Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Jerimy is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Jerimy!!
Franz leading on the Peyto Glacier.
Finally we made it down to Peyto Lake. Struggling every step, sinking to the ground in the shallow, faceted snowpack was not how I pictured this adventure starting. Packs heavy for the three day adventure, we aimed for the moraine far across the lake. Intense cloud cover obscured the landscape beyond the far edge of the lake. Cold wind in the face. Head down. Keep moving to stay warm.
Almost two hours from the parking lot and we had yet to gain any elevation from the lake. Barely enough snow on the moraine to keep the skis on. Connect snow patches and then a right turn around the ice bulge to gain the ridge.
THWUMP! Everything is moving in slow motion. “AVALANCHE!”
No time to think. Just react. Race to the safety of higher ground. Everything is quiet again, except for my heart. It is pounding from the shot of adrenaline. That was close. No one is caught as the toe of the debris doesn’t reach where Franz had been standing moments ago. Thankfully, a small depression protected us from the slide. My first avalanche. Hopefully, also my last.
Thomas and the avalanche debris.
A quick stop for lunch is a welcome chance to let the adrenaline dissipate. The conversation focuses on our recent encounter and our pace. Will we have enough time to make it to the hut, high on the glacier? It is still early. We decided to press onward.
It is now time to gain some vertical, although it will be with skis on the pack. The ridge to access the Peyto Glacier is wind swept and bare. These conditions make for quick travel to the remote research station at the foot of the glacier. Still on foot, we trudge through patches of rock and snow.
Skis and skins back on, the glacier seems endless. Jagged outcroppings of exposed blue ice, the glacier reveals it’s past. Thin striations of rock crushed between layers of ice for thousands of years are slowly freed from their cold prison as the mass of ice slowly deteriorates. I see deep into the ice. The ice is mesmerizing. No time to waste. Keep moving.
Detail of glacial ice.
The wind has picked up. The temperature is plummeting. Snow is indistinguishable from sky. What little light makes it through the dense clouds is fading quickly. The pace hastens. Our skis gliding along barely make a trail in the firm wind packed snow. The cadence is mindless.
My right foot won’t move. Weird. I give it another try. Still nothing. A look down reveals the answer, crevasse. Just wide enough to consume the tip of my ski. I slowly backed my ski out of the opening and peered into the gash in the snow. Blue ice descends into darkness. The second close call in short succession.
“Franz, Tom. Time to rope up!” Why had we not roped up earlier? Not worth thinking about now. Snow is falling. Visibility is waning. Energy levels are fading. Roped travel slows the pace. Hard to find a rhythm. Elevation gain dwindles. Again, the glacier seems endless.
A marker on the horizon sharply contrasts the dense gloom encompassing us. Our bearing shifts towards the marker. Must be getting close. The hut emerges from the enshrouding clouds. Anticipation makes time stand still.
Inside the confines of the hut, I drop my burdensome pack to the floor. The hut provides a much needed reprieve from the fierce wind and cold. Melt some snow. Replenish spent energy. A hot dinner is satisfying. Take a look at the log book. We are the first travelers to use the hut this winter. No wood stove in the hut. Radiant body heat slowly warms the single room. But, it is still below zero. Glad I brought my warmest sleeping bag. Time to rest a weary body.
Bright sunshine breaks over the mountains and pours through the windows. It quickly melts the thin layer of ice that accumulated on the inside. Blue sky is a welcome departure from yesterday’s obscurity. The departing clouds bestowed 10 inches of light dry snow upon the Wapta Icefield. Evidence of fresh avalanches litters the peaks around the hut. Energy and spirits are high. Fueled by the sunshine and fresh powder, I eased into my cold boots and repacked my gear.
Looking back towards the Peyto Hut.
Roped travel was much more fluid today. The three of us swiftly get into a groove. Aiming for the col between Mount Thompson and Mount Rhonda, our objective is the Bow Hut. Winds are light. Discussion about a summit attempt of Mount Rhonda ensues. We plan to keep our options open, contingent upon snow conditions and weather. Head down. Focus on maintaining a stead pace to facilitate efficient travel while roped.
Winds are increasing. Clouds are rolling in. No summit attempt today. We point our skis at Mount St. Nicholas, jutting above the endless sea of white. A short tour towards St Nick, then a chance to reap the rewards of two days of climbing. Powder turns down the Bow Glacier. Anticipation is high. Actuality does not disappoint. Fast turns in succession. Snow spraying my chest. Losing elevation rapidly.
The Bow Hut is now in view. No smoke from the chimney. No occupants at the hut. Not surprising as the tour up from Bow Lake is riddled with terrain traps and avalanche paths. Starting a fire is the first priority. The views from the hut are astounding: hanging glaciers, jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies, and endless snowfields. Winds are pounding the hut. A short rest by the wood stove and then sustenance. A full stomach. A warm bed. Sleep comes easy.
Hanging glacier above Bow Hut.
Last chance for a summit attempt. The surrounding peaks are still socked in. More new snow deposited overnight. Lighten the load and attempt to summit Mount Gordon. Rope up. Get back on the glacier. Winds are weakening, the skies clearing. The pace is vigorous. We make great time up the glacier to the wind scoop that protects the summit. Once on the scoop, we are blasted by the wind. A quick tag of the summit and obligatory summit photos taken.
Time for the descent.
Transition to ski mode. A light pack is delightful. The turns come easily. Endless turns on a fresh helping of lightly wind buffed snow. Stay in the skin track on the flatter sections. Keep the speed up. Still plenty of vertical to drop. Bigger, arcing turns. Legs start to burn. Three thousand vertical feet freezes a smile on my face. Ignore the burn. Pure bliss down to the door of the hut. The ecstasy eclipses the toils of the first day.
Grab the remainder of our gear. Our adventure is not yet over, one thousand vertical feet and over four miles to our rendezvous at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on the other side of Bow Lake. And a lifetime to try and trump the experience.