
We quickly climbed up the left side of the creek. Well it wasn't 'quick' with all the snow but it wasn't too bad. We were really hoping that once we broke tree line we'd have to use our crampons but no such luck. We continued to sink between 6 inches and 2.5 feet for the rest of the way up the ridge. Once in a while we'd hit some screen patches but they were very rare. It became a battle of the mind. I would find the next rock sticking out of the snow and head for it. Once I reached that rock I would look for the next one. I broke trail the whole way because Jeff wasn't feeling too good after only 3 hours of sleep (I had 4.5) and this was the first scramble he was on in a long time so I didn't want to scare him off! ;-)
[An outlier of one of the larger peaks across the Parkway shows up as we break tree line.]
[We started to worry as the amount of snow increased and became softer and more isothermal. At least the views were improving!]
[These cliffs break the monotony of the lower mountain and show the upper bowl. Don't worry - you're not very close to the summit yet! (About 700m vertical to go yet from here).]
[Jeff stopped for a break along the cliff band. He had a nice view from there.]
[This is a small panorama looking back at the cliff area. You can see the ridge and Mount Wilcox in the background at right.]
There are 2 or 3 false summits on Tangle. Thanks to Sonny and Linda I was ready for them and kept a close eye on my altimeter to estimate how close we were to the summit. As we climbed higher, the wind began to blow very hard and snow was coming down. Also, we were getting into pockets of pretty thick clouds. I guess you can't have good views on every summit but it seems like the peaks near the Icefields are more temperamental than most. Finally the tower was in sight and 10 minutes later we were on the summit. After some quick pictures and hastily searching in vain for the register we were headed back down.
[A south-facing panorama from about halfway up the big snow slope. You can see the upper bowl on the left and Wilcox Pass and Nigel Meadows in the distance at center. ++]
[Jeff is still behind me as we get closer to the top and enter the clouds and wind.]
[Finally I can spot the radio tower through a break in the clouds.]
[Jeff and Vern on the summit of Tangle Ridge.]
[Jeff walks past the gadgets at the summit. They're watching us!!]
[You can barely make our Sunwapta's slopes from the summit of Tangle Ridge. This is as clear as the view north got from the summit while I was up there.]
As the weather improved, the snow condition deteriorated rapidly. Whereas on the way up were sinking up to our knees, on the way down we were plunging up to our crotches. This says a lot because Jeff is 6'4" and I'm 6' so you know there was some nasty feelings being thrown down at all the white stuff we had to wade through! Of course going down was much easier but it got tricky when there was rocks under all that snow. You had to make sure your ankle wasn't wedged behind a rock after each plunge.
[A panorama looking south from just under the cloud cover on the way back down. Peaks visible include Wilcox, K2, Kitchener and part of Cromwell (L to R). ++]
[I'm wondering how the heck I broke trail through all this snow! This is on the way down. Mount Kitchener is still in the clouds to my left.]
The views opened up as we got lower and we spent quite a bit of time soaking them in. The mountains around Canmore sure seem tiny when you spend time along the Icefields Parkway!
[Jeff is descending back through some rubble as we navigate towards tree line. You can just make out the Athabasca Glacier in the distance to the mid-left with Andromeda buried in clouds behind.]
[A view towards Mount Kitchener from the Wilcox Pass trail.]
[As I descend the Wilcox Pass trail the views towards Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom (L to R) continue to open up. ++]
Eventually we were back at the car and agreed that although we had a fantastic trip, we both felt rather lucky that we had summitted. A bit more snow or a bit later start would have ruined our chances of success on this one. I guess sometimes it's worth getting up at 03:30 on a Saturday morning!