On Wednesday, September 17 2008 the crazy Pol (Raf K) and I decided that the beautiful weather had to be taken advantage of. We wanted two things. Scenery and scenery. We got them both.
So where do you go if you want a good day out with great scenery? Well, it's always a good bet to go either on a glacier or somewhere really close to a glacier so that you can take lots of pictures of the glacier. Mistaya Mountain was done this year by a few people that Raf and I know and the pictures from those trips bumped it up both of our priority lists. For some reason we also thought that we could bag Caldron Peak, since it's seen relatively few ascents and also sports a fantastic view. On the map the two mountains look quite close to each other and if we were going to hike all the way in there, why not bag two peaks instead of one? (Hmmm. That kind of logic will wear out your body when you follow it to conclusion.)
There is one minor problem with the hike to Caldron Lake. It's a 300 meter height loss, first thing in the morning and obviously a reciprocal 300 meter height gain as the last thing you do before getting back to your vehicle at the end of the day. On the way down the excellent trail from the Peyto Lake viewpoint I kept thinking about all the height we were losing. It felt like a lot but we convinced ourselves that it was only around 200 meters and that we wouldn't worry about it till the end of the day. (Hmmm. That kind of logic will wear out your body when you follow it to conclusion - are you sensing a theme here yet?)
[Gorgeous Peyto Lake in early morning lighting.]
The rest of the hike to Caldron Lake was very pleasant - as pleasant as hiking on moraines can ever be. The only place I've ever seen scree piled so ridiculously steep is on moraines because it's cemented in place with glacial debris, ice and water. Being cemented also means a very hard, unforgiving surface. Easy to go up. Not so pleasant to descend. Another thing I should mention is crossing the outlet stream from Caldron Lake and Peyto Glacier. On the way in we actually walked straight to the stream and spent the next 1-2km looking for a place to cross it without getting our feet wet. Eventually we came to a nice bridge built over the stream. (NOTE: This bridge is washed out as of 2016.) You have to hike right into the canyon coming off the Peyto Glacier before you'll get to that darn bridge. It's worth it though, there's a good trail backtracking on the other side of the stream the whole way to the moraine and then up the moraine. You do 'waste' some distance, but IMO it's not significant and I'd personally much rather be on a packed trail then stumbling over loose rocks and nasty glacier detritus. Instead of trying to cross the stream as soon as you're done the descent from the lookout, you should stick to the trail on the left (east) side of the gravel flats. When the trail goes up (especially in the trees) you can usually just bypass these sections by staying on the flats. You'll be doing enough ups and downs without these extra diversions! Hikers have this annoying habit of making their trails go up and down, almost like they're searching for some extra exercise. I think they should just start bagging more peaks and stop with the roller coaster trail building habit.
[Hiking along Peyto Lake]
[Gazing up at the very impressive north face of Peyto Peak with the dual Caldron Falls coming down below it. We have to cross the steep scree slopes just above those waterfalls to access Caldron Lake which is out of sight on the right.]
[Peyto Peak looms above a raging Peyto Creek that isn't as easy to cross as you'd think! Peyto Peak isn't as easy to climb as you'd think either, being one of the most technical of the Wapta Icefield summits to attain.]
Once we got on the moraine that leads up to the weather station and then back down to the Peyto Glacier, I got a sense of 'deja vu'. The last time I was on this pile of cement (or another word that starts with 'c' and ends with 'rap') was with skis on my back, trying to get up Jimmy Simpson. I ran out of steam on that trip and went back to the truck by myself in the dark leaving Raf and his buddy to bag the peak. (NOTE: They didn't actually bag the true summit on that trip...) Wait a minute. I was with Raf again this time. Uh oh.
[A familiar moraine - but I've usually been on it in the winter, including ascents of Baker, Trapper, Peyto and an attempt at Jimmy Simpson from the back side which doesn't work. :)]
[Gazing across the Wapta Icefield at Rhondda (L) and Habel (R)].
[Mistaya peeks out over the Caldron Falls in this view from the moraine. We have to traverse above those falls by first ascending out of sight on the left here.]
