Wednesday July 1. Happy Canada Day! At 7:30 am, after a heaping breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns, we assembled our gear and descended from Peyto Hut. In the distance, Mount Habel rose to the sky- glaciated on either side, snow covered in parts, and rocky as expected. At an elevation of 3087 metres, this would be the peak that we would conquer. The only thing that stood between us and the summit was the ice… no big deal. The previous night, there was a huge thunderstorm of rain, hail, cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning. The rain melted some of the snow leaving the ice exposed and the remaining snow a land of slush.
Once we got to the glacier, we roped in. The last thing any of us wanted was to fall into a crevasse, so we made sure all ropes were tied correctly and then we ventured off.
It was a long several hours. With all the slush it was going to be a slog, but we took a few breaks and made our way slowly to the summit, avoiding crevasses as necessary. We short roped and made a push above the snow. With the warm spring and unusually low amount of snow fall during the winter, the last bit turned into scramble to the top.
Even though we had some questionable weather at times, Mother Nature decided to cease the wind, part the clouds, and allow for a view from the summit. And the view was stunning. Alberta on one side, BC on the other. The Wapta Icefield spanned a near 180 degree view. What an accomplishment! After lunch and the requisite “I conquered this mountain” sort of photos, it was time to descend.
The way back to the hut was exhausting. After climbing for 4 hours or so, my body was spent. An enormous amount of effort went into picking up one foot and putting it in front of the other. With crampons attached, I tripped a few times. I was basically a walking zombie, but an attentive walking zombie since you must always be alert when crossing the glacier.
Our original plan was to veer around a cornice and head down, but James re-thought his plan once he saw how dangerous it would be. So onward we went, passing massive crevasses and avoiding others.
Then we attempted to cross a section of exposed ice. In mountaineering, it’s safer to see the ice as opposed to crossing on the snow where crevasses are hidden, but there is something about walking across a massive chunk of cracked ice that scares me. Like, really scares me. Imagine walking on a huge sheet of ice, with visible cracks everywhere, and the occasional large crack, many metres long, and wide enough to fall in. Falling into one could mean falling many many metres down into the dark. Of course, we were roped in enough to mitigate the risk of falling to one’s death, but the experience would not be pleasant. And also imagine, while jumping over these holes and cracks (as we did several times), the loud sound of rushing water from somewhere beneath your feet reminds you that the glacier is melting. Yes, there are many thick and stable areas of ice on which you can walk, but the risks associated with mountaineering are so apparent. As I mentioned, we attempted to cross that section of ice. Eventually we needed to backtrack and go around the entire area before getting back to the hut.
It was during this point that I realized something. I like to try many adventures, and many adventures I’d try twice. But the two that are the most frightening for me, or the two activities that illicit the most fear and sling shot me out of my confront zone are 1) caving, and 2) crossing glaciers. And not in a fear-but-thrilling sort of way, but in a way that forces me to really evaluate the risk-to-enjoyment ratio. With that said, I loved climbing Mount Habel. Exhausting like crazy, but well worth it!
The day ended low key. Tea, soup, crackers and sausage, resting and relaxing, and then a dinner of mashed potatoes and bison stew followed by an intense evening of team crossword puzzles. The evening reminded me that, yes, this is my vacation- one that requires a ton of endurance, but when surrounded by the incredible scenery, the serenity and calm are what relaxes me.