Monday, September 29, 2014

Larch Valley Trail and Sentinel Pass

Valley of the Ten Peaks with the Larches in their prime
 Winter is coming...but its not here yet! Mom and Dad came out to Calgary to visit for the weekend and I wanted to show them the best Alberta has to offer. We drove out to Lake Louise for a hike at Moraine Lake (which was my first ever hike in the Rockies, back on my first real visit to Calgary two years ago). The timing was perfect because all the larch trees were changing colour and the valley was beautiful. We also arrived at the parking lot just in time to grab one of the last spots, everyone else seemed to have the same idea as us.
Majestic dog in the sun
 There was a "group of 4" rule in effect for the trail, which was completely unnecessary, it was a solid train of people all the way up to the Larch Valley. If a grizzly had decided to show itself, it would have been drowned in bear spray!
Rest stop above the larch valley
Mom in the sun!
 We were able to pass most of the tourists that stopped at the first good photo spot, so when we got to the lake, the crowds had thinned out a bit. There was a quick, steep walk up to the top of Sentinel Pass, but the view was worth it! The switchbacks really aren't that bad anyways.  
Top of Sentinel Pass and a photobomber
Looking down to the Larch Valley and lake from the top of Sentinel Pass 
The Sentinel in the background 
Larches and a yellow trail from all the needles
Moraine Lake
Crazy, happy dog!
So we had a great day, got to experience the craziness that is Lake Louise and Banff, and finished the day off with a soak at the Banff Hot Springs! I highly recommend the trail (11km round trip ~3.5 hours with 730m of elevation gain to the pass), but suggest getting there early (before 9:30) in the fall to avoid the crowds. I think it gets a bit less crazy after the larches lose their needles.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumn Equinox Climb - Aftonroe (5.7)

I have heard good things about Aftonroe and wanted to climb it last weekend. Liam agreed. At this point neither of us actually knew where the route was or anything about it, thank god for the internet! We left Calgary at 7:30 with a vague idea of where we were going and way more gear than we needed and pulled into the parking lot on highway 1A at 8:30. There were already some other cars there and climbers just starting up the trail. We didn't have a back up plan so just decided to follow them up. We were expecting things to be relatively busy as it was the last weekend of summer and it was supposed to be a warm day.
Guides rock from the parking lot (Aftonroe follows the corner on the right bulge)
It was an easy approach (by Rockies standards) to the bottom of the climb. It only took about 30 minutes up a steep, obvious trail. When we got to the start, there were already 3 groups there, the first of which was just about to get started climbing. It was going to be a long day! 
First pitch still wearing my down jacket
When it was finally our turn to climb, Liam lead the first pitch. We were both pretty chilled from waiting in the shade, but as soon as we got up into the sun, the layers came off. It took some time to warm up, but by mid afternoon it was over 27 degrees on the wall.
Excited to be climbing finally!
Due to the traffic, we were not moving too quickly but were able to hang out and enjoy the views from each belay station, as well as get to know the other climbers on the route. We also had lots of time to take pictures. I wasn't too worried about moving slow, I was just happy to be out!
Liam above "Aftonroe" - now called Backswamp
Gaining altitude over the valley
Liam taking in the view 
Hanging out with new friends at another belay
Looking up at all the parties above us
We got to the top of the route (9 pitches) around 1:30. We hadn't seen anyone coming down yet (you have to rappel the route) which seemed strange. As we topped out, we heard voices in the trees, everyone was hanging out eating lunch! Since there were more groups still below us, the other groups started getting ready to rappel, waiting for everyone was going to take forever. This resulted in the biggest traffic-jam I have ever seen on a route, with 4 groups going down and another 4 going up. Luckily all the belay stations were pretty big. At one point there were 6 people at one belay with a person rappelling down to us and another person climbing up to it!! Craziness!
Liam getting the rope ready to rappel
Belay station chaos
 We were back at the car around 5, much later than we were expecting, but it was still a really fun day! We made some new friends and got to climb a new route so I would call that a great success.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Berg Lake Trail and Snowbird Pass - Mt. Robson Provincial Park

