My only thought as I watched Sonny slide off the mountain was;
Wow. Sonny is sliding off the mountain!
I had decided on Friday afternoon that I would post something to the web board to see if anyone would be interested in joining me for an attempt at South Kidd the next day, Saturday November 19, 2005. I didn't really expect any hits because of the late notice but was pleasantly surprised when Sonny gave me a call at home and signed up.
We left the trailhead for Galatea Lakes at around 07:30 under relatively warm and windless conditions. Quickly it became obvious that there would be copious amounts of slipping and sliding on this trip! Sonny was having a particularly hard time of things because of the lack of Vibram left on his soles. Eventually we came to a fairly obvious trail branching up to the right on the edge of a tall stand of pines. The trail was marked with an orange ribbon and a small rock cairn. We quickly gained open slopes beside a small drainage, which was dry at this late stage of the season.
The snow had been pretty good up to this point, not very much of it and easy to kick-step up any that was there. After about 2 hours of hiking we could see the upper part of our route (everything except the final summit ridge) and it looked very promising. There was some snow but that would make for little or no scree bashing and a good glissade back down.
[A beautiful early morning view towards The Fortress and Gusty Peak - I did both of those together with Dave Stephens in October 2004 and for some reason we tacked Mount Shark onto the end of that day. Don't ask.]
[The two gullies that access the ridge are way above us. The red line is where we ascended and descended. The green line is the alternate (but steeper) route.]
[Sonny enjoys the snow-free scramble up the lower ridge.]
We decided to take the easier left-hand slope to gain the summit ridge, rather than the snow choked gully to the right. We thought that if the snow conditions were ripe, we would glissade down the right-hand gully on the way back down. About 1/2 an hour later we were seriously doubting we would even get up the mountain on this particular day. Just as the slopes became completely blanketed in snow, the snow drastically changed character on us. Instead of nice soft crystals that held our weight and allowed us to kick steps, we found ourselves on icy, rock hard, unforgiving slabs.
I had crampons in my pack and immediately thought of putting them on. However, Sonny didn't have crampons along and I thought that these awful conditions were probably only short lived and we would soon be kick stepping again so I (foolishly) left the crampons in the pack! Well, after a harrowing 50 minutes on the crappiest 'snow' I've ever encountered we finally struggled up onto the ridge and began traversing over to the summit. Here we had to be careful not to plunge through moderate sized cornices that were overhanging the north face of South Kidd. A few times my hiking poles would sink deeper than I liked and I would quickly scoot over, further to the right. The problem was that if we went too far to the right we were flirting with an involuntary glissade down the south slopes of the mountain. Exposed rocks and cliffs would not make the ride very pleasant and would certainly be fatal.
[The going starts to get tougher as we approach the 'ice line' - the point of the trip where the snow became ice.]
[Sonny pauses on the final push to the summit. Can you recognize any of the background peaks?]
Once we could finally see the summit my heart sank a bit. We were only about 2 meters vertical from the top but it was the 100 meters horizontal that was going to cause us problems. We had two choices. We could navigate a very exposed, loose and snowy ridge to the summit, or traverse steep snow slopes to the right and eventually grovel back up a steep angle to gain the top. We chose to drop down and try the traverse. The snow was pretty soft for the first 50 meters and since we were following in someone else's footprints everything went pretty smoothly. The slopes were steep enough to avalanche but the snow was firm and we weren't too worried about that. Then things got tricky again.
Once the tracks we were following entered a small rocky outcrop the snow solidified back to icy conditions and Sonny began looking for a way to scramble up to the ridge, rather than deal with ice again, especially exposed to very steep slopes as we were. I was about 15 meters behind Sonny and as I looked above me I could see a nice route all the way up to the ridge so I started up. As I gained the ridge and looked down I could tell that things weren't going so well in Sonny-town! The snow that Sonny was trying to navigate was not cooperating and I watched in strange detachment as he suddenly gave a startled exclamation and began to plummet down the south slope.
[The summit can be seen in the distance along with the terrain between it and me.]
[Sonny comes up the ridge behind me, and a dazzling display of Rocky Mountain summits shows up behind him. Note the cornice to the right? This is terrain best avoided.]
[Sonny traverses steep (and icy) snow slopes below the difficult summit ridge. On the way back we took more of the ridge because the hard snow made things very dicey. Slightly ahead of Sonny and up to the left is where he started an involuntary glissade to the bottom of the mountain. Good thing some (rare) soft snow stopped him!]
