Wapta Traverse
Jan 2-6, 2003









Jan 2 - Ski in to Bow Hut

It was snowy and windy start to the tour. We skied across Bow Lake, through some canyons and forest, and then did the final climb below the glacier to Bow Hut. Some rocky and steep sections along the way gave the newbies, Jessica and Francois, some difficulty skinning up. We made it  in about 5-1/2 hours and had the huge fabulous hut all to ourselves.


Jan 3 - Lounging around Bow Hut

The winds were still strong, stronger than the previous day. Occassionally they gusted with enough force to shake the hut which is held down by cables. Visibility was very poor with the clouds and blowing snow. The one good thing was that it replenished the snow on the balcony which was our water source. We spent much of the time resting in the hut, enjoying the fire which we would not have in the next two huts, and wondering if we should even attempt to continue the traverse or stay put at this hut. Phil and Mike went out for a few turns late in the morning. In the afternoon, the rest of the gang got restless and went outside too. Corinne, Francois, Lukas, and Jessica did a bit of beacon practice after getting some turns.

A few other people braved the conditions to ski to the hut this day. A pair arrived early afternoon and Master Beta came solo later. 

Lukas performed some fire dancing in the evening, injuring a much needed muscle for telemarking. Phil got the same injury a few years ago during our Y2K trip in Rogers Pass. That was the start of Phils' turn to the darkside. He now uses alpine touring equipment. I hope the same doesn't happen with Lukas.

Jan 4 - Ski to Balfour Hut

Visibility was a little better this day. With the route description from Master Beta we felt good about going onward to Balfour Hut. While Chic Scott's description in Summits and Icefields does suggest that it's reasonable to attempt Balfour in poor visibility, it was reassuring to hear this in person from Master Beta. Phil, Lukas, and Jessica roped up while Corinne, Francois, and Mike followed behind un-roped. We skinned up the slope above the hut a little higher than necessary before cutting to Mt St Nicolas, getting near a small crevasse. No big deal as we had sufficient visibility to see it. Master Beta took a much more direct line to St Nicolas. He passed us and stopped just over the col between St Nicolas and Olive, where he de-skinned to get some turns back to the Bow Hut. He told us to continue to the rock band and then head left to the "handrail", a rocky shoulder which would guide us down to Balfour Hut safely away from the crevasses on the right.

Jan 5 - Ski to Scott Duncan Hut

We would continue the traverse to the Scott Duncan hut only if we had good conditions to go over Balfour High Col. It was a nice day overall, much nicer than the previous days, but there were clouds blowing from the other side of the col. We decided to go to the col and then make our final decision there. We all roped up this time. Lukas-Mike-Jessica and Phil-Corinne-Francois. Instead of the direct route to the col, we took the less steep approach from the right which passes over the bench situated below an icefall region. Visibility started getting bad as we got near the col. It became near whiteout on the col with blowing snow. The cold air was really blowing into our faces. Lukas was leading the way. It was sloped on the right so he went  towards flatter terrain on the left. Phil and Corinne on the 2nd team were checking the map and compass. They asked Lukas to stop and instructed him to go more to the right, to the south-east. Lukas did so, but after a few steps he would veer back to the left which was too much east. They ask Lukas to stop again. Things were getting testy after a few times. "It's steep on the right, just let me go over there first.", repeats Lukas. Phil and Corinne check the map and compass extra carefully, but Lukas was getting impatient and wanted to continue. "We need to go to the right.", repeat Phil and Corinne. Suddenly, we get a brief break in the clouds. We could see our destination Mt Daly where the Scott Duncan hut is located. Everything was going to be okay. The visibility got better and better as we headed down. It was a real slog breaking trail to the hut on the "no turns glacier", a quote from one of the log entries speculating the meaning of "Wapta". Lukas was a machine this day. The log book also conatined entries about someone who had an accident and died on Balfour High Col last spring. He was in a whiteout and went too much east, falling over a cliff (I think he was on a cornice which broke). We had been heading in this vicinity too. I don't think we would have gotten too close to the edge since we had ~100ft visibility, nevertheless it was a real blessing when we got the break.

Jan 6 - Ski out

Corinne and Francois got up early in the morning and witnessed an awesome sunrise. They informed the rest of us but we remained lazily in bed. We've seen sunrises before and we'll see more again. Finally Mike got up and so did Phil. It was well worthwhile. 

