Midnight in the Garden of Snow and Ice

I recently enjoyed a tour with the North Face crew up to the Bow Glacier with some standout moments.  This was more of a social trip compared to many trips with this clan. The day started at ridiculous am with a meetup at the Banff Tim Hortons.  Tims used to be a place whose coffee I enjoyed mostly on QNY but after a work stretch in Rock Mountain House where Tim filled my thermos every day, I grew into a co dependant relationship.

We carpooled to Bow Lake and set off across the frozen lake in -27 conditions according to my  thermometer.  The lake made some horrible noises as we crossed.  In the chilling silent air, suddenly a crack would shatter the silence with horrible bass tones that rattled your stomach.  The crack would echo several times and we would all look at each other with eyes suddenly very large.  Above: dawn over Bow Lake, Hugo, Peggy and Randy heavily loaded down.

“The lake just does that.” says Randy convincing very few. It had been very cold and no one was going to break through but those sounds, which happened several times, created a powerful gnawing doubt that was hard to ignore.

Our route took us through a gorge know by locals as the “mousetrap.”  Sluffs funnel into it so it’s a place you want to spread out and hurry through.  Conditions were quite safe at the time so it was a low stress affair even though we took the normal precautions.

Above: Climbing out of the “mousetrap.”

We we staying that night at the toe of the glacier in a hut run by the Alpine Club of Canada.  They have a network of isolated back country huts with propane stoves and wooden bunks and as a member I get a  discount to stay there.  These are great as they reduced your pack weight by eliminating the need for stoves, tents etc.  We unloaded our packs at the hut and climbed a nearby ridge for some downhill skiing.

As dusk approached we returned to the hut, made supper and warmed up.  As the night wore on, the full moon began to rise lighting up the glacier.  As we looked out the door the talk began to circle around the idea of skiing at midnight up on the glacier.  It seemed like a once in a million opportunity that at least four of us were determined to enjoy.  Earlier that afternoon, I took a probe and tested a line up and down the glacier to be sure the crevasses were bridged so I had total confidence in the slope. The only challenge was to stay awake!

At the stroke of midnight, we donned out packs, turned on our transceivers, put on our climbing skins and strapped on our headlamps.  As we set out the sight was pretty eerie.  

Above:  The full moon lights up the Bow glacier at midnight.

A while after we started climbing, my body started giving me some pretty strong orders to not go up. Skiing tired is always dangerous and it seemed foolish to push it in darkness so far from assistance.  I suggested that I would wait for them  as it was not too cold.  The other three agreed that would be safe and left me there to hopefully take some video of them descending.  Eventually, their conversation faded away leaving me in total silence with a thousand feet of ice under me and a full moon above me.

As time past and I fully took in my surroundings, I began to really appreciate how this was no place for Man to be.  Snow, ice, and rock in every direction with not a single sign of life of any kind.  Not a tree or shrub or blade of grass anywhere.  It was like being in the middle of the ocean.  Above:  The tracks of the other three climb into the night.

As desolated as it was, all the while I knew there was a little hut far below in the darkness that was warm, had food and friends.  It was nearing 1 am as I continued to have these thoughts when I saw three flickers of light at the top of the glacier.  The  boys had turned on their headlamps to switch their gear for the ski descent down the glacier.

Seeing those tiny flickering lights in that vast landscape reinforced the mood.  And reminded me that I was not alone out there.  “Desolation is better shared with others” I thought to myself as I enjoyed the comfort seeing their lights.

My camera didn’t pick them up very well but I enjoyed the sight like watching northern lights as the three lights snaked their way down the glacier and finally out of the dim emerged three smiling faces.  We were all looking at each other with “can you believe this?” expressions.  We skied down the rest of the way together till the hut emerged in the distance.

Above: Our warm life raft in a sea of ice and snow.

After a short sleep we packed up and locked up the hut and started our descent back down.  The hut is perched atop a rather large slope so when you leave, it’s all downhill to get back home.  This photo is from a helicopter and is not mine but it shows the first part of the route back to the lake.

Above: Peggy and Emil wait their turn as we go one at a time through a tricky section on the way home.

Above:  The trip draws to a close as we cross Bow Lake and get to the road.  Another great trip.



For the gear curious, the contents of my backpack, food not included:

clockwise from top left: glove liners, extra socks, folding knife, 1st aid kit, prussic loops, harness, head lamp, avalanche transceiver, gloves, ice axe, probe, pant shell, folding shovel, winter sleeping bag, climbing skins, helmet and lastly downfilled boots for the hut.

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4 Responses to Midnight in the Garden of Snow and Ice

  1. rainswept says:

    How is power supplied to the Bow Hut?

    • daviditron says:

      It is waaaay off the grid. No electricity. Bunsen burner style stove element is connected to a very large propane tank that is helicoptered in once a year. Light is created by gas as well. Water comes from collecting glacier ice and melting it on the stove. The toilette is a throne over a barrel. The instructions for changing the barrel out when it’s full are pretty overwhelming but at least it’s all frozen! The full barrels are flown out with the empty propane tank once a year. Everything else is maintained by the users.

  2. rainswept says:

    Another win for fossil fuels 😉

    • rainswept says:

      Hmm… I guess I should have used that “Reply” right under your reply. Us bloggery types aren’t used to threaded comments, I guess 😦

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