Summit Elevation (m): 3138
Trip Date: July 26 2008
Elevation Gain (m): 1800
Trip Time (hr): 24
Total Trip Distance (km): 26
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you sprain or break something unless you fall in a crevasse or get caught in an avalanche in which case you could die.
Difficulty Notes: Some moderate scrambling and loose terrain along with limited route finding make this a moderate scramble. Note: This trip includes both The President and The Vice President.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (II)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
On Friday evening, July 25th 2008, Raf, Keith, Wietse and I hiked into the Little Yoho campground in Yoho National Park with plans to ascent both the President and the Vice President early on Saturday morning. We left Calgary at 17:00 and arrived at the Takkakkaw Falls parking lot at 19:30. By 20:00 we were hiking into the Yoho Valley on a good trail. This is the 4th time I’ve gone into the Little Yoho Valley and it’s never let me down before. You can count on several things happening to you every time you enter into this wonderful area of the Rockies. They would be, gorgeous views, rain, rain and rain. We experienced all of those things. 🙂
My 3 previous trips to the Yoho Valley had me staying at the luxurious Stanley Mitchell Hut but this time we were going to cram 4 guys into my MEC Wanderer 4-person tent to keep things more ‘real’, or something like that. My record time for hiking into the hut is 1 hour, 52 minutes with a big pack. I set that pace with Dave Stephens on our RMB hike into the area a few years ago. I tried to match that pace but couldn’t quite manage it this time. I’m going to blame the heavier glacier and tent gear for the extra 18 minutes it took me this time! It was nice to get the tent set up while there was still some daylight left.
By 22:00 I was in bed while the other boys enjoyed a stiff shot of Jagermeister (Raf carries that stuff everywhere – I’m starting to wonder about that lad…) and one of our crew even decided that mixing it with Advil would be a good idea. I never did find out how that worked for him but he didn’t talk in his sleep so I guess it certainly didn’t hurt any.
Everyone survived the cramped quarters and precisely at 04:00 two alarms went off simultaneously. We all scrambled out of our sleeping bags, refreshed and ready to tackle the ascent. Ok, the truth is that we dragged our sorry butts slowly out of our warm sleeping bags and reluctantly decided to climb now that we were awake anyway. Plus we figured that climbing a mountain would warm us up a bit. On our way out of the campground we could see 3 headlamps bobbing their way along the opposite side of the river. We wouldn’t be the only ones on the Presidents this day. We were a bit relieved because now we wouldn’t have to do any route-finding (or so we thought). There are two or even three route choices you have within 30 minutes of embarking on this climb. You can either cut off to climbers left immediately upon arriving at the sign indicating Kiwetinok Pass is still 4 km ahead. If it’s pitch dark and you’re not familiar with this area I would not recommend this approach. You could end up climbing Barometer Peak by accident. Or you could end up on the knife-edge moraine and slip off. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to miss your climb because you fell off of a moraine?! That would be seriously uncool.
The other two choices are a bit easier to negotiate in the dark. As it turns out, we did one, while the other ascent party did the other. Most recent trip reports and advice that we got from climbers who had done the Presidents in the past 5 years all advised us to go up the climbers left hand side of the glacier before traversing over and crossing the bergschrund on climbers right. This is to avoid the rock fall coming off the President on the way up the glacier. I liked the sound of not having rocks falling on me so when we got to the terminal moraine I followed an obvious trail going up the left side of it. We caught up to the other 3 climbers at this point and after a brief “hello”, we went our own ways. It looked to me like there was a guide and two clients, and we found out later that the guide was Tom Wolfe, a well known local guide. The other party started ascending a lateral moraine after crossing the stream coming from the Presidents glacier. We stuck to the left side of the stream and followed cairns and a good trail all the way up past a waterfall and right up to the glacier just left of center. The other party gained some extra height and we stayed just ahead of them for the rest of the day.
After roping up at the base of the glacier, Raf led the group up towards the col between the President and Vice President. We started out on bare ice but soon were in supportive snow. Raf set a slow-but-steady pace and we inched our way up through fantastic early morning light. Alpine glow lit up the President as we inched up towards the right side of the glacier. The bergschrund (where the glacier breaks off of itself and opens a huge crevasse) started to look quite big as we approached it. We had a clear track to follow and Raf wisely did just that! We all had to stop to take photos of the ‘schrund as we climbed over and above it on a firm snow bridge to climbers right. The size was more obvious when Tom and his clients walked up next to it. Not a good place to fall into! Once over the ‘schrund we found ourselves at the col, staring up at a steep, snowy slope that led to the summit of the President.
