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Chapel Peak (Collesha)

Summit Elevation (m): 2968
Trip Date: February 12 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1350
Round Trip Time (hr): 8
Total Trip Distance (km): 30.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something 
Difficulty Notes: A short but very steep headwall to the Collie / Chapel col. Be very confident of the snow pack before attempting this one!
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (II)
GPS Track: Download
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It took me 8 years but on the 2nd weekend of February 2022 I finally managed to ski a peak that’s been on my list ever since 2014 when I climbed its neighbors, Mount Collie and Ayesha. I knew Chapel Peak as “Collesha” for many years before reading David Jones Rockies West (pg. 55) where the more proper sounding (still unofficial) name comes from. I remember that Steve and I had Chapel on our radar as a backup plan for our Mount Ayesha trip which ended up taking around 13 hours round trip from the Bow Lake parking lot. Since Mount Collie took us around 11 hours I figured worst case Chapel was a 12 hour day with slowish conditions and could be under 10 with fast conditions on the icefield. I don’t have very many new summits to chase that are considered part of the Wapta so this was a special one for me. I waited for years to get the right combination of avalanche, weather and life conditions before the stars finally aligned.

Chapel Peak Route Map

Chapel Peak never looked difficult from my planning beta photos. From the Collie approach it looked easy to gain the col under a gentle south ridge leading to the summit. A few things made me reconsider that opinion. First, distant views of snow slopes almost always underestimate their tilt. Second, I remembered how steep the innocent looking approach slopes on Ayesha were and this could be very similar. I surmised it wouldn’t be crazy difficult because the FRA of our route almost exactly 38 years previous was by John Martin as a solo winter ascent. The weather and avalanche forecasts had me very excited for the weekend and I quickly recruited Wietse and Sara for the effort well ahead of time. We hummed and hawed about axes and ‘pons and in the end we brought a couple of axes just in case we needed to cut steps somewhere but left the crampons behind. We carried crevasse rescue gear and Sara and I each carried a 30m rope which was plenty of extra weight compared to most of our trips.

Because of short daylight hours and a potentially long day we decided to leave YYC at 04:30 and start our approach before sunrise across Bow Lake. Temperatures along the parkway predictably plummeted compared to hwy #1 and by the time we turned off a very icy highway to the parking lot it was -15. Given the warm temperatures of the past week, combined with strong winds and lack of fresh snow we were expecting pretty icy conditions from the parking lot. As soon as we started across Bow Lake we were indeed on a mix of icy and wind-hammered snow. We couldn’t even follow a ski track because they were all literally blown out! 

Venus is very bright in the morning as we cross Bow Lake before sunrise.

Needless to say we made short work of the lake and were soon starting up the canyon by-pass hill before the main canyon at the back of the lake. Travel continued to be quick and easy up the canyon on well frozen snow and a fresh ski track from the day before. There were no signs of recent slides as we exited the canyon and skied to the back of the valley under the Vulture ice cap (which was smaller than I remembered). It was windy along the whole approach and that didn’t change as we started up steep slopes beneath the Bow Hut. Wietse broke trail on hard snow and soon we were entering the hut for a quick break out of the wind to don our harnesses for glacier travel. Wietse and Sara weren’t taking quite as many stops for photos and video as me and every time I stopped they’d get ahead of me. I felt a bit rushed on the approach to the hut and when we got there in under 1 hour, 50 minutes I knew why! That’s a pretty good pace considering how far we had to travel this particular day. We briefly chatted with a hut guest who was surprised to see us up there that early – some members of his party were still getting out of bed. 😉

From the hut we followed a very icy track towards the Wapta headwall between St. Nicholas Peak and The Onion. There were no visible tracks up the headwall due to the wind so Wietse broke trail on 0.1cm of snow on crust. The sun was coming up over Vulture Peak as we finally hit our first sunshine up the headwall with glorious views starting to open up around us. Many of the peaks were looking very bare which had me wondering what Chapel’s south ridge would be like.

Compared to the Columbia Icefields, the Wapta is a very junior sized glacier. I’m always surprised how quickly a crossing goes and on this particular day we were gliding across the hardpack snow at a very fast pace. It didn’t take long for Rhondda and Gordon to show up and become bigger and bigger as we neared the western plateau of the icefield. I knew from both my Collie and Ayesha trips that it’s worth taking the skins off as soon as the descent to the western plateau starts so we did exactly that. The glide down to the beautiful western plateau between Collie, Chapel and Ayesha and Baker, Habel and Rhondda was quick and very pleasant despite a stiff west wind in our faces.

