Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mt. Joffre Attempt (Kananaskis) - Easter Weekend

After reading lots of trip reports, we decided to give ourselves 3 days to do Mt. Joffre in Kananaskis (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park). David and Kyle got into town Thursday night and packing chaos ensued.
Route planning on the Thursday night
Liam arrived Friday morning just after 6am. By 8:30 we were leaving the North Interlake Parking area at Kananaskis Lakes. We were worried about how thick the ice would be on the lake, because there was open water at the creek outlet, but once on the ice we found an ice fishing hole and felt much more confident (the ice was over a foot thick). The weather wasn't looking too promising as clouds moved in and out, but we were able to do a bit of scoping the route ahead as we still hadn't decided if we wanted to hike up on the left or right side of Fossil Falls. 
Kananaskis Lake
Big mountains on the other side of the lake
Looking up towards Fossil Falls
When we reached the opposite shore, it took a while for us to find a good spot to head up through the forest towards hidden lake as we need to be further left along the shore. Once we found a good gap, it was fairly easy going, with a bit of bushwhacking, over a rise and down into hidden lake. There had been a huge slide earlier this season and many trees were broken off on the opposite side of the lake, 50 metres into the forest! There was still debris on the lake from the slide, some avi debris as well as the remnants of trees. We moved through this area very quickly.
Coming up out of hidden lake
 After hidden lake, we chose to climb on the climbers right side of Fossil Falls as the summer trail looked extremely sketchy in the snow. It involved some serious bushwhacking and we ended up doing quite a bit of skin skiing when we ended up on top of rises that would have been better to contour around if we had know about them. We found a drainage that we used to gain some fast elevation. At this point, I was already starting to get pretty tired and my feet were hurting so I was lagging behind. We had hoped to be at camp around noon, in time for lunch, but it was already after 1 when we finished climbing the drainage. Then it got really steep and really dense. The next kilometre took us over an hour!! I think that if we had gone further right (climbers) we would have had an easier time. Finally we reached a bench. I was ready to give up and nap in the snow at this point.
Steep climbing 
Very dense trees made for slow progress
 We reached a clearing after the bench and continued up over the next rise (we found out later that we could have followed a drainage (climbers left) directly to the campsite. At this point it was snowing hard and windy. I was totally bonked and my feet were killing me. According to the GPS we only had a few hundred metres to go, but even that felt like too much! Kyle spotted the outhouse through the clouds and I was so relieved. We skied over to a clump of trees that was reasonable protected from the increasing wind and started to set up camp. It was about 3:30 at this point (7 hours from the car). There was too much snow to locate the bear bins (we didn't look very hard) and the outhouse looks like it has been knocked over by the wind. Initially we set up Davids shelter, but Kyle really wanted to build an igloo so after we had a bite to eat, we all got involved in the igloo building. 
Davids shelter - not quite enough room for 4
Building the igloo was a process as we figured out what worked and what didn't
In the end, we didn't have enough time to complete the roof, I think we tried to make it too big. We used David's shelter as a roof which worked really well except that it flapped very loudly in the wind. This was my first time winter camping and I am not sure if it is my favourite activity. I much prefer having a warm dry hut. Nonetheless, it was lots of fun, even if I spent most of the night trying not to slide out of the igloo door, thanks to our sloping floor.
The beautiful igloo/tent hybrid
The wind roared all night and none of us slept very well. When the alarm went off at 5, nobody moved. At 6 we finally started getting up. It had snowed a bit over night and the wind had been doing some crazy things to the slopes so we weren't very confident about summiting Joffre. As we were eating breakfast, the clouds started to clear and we were able to get our first glimpse of the mountains surrounding the Aster Lake Camping Area.
Warrior Mountain from the Campsite
Cooking breakfast
 After breakfast we started across Aster Lake as the sun appeared. It was glorious!

Mt Sarrail and Mt. Foch from the middle of Aster Lake
There was a party of 3 ahead of us that camped at the Aster Lake Campground also and a group of 2 passed us on the lake. They had left the car at 6 am and were going for the summit in a day. They were cruising! We followed previous trip report instructions to avoid the morraines and chose to take the open col up towards Joffre instead. It was fairly easy going apart from the wind which wouldn't stop blowing.
Petain Mountain (I think), the left side of the col that we went through. 
Approaching the col
David with Marlborough Mountain in the background, coming through the col
We took a break in some rock before going out onto the glacier to grab a snack and hide out from the wind for a bit. Once we got onto the glacier, the wind was blocked by the peaks around us which was a relief. We didn't rope up on the glacier, it was very flat and we saw no evidence of any hazards. We finally got our first proper view of Joffre!
Making our way up to the glacier
Joffre ahead
When we reached the bottom of the final face, the group of 2 was almost at the top and the group of 3 was just starting up. We made a group decision to stay off the slope because of all the people that were going to be coming down above us and because of the wind loading. We at over 3000m in elevation and I was definitely feeling the effect of the altitude, I was exhausted and the idea of climbing up the face wasn't the most inviting. We had lunch on the glacier and watched the first party ski down.
Lunch time celebration
The crew with Joffre in the background
Another picture of Joffre, with the first part starting the final boot pack
 The ski back down the glacier was really nice and we were able to make it all the way back to our campsite without putting skins back on (a bit of XC skiing through the valley and across the lake).
Skiing down the glacier
Joffre behind Petain
We got back to the campsite around 2:15 and part of our igloo had collapsed. It seemed like nobody was that interested in sleeping in it again because when Liam suggested that we pack up and head that afternoon instead of waiting until Sunday morning, it was an easy sell. Originally we had planned on saving Sunday for a weather day but due to Easter commitments, we had to be back at the car by 1pm Sunday anyways. It we packed up quickly and started down the way we came up. We had a bit of trouble avoiding the cliffy areas near the falls, so the skins had to get put back on for a bit to find our original up track and a reasonable way down. The snow was extremely isothermal and with the dense trees, it made for a very tiring and frustrating ski down. Combined with the uphill sections interspersed into the descent, there was lots of skins on/skins off and free-heeling across the flats. 
Amazing couloirs we could see on the way out
Once again, my feet decided that they had enough skiing for one day, forcing a few stops for me to take my boots off and massage my feet. Ouch! Unfortunately when we reached Kananaskis Lake, we still had a few very flat kilometres to go. We had a tail wind which helped, but being able to see the other side the entire time was incredibly demoralizing. 
Yay lake!
Kyle wishing it was over
 We got to the car at about 7pm, after skiing around 30kms. We were all wiped out. It was all I could do to get my boots off and sit down. We stopped at the Stony Nakota for a buffet dinner on the way home which was well deserved! Although it was disappointing to get all the way to the bottom of the Joffre face and not summit in amazing weather, it was a great first winter camping experience for me and I am now eager to come back in the summer and tick this summit off the list. If the pictures from other trip reports do it justice, I think it is going to be even more beautiful when the snow is melted.