After scrambling Mount Warspite and Mount Storelk the previous two days, Thursday, August 16 2007 seemed like the perfect day to grind up Wapta Mountain and complete 3 difficult scrambles in 3 days after 2.5 weeks away from the mountains. So that's exactly what I did!
This time I was joined by Wietse, Jason and Kevin Barton.
Wapta Mountain has always interested me because of the purported views and the difficult crux which seems to surprise most people with it's level of difficulty. I also love the Yoho area for it's amazing views and good approach trails. The day started off with JW stuffing 6 bottles (yes - bottles!) of beer in his pack for later enjoyment. The hike to the campground by Yoho Lake was pleasant and it was here that the beer got hidden under a log in the lake. We continued up the excellent trail and soon were enjoying views of the 'other side' of the Presidents and the impressive waterfall coming off the south glacier.
[Storing some drinks for the return trip in Yoho Lake.]
The hike is longer than you may expect, it must be close to 6km each way, but it was a lot shorter than my trip up Mount Field. (Ok - that was a ridiculous amount of work for such an easy peak, I admit it, but we were desperate for a summit at the time!)
[Looking back at the south face of the President (L) and Vic President (R) from the highline trail.]
[Hiking along some impressive cliffs coming off the west end of Wapta]
Once we came to the gully we wasted no time heading right up the middle of it. Raff had mentioned that the middle of the gully was fun scrambling on the way up and that the trees to climber's right were better saved for the way down so we listened to his advice - and it paid off. The gully has some moderate to upper moderate scrambling in it, on smooth water-worn slab that can get pretty steep in spots. You can usually bail out of it to the left or right if it gets to prickly for your taste, but if you can't handle the scrambling in the gully you won't be liking the crux on the summit block very much and should probably continue on to Mount Field or stick to hiking for the day.
Once we got near the top of the gully we scrambled slightly to climbers right and straight over the first cliff band - heading for a cairn that could just be seen on the top. The scrambling through the lower cliff bands was quite enjoyable. You may be tempted to go way over to climbers right where the cliff band completely deteriorates into scree but if you can find the break closer to the ascent gully you will save yourself a lot of scree bashing and will have a much more enjoyable scramble, IMHO.
[The infamous lower gully]
[Getting near to the top of the gully.]
[Looking back down the gully (lower left) and across at the Presidents with Carnarvon on the left.]
[Rather than side-hilling too far to climber's right, you can find your way straight up through the lower cliff band above the gully.]
After we broke through the first cliff band we could see another band above us. It looked like there was a way directly up and through this band too. We headed up very broken scree and boulders for another break in the cliffs and this was quite loose but only moderate scrambling at best. Once through this last cliff band we were in the upper bowl before the summit block. JW headed off for the slopes to the east of the summit block (he would have to traverse west to meet up with us on the west side of the block later) while the rest of us followed the odd cairn and bits of broken trail up the scree to climbers right and the northwest corner of the block. Testimony to the looseness of the upper terrain came in the form of a huge cloud of dust and rock from the summit as we were clambering up this final scree field. Once at the summit block we waited for JW to join us and then proceeded to traverse under the steep cliffs towards the south end of the block and our route up to the summit.
[Taking a break after the first cliff band, Emerald Lake far below and Carnarvon rising out of sight at upper right.]
[The second band wasn't too bad - just loose.]
[Wietse looks pretty small in the expansive views from below the summit block on Wapta.]
[Carnarvon (L) and The Presidents (C) with des Poilus and Collie in the far distance at right. Wietse's also in there somewhere...]
[Hmmm. The route goes somewhere up here... As it turns out, the easiest ascent route is further back than the flagged / cairned one that we descended.]
As we traversed up alongside the summit block we naturally ended up on a ledge that worked its way along the steep cliffs. The ledge eventually became a bit exposed and we had to stretch to get over some broken bits on it. We kept looking for the Kane route markers but didn't see any obvious ones. Eventually we came to a point where JW thought we could get up onto the south ridge and so we clambered up using a slightly awkward move and we were there. The route we took did not seem very heinous to us and we knew that we had somehow missed the Kane route but found an easier one while we were at it! The final bit to the summit was quite exposed and loose but not that bad and soon we were enjoying the wonderful views of the surrounding peaks including the Goodsir Towers, Mount Vaux, Laussedatt, Carnarvon, the Presidents, Wapta Icefields summits, Niles, Daly etc.
[JW gazes off a prominent point near our ascent line.]
[Looking down at Wietse who's coming up onto the ridge proper - you can see the point from the previous photo behind him in the center of the photo.]
[JW leads up the summit ridge. As you can see - it was a scorchingly hot day.]
[Sublime view of Emerald Lake with Carnarvon rising to the right over Emerald Peak.]
[Wietse with the distinctive shape of Mount Vaux in the distance.]
[Mount Field at lower right with Stephen, Cathedral, Huber and Victoria (R to L) in the distance behind.]
[Panorama with Carnarvon on the left, President and Vice President at center and des Poilus, Collie and Gordon in the distant right. ++]
[Takkakkaw Falls at lower left and the mighty Mount Balfour - king of the Wapta - looming above Trolltinder.]
[From L to R, Collie, Baker, Habel, Rhondda and the ridge of Mount Gordon.]
[Mount Owen on the extreme left with the Goodsir Towers and Chancellor Peak between it and Vaux on the far right.]