Since Raf only had 4 hours of sleep the night before, I led for most of the day. This doesn't mean Raf slowed us down any, he just wasn't feeling quite as aggressive as I was! We pushed up the moraine at a good pace. Once at the top we took the right hand fork (climbers) and traversed the steep and exposed trail that runs between Peyto Peak's northeast flank and the Caldron Lake headwall. This is not a good place to slip and the hard gravel with small pebbles and a severe down slope make it feel a bit dicey. I can't imagine what it feels like with snow - you want very stable snow conditions before even considering this route in the winter. The run out on this section is so bad you might as well not even bother turning your avi beacon on here. If you go down, you're going down 6 feet under, permanently.
[Finishing up the exposed traverse to Caldron Lake - Mistaya on the left and Caldron out of sight at upper right. Patterson in the far distance. Note the height loss ahead.]
[Mount Patterson is still a favorite of mine.]
After the traverse we got to a small boulder field and descended (yes - there's lots of height gain / loss on this trip) to the beautiful and pristine Caldron Lake. This would be one of the nicest places I know, just to spend a day lolly-gagging around an alpine lake, taking in the stunning scenery and just catching a few zzz's. Unfortunately for us, we are peak baggers and peak baggers don't like lolly-gagging underneath perfectly climbable peaks without first climbing those peaks! We set off around Caldron Lake on the north edge and were soon gaining height on old glacier garbage. I knew that we'd have to lose some of this height once we got under the ascent gully beneath Mistaya's ridge but it was easier terrain and the views were great so it was worth it.
[Stunning view of Caldron Lake with Peyto Peak rising above it.]
[Looking up our access slope for Mistaya.]
I took one look at the upper snow slope in the ascent gully from the moraine and asked the crazy Pol what he though of it. He replied that it wouldn't be as bad as it looked, which was a good thing because it looked almost vertical! We descended to the lower glacier / permanent snow gully coming off of Mistaya's ridge and cramponed up for the ascent. I'm not sure if this is a small pocket glacier or a snow field. I probed with my trekking pole all the way up and didn't find any cracks. All I know is that Mistaya will not be an easy objective once the snow completely melts from this gully. The rock to the right of the gully looked very loose and somewhat exposed to rock fall hazard too. Not the best terrain to be in for very long. The gully was in perfect condition for step kicking. I led most of the way up, it was very steep near the top but there's a very nice run out zone so it didn't feel too dicey. Raf charged up the last 15 meters or so and then we were on the summit ridge.
[Starting up the large snow gully.]
[The views do not disappoint in this area! Raf comes up behind me, the peak at center is Jimmy Simpson and is best ascended from Bow Lake rather than Peyto Lake.]
[The gully is much steeper than it appears on this photo.]
[More stunning views as we climb the gully.]
[The gully gets steeper the higher you go.]
[Finally on the upper ridge, this is looking away from the summit towards Peyto which is out of sight.]
So do I consider Mistaya is a scramble or an alpine climb? It depends a bit on your route.Eric Coulthard scrambled up mostly rocks but his route looks longer and less fun than the snow gully. If you go this way Mistaya is mostly a scramble. I would say that if you plan on ascending the snow gully, since you pretty much have to use crampons and an ax, and since conditions on the snow slope have to be solid or there's a very good chance of being caught in an avalanche, this route should probably not be considered 'just' a scramble. Even if you stay to the rock in this gully (only possible in dry conditions) it didn't look that pleasant or safe to me. On the other hand, it's certainly not a very technical or tough alpine route either. Who knows? If you're comfortable assessing snow conditions you'll find the snow gully easy, otherwise go up the rock route that Eric went up. The views are worth it either way!
Once on the ridge it was an endless plod to the summit. I was seriously lacking energy but we managed to get to the summit in just under 5 hours from the car. The views were amazing and kept us busy for almost an hour. We could see many of the Wapta peaks, Yoho peaks, Mount Mummery, the Lyells, Forbes, Murchison, Hector, Recondite and many more recognizable summits. I hunted for a summit register but there was too much snow and ice encasing the cairn and I didn't find anything. We still weren't sure at this point if Caldron was a possibility, I didn't think I had the energy but I told myself that if we were down Mistaya by around 14:30 it may be worth it. It looked like a heck of a slog to get up the scree slopes of Caldron and even looked like the hike from Mistaya to Caldron would be fairly draining.
