Olive, Mount & St. Nicholas Peak

Summit Elevation (m): 3130
Trip Date: Saturday, February 11, 2006
Elevation Gain (m): 1350
Round Trip Time (hr): Unknown
Total Trip Distance (km): 25
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you might sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don’t minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (I)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps
Photos: View Album

What a fantastic day in the hills! That about sums up my Mount Olive (and St. Nicholas) outing. After spending a fun but bone chilling day out on the Wapta 3 weekends ago in our Mount Gordon trip, this was just a great way to see the other side to ski mountaineering. Raf came up with the idea of going after Mount Olive already about 3 weeks ago, just when Dave, Blair, Jason and I were planning our Gordon ascent.

Mount Olive and St. Nicholas Peak Route Map

When Raf’s Roger’s Pass trip fell through for the weekend of Feb 11 he let us know that we were back on for Olive and as the day got closer we all found ourselves getting more and more excited. The weather forecast was actually improving as each day progressed! No one wanted to say it out loud but we were getting psyched for a bluebird day on the Wapta with views for miles and no wind. February 11 ‘dawned’ (we actually left well before sunrise) clear and cold. After meeting Jason, and finally meeting Andrew in person, we piled into Raf’s 4×4 and headed off down highway #1 for the Icefields Parkway and the Bow Lake parking lot. 

Mount Olive

The sky was just starting to lighten up as we stepped out into the frosty air at Bow Lake. Ironically the two coldest moments of the day were standing in the parking lot at the beginning and end of the day! Soon we were skiing across Bow Lake on an icy ski track, which helped move us along at a good clip. It also didn’t hurt to have 6.5 foot Jason leading the way. I’m always surprised how fast the trip in to the Bow Hut goes and how bloody long it seems to take on the way back – even though half of it’s downhill on the way back. I guess that long flat lake just takes it out of you after already going 25+ kms.

A clear, cold morning as we cross Bow Lake – always the coldest place around. Bow Peak in the distance at left.

We were soon across the lake and after the always entertaining ‘bump’ that avoids the summer trail’s creek crossing, we were heading up the narrow Bow Hut approach canyon to the slopes below the hut. Jason made very quick time and soon we were staring out across the back bowl to the hut with beautiful views of St. Nicholas and the Vulture Glacier hanging off Vulture Peak high above us. The sky was clear and the air was crisp as Jason and I took the rope from Andrew and Raf so they could have a break from carrying that load.

We made quick time up the steep slopes to the Bow Hut and at the 2:03 mark from the parking lot, we were on the doorstep of one of the premier huts in the Canadian Rockies. We decided to have a quick snack and drink outside the hut so we wouldn’t warm up too much but as it turns out the door to the kitchen area was locked anyway so we didn’t have much of a choice in the end.

The deluxe and luxurious Bow Hut – flagship hut of the ACC.

After forcing down some food and liquids we started up the Wapta. If you’ve never done this section, don’t under estimate it. Up to this point you’ve only gained about half the elevation to the icefield and have a long way to go. Soon we were in the bright sunshine for the first time that day and things started to warm up really fast. Jason and Raf set a good pace and in between taking pictures I had a hard time keeping up with them! It didn’t take long before we were skiing right under the daunting ridge of St. Nicholas – which we were also planning to climb. We kept going past St. Nicholas and with a small burst of energy came out on the Olive / Nicholas col.

Andrew comes up behind me with St. Nicholas rising on the right.
A gorgeous, sunny, February day on the Wapta as we gain more height to the Olive / St. Nich col. Mount Collie is the beautiful peak in the distance. It would take me many more years before I’d finally tackle its tricky summit cornices in April of 2014.

The ridge on Olive looked hairy enough from the col, but the ridge to the summit of St. Nicholas looking positively scary from our vantage point! I think Jason and I both secretly wrote St. Nicholas off the summit list for the day at this point but we didn’t say anything and after cramponing up we set off up the north ridge of Mount Olive.

Olive’s north ridge doesn’t look trivial! We ended up skirting the lower ridge on climber’s left before cutting up very steep snow to the ridge proper.