As if watching a slow motion video I saw Sonny crash over the small rock outcropping and pick up speed very quickly. His ice axe was ripped out of his hands and at that point I though it was all over for Mr. Bou. At that moment a miracle occurred. The mountain gave Sonny another chance! He actually managed to land in some soft enough snow to put on the leg brakes and come to a sudden stop. The silence was deafening. I continued on to the summit after confirming that Sonny was unhurt and after gathering his axe, Sonny clambered up the south slope and joined me at the summit. Strangely, I thought, Sonny didn't seem that scared from his experience and I still think that the whole episode went by so fast that he didn't have time to register what was going on and it was all over. He certainly didn't get the 'slow motion' impression that I did!
The views from the summit were outstanding and after snapping some photos and fueling up we were ready to head down again. We decided to go down the way I had come up and proceeded on our way. The crux was a short, very exposed down climb off the ridge and I led us down it, since I had already come up that way. I made a few awkward moves on the crux and was through it. Sonny didn't seem to be having any troubles so I kept my head down and concentrated on continuing down. Eventually I made it back to an easier section of the ridge and waited for Sonny there. Sonny wasn't coming. I thought he was right behind me! I began to feel very nervous.
[Sonny and Vern at the South summit of Mount Kidd.]
[A view off the summit towards the south and highway 40. You can see the bank of clouds hanging over Peter Lougheed Park and the Highwood Pass area.]
[A summit panorama showing (L to R), Galatea, Tower, Engadine, Assiniboine, Bogart and many others.. ++]
The only place Sonny could be that would put him out of my view was the north face of the mountain. If he was there he was in seriously unfriendly terrain! After a few nervous minutes I breathed a sigh of relief when Sonny's familiar toque popped back onto the radar. As it turns out (and I'll leave the details for Sonny to tell because I wasn't there), when the mountain saved Sonny's life it wanted something in return. His mountaineering axe. As he was down climbing the crux, Sonny dropped his axe over the north side and watched as it came to rest a short way down the cliff face. Somehow he managed to get to the axe and after a few panicky moments managed to get back on the ridge. I think at this point Sonny was ready to get off this mountain! He told me that he was a lot more nervous when retrieving his axe then when he was sliding down the mountain earlier, so that must have been an experience he doesn't want to repeat any time soon.
[Sonny has just lost his axe on this down climb (he's hard to see but Sonny is in this photo). I didn't even know I had this picture until I downloaded it off my camera when I got home!
Apparently the mountain gets what she wants. After failing to take ownership of Sonny's axe on two previous attempts she finally got her way on the third one. You read that right. There was a THIRD incident. Once we got to the slick, icy return slope off the summit ridge we knew that our troubles weren't over yet. I decided (finally) that I was going to put my crampons on and just as I was going to stop to do that, Sonny decided to throw his axe down the mountain. I watched in utter disbelief as his axe did a few lazy turns in the air before crashing onto the rock-hard slope and careening crazily down the slope, over some cliffs and out of sight. Jeez. What a day Sonny was having.
Sonny was left trying to grab his balance and I was left trying to close my gaping mouth. Apparently as he slipped, Sonny threw his arms in the air and just like that the mountain finally had her way with his axe. I had my crampons for purchase on the hard snow, so I gave Sonny my axe (after showing him how to use the leash ;-)) and we continued down. I should mention that I lost a Nalgene bottle in the same spot when I took my crampons out of my pack. It was just so slick and hard on the slope that the very second that something started to slide, it was gone. The crampons made short work of the slope - I'll never take that chance again, if I have them along I'm going to use them - and Sonny managed to lay on the axe and control his glissade descent too. We breathed a sigh of relief as we gained the soft snow areas and even managed a controlled glissade down a narrow gully for about 10 minutes or so!
[I found a waterfall for Dave to climb!
After a slippery walk back down the Galatea Trail, we got back to the parking lot. By this time I was quite dehydrated (remember that lost Nalgene bottle earlier...) and a migraine moved in on me and I lost 80% of my vision for the final few kilometers to the parking lot. What a day! Off season scrambles always seem to provide epic stories and I guess this one was no different. I know I wont be forgetting South Kidd for a while! Another thing I wont be forgetting is my crampons in my pack and a leash on my axe! ;-)