Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies May 2007


Select Photos

The first view of the Scott Glacier from the divide between Middle Whirlpool and Whirlpool Rivers. Mt. Scott on the left and Mt. Evans on the right.

Clemenceau Glacier on the way to Clemenceau Icefield.

Seracs above the Alexandria Glacier, taken from the upper 300m slope above the col.

Mud run on the Lyel Icefield.

On the Lyel Icefield going towards the Mons rappel.

Sunset on the Lyel Icefield from about a kilometre West from the Mons rappel.

Camp on Freshfield Icefield.

View to the South from the East col of Mt. Lambe.
Can you spot the ghostly bird and its shadow?

At East col of Mt. Lambe in the rising sun :)
Notice my headlamp, the day started at 1am in order to be down the Lambe Glacier before the sun warms up 10cm of fresh on the NE and E slopes.

Many thanks
to all who have helped me with the last minute preparation.

Firstly and most importantly, thanks go to Chic who had shared his extensive knowledge about the traverse with me,

Don who's thoughtful and positive attitude always produces constructive comments,

Conrad who's recent info on rappels and communication advice were greatly appreciated,

Claude and Bruce for understanding that these kind of trips can not happen on a corporate schedule.

Ken, Sean, and Ross all contributed pieces of gear to my last minute kit assembly.

Kirsten, Ken, Chic, Don, Barry, and Katherine were
thinking of me while I was on the icefields.

Special thanks also go to the Park's personnel Grant, Rupert, A.L., and Louisa, all from the Columbia Icefields, and Marc from Jasper.

James kindly picked me up at Lagans in Lake Louise and
drove me straight to my car 230km north at the Edith Cavel Trailhead.
We had a mutually satisfactory chat all the way and the drive passed by in no time while he was surveying his relay run change points.


started in 1994 - the time I had first read Chic's guidebook. Ever since I would throw a thought towards the traverse at least once a year, but my active ski touring life had been interupted by rising desires for ice climbing. While I was doing 60 days of ski touring in the mid 90's I had done three days of ski touring this year before venturing to Castleguard on Saturday, May 5th. Conditions were excellent, with almost too much snow on top and melt-freeze snow on the glacier. The long term forecast looked good for two weeks with a smal disturbance in the middle. I felt that the time was right with the big snow year that we had.

I spent Sunday rockclimbing at Grassi Lakes completely absent minded and mostly thinking about my gear kit. Met Sean who agreed to give me his light tent used only once in exchange for my not arrived yet new tent of the same model. I was working on Monday and was choosing gear during the breaks, Tuesday working in Calgary and running around for a communication device, and Wednesday packing. Thursday morning I placed a food cache at the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier, registered at the Icefilds Parks Office, did some last minute shopping in Jasper, and started towards the Edith Cavel Hostel at 7:45 pm.


Astoria Valley
Fraser Glacier
Simon Creek
Middle Whirlpool River
Whirlpool River
Whirlpool River
Scott Glacier
Hooker Icefield
South of Mt. Serenity
Serenity Glacier
Wood River
Clemenceau Creek
Clemenceau Glacier
Clemenceau Icefield
South of Apex Mt.
North of Edert Pk.
South of Chaba Pk.
Wales Glacier
South of Mt. King Edward
South of Mt. Columbia
High Level Traverse
Columbia Icefield
Saskatchewan Glacier
Castleguard Glacier
Castleguard River
Alexandria Glacier
Lyell Icefield
South of Division Mt.
Mons Glacier
West Glacier
Forbes Creek
Niverville Col
Freshfield Icefield
Mt.Lambe North Col
Lambe Glacier
Bleabery River
Wild Cat Creek
Trapper-Baker Col
Wapta Icefield
St. Nicholas-Olive Col
Vulture Glacier
Balfour Glacier
Balfour High Col
Mt. Niles South Col
Sherbrook Lake


GoogleMap will also improve with time.

Photo Journal

Captions are still in the making.

