Above: Traversing the expansive nothing on the roof of the Rockies.
Made an attempt on Mt Rhondda, on the Wapta Icefields last week. As usual, I went with my regular partner Randy and joining us was friends Nate and Marc. Marc and I have mostly done day trips having done five mountains this year. Nate is a great skier who works for the heli ski company CMH. We gave ourselves three days to battle the weather and hopefully get our goal.
Day one involved getting up and leaving at 6am. Fresh snow and a big multi-day pack made for slowish going. Breaking trail is hard work and everyone takes turns leading the way. We arrived at the Bow Hut, our rough basecamp for the next few days. Mt Rhondda is on the north side of the icefield and given the current visibility and daylight left, we couldn’t make a try for it today. Randy and I decided to do a recon of the Bow Glacier which we would climb tomorrow on our way to Rhondda. We could save some time by probing out the crevasse bridges today and getting a clearer picture of the ever changing glacier.
Above: Randy and I rope up and probe out tomorrow’s route up the steep glacier. In my left hand is a collapsable probe I use to test the snow depth and stiffness. We also hoped that if it wasn’t too windy, the trail we broke would be there for tomorrow. We found some open crevasses and got a good handle on the depth and strength of the snow bridging the crevasses hiding under the snow. With darkness upon us we skied back down to the hut and made supper and sat around drinking hot tea.
Day Two we woke early and roped up and headed to Mt Rhondda. A blizzard was in full force and we all got to take a turn a whiteout navigation.
Above: Navigating blind over the icefields with compass. From doing this so much, we’ve got a pretty good system down. The compass is read from the back using the lead skier as a sightline. Then you call up the line when the lead is drifting left or right. The front position is dizzying as you have nothing to focus on.
Our evolving plan was to try to navigate to the base of Mt Rhondda’s ascent ridge. If the weather improved we would try a summit bid. If the weather didn’t improve we would turn around. I was very impressed when after 2 hours of hard pace, we found ourselves at the base of Rhondda. But with zero visibility, climbing up would be hazardous and pointless. We had a short conference in the blizzard and decided it was too cold to stay put hoping for good weather (it was probably -35 with windchill.)
We made the trudge back down the glacier but of course the weather was taunting us with brief clearings in the sky that made us question our decision. But no sooner did they open but would promptly close up and continue with the blizzard. At one point, a hole opened on the horizon revealing Mt Collie in all its rugged glory. Above: Distant Mt Collie emerges from the fog like a dream.
I suggested we climb smaller and nearby Onion Pk for some views. By the time we were on its broad summit, we were treated to a light show and visual feast that only the high places can provide.
Above: As we climbed up the Onion, the skies cleared a bit though Rhondda was still wreathed in cloud and fog.
Above: As a consolation prize, we all skied miles of untracked powder all to ourselves. People pay thousands of dollars for guides and helicopters to take them to places like this. Years of hard work learning how to get to these places safely, and all the physical conditioning all pay off on days like this! The snow was so good, we climbed back up this section and skied it again finally returning to the hut very tired.
We cooked our food, drank some tea and watched the weather outside. By 9:30pm, we could see stars and it seemed like a window of clear weather was on the way. The moon was very bright and Randy wondered if we shouldn’t suit up and make an attempt on Rhondda right now! We figured we could summit and be back by 4am after what would generously be called a very tough day! We talked about it for a while but I finally nixed the idea as tempting as it was. If anything went wrong, it would be night and we would be very, very tired. Seemed lie a bad idea. We settled on going to bed but getting a 4 am start.
Day Three, I woke at 3:50am and went outside to check out the weather. Randy and Marc joined me and we knew right away that the weather had worsened since the clear skies of just a few hours earlier. No Rhondda. We went back to bed and slept for an hour then got up to eat and pack up.
Above: As we left the hut, we were treated to this wonderful 22 degree halo and rare upper tangent arc. The weather slowly improved but higher up on the glacier, cloud and fog socked in our route.
A wonderful trip with solid partners. My summit record for this area remains a dismal 2 summits for 9 attempts! As you can see though it is an amazing place whether you attain the goals you set out or not.