The Wapta Traverse in the Canadian Rockies sits on many buckets as the ‘Canadian Haute Route.’ They are right, the Wapta is actually more fun then the Haute Route since you do not share the tour with several hundred other people. Sure you have to carry your food and that amounts to all the extra gear you need to go schralp the 4 hut Canadian Classic. We decided to head up after the PNW winter left us emotional basket cases with each passing storm giving us a hint of snow then washing it away. Keith, Chris, JP & Mike joined me knowing I needed to be back in time for my daughter’s play.
We left Seattle at 7AM and rallied to Burlington to meet up with the rest of our crew and hit Haggen’s for our food since we can’t read Canadian. One more stop at duty free for whiskey and beer we cross the border and head east. One vehicle scare in the quaint village of Salmon Arm included smoke and loss of power, which in a 1500 diesel full size pick up is serious. 40 minutes of attention get us back on the road. 10 hours later we arrive in lake Louise ready to pack and play!
The Wapta’s glaciers and hut system allows you to really keep it simple. The terrain really exceeds 30 degrees, the crevassesseem to keep away from most of the skiing and the hut kitchens hold enough cookware to handle any meal we would bring. This realty focused our attention on what mattered ditching glacier travel kit for food and whiskey.
Next morning our intention to leave and start early met with Murphy’s Law. After shuttling a car to the Wapta Lake Lodge and skiing up at the Peyto Lake Trailhead, a transceiver was left in a bag at the end of the Traverse 45 minutes back at the Wapta Lake Lodge. The delay helped us correct a flaw in our plan, the wrong trailhead, which was a kilometer north. 11:30 we finally left the road at the right trail and head down to Peyto Lake.
Splitter weather made route finding easy and we made our way across the lake and up onto the moraine in a few hours with 3-4 transitions in & out of skis across melted out spots. We loved the sun, the heat cost us as we skinned onto the glacier and gained our final 1,000 feet to the hut. We arrived at the Peyto Hut to a group of seven locals who called their group ‘the Ultimate Wapta.’ Two pale males in underwear greeted us with their stuff spread out across the deck. Water, chocolate and whiskey made our transition easier as we moved in.
We relaxed and made a plan to take advantage of the short trip (2hours) to the next hut and ski the amazing peaks that surround the Peyto Hut on day 2. Mt Baker looked like a great peak to start with and it taught us lesson #1, things are bigger and longer than they appear. We reached the saddle and looked at the tracks and the peak to the North and tracks heading west and both seemed firm, so we agreed to head up the North Ridge of the Canadian Baker. What looked like an hour up extended into 2 as the extent of the ridge became apparent as we hit a notch and saw the ridge narrow to a jack knife for another 100+meters (Canadian). We split into two groups with 3 of us continuing up and the other two enjoying the 600 meter descent down.
Once we summited Canadian Baker we headed over to the tracks we saw on the face and realized it was steeper than it looked, so steep we did not stop to take pictures…The Canadians who did it yesterday did say it was the best run of the year for them, once down we agreed. Boot top pow on a 300 meter 50+degree headwall with a gentle runout of another 350 meters made it one our favorite runs as well. We toured of the next peak to a feature call Habel’s Shoulder and ripped more North facing powder back to the hut.
Upon returning to the hut we met a group of 14 Germans who did not want to share the hut with us so we hydrated and left for the Bow hut. An hour and 45 minutes later we skied down to the Bow Hut and rejoined the ‘Ultimate Wapta’ group who again were lounging in their boxer briefs with the heat creating a sock sauna in the main room. This concerned us as we would be sharing the remaining hut nights with them. Our group identified one with a voice like a duck and hoped that he would stop quacking sometime before the trip ended. Two people received warning snow would arrive in two days and up to 40 cm were expected. The next morning those two groups decided to bail because of the forecast and headed down to Bow Lake leaving us to enjoy the Balfour and Scott Duncan huts to ourselves. We did.
What did arrive were clouds and wind making the snow hard and visibility poor. Summit ambitions diminished as the snow crusted over making our 3-hour trip to Balfour a ski by Braille experience.
We revealed in our solitude only to discover Barry Blanchard had been here many time before and had choice words for previous sloppy residents such as leaving the outhouse door open, frozen water in pots and some other house keeping issue. Seemed strange to read admonishments after the fact, like yelling at a dog about what they did 5 minutes ago, neither one actually gets the message. Barry clearly was pissed, and had several trips where he needed to remind the previous people what they did wrong, the people who were there in 2011 really did not follow the rules.
The 40 cm of snow never arrived, the 40 kph winds certainly did. It made us wonder if the forecast was autocorrected. We hunkered down to some Canadian Rosti and whiskey and played Hearts in the Balfour hut that we did not have to share with Duck Boy and the Ultimate Wapta Crew. Later we took an evening tour to scout the crux of the route, a half a kilometer(Canadian) stretch through a crevassed section of glacier (the only one on the route) that travels under seracs.
After climbing the DC route on Rainier, this passage seemed well protected and the low route we found kept the stress low and progress fast the next day. We looked up at Mt. Balfour with aspirations to climb and ski it, but the weather and snow kept us focused on just getting to the Scott Duncan hut.
This hut felt like we arrived in Antarctica or Alaska with big features all around and the exposed ridge it sat on. Mt. Daly rose a few thousand feet (American) above the hut with an awe inspiring steep face that unfortunately iced over from the recent wind and cold, another time.
The snow started up after we arrived and continued lightly through the next day as we figured out our route down. There are 3 choices, with the Bath Glacier exit requiring some knowledge of snow below 2000 meters, which we did not know so we looked at the other two routes. These descents both travelled past Mt. Niles, another monolith, and then the decision to continue down Niles Creek, a deep drainage with large slopes threatening the entire exit to Sherbrooke Lake or find and follow Scheisser/Lomas route, which avoids death from above.
We chose life and Lomas. We had to back-track due to the steep, icy slops guarding the ridge we needed to cross over. Once we completed the transition to next valley we picked our way around a small creek that descended to Sherbrooke Creek. We found some fun isothermal mush as we dropped elevation into a tropical heat wave. We hit the creek, refueled and began the luge course to Sherbrooke Lake. The track twisted and turned spitting us out on the lake in time to encounter the ‘storm.’ Snow came in sideways as winds picked up, temps dropped like a stone and we layered up for the mile +(American) lake crossing. The trail back to the lodge was well graded and had enough coverage to keep skis right to the parking lot, woot woot!
To round out our trip we drove through Radium Hot Springs to relax before committing to the next 8 hours back to Seattle. We bumped into Keith’s boss in the pool on his way to the Bugaboos, quel coincidence! A comfortable night in a motel set up for our long drive through rain on our way home as we tried to put into words how much fun this trip was. We decided Wapta means, ‘fun in a sock sauna’ or ‘great ski tour’. Charlotte was excited I made it home an hour before the play started. Afterwards Charlotte and I went for burgers talking about our next ski trip….