We decided to leave the rope at the col and proceeded up the President without crampons, although we could have worn them as there was quite a bit of snow above the col. The climb to the summit was only moderate scrambling, even with all the snow. Raf led us all up a 5.10 section that was over hanging but since it was only 3 feet high we didn’t think the whole route deserved this rating. 🙂 The snow may have actually made it easier than without, in any case we were on the summit pretty quickly after leaving the col. It was strange standing on the summit before 08:00 in the morning but the views were incredible and the air was crisp and cold and clear so we did not regret getting up as early as we did. We could see clouds building off to the west and knew that with thunderstorms in the forecast we should not linger too long at the risk missing out on the Vice President. Looking over at the Vice President we became very curious about a pointy little peak to the Southeast across the Emerald Glacier. Could that be Michael Peak? If it was we determined that we were going to give it a shot since we were so early anyway.
On our descent back to the col we met Tom and his clients coming up the President. We exchanged brief pleasantries and continued on our ways after confirming that they too were going up the Vice President next. It worked out perfectly that we were not right behind or in front of each other because the rocks were very loose on both peaks. We sent Wietse across the col to the VP to make sure there were no hidden crevasses before Keith, Raf and I followed him across. There were actually some big cracks at the col but we could see them clearly and there were tracks leading beside them so we felt fairly safe being unroped here. If there’s snow covering the col I would seriously not recommend crossing it without a rope. I’ve heard of people being surprised (and not in a good way) by the holes up there!
The route up the Vice President looked intimidating from the President but once we started up the snow slope, it wasn’t too bad. There was ice under the snow which made things interesting in places. The loose rock was hazardous like all the peaks in the Rockies seem to be – so that was certainly no different on this climb. After about 15 or 20 minutes we topped out on the summit ridge to a fantastic view and a much warmer temperature than we had on the President only an hour earlier. The Emerald Glacier was glistening with a coat of snow and all around us were the amazing peaks and valleys of Yoho and Banff National Parks. We quickly made the summit and settled in for some sight-seeing and breakfast. We were surprised to discover that the bump we thought was Michael Peak was actually an unnamed GR and Michael Peak is quite a bit lower than this nub. It’s a fantastic nub but was not really worth the effort, especially when there were thunderstorms moving in rapidly from the southwest. We contented ourselves with the views and the warm sunshine before deciding that we should head down and beat the storms. We all agreed that the summit view from Vice President is at least as good as the one from the President, definitely worth going up if you’re in the area and have clear skies.
We met Tom and his clients on our way down Vice President, thankfully right near the ridge so there was no rockfall hazard for either party. We agreed to leave our email addresses in the Stanley Mitchell hut so that we could email some of our pictures of each other’s groups back and forth and we agreed that it was amazing that these peaks were seeing so little activity on such a glorious day (but we were thankful for the solitude).
The trip back down the glacier was pretty smooth. Raff and Keith both found “leg biters”, or small, hidden crevasses that make one of your legs magically disappear while your body tilts alarmingly in one direction. Keith was third on the rope and just stepped about 12 inches off Raf’s down track when his right leg disappeared. Raff thought to himself that he should be taking a different line but went ahead anyway and found his leg biter! Guess there’s a good reason not to solo this simple glacier – there are still holes in it and some of them are still not that obvious!
We managed to get our tent and sleeping gear packed up just as the first drops of rain and peals of thunder started over the Yoho Valley. We made our way over to the hut and I left my email address for Tom in the hut register. On our way out of the hut we met Tom again! He was soaked and obviously happy to be down. He remarked how different the ‘schrund was than last time he saw it and we chatted for a bit before parting ways again. We set a good pace back to the parking lot but that 10km trail seemed to never end! I still can not believe the stamina that Andrew Nugara and Kevin Barton had to have to do the whole hike in to bag Mounts Kerr, Kiwetinok, Pollinger and McArthur and then still hike all the way out to the parking lot again in the same day. I think it took them something like 17 hours total! I couldn’t link to Andrew’s trip report but that is a crazy day trip. We had intermittent thunderstorms all the way out of Little Yoho Valley so it’s a good thing we didn’t take the exposed Iceline Trail.
A highly recommended trip with some of the best scenery you’ll ever have, that is pretty well suited to beginner alpine climbers as long as the ‘schrund is well bridged. Despite being a simple alpine ascent you shouldn’t underestimate the glacier or avalanche potential in certain conditions.