Western Canada Trip Recap

Matt and I have taken a couple of weeks off of training to recharge and reconnect with loved ones. Now it’s time to recap our trip to Western Alberta / Eastern BC.

Pretty much immediately we had a reality check on what the mountains offer – namely unpredictable conditions. We were greeted in Calgary by heavy rains and sleet. Looking back, this was a bit of foreshadowing for what we’d find for the rest of the trip.

We drove toward the Icefields parkway to attend our Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue course with the Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides and found that the awe-inspiring Jasper drivepeaks surrounding Banff and Jasper appeared more ominous when covered in snow and buried in clouds. I will recap our course in a future post, but lets just say it was fantastic and well worth the money.

The two days camping and climbing in and around Mt. Athabasca were amazing. While heading North towards Jasper our minds were blown around ever turn. Alberta has a lot to offer. The night skies, the glaciers, the peaks, and the endless ranges beyond what we could see from the road all turned our imaginations wild.

night at icefields campground
Jasper National Park has one of the darkest, protected skies in the world.
Hike up to Kain hut
That’s not fog, that’s smoke

We drove South to enter Bugaboo Provincial Park listening to radio announcements telling everyone should stay indoors and avoid exertion due to ‘fairly carcinogenic’ wild fire smoke pouring up from Washington State. We ignored this advice and hiked the 800m elevation gain from the parking lot to the Kain Hut. Here we were met by 30+ climbers, hikers, families, and guides all, for some reason, excited about the view, which was strange as all we could see was a white blanket of smoke surrounding the hut.

After talking with a few teams we learned that the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col was A) out of condition due to rockfall and B) actually a crucial access point for many climbs and descents. We discussed what route would be a good intro to climbing in the Bugaboos given the conditions and settled on the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, “The best 5.4 in the world”. Matt is going to review the full climbing day in a different post, but it was everything we thought it would be.

Pigeon Summit Shot
Pigeon Summit Shot

Our plan was to have a rest day following our 13 hours climbing Pigeon Spire. Instead excitement took hold of us and we did a quick scramble up Eastpost Spire. At this point the smoke had nearly cleared and the temps were great. We stopped on the way back down at a small glacial lake near Applebee campground for a swim and to give Matt’s feet some much needed medical attention (he had blisters from climbing in socks the day before and is a baby).

Eastpost Summit Shot
Eastpost Summit Shot

Interactive Eastpost Summit Panorama

Things were looking up! The Kain Hut was 100% booked up for the next 3 nights and the forecast called for rain so we made the call to head down to Radium Hot Springs, restock on food and have a soak.

Three days of bad forecasts quickly turned into 14+ as the rain kept extending and extending to what looked like the end of our trip. Every day was filled with checking forecasts, reading a book, checking forecasts, karaoke, checking forecasts and eating tacos. For great forecasts in the Bugaboos head to SpotWX.

Rain Delay.
Rain Delay.

Vancouver, Calgary, Canmore and Jasper all had the same forecast so without getting on a plane we weren’t going to see dry rock any time soon. A drive through Kootenay National Park revealed more smoke. We were pooched. However, with a child’s optimism we decided to go wait out the storms in the mountains. Maybe there would be some cool shots, some short windows, if nothing else we weren’t about to quit in the parking lot.

We spent the next several days hanging out in a mostly empty Kain hut with the exception of the incredibly entertaining custodian Heidi, exchanging jokes and watching the forecasts (ask her the one about chickpeas and lentils next time you’re up there).

Cue more rain and several feet of snow.

On our final afternoon an eight hour window of no precipitation opened up. At this point all of the rock was drenched or frozen and covered in two feet of hella fresh pow pow. We decided to head up into the mountains to explore the area around Applebee campground, head onto Crescent glacier and practice our newly acquired glacier travel skills. It turned out to be a ton of fun that put a nice cap on the trip.

Alpine snow angels at Applebee camp ground

Super Cool Panorama taken at Applebee – (Try to find Matt)

I keep telling people that the conditions were a bit disappointing but not discouraging at all. We summited two spires in two weeks. The mountains could have easily decided to totally shut us down. Our time in the Purcell Mountain range has only bolstered my interest in building this skill set, fitness and head game.

After leaving the Bugs due to another impending 30mm of rain and snow we spent a day camping in the beautiful Bow Valley, climbed at Grassi Lake and met up with some old Maritime friends who’ve moved out West.

Keep an eye out for a couple of posts about specific elements of the trip in the next couple of weeks!



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