Summit Elevation (m): 2908
Trip Date: September 21, 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 1450
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 30
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Not a simple hike but generally fairly easy scrambling with some routefinding and exposure. In the conditions I had it’s significantly more difficult.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I wasn’t sure if I had the energy or weather to do another scramble on Wednesday, September 21 but I had the day off and decided I might as well make the most of it. The week previous I’d summitted Park Mountain near MacArthur Lake in Lake O’Hara and noted the larches were especially stunning this year. After a bout of snowy and cool weather, I wondered how the area would look, only a few days later and decided to hike the 11km approach road by myself and check out the conditions. If it was reasonable I would try to scramble up Little Odaray, also known as Walter Feuz Peak.
After hiking 25km and almost 2,000 vertical meters on Park Mountain on Friday, 30km and another 2k vertical on Greater Pharaoh on Sunday and another 20km and over 1.6k vertical on Southfork and Barnaby on Monday, I wasn’t sure about another potentially 30km, 1.5k vertical day on Walter Feuz but my legs started out feeling pretty good in the cool morning air from the parking lot. I noticed right away that there was a significant amount of snow on the surrounding peaks – much more than a few days previous. Once again, a largely empty bus passed me about half way up my 11km approach and once again I noted that for some reason walk-up ticket purchasers were not allowed, even though every single one of us simply marched up the road anyway (thereby negating any “quota issues”)! Parks Canada is making less and less sense to me this year. They really seem to discourage responsible, active users from using our great park system…
After hiking briskly for about 7km I noticed a figure ahead of me. I caught up to him and we started chatting. Soon we realized we knew each other from the Internet. He was Darcy Monchak, a well known photographer based out of Golden, BC. With company and good conversation the last 4km passed by much quicker than usual and soon we were parting ways at the Le Relais day shelter, Darcy heading up towards the Opabin Plateau and me going to Schaffer Lake and McArthur Pass. Before continuing upward, I sat on the picnic table outside the shelter and switched footwear, taking off my approach shoes and donning full shank mountaineering boots. The trail starting from the shelter was covered in ice and snow already and I could clearly see at least 12 inches of fresh snow up higher on the surrounding peaks.
After slipping and sliding my way up to Schaffer Lake, I took the right branch of the trail, leading up to the Odaray Highline trail. After a short stint on this trail I came to another branch – the left headed up to McArthur Pass and Lake and the right heading up to the Odaray Highline trail and the Odaray Grandview viewpoint high above. There were only a few boot prints leading to the Odaray Highline trail and I immediately noticed a registration booth at the junction, part of a voluntary program to limit use of any trails in the Odaray region due to a wildlife corridor in the area. I was the 2nd person (of a maximum 4 / day) to register, so I signed the sheet and continued on towards Odaray on the trail, thankful to have tracks now that there was at least a foot of fresh snow doing its best to hide the trail and making travel difficult already this low down.
The weather forecast for this particular day was like every other day in my first week off – pretty crappy. Just as on previous outings, ignoring the forecast was becoming a better and better idea as I hiked the High-line trail. Warm sunshine was heating the air around puffy clouds as I took in a stunning scene of larches, fresh snow and soaring Lake O’Hara and Yoho peaks. I followed the tracks through a boulder field and further north, up along the east side of Mount Odaray. Eventually, after more stunning views east over Lake O’Hara, Schaffer Lake and peaks such as Victoria, Huber, Biddle and Park, the tracks I was following came to an end with three friendly hikers standing at a barrier across the trail.
After a brief conversation it was obvious that the youngest member of the party in front of me was keen on going up to the Odaray Grandview and was very happy that I was not stopping! It’s right at this closed point on the Highline Trail that the Grandview Alpine route starts up the east side of Odaray. The snow was slowly getting deeper as I started up the alpine route, following paint markers and the faint outline of the trail – now without the benefit of tracks. As I worked my way higher and higher, I wondered how the heck the trail would break through steep cliff bands on the east side, above me, but soon it was apparent that I’d be traversing under them to the north end of a northeast trending ridge before cutting back to climber’s left and ascending this ridge up to the Grandview. As I rounded the north end of the ridge, Cathedral Mountain appeared, rising out of the clouds in dramatic fashion. I could also spot Linda Lake in the valley below it.
As I trudged up through deepening snow to the amazing views off the Grandview, I couldn’t help but notice the intimidating east face leading up to “Little” Odaray, high above me. The face didn’t look easy, especially plastered in at least a foot of fresh snow and with no visible route through it. I thought there would have been a line of cairns marking the easiest path but I only came across a few random piles of rock as I started to work my up towards it. As I encountered the first steep step on the east face section I noted the guy following me, far below me now and very hesitant to follow me any further. I swore at the terrain in front of me – I really expected it to be easier – but swearing at it didn’t seem to help any so I decided to don my crampons and take out my mountaineering ax and try that technique instead. It worked better.
With crampons to help me on the slick, snow covered rocks and my ax to assist with the occasional pull-up and stem, I made it up the east face crux and exited onto the infamous upper snow bank that seems to be a permanent feature above the east face. Without ax and crampons there’s no way I would have been able to safely climb the face, let alone kick steps up this snow scoop to the upper ridge. From the top of the snow there was still a long way to the summit, and all of it would clearly be on a fresh line of snow. I step-kicked, walked and stumbled my way up to the summit, thankful again to have the ax and crampons. As I finally crested the high point known as Little Odaray or Walter Feuz Peak, the views in every direction were stunning – much, much better than expected with the forecast I had.
After a summit break and taking in the great views for about 20 minutes, I noticed the clouds building and moving in so I began my descent. Again, having the crampons and ax made my descent tolerable, but certainly not easy scrambling with all the snow and ice covered terrain. Once I was down from the Grandview the trail became pretty melted out and by the time I was once again on the Odaray Highline trail, the snow was almost completely melted – on the trail at least.
I made short work to the Le Relais shelter only to find that I was an hour early for the next bus down.
I decided to walk the 11km road back out, resulting in a full 30km day. My feet were sore but my soul was full as I entered the parking lot later that afternoon. Once again, pushing through my own doubts and foreboding weather forecasts had paid off – big time. I would have to remember this lesson again in the coming days.