ACC Calgary - Alpine Review

As shocking as it might sound - I am not in fact amazing at everything. I'll give you a moment to reconcile that.

My strengths lie on the skiing end of the spectrum. I sort of blow at the climbing side of things - but I'm working to fix that. I've done a lot of ski mountaineering - various traverses, peak bagging, couloir skiing, etc., and I've been ice climbing a lot over the last couple of seasons - but putting those two together into alpine ice climbing (possibly dragging skis with me) is the next direction I'm headed. Boot packing up couloirs and skinning up ridges only gets you so far.

Luc, a buddy I met through the Calgary Section of the ACC is a pretty incredible mountaineer. When he decided to run a training focused weekend of Alpine Ice as part of the ACC's Alpine Review (conveniently organized by his partner Susan), I jumped at the opportunity to learn from someone who knows what they're doing. 

Susan had booked out the Beauty Creek Hostel up the Icefields Parkway. The idea was to have a bunch of parties all based out of the same location, doing their own thing during the day and then congregating back at the hostel to eat food and drink beer. 

Saturday morning the first party, spearheaded by Paul OBK, was out the door and a painful 2:30am. Luc's team was up at a way more reasonable 7am. Our party consisted of Luc, Dom, Hernando and I - varying levels of experience but no one's first rodeo. We dumped the cars, loaded our packs with gear and headed up the Athabasca Glacier.

Approaching Athabasca

Luc set the stage for the day explaining that while normally we look for the path of least resistance, today our goal was to look for the path of most resistance - look for the most broken up and convoluted ice and then try to thread a path between, through and over the crevasses and seracs.

Easy part's done...

What followed was a day of ice climbing out of crevasses, figuring out how to protect sketchy-ass snow bridges and basically ignoring every easy ramp through the ice fall we encountered. Having access to Luc's wealth of knowledge was super useful in helping me reduce how much I thrash through this terrain and improve speed and efficiency. I think it's the first time I've ever really though about how to use an axe to mantle up out of a crevasse as efficiently as possible. 

Nando topping out from a nice, deep crevasse

Once the snow bridges were so warm that we were pretty sure we'd fall through anything we even looked at, we backed off and headed back to the hostel where a friend of ours, Sera, had prepared an absolutely insane amount of food for dinner for everyone while Claire and George had absolutely stuffed the fridge with beer (and cider). It was basically the best possible way to show up at a hostel after a day in the mountains.

Sera managed to feed all of us on a couple of propane burners and with no running water - it was pretty impressive

That evening, we hung out, traded stories about what we'd gotten up to (Paul's team successfully climbed the Sky Ladder route up Andromeda despite getting turned around in heinous conditions twice, Reb's party went up Boundary, Paul and Claire's party went up Parker Ridge, etc.) and basically traded war stories from the mountains.

Drinking beer, sharing stories

In the morning, Luc, Hernando, Dom and I wanted to get a slightly earlier start due to the forecast for lousy weather coming in. We decided to take a similar tack to the previous day, but incorporating some steeper ice into the mix.

We headed over to the A2 glacier and disregarding the super obvious snow ramp, decided we'd climb the steepest, most crevasse riddled line possible. On skis, I would have taken the snow ramp - but here, I was able to pick a far more aggressive line - which may not have served much of a purpose in this exact case, but as I'm continuing to climb more technical lines, it opens up the ability to climb stuff when I don't have skis with me and when I need to do more than just bootpack up a couloir.

Hiking up the road towards the A2 Glacier

Thanks to the weather catching up with us we also got to practice pissing ourselves when lighting started crashing down way, way too close for comfort. Luc had been moving at 'Guide Speed' (slow, measured, keep from burning anyone out) to 'Luc not wanting to get fried by a stray bolt speed'. 

Hauling ass down the mellow snow ramp - we spent the day climbing the lines to the left of this photo

The result was he climbed the remainder of the pitch to my position in about thirty seconds at which point we traversed to the snow ramp and then did our best to pretty much free-fall back down the glacier to lower, more protected ground.

Soaking wet and running away

Despite a weekend in the Columbia Icefields, we didn't bag any peaks. What we did do was work on how to navigate that terrain without the crutch of skis and then to take those skills into steeper and icier terrain than would work with skis. Super useful and I can't thank Luc enough for lending us his experience.

Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.