A spectacular day! We decided to ski out to Kicking Horse Pass, completing the traverse. We were skiing out 2 days early to complete the tour while the weather was on our side. We had booked 2 nights at Balfour and 2 at Scott Duncan, but spent only 1 night in each. We took the recommended Schiesser/Lomas route, rather than the classic route out. We did not rope up, but we wore our harnesses in case something happened. It turned out that there were no crevasse concerns at all. We did have to cross a potential avalanche slope on the east face of Mount Niles. Phil experienced problems with his AT binding and needed to stope while still in the exposed area. Francois caught up to the stopped Phil thinking that this meant that they were already safe. Phil shouts "Keep going, keep going, keep going!". Then Jessica starts traversing and one of her skins come off. There was some bad mojo working against us. Fortunately, the slope was unlikely to release this day. We enjoyed some turns and falls while descending to Sherbrooke Creek on open slopes and then in woods. Corinne was not having a good time, as ice kept building up on her ski bases making it impossible to turn. None of us brought any wax. Corinne was getting desparate and asked Mike to get the candles from deep in his pack. Lukas suggested to use lip balm instead. We applied Lukas' lip balm on one ski and Jessica's on the other for comparison. They both seemed to help a bit. However, all the falls and getting back up with a pack took their toll on Corinne. Skiing along Sherbrooke Creek was also requiring a bit of effort. There were some small gradual uphill cross-country sections which shouldn't have been a problem, but our skis were slipping back as they had no grip at all, except for Mike who had hot-waxed his skis with special-blue x-c wax before the trip. When we reached Sherbrooke Lake, Corinne was going a bit postal. Certain that her pack must be heavier than everyone else's, she kept insisting that she would weigh everyone's pack. Her pack turned out to be average. Lukas was the only one with a heavy pack.

We stayed at the West Louise Lodge that night. It's located at the end of the traverse in Kicking Horse Pass just west of Lake Louise. The staff is very friendly and accomodating. Be warned that the garden burger is really a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, and onion toppings. 





( 2 photos of the classic route out )




Rogers Pass

On Jan7 we drove to Rogers Pass, first stopping in Golden to pick up some beer so we could make our stay in Wheeler Hut the way it's meant to be. Corinne took the oppurtunity to get her skis hot-waxed. When we arrived in Rogers Pass the highway was closed for avalanche control so we were stuck at the visitor centre for a while where we got to witness some of the blasting (check out Phil's video). The ski in to the Wheeler Hut was a quick 2km so the delay wasn't a problem. 

Jan 8 - Perly Rock

We skied next to the Illecillewaet River to go for some turns below Mount Sir Donald and the Vaux Glacier, and then decided to continue following the skin track to Perly Rock instead. We dug a pit part way up and the results were not good. The two weak layers described in the avalanche bulletin at 60cm and 1m down were certainly there. The shovel test failed. Snowboarders had been here one or two days before and there were no whumf sounds. The upper layers seemed to be absorbing the force... but the shovel test failed. This was really borderline. Corinne went a bit higher to get a better view of the remaning terrain to Perly Rock. We decided that was far enough and headed down, enjoying some decent powder.


Jan 9 - Lookout Col

We headed to Lookout Col where the terrain was lower angle and the col would provide views of the Asulkan Valley. There was an increasingly thicker windcrust as we got closer to the col. It broke into small chunks as we skinned up. Just suface stuff which shouldn't propagate, we thought. After I climbed over a steeper roll, Lukas and Jessica in behind inform me that they just triggered a 20m avalanche. I relay the info to Corinne and Phil in front (Francois was not with us this day. He went to Revelstoke.). We figured it must have been something very localized. Lukas and Jessica decided that they'll not go further. Corinne, Phil, and I decided to continue but not to take the direct route to the col as it would get steeper and more windpacked. There was a lower angle ramp which would provide much of the remaining climb. First we had to ski down and cross a gully to get to the ramp. This gave us a look at the avalanche and it was more substantial than we had imagined. 20m long and 150m wide. We still thought that is was particular to the steep rock band but decided to ski down from here because the crust  would make for sucky skiing anyway and we had already seen the Asulkan Valley before (we stayed in the Asulkan cabin for Y2K). Skiing on a shoulder beside a gully, the thick crust made for difficult skiing so I did a few jump turns. Lukas suggested to Jessica to do the same but she's new to backcountry skiing and wasn't too confident. She answered "I'm not powerful enough". Lukas suggested again "Do jump turns, like Mike". Jessica jumps and triggers another avalanche along the gully walls. The chunks piled up to a few feet. I had to decide whether stay (skier's) left which would bring me above another gully or cross below the avalanched gully to more comfortable terrain on the right. I skied towards the left and pulled over as the avalanche did not continue. Phil and Corinne were further down but directly below the gully. Phil also decided to go left. Corinne decided to blast straight down. Jessica remarked that we looked like ants running away. We were now very much more aware and concerned about the avalanche risk. The terrain was fairly low angle overall, but it was impossible to stay completely away from gullies and drops which were all over. We gingerly skied and side-stepped down the steeper sections. A couple of skiers were ascending from below. "Get out of the gully!" yelled Corinne repeatly. They didn't seem to care. Like us, they were having difficulty believing that there was much to be concerned about. As we get to closer talking range we tell them about the avalanches. "Windcrust?" they asked. "Well, some chunks are a foot thick", we replied. They continued up to examine for themselves. The skiing quickly got better and safer as we headed down. This experience was a real eye-opener. We were totally off-guard even after the obvious "sign" from the first avalanche. 


 Phil's video

Shortly after our trip there have been tragic incidents in the Selkirk Mtns. On Jan 20, an avalanche at the Durrand Glacier claimed 7 lives. On Feb 1, another 7 lives were taken in the Connaught Creek valley below Mount Cheops in Rogers Pass.