Skiing across a very wind-hammered Wapta Icefield towards a distant Mount Collie at left. To the right of us is Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper, Peyto, Thompson, Portal and Observation Peak.
Sara is tiny as she skis onto the western plateau of the Wapta Icefield. Mount Collie looms at center with Chapel Peak at right.

What a day it was! The view of Mount Collie’s east face icefall with Chapel and Ayesha rising to the north was absolutely stunning. The snow and ice patterns on the plateau were mesmerizing as we skied across glistening fields of windswept snow. We continued as far as feasible without skins until finally stopping to put them on for the ascent ahead. Snow coverage on the glacier was very good and we didn’t bother roping up as we continued towards a steep NE slope leading to the Collie / Chapel col. Not roping up on a glacier is a personal choice that could have very serious consequences. Just because we didn’t feel it necessary on our trip in our conditions doesn’t mean we made a good decision and doesn’t mean things will align like this on your trip.

The western plateau is a gorgeous glacier nestled between Collie, Chapel and Ayesha to the west (L) and Baker, Habel and Rhondda to the east (R).

Already from the plateau below, I noticed that the snow slopes leading up to the col under the south ridge of Chapel looked a bit steeper than I was thinking they’d be. As we slowly approached, the slope started looking steeper and steeper! I really hoped conditions would remain solid, but not so solid that we’d wish for crampons and axes to get up the dang thing. Thankfully the slope was NE facing and seemed to be in shadow for most of its life keeping it relatively stable. One thing I did worry about was the potential for wind-loading. Facing an easterly direction this slope could definitely get very loaded in some conditions and it’s something to keep in mind if you’re heading up it.

Approaching the lower route to the col things get dramatically steeper. Note the steepest roll in the NE slope is in shadow, keeping it relatively safe other than wind-loading potential.

Like being slowly boiled, the slope kept getting steeper and steeper until it got serious. It’s hard to capture in photos with a wide angle lens but there were a few “zigs” and “zags” that had me pretty nervous about being there. The snow was absolutely bullet-proof with zero signs of instability so it was the perfect conditions to be in such a place but it was a bit unnerving to look down the 45 degree slope getting bigger and bigger under us as we inched slowly upward! Wietse did a great job with his lead and after a few switchbacks we were already traversing off the NE slope towards a nice gentle snow arete to the south ridge.

After the excitement of the NE ascent slope we enjoyed incredible views and perfect conditions to the south ridge on very supportive snow that promised a heckuva run back down. Once on the south ridge proper the snow became wind-hammered and very icy and we ended up taking off the skis just under the summit and continuing on foot. We almost needed crampons on the rock hard snow but managed to avoid it on rocks before popping out at the summit less than 5 hours from the parking lot. Summit views were sublime on this perfect winter day and other than a stiff breeze the temperature wasn’t even that cold.

Summit views back over the Wapta Icefield include (L to R), Habel, Rhondda, Crowfoot, St. Nicholas, Olive, Gordon, Collie and des Poilus (R).
Incredible views past Mount Ayesha include the Mummery Group at left. The steep south facing snow gully granting access to the summit block on Ayesha clearly visible.
Summit views west include (L to R), Collie, des Poilus, Laussedat, Lotosky, Poland, Mummery, Cairnes, Ayesha, Baker and Mistaya (R).

After enjoying the summit views we slowly cooled in the steady westerly winds. There was a survey wand at the summit which I now realize is the boundary marker for Yoho National Park. There is an odd “U” shape on the NW side of the Wapta Icefield that is neither in Banff or Yoho and this includes Ayesha Peak and the Ayesha and Baker glaciers which I never realized before. The NW end of the Wapta Icefield drains into Collie and Wildcat creeks before flowing into the Blaeberry River which then merges into the mighty Columbia River north of Golden, BC. We stumbled down the upper south ridge to our skis and strapped in for the fast ride down to the western plateau. After a brief, unattractive stint with wind-hammered, icy snow on the south ridge we rode perfect ankle deep powder to the top of the steep NE access slope beneath the imposing north face of Mount Collie.

Descending to the top of the steep access headwall with Mount Collie‘s north face looming above.

From the top of the NE slope the route down to the glacier looked very steep! Wietse took off with Sara following quickly behind. I captured some photos and video of them before starting my GoPro and starting down myself. What a blast! I haven’t skied such steep terrain in a while and by the time I was warming up to it I was already at the bottom. I’ve already made it clear but I’ll say it one last time – conditions must be solid for this slope to be safely traveled! Both Collie and Ayesha are arguably much more technical ascents once you’re off the snow sticks, but neither of those two peaks have ski terrain remotely this steep unless you’re skiing off their respective summits.

