New Feature in IMPACT: The Land that does not melt

Back in April 2011, my husband, Paul Zizka, and I set off on a 5-day ski touring journey in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island. A year and a half later, the story of our trip (my words, his photos) appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of IMPACT MAGAZINE! You can read the article in their digital issue (pages 40-43) or pick up a copy in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Red Deer.

A Lesson in Endurance (Yoga Challenge: Day 16)

Today I learned another lesson in endurance.

I took a rest day today to go ski touring on one of the most beautiful winter days I have ever seen in The Rockies. It wasn’t much of a rest day for the body, but it felt great to get outside.

Who wouldn't pass up a day like this? Skiing across Peyto Lake towards the Peyto Glacier.

We were touring today to Peyto Hut on the Wapta Icefield, about a 10km trek in with overnight packs (and an elevation gain of over 500m). Lately, avalanche conditions have been rather ugly around here and while we hoped we would find safe passage to the hut, we did not. On top of it all, it was -30 degrees Celsius, and as we deliberated about whether or not we should continue, my body began to shake to fight off the cold. We ended up retreating back the way we came. All in all, we were out in the cold for about six hours.

Now, if there is a “Child’s Pose” of alpine ski touring it looks something like this: while standing, bend over with straight legs and position your poles in front of you so that you can actually rest your pack on the tops of your poles, allowing you to stretch out your back, neck and shoulders. This was my best friend today (it really works!) Needless to say, it was a beautiful but rough day in the outdoors.

Lesson from Day 16

I missed the yoga studio today – the warmth, candles, comfort. But as I stood outside in the cold, a few kilometres from the highway, I was thankful for the lesson in endurance that yoga has taught me through this challenge.

Forcing myself to do that extra sun salutation or hold a posture for an extra breath doesn’t sound like it comes close to a long ski out in the elements.But, the internal journey is truly the same.

Where has your internal journey taken you lately?

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

Alpine Ski Tour: Peyto Hut and Wapta Icefield

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

A day on the Wapta Icefield with clear skies never disappoints.

Last winter, I headed up onto the Wapta Icefield via the Bow Hut approach twice, and never saw a thing. Travelling by GPS in a total whiteout kind of took away from the experience of being on a vast expanse of ice. And I’ve hiked up to the Wapta in good weather in the summer many times before (via both the Bow and Peyto glaciers), but had never had the experience of skiing up there in good weather. This past Sunday was my chance.

Approaching the crest of the glacial moraine on the way to Peyto Hut.

To access the Peyto Hut approach in winter, park at a parking lot on the left hand side of the highway just North of the major parking lot for Peyto Lake indicated on Hwy 93. The approach to the hut can be found in Chic Scott’s Summits and Icefields, so I’ll leave you to find a more thorough description there. We chose to get a fairly early start (7 am) with hopes of getting good snow on the glacier with minimal sinking. The forecast was calling for sunny skies and warm temperatures and the avalanche ratings were at ‘Considerable’ across the board. Still, by taking the approach to the right hand side of the canyon coming from Peyto Glacier, we were able to avoid some of the more exposed slopes.

Peyto Hut is located just beyond the ridge descending towards the glacier on the left. Take a straight line up the glacier and a very wide left hand turn to avoid crevasses close to the ridge.

With excellent coverage on the Peyto Glacier and minimal sinking, we reached the Peyto Hut 4.5 hours (and 10 km) after embarking, where we enjoyed a hot pot of tea and a tremendous view looking out on the ocean of ice and peaks. This is one of my favourite places on the planet. Looking out on the Wapta Icefield sipping a cup of tea in a hut is a juxtaposition seldomly found anywhere else. It is in times like these that I am so thankful for The Alpine Club of Canada that maintains these huts and of which I am a proud member.

Approaching Peyto Hut.

