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by Doug Evans


25 April to 3 May 1998

Mt NicholasAs a change from Europe and the often crowded Alps I joined a group of friends in the Canadian Rockies this spring for a traverse of the Wapta Icefield from Peyto Lake to Wapta Lake over 7 days in late April  / early May. This is later in the season than usual but we had very good weather the whole time and the area was very quiet with few other parties in the huts. Temperatures were higher than was expected although it did freeze every night. Once on the icefields snow cover was good with spring snow, icy at first but rapidly softening once the sun arrived. Most days we started skiing about 6.30 a.m. and aimed to be finished by 1.00 p.m. However the approach to Peyto Hut (first day) was frustrating with short stretches of soft snow and loose moraines in rapid succession for part of the day. Coupled with heavy sacks weighed down with food and fuel for 7 nights this day seemed endless. Similarly on the last day, Sherbrook Creek had started to thaw and we had to "ski" (used in the widest sense of the word) through the dense forest in places. According to the Canadians we spoke to, this season had less snow than usual and El Niño was often blamed for this. It seems that many parties start at Bow Lake avoiding the approach via Peyto Lake and glacier which according to the Peyto hut book often leads to epics, 3 days seemed to be the slowest recorded time and hardly anyone had matched the time given in Chic Scott´s guidebook.

Along the way we climbed Mt Gordon (3 203m), Mt Rhonda (south) (3 015m), St Nicholas Peak (2 970m), Mt Olive (3 130m) and Mt Balfour (3 272m). The first two were climbed on skis, the others involved easy climbing (F) from a high col reached on ski. We had superb views from all of them,  with mountains extending into the distance in all directions.

View from Mt Olive
Most of the party took alpine (randonée) gear but I used light nordic skis and had no problems with the terrain or snow conditions and benefited from lighter skis and boots. The few Canadians we met were mostly on nordic skis. At the Balfour hut we met a party of 3 students who were one day away from finishing the Great Divide Traverse from Jasper to Lake Louise, a rarely completed trip which took them 22 days.
Map & guidebook: "Touring the Wapta icefields (3rd edition, 1 : 50 000)" by Murray Toft (available by mail order from the Alpine Club of Canada), "Summits & Icefields" by Chic Scott.
Sherbrook Creek
Accommodation: Peyto Hut, Bow Hut (3 nights), Balfour Hut, Scott-Duncan Hut (all these huts are run by the Alpine Club of Canada and are unguarded). International Alpine Centre (Lake Louise).
Useful Address: Alpine Club of Canada, P.O. Box 8040, Canmore ABT1W2T8, Canada. Tel +403 678 3200

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