Three Glacier Traverse

By chance, Emil, one of our old trip partners (now living in Whistler) had a few days off and came back to Banff.  He was one of the four others I did the Wapta Traverse with so the entire Wapta alumni all got together at the Bear Street Tavern in Banff for a reunion.  Everyone had good news to catch up on but the talk soon drifted to doing a trip while he was here. Randy and Peggy had obligations with their new baby so Hugo and Emil and myself planned a quick adventure.  I suggested a one day marathon of starting in the Spray Valley, climbing up the French Glacier, skiing across the Haig Glacier and climbing up to the Robertson Glacier and skiing back out to complete a circuit.  After some planning and research that evening, Hugo and Emil picked me up at 6:30am from Canmore.  We headed south 45km into Kananaskis Country and set off.DSCN8914Above:  Emil negotiates a creek early in the morning dawn. The avalanche conditions were quite good and the weather looked perfect with blue skies.  The only tricky part besides the long distance was the climb from the Haig Glacier up a very steep 500 foot wall to gain the Robertson Glacier.  We brought crampons and ice axes for this pitch.  This wall is south facing so there is a danger that the sun could make the slope very unstable by the time we would get there.  We discussed the possibility of having to turn around here if conditions were unstable.  DSCN8925 Above:  Emil climbing the French Glacier.  This glacier is very small, with no crevasses and deep snow cover so we are climbing unroped. As always on trips that contain a very difficult crux, I spent plenty of time worrying beforehand.  The wall is so steep that if you fell, you wouldn’t stop without an axe and the skills to arrest a fall.  On the long climb up the first glacier I couldn’t stop focusing on it. I still need to work on fear management.  On the one hand it makes me think of every tiny detail of what could go wrong and how to avoid every kind of danger.  Fear keeps me safe.  On the other hand, it sometimes robs me the enjoyment of where I am.  Emil offered some good encouraging words along the way.  I don’t want to have a lack of fear, but I’d like to be able to be mindful of what can go wrong, take action and then compartmentalize it better.  Perhaps that’s one of the many challenges that keeps me putting myself in these situations. DSCN8931 Above: Hugo climbing up the French Glacier.  Hugo has been working hard as a new electrician and hasn’t had as much time to be active.  This 3200ft vertical gain was getting the best of him and certainly it was a testament to him that he powered up it in spite of his work taking a toll on his fitness.  At least when the weather is beautiful, hardships are easier to bear.  A blizzard can really sap the strength from you even though the distance and elevation are the same. DSCN8935 Above:  On the second glacier, the Haig Glacier, we take a short rest for food, water, and getting our glacier safety gear on.  I love being on these high altitude glacier plateaus.  No trees or life of any kind and the mountain tops jut out so sharply.  It’s just unlike everywhere else in the mountains.  The sun was strong but the snow had yet to rise in temperature so we still had a good window of stability for the big wall.IMG_1875 Above:  Skiing across the flat Haig Glacier on our way to the Robertson/ Sir Douglas Col. In the valley (center of picture) I could just make out the Northover Ridge that Mike and I had explored a few years earlier.  It’s always interesting to see old haunts from new perspectives. Below: From Northover (in August) you can see the Haig Glacier.  The wall forming the saddle between the two big peaks (on the left and center of picture) was the crux.  If you had told me when I took this picture that I would be climbing up that, I would have argued not in this lifetime!DSCN0193 DSCN8938 Above:  We finally arrive at the crux wall.  Emil studies it looking for the safest line.  It didn’t seem so bad now that I was looking at it rather than wondering and worrying about it.  After a short conference, we took our skis off, attached them to our packs and got out the ice axes.  The snow quality was such that we wouldn’t need crampons.  I couldn’t wait to get to the top.  Conditions were safe but getting less so as the day went on. At that elevation and kicking up the steep pitch, it was very tiring but I found myself feeling very comfortable with my axe.  The ice climbing course definitely increased my comfort level but I couldn’t call that climb enjoyable!  IMG_1880 Above:  Last few steps at the top.  Just a few steps behind me is a 50 story drop off but the white of the snow and the lack of any objects for scale or differentiation makes it nearly invisible.  Only the sudden appearance of my tracks gives any hint!  The view from the top was really incredible.  I often see pictures from trip reports where the sky is blue and you can see what you are doing and I harbour a bit of a grudge from many trips with white-out navigations and half seen vistas.  But today, we earned some perfect weather.  We had a big three-way hug at the top and enjoyed some peak identification and snacks.IMG_1882 Above:  Success!  Having won our elevation we got to enjoy dropping on to the Robertson Glacier for a massive downhill run in perfect powder.  The release of safely getting past the crux  combined with the joy of powder skiing in the backcountry had me laughing as I carved my turns down the big face.Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 12.29.38 AM Above: Making turns down a section of Robertson Glacier.  A few thousand feet down and we were in the Burstal Valley with a further 5km ski to join the Spray Valley and the road.  A very long day with lots of elevation made us pretty glad to get back to the car!  An amazing trip and as always, with great people.    Quite a change from Utah and California!

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3 Responses to Three Glacier Traverse

  1. Pingback: Hail Columbia! | daviditron

  2. ghostice says:

    It is not true there are no crevasses on the French Glacier – in bare ice conditions there are 14 cracks of various widths and locations from the end of the lateral moraine on the left side (ascending). Also on the lower part of the glacier proper (you will use this route if you don’t go up the lateral moraine on climbers left but stick the lower glacier route) there is at lest one medium slot that has swallowed summer explorers in years past. These are usually bridged by mid winter so most groups haven’t roped up, but this may not stay the case as ice and snow recede in future years. There are also slots on Robertson, including one up top that runs laterally across the upper ice – so some care is needed in skiing down – skiers right- from the Robertson Col. I’ve seen people start on the Col upper right and descend to the left side of the glacier a move which parallels the upper slot instead of crossing it at right angles. One of these years . . .
    Take care is all – avi is not the only hazard on this route.

    • daviditron says:

      Thanks for the precise description of French Glacier. We did this on April 28 when the snow pack was at it’s deepest. I did a few test probes just to be sure of the bridging depth as well. And while we didn’t rope up, we actually wore harnesses (see the pics above) and had rope with us just in case the unimaginable happened. We were more concerned with Robertson but chose the correct line to ski down to limit our exposure. Thanks for the extra beta, one can never have enough info out there.

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