On Thursday, March 12 2009 Bill Kerr, Wietse Bylsma, Kevin Papke and I set out to clear Kev's head after a personal loss, the manner of clearing being a nice back country ski up some Wapta Peak. It's been almost 2 years since I was last on the Wapta since I didn't get up there at all in 2008 for some reason. I was also looking forward to finally bagging another peak for 2009 - my record of peak bagging in 2009 has been dismal so far!
Between Bill, Kevin and I we've done a few peaks on the Wapta already and since no one really felt like a repeat day we ended up choosing Mount Thompson as our objective. Since Wietse was a Wapta rookie he didn't care much where we wandered to up there!
The problem with skiing Mount Thompson is that despite the fact that it's surrounded by snow-clad summits, it very rarely wears a white outfit itself. Thompson prefers the dotted brown lumpy outfit known as 'scree' and this implies a scree slog in ski boots to attain the summit, which is a bummer if you enjoy skiing and don't enjoy trashing your ski boots. My strategy behind convincing the others to 'ski' Thompson was to make it sound attractive and then just keep suggesting it until they agreed to give it a go. Eventually they came around! Another strategy was to simply ignore the few trip reports I'd heard that make it sound like a pretty big trudge - and not a great ski destination (although walking it from the parking lot would be much worse).
When we drove up to the Bow Lake parking lot I was concerned. The weather was mostly clear but a bunch of low cloud hovered over the Wapta. When there is any clouds anywhere even close to the Wapta it's a good idea to either pull out the GPS and prepare for a whiteout day or simply choose an objective across the road in the sun. Since we didn't have an objective across the road we stubbornly pushed ahead with our Wapta plans, even though both Bill and I had not brought our GPS units. The obviously strong winds also didn't bode well for getting enough snow to ski on Thompson but like I said, we were stubborn!
The ski up to the hut went without problems - given the low amount of snow I was surprised at the creek coverage, it was better than I've seen it with hardly any water visible along the entire length of the approach. The trail swung way out to climber's left as it approached the Vulture headwall which made the trip back easier but exposed us a bit more to ice fall hazard from the Vulture Glacier (but nothing to worry about). At this point Kevin gave a burst of speed since he had to get rid of some extra weight in a hurry while the rest of us casually made our way to the hut for a quick brunch. The hut was warm and cozy and like always, it was a bit of a challenge to walk back out of it into the howling wind / cold, knowing what we were leaving behind!
[Our objective is out of sight to the right, Portal Peak looms above us on the right with The Onion on the left as we cross Bow Lake. That low layer of cloud over the glacier is concerning.]
[Looking back at Wietse coming up the Bow Canyon with Jimmy Simpson in the bg.]
[Breaking out of the approach canyon is always a steep grunt. This is also where most avalanche hazard is.]
[Skiing under the impressive serac's on the Vulture Glacier.]
[Wietse and Bill follow Kev and I up the steep headwall under the Bow Hut, part of Crowfoot Mountain in the bg.]
[Bill breaks the headwall with Vulture in the bg.]
When we skied up towards the Wapta Icefield from the hut I immediately noticed how the snow levels were lower than I'd ever seen them. We skied up the headwall to the icefield a lot further to climber's right than I remembered but that worked out quite well for our purposes anyway. Bill led the way up the headwall and onto the icefield. The wind was howling pretty good up on top but we could see our destination and it didn't look very far. Bill and I were getting quite concerned at this point, because neither of us brought our GPS and the clouds were the type that could sock in the whole icefield in a matter of a few minutes. I've heard enough horror stories of people wandering over Bow Falls in white outs on the Wapta... We were being stubborn though and with the weather forecast (!) calling for nicer weather the next day we gambled that the conditions wouldn't worsen.
As we approached the trench I swapped lead with Bill and broke trail through the 3 or 4 inches of soft, slabby snow on the glacier. The trench is much bigger than it first appears and like all glacier travel, the mountain is a lot further than it looks too. As we slogged our way towards Thompson we started wondering if we'd even have enough time to climb it! Bill set our turn around time at around 15:00 hours and by the time we finally ascended the toe of Thompson off the glacier it was already past 13:00. It took us nearly 2 hours from the Bow Hut to the toe of Mount Thompson - far longer than any of us thought it would.
[Heading up the Wapta from the hut, The Onion ahead.]
[Looking back at the (bare) approach to the hut and Crowfoot Mountain.]
[Kev breaks trail with Thompson and Portal in the distance at right. Rhondda, Habel, Baker, Trapper and Peyto in the far distance at left.]
[Finally we can start contouring back to Thompson (C). At least the clouds are holding off so far.]
I led the way, on foot, up the steep first section of Thompson, the loose rubble was made even worse by the foot or two of blown snow. Sometimes the snow was hard enough to hold our weight but soon we would sink back in - a very tiring process. Wietse and I swapped lead up the never ending rubble slopes and eventually we knew that we were not only getting close to our turn around time but close to the top. Kevin agreed to lead for a bit and soon he was on top, much to our huge relief! We made the summit with less than 15 minutes to spare on our turn around time. The views were incredible and the snow / cloud / wind made for some great atmosphere. It was also quite cold, so we didn't linger very long. After a quick side trip to the slightly lower north summit we started back.
[The long slog begins - Wietse and Kev dropped their skis before Bill and I.]
[Soon even we were required to drop the boards and start walking.]
[Doesn't look too bad eh? Looks can be somewhat deceiving in the mountains.]
[The crappy ascent conditions are made up for with stunning views back over the Wapta, in this case towards Rhondda and Habel.]
[Great views back east over Bow Lake. Jimmy Simpson at left with part of Crowfoot on the right. ++]
[Nice exposure down the east face of Thompson. Caldron and Mistaya on the left, Chephren just visible in the far distance.]
[Looking north and east. Murchison on the left with Corona Ridge, Noyes and Weed just left of center. Recondite and Willingdon at right over Observation Peak. ++]
[Looking over Dolomite Peak towards Cataract Peak.]
[Caldron with Patterson at center.]
[Looking at the south summit from the north.]
[Bill on the summit of Mount Thompson.]
The ski down the glacier and back to the parking lot went without major incident. We managed to find about 20 turns in worthy snow, the rest was 'survival skiing'! 10 hours after leaving the car we were back. A great day out but not the best 'skiing' I've ever done. On the other hand, Thompson rarely has enough snow to ski and walking it would take far longer. I'm glad I went up that one but I won't be going back.
[Amazing view over St. Nicholas at the twin summits of Mount Olive at left and Mount Gordon at right.]
[Looking west and north off the descent slopes. L to R is Baker, Tilly and Trapper.]
[Baker is a seriously sexy Wapta peak.]
[Looking over the tiny Peyto Hut (lower left) at one of the toughest Wapta peaks, Peyto Peak.]
[Tired of frozen scree yet boys? ;)]
[Looking east at Little Crowfoot and Crowfoot Mountain.]
[Skiing back onto the white ocean of the Wapta Icefield.]
[It's a white, windswept desert of snow and ice.]
[Skiing back along the colorful walls of Bow Canyon.]
[Looking back at Portal and Thompson in fading light as we cross the Bow Lake at dusk.]