[Mistaya is a large mountain and there's a lot of walking to do once you're done with the access gully. This is looking back towards the Wapta Icefield with Thompson, Baker, Peyto and Trapper in the distance.]
[Close to the summit looking to Barbette Mountain.]
[Looking west across the Blaeberry River to the Mummery Group.]
[The summit ridge of Mistaya is gentle glacier / snow. ++]
[Raf comes up to the summit behind me in this view towards the Wapta Icefield including Peyto, Trapper and Baker. Balfour in the distance.]
[Forbes towers over Barbette and Breaker with the Lyells in the background, including (L to R), Christian, Walter, Ernest, Edward and Rudolph.]
[The Murchison Group towers over Bison Peak. The main summit is the 2nd from the left. Hall Tower at right.]
[Looking down Delta Creek towards hwy 93 and Silverhorn Mountain. Observation on the right, Weed on the left.]
[Laussedat is always distinctive.]
[The Mummery Icefield summits include (L to R), Lambe Glacier, Lambe, Barnard, Bulyea, Walker, Prior, Pilkington, Solitaire. ++]
[Gorgeous Mount Patterson to the north.]
[Recondite is one of my favorite 11,000ers.]
[Mount Hector looms over Bow Peak.]
[Willingdon at far right with Crown and Tower.]
[Gorgeous views over Caldron Lake.]
[Raf on the summit]
[Summit panorama with Patterson on the left, Caldron at center and Thompson on the right. ++]
[Another pano, but looking west with the Mummery Group at center, Wapta on the left and Lyells on the right. ++]
[Vern on the summit.]
[The Amiskwi Lodge is buried in the Blaeberry River valley.]
[Caldron Lake with the Wapta Icefields.]
[Peyto Peak isn't an easy climb like most of the Wapta peaks. The tower is ascended via a low 5th class chimney on this side, with tremendous exposure down the north face to Caldron Lake.]
The descent was fast and easy. The steep snow was a bit trickier to descend, we didn't even bother with crampons because the snow was quite soft (5-8 inches of slushy snow on hard pack) and the crampons would just ball up and make it less safe. Plus if we did slip, we didn't want to be wearing crampons for the ride down! It was tempting to glissade the slope but we were a bit worried that we could start a huge slough of wet snow and there was potential to lose control of the descent that way so we didn't bother tempting fate on this one.
[Descending, looking across to Caldron Peak.]
[Slushy snow makes for a fast descent.]
[Looking back at our tracks in the gully.]
We were at the bottom of the snow gully by 14:30. Raf figured that from where we were there was roughly 300 meters to gain to the summit of Caldron. I figured slightly more than that but we agreed to give it 2 hours and see where we were. To myself I said that it would probably take about 2.5 hours or we should be turning around. This would ensure just enough day light to get back to the car. I was trying very hard to ignore the height gain waiting for us at the end of the day (yes, that kind of logic will wear out your body when you follow it to conclusion...).
[Looking back at the access gully as we work our way to Caldron Peak.]
Once again, we had to gain a bunch of height to get over the glacial deposits and moraines between Mistaya and Caldron. The height gains / losses were slowly taking their toll on us and we started to slow down a little bit. The weather was still by far the nicest day I had all summer and this helped bolster the energy and mood levels. The scenery also continued to amaze and I felt truly blessed to be in this wild and beautiful place. As we dropped back down towards Caldron I realized that we should probably dump some gear before heading up to its summit. There was no need for crampons or axes or anything like that. The weather was very stable so we could leave Gore-tex coats and pants behind too. Raf decided to dump his entire pack and just take the bare minimum with him, I elected to take the pack with half of its contents. We dropped yet a bit more into the small valley at the base of Caldron before starting the long plod up its scree-covered slopes.
[Off snow and back onto loose rock as we work our way towards Caldron Peak.]
When we were in the small valley, just before heading up Caldron, I glanced at my altimeter. What I saw was not very encouraging. Instead of a 300 meter height gain, we now had over 500 meters! I guess all those ups and downs add up eh?! I decided not to tell Raf until we were half way up - that way he couldn't turn around anymore. What are buddies for right? :-)