mardi 7 mai 2013

Skiing on the Columbia Icefield (May 2-6, 2013)

Yesterday Bill and I returned with sun-burnt grins from a fantastic five-day skiing expedition on the Columbia Icefields with Helen Sovdat. This type of trip was a first for me, both in terms of ski mountaineering and winter camping. Luckily I was well surrounded with Bill, Helen, Bibiana and Sue. 

The five of us met at Helen's in Canmore, divied up gear and drove up to the Athabasca Glacier. On Day 1 we skied with huge packs up the three icefalls and camped once on top of the Columbia Icefields. It was a windy and blustery first day and a bit of a challenge to put up the tents, melt snow and make dinner with spin-drift flying about.

Camp 1 - Notice the Spin Drift on the Tents

The morning of Day 2 was sunny and we started the day with crevasse rescue school. We then dismantled the camp, packed up and moved to our base camp. On our way to our new home we dropped our packs and quickly skied up Mt Snow Dome (11,339 ft). Mt. Snow Dome is considered the hydrological apex of North America, ie. its watershed drains into the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Snow Dome was also my first summit attained by skiing! We returned to our packs and continued to the Stutfield Glacier to set up camp for the next three days.

Summit of Mt Snow Dome

On Day 3 Sue and I took a rest day to recover from blisters and weak ankles. The hardcores, that is Bill, Bibi and Helen, made their way up West Twin peak, tucked in behind South Twin. On their way to West Twin they witnessed a crevasse fall from another party attempting South Twin. The faller climber was rescued by his companions.

Helen and Bibi on the Summit of West Twin

Day 4 brought more sunshine and we padded out of camp in the direction of North Twin (11,900 ft). Within four hours we were on the summit and enjoyed a leisurely time there gazing at neighbouring peaks. The ski down was a pure delight. At the end of the day I commented to Bill that it had been my favorite ski mountaineering day ever!

Bill & Renee on Summit of North Twin

On the last day the main task was to break down the camp, pack our bags and head down. In some ways skiing down is easier, but with heavy packs (40-50lbs) it can be quite tricky. Returning down through the icefalls in the afternoon is also a bit like running the gauntlet. We witnessed a few minor avalanches but nothing came close to us. The final stretch of the return to the cars involved walking up the muddy Snow Coach road with our skis in our hands. A bit of a grunt and once at the parking lot we were all happy to get out of our boots. 

Bill melting snow for drinking water
We hopped in the cars, drove to Lake Louise and celebrated with a nice burger at the Outpost and already started throwing out ideas for a next trip!

Renee in front of the famous icefield snow coaches
Additional trip photos are available on Picasa:

p.s. Despite wearing 70 SPF sunscreen and large brimmed hats, our faces were still remarkable sun-burnt at the end of the trip! 

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