Tuesday April 10, 2012 w/ the ACC Rocky Mountain Section
Mt. Hector (3394 m/11,136 ft) is one of the classic ski/snowboard mountaineering ascents in the Canadian Rockies and it's been on my bucket list for a while.
This was the 4th time I’ve been signed up for this trip with the Alpine Club, but this was the first time we’ve made it as far as the car pool, with the trip being cancelled on all other occasions due to bad avalanche conditions.
It was an early start: out the door by 5:00, on the trail by 8:00.
We quickly reached the open section beneath the waterfall (15 to 20 minutes), which represents the greatest avalanche danger on the whole route. At this point, my split crampons proved to be worth their weight in gold, as there was a vicious melt-freeze crust and frozen avalanche debris all over the place.
Me booting up the narrow gulley
Split crampons were very useful getting up past the waterfall and a few other pitches before the glacier, but I still had to boot pack the steepest part of the gulley above the waterfall. Here's the thread I wrote on how I use my Voile Split Crampons with my Dynafit toe pieces:
We put on our harnesses, but we elected not to rope up while on the glacier, due to good snow coverage and a well-beaten track. It was a fairly busy day for a weekday, as 3 groups, including one solo skier, passed us at some point on the glacier.
We reached the notch between the summit and the sub-peak after about 6 hours of skiing. Unfortunately, we had watched the previous groups march up to the summit and down with so little difficulty that we chose to leave our crampons and most of our gear at notch, with the summit just 40 meters above.
In the end, our trip leader had to belay me and two others up the final 10 feet, which was made up of rock covered with heavy ice with a fair bit of exposure. When we went to set up a rappel off the summit block, I discovered that I had left my belay/rappel device down with my pack (along with all my prussiks and all but two of my biners), so I had to rappel using a double munter hitch.
Grab from another group member's gopro.
That being said, we had a spectacular view from the summit.
The belay and rappel took quite a lot of time to set up and execute, especially since one woman jammed her backup prussik in her rappel device and had to climb back up to start again. In the end, it was 4:00 by the time we started skiing down (more than 90 minutes after starting the hike to the summit). I probably could have managed without the rope if I had my crampons on, but there was no way I could safely manage to climb or downclimb that section in AT boots.
The ski down can be amazing in the right conditions, but the snow left a lot to be desired with a mix of sun and wind crust and lots of existing tracks. Two really weak skiers in the group cost us a lot more time on the way down as they kept falling all over the place on green/blue pitches.
Much worse, 3 of our six skiers had to walk down the steep gulley and down past the waterfall while two sizeable natural wet avalanches came down very near our line of descent. I could only see the bigger of the two avalanches from my position as tail gunner, but it was probably a size 2.5 (maybe 3), and it took out over a dozen 30 foot tall trees, snapping them like match sticks. You don’t need to be a great skier or snowboarder to do these types of trips, but at least be able to side slip what was a reasonable black run type of pitch!
Our trip leader, Jason
Needless to say, when our trip leader, who was watching from below the danger zone, and I decided that I should come down immediately, I was going flat out almost before the conversation was over.
In the end, it took us 9.5 hours (slow enough that we were first to start and last to finish, but in range of the times a lot of other groups have taken), with a climb of 1600 m/5280 ft over 10 km. We could easily have done this in 8 hours or less with slightly better skiers and crampons for the summit block.
Joined: Wed May 05, 2010 11:08 am Posts: 94 Location: Calgary
Nice job kev! Thanks for the email about the boots etc, great info. I managed a solo trip in a similar neck of the woods on Tuesday up the aemmer couloir but was turned around halfway up the couloir due to constant sloughing from above that was ever increasing in size. Definitely sucked pulling the plug within sight of the top but better safe than sorry. I'm glad you finally made it up hector and made it back safe through the avi hazards.