Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wapta Traverse, Part 1

Last week I was fortunate enough to guide the Wapta Traverse for the Alpine Club of Canada. If you haven't heard of the Wapta Traverse, it is by far the most classic ski mountaineering traverse in North America, and I would say it is our version of the famous Haute Route in Europe. The traverse can take parties anywhere from a day(the super-humans), to an average 4 days, or a leisurely 5-7. The longer you take on the traverse, the more time you have to summit numerous peaks enroute.

The route starts via the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta, where you climb up from the 'highway' (it is a loose term for a 2 lane road that is barely plowed in winter!) to the continental divide, where a high plateau of interconnected ice fields and glaciers weaves its way back down to the trans-canada highway. You average about 7-10km of travel a day, with about 2-4 thousand vertical feet to get from hut to hut.

We were going for the classic Wapta Traverse, which starts via Peyto Hut. Upon starting our journey, the weather forecast was looking frighteningly cold. I don't mean chilly, I mean forecasted daytime highs of -25c and lows of -35c. For those of you on the farenheit scale, -40 is where both celsius and farenheit are the same. These temps are with out wind chill. COLD.

So of course it all starts with some gear sorting andpacking, making sure we have the essentials. We met in Lake Louise the night before and divided the group gear and checked our equipment to make sure we had it all.

Gear Packing in the Lake Louise Hostel

There are a few key essentials to remember about this trip. First is that it is glaciated, so we need to carry harnesses, ropes, and ice axes as well as the necessary crevasse rescue gear. Second is that it is a hut trip, so we don't have to carry too much excess stuff, and can try and go with lighter packs! Stoves, cooking utensils and foam mattresses are all provided, so basically food, spare clothes, sleeping bag and down booties are all you really need to add to your day pack. Don't get me wrong, the food weight adds up, but it is a lot easier than carrying a stove and tent!

The next morning we began our journey at Peyto Lake with our 10km and 2,000' slow climb to the hut.
Skiing across Peyto Lake.

We spent about 5 hours making the journey into Peyto Hut and settled in for a cold cold week on the Wapta...

Part 2 tomorrow!

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