[Emerald Lake and Mount Carnarvon (R) - my very last Kane Peak scramble!]
[Mount Laussedat has a very distinctive summit glacier cap.]
[Upper Carnarvon - this mountain is still one of my favorite scrambles.]
[Mount Vaux is another favorite mountain of mine - and this is her best angle IMHO.]
[The always-impressive Goodsir Group]
[Des Poilus is a gorgeous Wapta Icefields peak, looming over Whaleback Mountain's ridge in this shot and looking extremely melted out!]
[Mount Collie is one of the spiciest summit ridges on the Wapta Icefield with tremendous avalanche risk and exposure. Here it is looming over Yoho Peak and the site of the ACC's newest hut location on Yoho Peaks lower NW ridge, the Guy Hut.]
[I've skied Mount Gordon several times and it's still a favorite ski destination of mine on the Wapta.]
[The gap between Habel (L) and Rhondda (R) is clearly visible.]
[Mount Hector is another fantastic ski run - and an 11,000er to boot.]
[I have fond memories of scrambling Niles (L) and Daly (R) with my little bro' from a gorgeous bivy in the meadows beneath Niles. It's amazing how much larger Daly looks from here - no wonder it's a big day!]
[Looking into the Skoki area at Douglas (L) and St. Bride (C) the snowy peaks.]
[Distant Lake Louise giants include Huber, Victoria and Victoria North (R to L).]
[Group shot at the summit of Wapta Mountain]
[Looking over the Trans Canada towards Lake Louise.]
After almost an hour on the summit we decided that the clouds to the west were looking a bit soggy and we should get down before we looked soggy too. Wietse and Kevin led the way back down the summit ridge. I was kind of bummed that we hadn't gone up the Kane route. I wanted to test my scrambling skills against Kane's difficult rating and the register entries had me even more curious about the crux. (Generally people were not in favor of labeling it as a 'scramble' route.) On my way up the summit ridge I had noticed where the Kane route topped out, and could see the route was well marked with small cairns on the way down. I yelled to JW behind me that we should give it a shot but he didn't sound so keen on that plan so I kept going down our ascent route.
I guess the wheels got to turning in JW's head because as he passed the Kane route he yelled down to me that it was "worth a shot" and so I scrambled back up to meet him and we started down the route. Right away it became obvious that this is a whole other ball 'o wax compared to our ascent route. The Kane route is much more difficult. It's more exposed, much steeper, longer and looser than our ascent route. Unless you like down climbing loose 5.1 - where every handhold, no matter how large seems determined to come down on top of your melon, I would highly recommend NOT using the Kane route on this mountain. JW and I both made it down no worse for the wear - and I was glad I did it because I would have always wondered otherwise, but since there is such an obvious route around this crux it almost seems foolish to tempt the scrambling deities with this route!
[Looking down the flagged / cairned crux as described by Kane - note the cairn at the bottom?]
[Wietse down climbs the upper ridge on Wapta]
[Down climbing to the end of the upper ridge where we came up on the right hand side.]
[This is where I turned back up the ridge to rejoin JW and attempt to down climb the regular route.]
[JW starts the tricky down climb - lots of VERY loose rocks!]
[Tricky, slow down climbing on the crux]
[This gives an idea of the terrain around the crux - very steep and exposed.]
There were no cairns marking our ascent route and we didn't cairn it either, but if you simply continue past the Kane route, almost completely to the south end of the summit block on the ledge (it will be obvious), you can't miss it. I think Dow Williams must have picked a very similar line to ours but I can't be sure of that. Even the ledge route was 'difficult' but compared to the regular Kane route it is much safer IMHO. Wietse and Kevin both said that it was a bit tricky to descend but the level of involuntary clenching seemed considerably less than what JW and I had just experienced! :-)
[Looking back at the other guys negotiating the 'gap' in the ledge that occurs if you walk past the Kane crux route.]
[Looking back at JW on the ledge we used to access an easier line to the upper ridge.]
[JW retraces our steps along the summit block's west cliff face.]
After the summit block we retraced our ascent route through the cliff bands and tackled the steep scree slopes on skiers left of the ascent gully. Eventually we ran into a faint trail with flagging and soon were back at the Wapta highline trail. Back at the lake JW immediately downed his beer while lounging in the frigid water! The rest of us stayed dry until the sun came out and I joined JW. I am not cold blooded like he is so I only lasted about 3 minutes but he must have been in there for at least 10 or 15! Once the beer was gone, it was time to head back and we enjoyed some good laughs and impressive views of Takkakkaw Falls before finishing another awesome day in the Rockies.
[A shallow cave we went through along the upper summit cliff face.]
[Careful down climbing on very loose scramble terrain through the upper cliff bands beneath the summit block.]
[Easy scrambling compared to the crux but still fun!]
[Looking along the curtain wall that some scramblers end up under if they don't chose the right gully (don't go far enough) on ascent...]
[Waterfall coming off the Presidents]
[Takkakkaw Falls looks much bigger now that we're closer to it.]
I loved this scramble. Good company, good views, good scrambling - what's not to like? I highly recommend it. Don't go with too many people and make sure you stick together because some sections are dangerously loose (just ask Wietse about JW nearly killing him... ;-)). Bring a brain bucket and make sure that the summit block is dry or you'll be turning around after a lot of effort.