The weather wasn't terrible as we descended Mount Rowe. It wasn't great either though. I was mostly concerned about the wind which was forecast to get very strong, and I know that Waterton winds can ruin even the most beautiful, sunny days - and our day was not sunny. I was also concerned about the very dark clouds to the west. So far they were hovering over one mountain range to the west, but this wasn't guaranteed to last the whole day. My last concern was the snow. There was a lot more than I was expecting! Much more than I had on Sofa Mountain the day previous. Phil had driven all the way down for a day trip and we still had plenty of time and energy so we decided to buck up and continue to Festubert despite all the negatives looming over that proposition.
[The long day that combines ascents of Mount Rowe with Festubert.]
Right off the bat we got all excited when we summitted the first high point after the Rowe col where we came up an hour earlier. I looked at the distant summits and declared confidently that Festubert was only 1.5km distant! Wow! This wasn't bad at all. As we started down the high point (ironically higher than Rowe!) I started having doubts. Why would Nugara list the extension to Festubert as an addition 8 hours if it was only around 2km total traversing? This didn't add up. I pulled out the GPS and started scanning the map. Darn it. I found Festubert and it wasn't close at all. It was a FAR distant summit, buried in thick clouds already and preceded by a long, undulating, partially treed (i.e. bushwhacking) ridge. Despite this new information, we felt like we already committed and stubbornly kept going. Nugara only adds 400m of elevation for the extension but it looked like a LOT more to me.
[Phil gazes down our approach valley to Rowe lakes as we start the long traverse to Festubert.]
[From the first bump, looking at the second one that we by-passed on climber's left heading down to tree line. Festubert isn't even visible here - it's in the far distance, buried in clouds!]
After the first bump we traversed snowy slopes around the west side of the second one, descending to tree line and even lower. For the next interminable few hours we slogged up and down the snowy / bouldery / windy / treed ridge to Festubert. In the conditions we had it felt like quite the slog. The only advantage of the trees was that they blocked the strong westerly winds, which were actually lighter than I had the day before. In a very interesting twist, we actually ended up following fresh Grizzly tracks for a long portion of the ridge. The bear picked a pretty good route through all the debris! Finally we arrived at the lowest point of the traverse and the terrain became slightly less bouldery after ascending a very steep, dirt slope back up to the ridge crest. After passing three huge, somewhat grumpy rams (lowered heads, pawing the dirt) we could finally see our destination looming into the clouds above.
[This was the rest of our day - traversing in gray, windy, rainy, cold conditions. It was great fun!]
[Looking back at the first summit we ascended along the traverse from Rowe.]
[Phil is thrilled to be hiking along slick, snowy boulder fields.]
[Yep! Kilometers of THIS! ;)]
[I have to admit that it was still beautiful.]
[Too bad that close summit wasn't the right one eh Phil? He asked my about a dozen times if I was absolutely CERTAIN that Festubert was this far.]
[Sometimes we could stick right to the ridge, other times we had to drop down on climber's left to avoid nasty bits. For a while we even traversed a small bench on the cliffy (right) side - just under the ridge crest. It's where the bear led us...]
The weather was deteriorating quickly as we slogged up to the summit of Festubert. It was longer than expected but not too bad. The summit was a complete whiteout - all we could see was a sign post. The register was wet but readable, only around 4 summit parties in 2015 and around 10 in 2014. The register was placed by Kris Thorsteinsson in 2012 and only had a few entries in the first couple of years. Apparently some folks do a traverse from Kishinena Peak over Festubert and on to Mount Rowe. A couple of people listed Festubert as their final Waterton summit so I guess it is a long ways out of the way! We didn't linger and started back along our long traverse to Rowe Lakes. I was concerned about the chill I could feel settling over me. Being in snow and wind all day with wet feet wasn't earning me any favors with my poor immune system.
[The best shot I got of Festubert all day]
[One more shot of our destination before the weather really closed in and I had to put my camera away.]
[Yippee! We made it!]
[I'm starting to run into a lot of Kris Thorsteinsson registers lately...]
[A very dreary shot from the retreat, after this my camera went back in the pack.]
As we reversed our tracks on the ridge the day got even better. It started to drizzle. :) We kept the mood light and since Phil is used to wet and dreary weather he actually enjoyed himself quite a bit I think. It was funny how positive we made things, even though this was by far the worst conditions I've had on an outing in a long while. Hey! It still beat work... ;) Eventually we made it back to Rowe Lakes and got back to the cars after a long 12 hours of fast and steady hiking. I think most folks would take longer than this - Phil sets quite a pace! The total height gains and distances for the day were significantly more than Nugara implies due to the undulating nature of the ridge. My GPS put it at around 30km and 1850m for Rowe and Festubert combined. I can only recommend the Festubert traverse for hardcore peak baggers, I think normal people would likely not be too impressed with the long ridge and all of its height gains / losses and the boulder fields. Of course, the terrain is wild and beautiful and we commented more than once along the way how incredibly lucky we were to have the freedom, time and health to enjoy such outings.
So maybe you would like it after all.