And so the mountaineering adventure begins!
Sunday, June 28. It was an early start to the morning. I was up at 5:30 am for the requisite coffee and eggs breakfast before gearing up and driving to Canmore for 8:30 am. For what, you ask? Months ago I signed up for the 6 day Introduction to Mountaineering course through Yamnsuka Mountain Adventures. I have been hiking and scrambling for many years, but glacier travel was a bit beyond my scope. It was time to explore those skills, and the mountains accessible once you have those skills. After arriving at the Yamnuska office in Canmore, I met the tour guide James Blench along with the rest of the crew. To say he’s experienced is an understatement. Apparently he’s quite the legend: he’s been guiding since the 70’s and he’s one of the original Yamnuska guides. He’s led trips all over the Rockies and spent many years guiding in Peru. He’s also an international mountain guide, certified through the IFMGA. We were definitely going to be in good hands. Slowly, the six soon-to-be alpinists arrived, all of us wondering what the next six days would bring: a young 18-year old from Norway; an outdoorsy gentleman from BC; a couple from Cochrane; and a guy from Ontario. And then there was me… inexperienced, and ready to learn!
After getting the gear sorted and being assigned snacks and lunch, we boarded the van and headed to Bow Lake to begin the 4 hour or so and 430 metre gain hike. Bow lake is gorgeous. It’s funny, I had driven by the lake many times without stopping. I never knew that you could kayak on the lake, or hike to Bow Falls. I’ll definitely have to make my way back sometime. We circled around the right side of the lake and quickly our general destination came into view. The ominous Saint Nicholas Peak jutted into the sky in the distance; the glacier in all its massive glaciated glory called from the horizon. They seemed so far away. With a 45 pound pack, it was going to be a long day. Rest would come at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Bow Hut, located at 2350 metres on the eastern side of the Wapta Icefield.
And once we arrived, the scenery surrounding the hut was just stunning. Rocky, nestled in the mountains, right beneath Saint Nicholas Peak. We settled in and were fitted with gear: carabiners, an ice screw, prussic cord, sling, climbing harness, helmet, and crampons. Then we got the low down on how things at the Bow Hut worked. Main thing: be respectful and keep things clean. Buckets are filled with glacial water for drinking and cleaning. Since there are no ungulates or creatures that high above, it’s apparently safe to drink the water up there. The kitchen and common room is filled with pots, pans, cups and all the necessary utensils. Bring dehydrated meals like Yamnuska had prepared and you can easily rehydrate or cook anything. For example, the first night was soup and shepherd’s pie- so good! The sleeping quarters are on the other side of the hut and has a sleeping capacity of 30… which, in my opinion, is a lot of people for the space, but I have personal space issues. The two outhouse stalls are what you would expect. Don’t throw garbage down there, and make sure to use sanitizer after you use the bathroom. Common sense, but if you don’t do that and contaminate food because of your nastiness, then everyone will get sick! Wash dishes using the soap and rinse in hot water that you’ve boiled with some chlorine, and then dump the slop bucket in the blue-topped cylinders outdoors once full. And clean up after yourselves. Simple :).
After a day of hiking in ridiculous heat, we relaxed, walked around, and took in the serene environment. The next day would be jam-packed with learning the rope and ice/snow skills necessary for a safe traverse of the Wapta Icefield. It was so great to bring some of my luxury items- Vichy toner and face wash (because I wouldn’t be able to sleep otherwise), and lots of wipes, which are necessary on such trips. Because all mountaineering days need to end in luxury… Ha! Or maybe I’m just a bit high maintenance.