Wapta icefields ski touring

A few weeks ago, my husband got an email asking if we were interested in participating in a research trip out to the Wapta glacier to help a local guide produce teaching materials on glaciers and glaciation.  I immediately responded with a reserved “EMAILTHEMNOWANDSAYWELLGO!!”.  When I heard back that the trip was on, the rush was on to buy a new backpack, sleeping bag and other miscellaneous items as well as rent and pick up gear and get everything packed.

After a 4:30am wakeup on Saturday, we met our group at 8am at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. The plan was to skin in to Bow Hut (600m of elevation gain over 8km).  Some sections are in avalanche terrain but the risk that day was low-moderate so we felt ok crossing one by one. When we got to the hut  I did some serious tea drinking and leg stretching in my hut booties.  We had a lot of fun chatting with everyone, eating dinner and enjoying the hut views.

Vulture glacier which we passed underneath on the way to the hut - I moved fast! The final uphill after crossing this section is hard. Time slowed and my pack seemed to double in weight. Laws of physics: defied.

Avalanche fracture line we could see from the hut

Sunset from the hut balcony

Sunday morning we left around 8am to ski 6km to Peyto Hut.    The goal was to find and dig out the entrance to an ice cave which ran beneath the glacier.  Oh and we also got to ski some sweet lines :)  After 30 min of digging, we rigged an anchor and slid down the small ice tunnel into the cave.  It so neat knowing that I was underneath a glacier, somewhere that fewer than 20 people have probably ever been.  So many different patterns, formations and textures to the ice.  It really gave you a sense of how old the glacier was and what forces formed it.  After exploring the cave we still had to ski 12km to get back to the cars. In total we were out for 12 hrs on Sunday and skied 20km!  Needless to say I enjoyed my 11pm burger at Wendy’s in Canmore on the way home.

On the way in to Peyto Hut

Entrance to the cave

Neat patterns in the ice

The whole experience was amazing.  There is something that is so peaceful about being high up on a glacier seeing nothing but snow, peaks and blue skies.  No one is around and it’s just you watching one ski move in front of the other as you make your way up a slope.  It’s so hard to describe what it’s like up there, one of those “have to have been there” type of things.  One of the best parts though was getting to do this with friends.

Wapta icefields between Bow Hut and Peyto Hut

Mt St Nicholas which I may get to climb this summer on my mountaineering course

Stopping for a zen moment on the way out

On a separate note, I was especially psyched for this trip because I just signed up for a 6-day women’s mountaineering course this summer.  It’s run by Yamnuska Mountain Adventures and will also be based out of Bow Hut.  The course is geared towards teaching the skills you need to climb some of the local peaks on your own (ie navigation, glacier safety, roped travel, etc).

Bow Hut in the summer - Photo from Meghan Ward

In the spirit of not forgetting what I learnt, I made a list of what I packed (or wish I had packed):

Clothes

  • 2 pairs of socks & underwear
  • synthetic tank top with built in bra
  • light wool long sleeve top
  • medium fleece long sleeve top
  • heavy fleece sweater with hood
  • light wool leggings
  • medium fleece leggings
  • insulated ski pants
  • down sweater
  • hardshell
  • waterproof ski mitts
  • wool hat
  • ski goggles & sunglasses
  • neckwarmer
  • hut booties

Toiletries

  • toothbrush & toothpaste
  • sunscreen (have handy to re-apply while skiing on the glacier – I re-applied twice and still burnt!)
  • quickdry facecloth
  • lipbalm with sunscreen
  • for next time: soap &  hand sanitizer – lots and lots of hand sanitizer.  I might bring deodorant for a longer trip.

Sleeping

  • 0°C sleeping bag (I’d bring a 5°C for the summer)
  • packable pillow
  • earplugs – very important in huts!!

Other

  • I wish I had brought a digital watch – next time
  • for longer trips I’d bring some reading material and a journal
  • camera
  • headlamp
  • first aid kit, tylenol, ibuprofen & blister kit  – this is very important especially with rental boots!
  • 50L backpack
Also, if you leave your car out when it’s snowy and windy, you’ll get snow and ice in your tire wells which will throw off your car’s alignment unless it’s been knocked out.
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1 Comment

  1. I love the pictures and the story that runs along side of it! I know you’ll have an amazing time on your course this summer.

    Reply

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