The road to Edith Cavel - Astoria Valley trailhead

My kit after ditching the 52 litre Khamsin that extends to 65. All the metal was hanging on the outside, not a good idea. A step up in the bag that I had was a Bora 95 :( Of course everything did fit inside. Weighing after the trip showed that my pack with clothing weighed 22kg, food and white gas on top of that at about 12kg for the first leg. My ski gear was very heavy by today standards at about 10kg. My kit included a 3.2 m probe, ski crampons, crampons, and ice axe. All of these items were at use one time or another...

The dirt on my boots was from the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier where I had put a food cache that morning. The road is 12 km long and was bare, so could have been driven had it been open :) Not exactly ski touring yet. I walked it in my runners that I then stashed soon after the bridge the next morning.

Day 1: The start of the traverse.

Mt. Edith Cavel from the bridge whose North Face line is the right hand buttress leading straight to the summit. Ken and I climbed it last September after I had been standing there 10 years ago in April and refused to even attempt it due to heaps of fresh snow on the sumit slopes clearly visible from the valley bottom. We had excellent conditions when I did do it.

Skis were not new, but essentially not used (only three days). So walking the sandy bridge surface was heart "breaking" but ski bases would be the least of my worries in the comming days :)

Sking in the Astoria Valley.

Day 2: Fraser Glacier, Simon Creek, and Middle Whirlpool River

Looking towards the Fraser Glacier, the first ice you encounter on route. However, this one is not a measure yet for how passable will the glaciers be due to its small size.

Open creek beds will become a daily affair and so will canyons - Simon Creek.

Is that cute or what? In my short preparation time I missed a lot of sleep due to thinking about crevases, but just about the same amount of worrying had been done on the theme of moving through animal habitat alone. Clearly, I was not alone. This is however at least a day old track.

Looking downstream in Simon Creek. The canyon is still coming... the bush that everybody talks about was nowhere to be found. In fact, if you have done any ski touring on the Coast or even better, Alaska/BC boarder, preferably sea to sea, then the Great Divide has literaly NO bush. Sure, there are steep forests, deep canyons, a handfull of avalanche slide paths with slide alder, but there is virtually no devils club and no real bush on this route.

No, I am not sponsored by BD... and yes, these are womens skis. I had Havocs (men's version) and found the tail way stiffer than the shovel which made for an unbalanced ski which is not what i want for my style of skiing. A softer tail of Lyric's prvides for a smoother ride... Skis were used in shallow crreks to stand higher from the stream bed. Again, edges and bases were not somthing you worry on a long ski tour :) The ski performed very well. Extremely stable torsionally with a medium longitudinal flex. Torsional stability of your ski is very important on all morning downhills when you are skiing frozen concrete and on the creek sections. Holding an edge 50m above the streem is a life saving device :) With a light noodle ski (I used to have Atomic Tour Light) one would have to detour from the steep creek sides more often resulting in way more elevation gain and loss on the creek kilometers. Medium longitudinal flex is desirable in the forests when you are walking/skiing the spines between two tree wells or simply traversing them.

Looking towards the first col after simon Creek (my northern section maps are still not with me, so I will have to fix the geographical details when I pick up the maps).

A late afternoon view down into the Middle Whirlpool River Valley.

Middle Whirlpool River Valley. Chasing the remaining light to the high camp on the shoulder.

The camera crew messed up. The screen of my digital camera was turned off due to excessive light on the snow - I was not able to see anything anyway. I also did no previewing due to the battery saving - I only took one camera battery. Zoom was not used much either for the same reason.

Day 3: Up and down the passes into Whirlpool River Valley

Approaching the shoulder before droping down into Whirlpool River Valley. The peaks visible are on the Hooker Icefield.

A huge cornice, more than 10 m thick.

The first view of Scott Glacier - the start of the Hooker Icefield.
Mt. Scott on the left and Mt. Evans on the right.

Beautiful alpine meadows with many boulders :)

I am descending into the Whirlpool River Valley and there is no skiing there :(

The valley bottom is visible at the bottom of the picture. South facing forest provided easy walking on moss with lots of big deer tracks.

The colour of this one does not do the nature justice - it was almost a mesmerizing green...

The valley opened with a view of Scott Glacier.

Close up of the ground surface.