A good indication of the steep headwall beneath the upper col as we prepare to ski down to the western plateau. Mount Olive and Gordon in the bg.

From the bottom of the NE slope we enjoyed a long quick glide across the western plateau where the terrain flattened and started angling up between Mount Rhondda and Mount Gordon again. Looking back at the lovely trio of Collie, Chapel and Ayesha I felt deep satisfaction at having all of them under my belt.

A gorgeous afternoon photo looking back at Chapel Peak with the steep NE slope to the col in shade at left. Note the massive summit cornice.

From the bottom of the western plateau we put our skins back on and proceeded steadily back up to the east side of the Wapta. We knew we were setting a ridiculous time but we didn’t feel too rushed and even had a 5-10 minute break when we donned the skins. I didn’t eat all day but did drink 200ml of water – I’m extremely proud of myself for staying so hydrated! 😉 We chatted and skied up the wind-hammered Wapta, even stopping to seriously consider tagging Mount Gordon as we passed by. We decided against the idea but it wasn’t a horrible one and we did have plenty of daylight to do it.

Returning across a windswept Wapta Icefield. Portal Peak at left and Crowfoot Mountain at distant right.

Thankfully the headwall above the Bow Hut was very skiable despite being windblown and a wee bit icy. I’ve had it much worse! We enjoyed turns to the traverse above the hut before a short stint of survival skiing on pure ice. We avoided the hut completely on return, skiing a nice line to the SW instead. We noticed a large avalanche / ice fall had come off the Vulture ice cap while we were gone for the day. A large debris field was now clearly visible. Our slopes remained locked up tight as we descended the steep roll under the hut and proceeded out of the valley and back into the access canyon. The hill by-pass to the back of the lake was a PITA as usual. The ski across Bow Lake was quick but painful with very icy and rough conditions. I was very surprised that our round trip time to the western edge of the Wapta and back, including the peak and all breaks was less than 8 hours. I’ve made a personal resolution not to rush my trips more than necessary in 2022 so I’m going to have to learn to slow down a wee bit more and just enjoy the experience of a slightly slower pace. I am super-psyched to finally have completed an ascent of Chapel Peak. I have many great memories from trips on the Wapta and I’ll be back to create new ones soon, I’m sure.

