I had the whole week of September 1-7 off, but ended up working a couple of days on Tues / Wed due to bad weather. By Thursday I was ready to resume my break. Steven, Ben and I had plans for Fri-Sun so I had an extra day to do something myself. Originally I had a peak in mind but after thinking about it I decided to hike into the Woolley / Diadem bivy area by myself on Thursday and spend an extra night just chilling and reading or taking photos at one of the best bivy sites in the Rockies.
I arrived at the parking area along hwy 93 at around 13:00 and by 14:00 I had easily crossed the river flats in my hip waders (knee deep at most) and was ready for the approach hike. The next 3.5 hours were a lovely hike up steep forested hills, along a rushing stream with wild views of snow covered peaks and waterfalls. I certainly felt alone as I steadily worked my way to tree line and by the time I grunted up the last rise to the bivy area I was ready to drop my rather heavy pack. I couldn't believe my altimeter watch when it told me I'd done over 700 vertical meters! That explained why I was feeling the approach... There is a clear trail the whole way up, if you pay attention to rock cairns and faint paths through the boulders and rocks higher up. Mostly you should be near a stream running down on your right, but the trail does vary a bit in sections. I walked through the stream bed a few times rather than spend time in the trees, but with high water you couldn't do that.
The rest of my afternoon and evening were a wonderful few hours of relaxing in my warm tent with an e-book and warm cups of hot chocolate and coffee. Honestly, I'm not sure why I don't do just this more often. Hike to a gorgeous bivy and spend a few days reading and just relaxing. I might do more of this in the future.
[Looking across the Sunwapta River flats with Mushroom Peak at upper right and the start of the hiking trail near the obvious scar at right where Woolley Creek comes down.]
[Crossing the Sunwapta River was easy in late summer.]
[Immediately after crossing the Sunwapta River you go up an obvious trail on climber's left of Woolley Creek.]
[The trail is very obvious at first, and when it winds through forest.]
[A very impressive waterfall at the beginning of the trail.]
[Once above the waterfall the trail varies between forest and stream bed (sometimes both) but should still be pretty obvious. For an 11,000er approach, it's a highway.]
[Being in this wild place alone was a wonderful experience.]
[Wild beauty all around. It doesn't get better than this in the Rockies.]
[Mount Engelhard is an impressive peak at 10,729 feet high.]
[Looking back down Woolley Creek towards Tangle Ridge.]
[The easiest place to lose the trail (right Ben and Steven?! :)) is near the big boulder field where the trail starts off well to climber's left of the stream before taking a 90 degree turn through the boulder field (cairns) directly towards it and then heading up beside the stream in the boulder field (cairns).]
[Looking back down at the ascent valley - Tangle Ridge in the distance across hwy #93.]
[Cairns mark the way.]
[Getting closer to treeline. I had a few flurries and a brief snow squall on approach.]
[Finally three of our objectives come into view. Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak from L to R.]
[Looking back down the approach from above treeline. Peaks in the distance include Cromwell and Engelhard. ++]
[Just before the bivy site - views are stunning! There's quite a bit of fresh snow on our route but this means less ice in the couloirs, which is a good thing.]
[Views from my tent.]
[More views from my tent.]
[My little nest of isolation and relaxation in the midst of snow, ice and rock. I should do more of this...]
As the evening shadows grew long the realization that I was very alone in a wilderness setting became more acute but I was fine with it. As a matter of fact, I loved it! I've spent so much time outdoors, sleeping in bivy sacks and tents over the past 10 years that doing it alone didn't seem that scary at all. I drifted off to sleep eventually and didn't wake until something started rustling around my tent at 03:00.
[I went for an evening stroll near camp and got this view of the Woolley Tarn with Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom in the background. ++]
[The sun sets and casts a nice glow on clouds to the east.]
[A subtle sunset over Woolley and Diadem.]
I wasn't scared by the creature, but rather annoyed. I was tired, the wind was blowing quite strong and I just wanted to sleep, so I ignored whatever it was that was turning over rocks and bumping my tent for a few minutes - trying to fall back asleep. Eventually I gave up, put my head lamp on and stumbled out of the tent with my fixed blade knife in hand- ready to do battle if necessary with whatever was out there. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't locate the creature with my head lamp. This told me that it was small or very, very quick. As I got ready to go back into the tent I looked up and noticed the incredible night sky above my tent - it was unbelievable! The Milky Way was lit up over Mount Woolley, kind of reminiscent of my Robson experience a year ago. Since I was up anyway I spent the next 1.5 hours taking photographs of the night sky.
[The Milky Way lights up the night sky over Mount Woolley and Diadem Peak near my bivy.]
[Looking east isn't as impressive as the Milky Way, but there's still a lot of star action going on there.]
[Looking directly overhead at the Milky Way and meteors lighting up the night sky. The M31 (Andromeda) galaxy is even visible here (top left)! It's one of the most distant objects in the night sky that's visible to the naked eye at 2.5 million light years away. The Andromeda galaxy will eventually collide with our Milky Way galaxy, ending our puny existence on Earth in case we're still around then, which is very doubtful!]
Just as I was about to go back to bed, I heard a creature coming towards me from the empty bivy corral next to mine! I shone my light on a huge pack rat, moving right towards me! I yelled and threw small rocks at it, but it totally ignored me and started rooting around near my tent where I did my cooking. It was getting ready to take my stove or other things of value, when I decided this was getting crazy and went into full battle mode. To make a long story short - I ended the reign of that giant rat at 04:30 on the morning of September 5th, 2014. Battle weary, I went back to bed and slept until warm sunshine woke me at 08:00 on Friday morning.