After a quick lunch we took off towards the Bow Hut side of the Wapta, reaching the crest of the Wapta where you can see Mounts Rhonnda, Baker, Trapper, Peyto on one side and Saint Nicholas, Portal, Thompson, Crowfoot, and Olive on the other – spectacular.  The sun was intense, but a cool wind provided much needed relief from the heat from time to time. We turned around upon reaching the halfway point to Bow Hut, knowing we had a long journey back to the car. It was a swift ride down the glacier with bomb-proof coverage of the crevasses below and a hard surface to glide on.

Enjoying the long ski back down the glacier.

Both Paul and I were guessing at the time all day after forgetting our watches, so we thought we arrived back at the car around 5:30pm, tired and drained from a day out in the sun and wind. We were surprised, then, when we started the car and found out it was after 8pm. A day of skiing will do that to you. It was more than 13 hours later, and we didn’t mind at all.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Ski Touring Mount Field

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

My latest adventures took me ski touring up Mount Field in Yoho National Park, BC. We got an early start, mostly because I had to work at 4pm, but also because we were expecting a very warm day and avalanche conditions weren’t ideal high up on the mountain.

Mount Field (8672 feet) is south facing, meaning it fries in the sun all day. It was about 10 degrees C out when we skied up. This resulted in two things for our ski up: evidence of various (and recent) point release and slab avalanches high up towards the summit and hard, crusty snow lower down just below treeline, making skiing more like an exercise of carving through concrete.

The turns off a high bench on the peak made the climb well worth it, though. The sun had softened the snow just enough that we had spring skiing conditions at their best with soft, buttery turns through melting snow. Unreal. The last half of the ski down takes you through sparsely treed areas and alder trees (not my favourite!) and the hard snow made this all the more of an exciting descent.

Taking some turns off a high bench. Awesome.

To access Mount Field, park at the Little Yoho Valley Road (to Takakkaw Falls) just east of Field, BC. Take the road about 5 km until you reach just under half a kilometre past the end of the switchbacks (you’ll know these when you see them). Veer left off the trail and make your way to more open terrain. From here, we decided to traverse all the way left to the trees on the other side of the open slopes of Mount Field (the ones filled with alders). Hug the trees to the left, switchbacking your way through the open slopes as is necessary. Once you gain the treeline, traverse back to the right to gain the top of the outcropping of trees on the other side, across the open slopes below the summit (see photo below). Here you are on some nice low-grade slopes not as prone to avalanche. The higher up you climb, however, the steeper the slope, so be extra cautious. We skied down from one of the highest benches beneath the summit.

Traversing the open slopes once treeline has been gained. Traverse to the trees on the right and gain the bench on which they stand.

If you choose to go to the summit, you will need to find other posts about that!  Both times I’ve been on this mountain, I haven’t gone all the way up. Ski down pretty much the way you went up, though veer left (looking down) of the outcropping of trees you gained on your traverse earlier, instead of going down the way you came up. You’ll eventually meet up with your uptrack on the other side of this outcropping.

Mount Field is a great day trip – you could be up to the summit and down in about 7-8 hours (or less, if you’re super fast). Have fun, but be safe up there – this is avalanche terrain, but it does offer some great open, low grade slopes to practise your turns.

Looking up at the summit of Mount Field. Slopes to the right just out of the photo had avalanched recently, but in good conditions would make for a quick ascent.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Ski Touring to Rockbound Lake

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

A popular hike in the summer, the ski up to Rockbound Lake in the winter offers a steady climb up the summer trail with a fabulous (and fast!) descent back down.

The last time I was at Rockbound Lake was in August of 2008. A friend and I passed the lake on our way up and back from the peak of Castle Mountain. On the way up we had beautiful sunshine, but were hit by an electrical hailstorm (welcome to The Rockies!) at the summit. We quickly descended, meeting some inexperienced hikers from Newfoundland on the way, who had very few layers despite the intense rain, wind and hail. Things only got worse from there. Once past the lake there were many trees that had fallen on the trail and the rain was falling even harder. As helicopters passed overhead (for reasons we’ll never know), the few hours of descent felt slightly apocalyptic. Finish that off with a Bear in Area warning we discovered at the trailhead upon exiting and we were laughing by the end.