Chapel Peak
88 photos
Crossing Bow Lake in predawn light.
Crossing Bow Lake in predawn light.
Crossing Bow Lake in predawn light.
Crossing Bow Lake in predawn light.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Views back to Mount Jimmy Simpson.
Views back to Mount Jimmy Simpson.
Skiing the back of the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the back of the canyon under Vulture Peak.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing the headwall under the Bow Hut.
Skiing to the Wapta Icefield headwall above the Bow Hut.
Skiing to the Wapta Icefield headwall above the Bow Hut.
Skiing to the Wapta Icefield headwall above the Bow Hut.
Skiing to the Wapta Icefield headwall above the Bow Hut.
St. Nicholas Peak and the Wapta Icefield headwall.
St. Nicholas Peak and the Wapta Icefield headwall.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing up the headwall to the Wapta above the Bow Hut.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
Tilly Point and Trapper Peak.
Tilly Point and Trapper Peak.
Mount Baker.
Mount Baker.
Mount Rhondda and Habel.
Mount Rhondda and Habel.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
Skiing across the eastern section of the Wapta Icefield.
An icy glacier - wind hammered and fast travel.
An icy glacier - wind hammered and fast travel.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing down to the western plateau under Mount Collie.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Skiing across the western plateau towards Collie, Chapel and Ayesha.
Sara.
Sara.
Wietse.
Wietse.
Skiing to the NE access slope.
Skiing to the NE access slope.
Skiing to the NE access slope.
Skiing to the NE access slope.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing up the steep NE access slope to the south ridge above.
Skiing off the top of the NE slope to the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Skiing off the top of the NE slope to the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Skiing off the top of the NE slope to the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Skiing off the top of the NE slope to the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Views back over the top of the NE slope to Mount Gordon.
Views back over the top of the NE slope to Mount Gordon.
The steep east face of Chapel Peak.
The steep east face of Chapel Peak.
Skiing up the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Skiing up the south ridge of Chapel Peak.
Scrambling to the summit of Chapel Peak.
Scrambling to the summit of Chapel Peak.
Views south to the north face of Mount Collie.
Views south to the north face of Mount Collie.
Summit views back over the Wapta Icefield include (L to R), Habel, Rhondda, Crowfoot, St. Nicholas, Olive, Gordon, Collie and des Poilus (R).
Summit views back over the Wapta Icefield include (L to R), Habel, Rhondda, Crowfoot, St. Nicholas, Olive, Gordon, Collie and des Poilus (R).
Summit views west include (L to R), Collie, des Poilus, Laussedat, Lotosky, Poland, Mummery, Cairnes, Ayesha, Baker and Mistaya (R).
Summit views west include (L to R), Collie, des Poilus, Laussedat, Lotosky, Poland, Mummery, Cairnes, Ayesha, Baker and Mistaya (R).
Mount Baker.
Mount Baker.
R to L, Chephren, Barbette, Breaker, Howse, Sarbach, Epaulette and Erasmus (L).
R to L, Chephren, Barbette, Breaker, Howse, Sarbach, Epaulette and Erasmus (L).
Mount Ayesha with the steep south access gully to the summit visible.
Mount Ayesha with the steep south access gully to the summit visible.
The Mummery Group and Mount Ayesha.
The Mummery Group and Mount Ayesha.
Mont des Poilus.
Mont des Poilus.
Mount Sir Donald is a long ways off!
Mount Sir Donald is a long ways off!
Mount Laussedat is a distinctive summit to the west.
Mount Laussedat is a distinctive summit to the west.
Lotosky, Poland and Connor Peak. The striking peak at right is unnamed.
Lotosky, Poland and Connor Peak. The striking peak at right is unnamed.
Mount Mummery.
Mount Mummery.
The impressive and scenic Mummery Group across the Blaeberry River valley.
The impressive and scenic Mummery Group across the Blaeberry River valley.
Mount Low and Whiteaves in front of Solitaire Mountain.
Mount Low and Whiteaves in front of Solitaire Mountain.
Mount Olive's twin summits with the highest at right.
Mount Olive's twin summits with the highest at right.
St. Nicholas Peak hardly looks like a peak in front of Crowfoot Mountain.
St. Nicholas Peak hardly looks like a peak in front of Crowfoot Mountain.
Mount Gordon in front of Mount Olive.
Mount Gordon in front of Mount Olive.
Mount Balfour at distant right past Mount Gordon.
Mount Balfour at distant right past Mount Gordon.
Descending the south ridge to the Collie col.
Descending the south ridge to the Collie col.
Incredible views over the NE ascent slope to the north face of Mount Collie.
Incredible views over the NE ascent slope to the north face of Mount Collie.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing the steep NE face below the col.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
A last look at the NE ascent slope (L) and the western plateau.
A last look at the NE ascent slope (L) and the western plateau.
Ayesha Peak and its lovely snow arete.
Ayesha Peak and its lovely snow arete.
Mount Baker's south and west faces.
Mount Baker's south and west faces.
Skiing back towards Mount Gordon.
Skiing back towards Mount Gordon.
Views off the western plateau towards Mount Stephen, the Goodsir Towers and The Presidents (R).
Views off the western plateau towards Mount Stephen, the Goodsir Towers and The Presidents (R).
Mount Gordon with a nice ski line down its NW end.
Mount Gordon with a nice ski line down its NW end.
Chapel Peak.
Chapel Peak.
A party ascends Mount Rhondda.
A party ascends Mount Rhondda.
Skiing across the Wapta Icefield.
Skiing across the Wapta Icefield.
Mount Thompson looking very threadbare.
Mount Thompson looking very threadbare.
Mount Jimmy Simpson.
Mount Jimmy Simpson.
Observation Peak.
Observation Peak.
Descending the headwall to Bow Hut.
Descending the headwall to Bow Hut.
Descending past Bow Hut.
Descending past Bow Hut.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
Skiing back onto the western plateau under Habel and Rhondda.
Exiting the canyon.
Exiting the canyon.
Putting the skis back on after ascending the PITA by-pass hill.
Putting the skis back on after ascending the PITA by-pass hill.

5 thoughts on Chapel Peak (Collesha)

  1. Incredible trip! The Wapta is just such a amazing place. Some of those pics looking towards the Mummery group as just so impressive, and there is just something intangible about knowing how few people get to see them at all….let alone from the vantage point you had here.

  2. Thanks for the trip report. I just did Collie and Ayesha this weekend, partly based on your trip reports, and was curious as to the true name of what I now know to be Chapel peak!

      • Generally good! Instead of taking those two rock steps that you did, we took a gully to the right of that which was essentially a mixed climb. Then we rappelled down the same gully. It probably would have been safer to take the rock steps up and rappel the gully. One of my partners took a rock to the arm which was scary until we’d assessed the situation. Also, we were socked in most of the day so couldn’t really see anything but the Collie creek drainage, which is still an amazing view.

        Thanks for all your trip reports, they are useful and inspiring.

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