Wapta Traverse

We attempted to start the Wapta traverse on Saturday, 6th May, but were thwarted by an isothermal snowpack, rain and the icefields parkway road being closed due to a large avalanche cycle.

Mt Hector avalanche path producing valley bottom results.
Arial photo of the Mt Hector avalanche

It took a couple of days for the road to re-open and the weather to moderate but Monday, 8th May allowed for Patrick Smith and myself to start the Canadian staple of ski traverses, the Wapta.

Day 1

We started from Bow Lake with the rest of the original group of Wapta participants, who couldn’t get the additional days off to complete the full tour, but were headed on up to Bow Hut to ski something.

Pat getting ready at the Bow Lake parking lot

Ascending up the valley, we followed a well beaten path, still visible from prior to the last rain event, which eventually led into a deep river bed where, unfortunately, the previous days of rain and warm weather had done some tragic destruction to the trail. Everyone got wet at this point, I ended up in water up to my waist when a sketchy snow bridge collapsed.

It’s a traaaaaap! Everyone gets wet here.

Also disastrously, when I threw my backpack across the creek, my lens self-destructed, fixed as best as I could with a swiss-army knife, you now know why some of the photos from this trip are out of focus…

Pat and myself continue up valley towards Bow Hut, slowly drying out as we go.

A little wet, but happy to be past the creek. Heading up to Bow Hut.
Pat in front of Bow Hut
Bow hut verandah otherwise known as the drying room

After an hour or so of drying our gear and waiting for the rest of the party to make it to the hut, Pat and I decided to go for an afternoon ski up to the glacier and see what was worth climbing. We decided on St Nicholas Peak.

Joel on the summit of Saint Nicholas Peak
Pat in front of Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas summit (taken from Mt Olive) showing our tracks
Pat on the summit of Saint Nicholas, Mt Olive & Vulture Col in the background

Day 2

Heading out from Bow Hut we ascended onto the Wapta icefield and proceeded towards Vulture Col. With plenty of daylight, we climbed Mt Olive and Mt Gordon, the flanking mountains of Vulture Col along the way.

Pat heading towards Vulture Col. Mt Olive to the left and Mt Gordon on the right
Mt Olive summit
Pat hiking the ridge towards Mt Olive summit
Vulture Col (below) and Mt Gordon (top right)
Vulture Col
Pat skiing down Vulture Col

After skiing down Vulture Col, we performed a low-definition ski down the glacier to Balfour Hut.

Balfour Hut (bottom left) and Balfour High Col (top right)
Balfour Hut

Day 3

Our goal for day three was to get up and over the Balfour Col and hopefully ski something along the way.

Mt Balfour – The high col is the col mid-frame

Unfortunately, mother nature had other ideas, we ascended up into ever-lowering clouds, aiming for the large cliff-face mid-slope provided a solid point of reference. Unfortunately, upon reaching the top of the cliff-face, we had nowhere else to go in the whiteout conditions.

Joel ascending up towards the cliff face
Entering the not-so-fun white room

With little to no definition on the glacier, we waited it out for an hour and a half before descending back to the hut where tea and another episode of Luke Cage was on offer on my iPhone. I also had some nap time. 3:00pm rolled around the weather started to improve. Setting off for a round two attempt to get over the Balfour col proved successful and thankful for the long daylight hours of a Canadian spring, we made it easily to our last hut, Scott Duncan Hut after crossing the Waiputik icefield.

Pat at the Balfour High Col and thankful for the risen cloud level
Long flat Waputik Icefield – Mt Balfour high col centre framed
Pat and the Scott Duncan Hut

Day 4

Our last day, we awoke to mostly clear skies, but remembering the forecast was for afternoon rain/thunderstorms, we made a straight line for our exit off the glacier and to the Niles Col.

Pat skiing over the last of the glacier to the Niles Col
Joel skiing down from Niles Col
Pat skiing down from Niles Col

After scrambling over a (not confidence inspiring) ‘frozen’ lake, we descended down towards the Trans-Canada highway and Pat’s truck parked at the Great Divide Lodge, following an ever more treacherous white ribbon of a summer hiking trail. Sometimes, less white than other times.

Occasional not-so-snowy moments on the descent
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