I was especially glad for the big bag when skis were strapped on it. A smaller bag would simply not carry a load like this very well.

At the glacier lake. I set up camp just to the right out of site.

Decision time. After 3 days of skiing (and walking, as it happens :) I arrived at the toe of the Scott Glacier, the gate to the Hooker Icefield, at 3pm and had all afternoon to ponder on pros and cons. I have started this trip with a clear understanding that this might be a turn arround point. The walk out would be the Whirlpool River Valley (the valley that 1967 party used to approach the Scott Glacier).

A close up of the route from my camp. The icefal danger was clearly avoidable on the left. The only question was now how well will the snow on the glacier freeze. For that a recono would not help. I simply had to go there early in the morning and see.

Day 4: Scott Glacier, Hooker Icefield

The angle of theis rock bed and ice fall is about 45 degrees and I am standing far out of the reach of any colapsing ice. Nothing came down all night.

A close up.

Traversing the moraine with the approach slope visible in the profile just at the edge of the moraine.

From the end of the moraine walk, time for some snow.

Icefall from the same point.

And a close up of its upper tier from higher up with Mt. Evans in the background.

Mt. Evans.

Surface is frozen solid.

The slope to the right was wind packed snow. It went from melt-freeze to windpacked with more than 3.2m (the length of my probe) depth in a few metres.

First time on the icefield. View to the north. I am still probing and my probe is too short to reach the ice.

View towards SW.

Another close up (110mm equivalent on the 35mm cameras).

A wide angle view (28mm equivalent on the 35mm cameras).

Looking back towards north again.

360 photomerge of the Hooker Icefield from the col north of Mt. Serenity.
(The sources for this one were low res files. A much better version was obtained using full resolution.)

Rimed crevases on the south slopes and the top of Mt. Serenity.

Fortress Lake. Chic's 1966 party went around the lake on the left and then turned right towards Chaba Gl.
This would be the next escape route (10km around the lake, then 40, I beleive to the highway)

Wood river, time for some cold warm up after the crossing I had to have a big hot meal. My first supper of ther day:)

Transformed by the land (or something :)

Some numbers for those who would like to do the trip:

DAY/CAMP GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE UTM GR Elevation (m) El. Gain (m) Total El. G./Day (m) Total El. Loss/Day (m) Distance (km)
Total D./Day (km)

Day 0 (10.05.2007;20:00) Edith Cavel Trailhead (93A)

0.0 0.0

Camp 0 Edith Cavel Hostel 284399 1720 520 520 0 12.0 12.0 12

Day 1 Astoria Valley/Wates Gibson Hut 151355 1920 200

15.0 27.0

Camp 1 Toe of Fraser Glacier 147354 1960 40 240 0 1.0 28.0 16

Day 2 Fraser Glacier 137336 2420 460

3.0 31.0

Simon Creek 173255 1520 -900

10.0 41.0

Pass 188214 2340 820

4.0 45.0

Middle Whirlpool River 208190 1620 -720

4.0 49.0

Camp 2 Treeline at a lake 212176 2000 380 1,660 -1,620 2.0 51.0 23

Day 3 Shoulder “500 m South of a pass” 212155 2260 260

1.0 52.0

Whirlpool River 247158 1380 -880

3.0 55.0

Camp 3 Lake at the toe of Scott Glacier 256124 1460 80 340 -880 3.0 58.0 7

Day 4 Hooker Icefield 287056 2810 1,350

8.5 66.5

Col WSW of Mt. Serenity 288058 2740 -70

0.5 67.0

Col S of Mt. Serenity 313051 2860 120

2.5 69.5

Camp 4 Lake at the toe of Serenity Glacier 348037 1620 -1,240 1,470 -1,310 5.0 74.5 16.5