Rockbound Lake in Summer

Constrast this to the quietness and serenity of winter. This time I skied up with a different friend, and we had the whole area totally to ourselves. A lunch on the lake in the sunshine (with some Bailey’s-spiked coffee, I should add) ended quickly as the sun dropped behind Castle Mountain, bringing the air temperature down with it. The ski back down from Tower Lake was fast and furious. We were fairly lucky at times that there were no other people on the trail since stopping was not really on option.

Rockbound Lake in Winter

This tour is beautiful, but you lose the sunlight mid-afternoon.

To get up to Rockbound Lake, begin by taking the summer trail (8.1 km). To get to the trailhead, turn east on the Bow Valley Parkway at Castle Junction towards Banff. The parking lot for Rockbound Lake comes shortly after turning and can be found on the left hand side.

Work your way up the switchbacks of the summer trail. Once you emerge from the trees, there are a few small avalanche paths to cross, so be careful in these areas. They look like they slide all the way to the trail only once in 50-100 years, but they are still a threat. From Tower Lake, aim directly for the cliffbands and once there veer straight left and up quite a ways until you see an obvious break in the wall (see photo). You may need to bootpack it up some sections. Once you have gained the wall simply ski down to the lakeshore of Rockbound Lake.

Route up through the cliffs – not exact but that’s the idea. The trail may be track set.

I highly recommend Rockbound Lake if you’re testing out some new gear, want a nice half-day ski, and want to go for a nice ride on the way down!

Be ready for a fun ride down…and ready to bail!

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Ski Touring to Lake O’Hara and McArthur Pass

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

Last weekend took me back up to Lake O’Hara (this time in full-on winter) for some ski touring. The 12 kms up the road with a heavy pack revealed that the weight of your pack really does affect how your feet feel in your boots! I was sure glad to get those boots off upon arriving at Elizabeth Parker Hut, an alpine hut operated by The Alpine Club of Canada. A friend of mine and I enjoyed two nights at the hut with a day of touring up to McArthur Pass and to the lower slopes of Mount Schaffer in between, before exiting down the 12 km road to the car at the end.

Elizabeth Parker Hut

To get up to Lake O’Hara, drive about 10 minutes West past Lake Louise until you see a turn off to the left. Follow this over the traintracks and around the bend to an obvious parking lot. Gear up here and follow the road about 11km all the way up to Le Relais cabin, which sits on the right hand side of the road. From here the trail is marked towards Elizabeth Parker Hut. To get to Lake O’Hara Lodge, simply stay on the road and continue.

Lake O'Hara Road

For the relatively easy tour from Elizabeth Parker Hut to McArthur Pass, head out from back door of the hut along the summer trail (straight out the back and slightly right) and follow this trail to a more open area which climbs all the way through the trees to Schaffer Lake. From the meadows by the lake continue towards the lowest part of McArthur Pass (seen in photo below). Make your way through the trees until you reach a snow and ice covered series of cliff bands. From here you can traverse left and switchback your way on top of the cliff bands. Continue in the direction where you left off before the cliff bands towards a large clearing and the highest point. This is McArthur Pass. From here you can continue on to Lake McArthur, head back down, or head up through the trees on the lower slopes of Mount Odaray. Once you emerge from the trees, there are many bumps you can perch yourself on for great views of Lake O’Hara that are out of harm’s way.

Skiing through the meadows near Schaffer Lake.

The lowest point of McArthur Pass.

Snowy cliff bands. Veer left from here.

On your way back down to Schaffer Lake, you can cut over towards the lower slopes of Mount Schaffer for some great turns about the lake itself. Conversely, you can descend from McArthur Pass down to the meadows beside Schaffer Lake and cut back up in the direction of the summer trail up to Lake McArthur and then over toward the slopes of Mount Schaffer to access those same turns. Take caution as these slopes are prone to avalanche in bad conditions and have taken many lives in the past.

Descent back to the hut the same way you came up.

A warm fire awaits you at Elizabeth Parker Hut.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.