Long weekends are awesome! That extra day is just enough to allow you to get away to destinations that are too ambitious for a regular weekend. This labour day, I was able to weasel my way onto Kyle's "boys" trip, since lots of the boys ended up backing out at the last minute (I seem to be getting good at that). The trip was a backpacking trip to Berg Lake in the shadow of Mt. Robson, near Jasper, AB. Kyle, Nick and I drove up to Jasper Friday afternoon and we met Geoff who was coming in from Edmonton. We spent a rainy night at the Provincial Campground near the visitors centre, and awoke to grey skies and chilly temperatures. As per tradition (Geoff has done this hike a few times previously), we went for breakfast at Cafe Mt. Robson before disembarking. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes before a big tour group so we were denied anything off the hot breakfast menu. Undeterred, we grabbed muffins and fruit before we registered at the visitors centre where we were subjected to an informational video about the hike that was made in the 90's. No boom boxes allowed apparently.
Grabbing breakfast before the 21 km hike to Berg Lake Campground
The hike into the campground was 21 km. The first 7 km started off gradually on a double track up to Kinney Lake. Next time, I would bring a bike to ride up, it would have been very nice on the way out. The trail gradually climbs but wasn't too strenuous. We covered this part of the hike pretty quickly, but got totally soaked when it started to rain.
Ready for anything, even a bit of rain
After a snack at Kinney Lake picnic shelter, we crossed the flats which is a more direct route than the hiking trail. The clouds were low so we couldn't really see the huge mountains around us, but the sun was trying to break through. Not for long though, as soon as we took our raincoats off, another cloud would move in and rain on us.
There were lots of creeks to cross, swollen from all the recent rain 
The trail was very well maintained and easy to follow
We started gaining a bit of elevation after Kinney Lake. 4 km of rolling uphill got us to a big suspension bridge and the Whitehorn picnic shelter where we had lunch. It was really nice to have a break from the rain, but stopping for too long was a good way to get chilled.
Suspension bridge to the Whitehorn Campground
Geoff crossing the suspension bridge
Ranger Station across the creek from the Whitehorn Campgound
After lunch, we walked into the Valley of 1000 Waterfalls. I didn't see one thousand falls, but there were quite a few! This was our last flat section for a while as the trail started to switch back all the way up to Berg Lake after this, about 600 metres of elevation gain from Whitehorn.
Some of the many waterfalls in the valley
A sudden break in the clouds allowed us to catch a glimpse of Mt. Robson high above
Falls of the Pool
Some of the nicest weather of the whole trip. You can almost see the top!
Finally we made it up the climb. By this point we were eager to reach the campground but we still had a few kilometers to go. The last section of trail emerged from the trees and crossed a big scree slope. The Mist Glacier was the first to come into view as we approached Berg Lake.
Crossing the scree with the Mist Glacier in the distance
 As Berg Lake drew nearer, we started picking up the pace! Only 2 more kilometers to go. The Berg Glacier was spectacular and the lake looked frigid. Kyle had been talking about doing the ice bucket challenge during the trip, but changed his mind as we saw icebergs floating by, having calved off the glacier.
Berg Glacier, Berg Lake, the top of the Helmet (far left) and the Emperor Face (far right)
We reached the campground after 6.5 hours of hiking. The rain was holding off so we quickly found tent pads (despite the weather, it was pretty busy up there) and set up camp. Once the tents were up, we hurried over to the Hargreaves Hut to shelter from the cold and damp. The hut is meant to be a cooking shelter and doesn't have any beds in it, but it does have a wood stove. The fire was roaring and it was hot and humid from all the damp gear and people. Once people started cooking, it got pretty tropical in there. We elected to spend much of our time out on the deck because it was so stifling inside.
The brand new hut, re-built this year
We had an early bedtime after all the hiking and woke up Sunday morning to torrential rain. After a slow start, we decided to continue with our original plan to hike up to Snowbird Pass (22 km return from Berg Lake Campground and 780 m of elevation gain). It rained on us initially but we got pretty lucky for the majority of the hike, especially as the clouds lifted slightly to give us a better look at the surroundings.
Hesitant to venture out into the rain
Approaching the Robson Glacier as the clouds start to break up
The trail follows moraine up to an alpine meadow to the left of the Robson Glacier
Starting up the steeper section of the hike to gain the meadow. Light packs were nice today!
Looking up the meadow to Snowbird Pass (the low point on the horizon)
The top of Snowbird Pass gave us a great view of the Robson Glacier. Mt. Robson is somewhere in that cloud 
Snowbird Pass is actually located at the continental divide. We had spent the weekend in BC, but stepped over into Alberta for lunch. The glaciers on the west side of the divide are the headwaters for the Fraser River, while those on the east side drain down into Alberta. 
Having lunch at Snowbird Pass, overlooking the Coleman Glacier which is on the other side of the pass
Mt. Robson attempting to poke through the clouds
 We were able to catch a few glimpses of Mt. Robson, but never quite enough to see the whole thing. The sun did appear for a bit, but with it came the wind so it was pretty cold up there! After lunch, it was time to head back to camp. It was a long descent back down but we were able to move quickly with a little help from gravity. As we got back through the meadow, some nasty looking weather started to roll in so we tried to get home quickly.  
Back down the meadow
Just below the meadow, about to start the traverse along the large moraine
 We got a bit wet on the way back to camp, but it wasn't too bad as we knew there was a nice warm hut waiting for us. Too warm in fact! We had our dinner out on the deck once we changed into our warm, dry clothes. Nick made us some awesome noodle soup and we finished off the whiskey that had been rationed for the evening. It tasted amazing after 7 hours of hiking. Once the hut had cleared out a bit, we moved inside to play some cards and drink hot chocolate and baileys before heading off to bed. 43 km done, 21 more to go!
Berg Lake from the deck of the hut. It is named for the icebergs formed from the glacier calving, which happens pretty frequently. First you hear a rumble, then a puff of snow and a big wave as the ice crashes into the lake.
 We got up Monday morning to a steady drizzle. We quickly packed up the tents then had a hot breakfast in the hut before starting the hike down to the valley. The rainy theme of the trip continued and we found ourselves quite damp for most of the descent. It was nice to know that there was a warm, dry car waiting below and a change of clothes.
The boys of the "boys trip" with Emperor Falls behind
It took us just under 5 hours to hike down from Berg Lake. My feet were so sore, taking off my boots was heavenly. A visitor had been in the car while we were gone. It appears that a mouse got into the car, ate some cliff bars and chocolate and pooped everywhere. I certainly wasn't expecting that! We changed in the parking lot, cleaned up the mouse droppings, and then drove to Jasper Pizza for a delicious meal before the long drive back to Calgary for us and Edmonton for Geoff. Thanks so much for letting me crash your trip Geoff! It was super fun.

A few Robson Facts: 
  • Mt. Robson is the tallest peak in the Rockies at 3954 m tall
  • Snowbird pass is 2410 m high
  • We hiked 64 km and gained over 1500 m in three days
  • There are 4 bio-geo-climatic zones in the Mt. Robson Provincial Park 
  • The first ascent of Mt. Robson was in 1913 by Conrad Kain