Day 5 Wood River 364020 1320 -300

2.5 77.0

Clemenceau Creek 340989 1080 -240

5.0 82.0

Camp 5 Clemenceau Creek (burned forest) 373393 1680 600 600 -540 7.5 89.5 15

Day 6 Clemenceau Creek 377918 1480 -200

2.0 91.5

Camp 6 Toe of Clemenceau Glacier 386899 1680 200 200 -200 3.0 94.5 5

Day 7 Clemenceau Glacier Col S of Apex Mt. 443844 2940 1,260

11.0 105.5

Apex Glacier 455848 2800 -140

2.0 107.5

Apex Glacier Day Camp 469849 2880 80

2.0 109.5

North of Edert Pk. 488834 2940 60

3.5 113.0

Chaba Icefield 527830 2860 -80

4.5 117.5

Camp 7 Col ESE of Chaba Pk. 550828 2940 80 1,480 -220 2.5 120.0 25.5

Day 8 Wales Glacier 574798 2200 -740

4.0 124.0

Col N of Triad 616780 2820 620

5.0 129.0

Col Triad & K. Edward – Columbia Icefield 630770 2620 -200

2.0 131.0

Camp 8 Camp SE of Mt. King Edward 667762 2760 140 760 -940 4.5 135.5 15.5

Day 9 South of Mt. Columbia – Start of Bush River 692728 1600 -1,160

5.0 140.5

Camp 9 Camp MIKI :) 694740 2000 400 400 -1,160 1.5 142.0 6.5

Day 10 Start of High Level Traverse 700730 1520 -480

1.0 143.0

Columbia Icefield 727768 2860 1,340

6.0 149.0

The Trench 758762 2700 -160

3.5 152.5

Columbia Icefield-High point E of the Trench 780760 2800 100

2.5 155.0

Columbia Icefield-Col NW of Mt. Castleguard 810750 2580 -220

3.0 158.0

Col W of Mt. Castleguard 818725 2700 120

2.5 160.5

Toe of Saskatchewan Glacier 905790 1840 -860

12.5 173.0

Camp 10 Col W of Mt. Castleguard 818725 2700 860 2,420 -1,720 12.5 185.5 43.5

Day 11 Castleguard River 900637 1600 -1,100

13.0 198.5

Shoulder 907630 1680 80

1.0 199.5

Camp 11 Lake at the Toe of Alexandria Glacier 907617 1600 -80 80 -1,180 2.0 201.5 16

Day 12 E Alexandra Gl. - Col W of Errnest Pk 918560 2990 1,390

8.0 209.5

Lyell Icefield – Ernest/Edward Col 932564 3400 410

2.0 211.5

South of Division Mt. 977500 2800 -600

8.0 219.5

Mons Glacier – Col Division/Mons 983474 2480 -320

3.0 222.5

Camp 12 West Gl – Mons Rapel 017445 2700 220 2,020 -920 6.0 228.5 27

Day13 Forbes Creek 040415 1780 -920

4.0 232.5

Niverville Col 034379 2740 960

4.0 236.5

Camp 13 Camp 043357 2350 -390 960 -1,310 2.5 239.0

Day 14 Toe of Freshfield Icefield 055347 2100 -250

2.0 241.0

Camp 14 Freshfield Icefield – NW of Mt. Lambe 110310 2580 480 480 -250 7.0 248.0 19.5

Day 15 Mt.Lambe North Col 119320 2900


2.0 250.0

Bowl N of Mt. Lambe 124324 2760 -140

1.0 251.0

Mt. Lambe E Col 130325 2860 100

1.0 252.0

Bleabery River 183352 1500 -1,360

3.0 255.0

Bleabery River @ Wild Cat Creek 200295 1260 -240

6.5 261.5

Camp 15 Wild Cat Creek – Mistaya Lake Sauna Room :) 254274 2060 800 1,220 -1,740 6.0 267.5 19.5

Day 16 Trapper-Baker Col 284243 2880 820

5.0 272.5

Wapta Icefield 302232 2560 -320

3.0 275.5

St. Nicholas-Olive Col 345190 2950 390

7.0 282.5

Camp 16 Vulture Glacier – Balfour Hut 375157 2460 -490 1,210 -810 4.5 287.0 19.5

Day 17 Balfour High Col 388120 2940 480

4.0 291.0

Mt. Niles NE Col 410069 2680 -260

6.0 297.0

(27.05.2007;~20:00) Sherbrook Lake – West Louise Lodge 452992 1620 -1,060 480 -1,320 11.0 308.0 21