We skirted the ridge to the east on the way up and this was likely a mistake. The slope was fairly steep and the snow was deep so we learned right away to stick to the ridge whenever we could on Olive. Once we were on the ridge proper, it was obvious that Olive was not a real technical challenge – or at least not the north summit. It didn’t take long and we were all standing on the north summit. Jason was so warm in the sun that he actually climbed the last part to the summit without his shirt on! At first I didn’t want to keep going until I realized that the true summit of Olive is the south one – than there was no choice!

Yes, JW has his shirt off in February. Mighty Mount Forbes rises in the background over Tilly and Trapper Peak.
L to R, Perren, Recondite, Cirque, Willingdon Group, Vulture, Crowfoot, Cataract, Andromache, Little Hector, Hector, Turquoise, Temple and the Lake Louise giants (R).
Great view of many of the large Wapta peaks including (L to R), Gordon, Des Poilus, Collie, Ayesha, Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper.

The ridge to the south summit looked quite intimidating at first but it wasn’t too bad once we got on it. There was one tricky section that we couldn’t have done with crampons. It involved going up a rock pinnacle and then down a steep snow chute that had questionable snow quality. When Andrew was kicking steps into the slope I could feel the snow moving at the top of the gully. Good thing there were handholds to the side that offered some security.

Raf makes his way to the true summit of Olive with a dazzling display of summits in the background including (L to R), Portal, Murchison, Corona Ridge, Noyes, Weed, Jimmy Simpson.

Once over the crux we quickly made our way up to the south summit and soon we were clicking our cameras like a bunch of paparazzi at the Oscars. In a way it was the Oscars! It was the most dazzling display of summits that I had ever experienced in the mountains to this date. Everywhere we turned there was another famous summit jumping out into view. After taking way too many pictures it was time to descend.

A stunning view south with Andromache, Hector, Balfour, Gordon and Collie clearly visible and many other peaks in the far distance.
L to R, Gordon, Collie, Ayesha, Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper, Peyto, Thompson, St. Nicholas, Olive South, Vulture (R).

Jason didn’t think he would have the energy to go for Nicholas but delayed his decision for the col.

Descending the north ridge towards an ocean of white.

The trip back to the North summit of Olive was quick and painless, albeit a bit tiring.

St. Nicholas Peak

As we made our way past St. Nicholas on our way up Mount Olive earlier that day, Jason and I were a bit apprehensive about doing the Nicholas extension in the 25 minutes (to the summit) that Raff had been promising us – it looked like a very serious climb! As we stared at the peak from Mount Olive about 2 hours later we were growing even more doubtful about making St. Nick this day.

JW leads along the summit ridge of St. Nicholas – main summit is just ahead.

After ending up back at the Nicholas / Olive col. Jason decided he did have energy again and while Raf, Jason and I headed up St. Nicholas, Andrew (who had already climbed it) started back down towards the Bow Hut. After some deliberation we decided that we wouldn’t even take the rope and left our packs at the col. We decided that we would go along the ridge until the going got dangerous or we felt unsafe.

A gorgeous view back along the summit ridge of St. Nicholas.

Once on the ridge the climbing was exhilarating and fun. With crampons and ice ax we never did feel unsafe and were soon scrambling up the crux – a very steep and exposed snow / ice gully that had some rock handholds on climbers left which helped provide some feeling of security. We topped out to another glorious summit view and after some quick pictures it was time to head down so we could be out to the bow lake parking lot by nightfall. It had taken us about 20-25 minutes from the col to the summit.

JW celebrates the second summit of the day.

The crux was very interesting on the way down but thankfully short. In no time we were back at the col and ready for a fantastic ski down the Wapta.

After summiting St. Nicholas it was time for the infamous ski run back to the parking lot. We cruised down the Wapta in about 2-4 inches of fresh snow flying up around our skis. The slopes about the hut provided some fantastic turns and my legs were burning as we skied up to the hut. We didn’t have time to stop in so off we went down the headwall below the hut. The skiing here was absolutely amazing and all too soon it was over.

Following our tracks back off the Wapta with St. Nicholas rising at right and Thompson / Portal at distant left.

The run down the canyon was good too, I poled the whole way and with the moon rising over Bow Lake we arrived at the parking lot after a very satisfying day. I would say my best day yet in the mountains.

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