Monday, September 14, 2015

Mt Victoria SW Face and Lake O'Hara

Kyle's family invited us along on their annual Lake O'Hara camping trip this past weekend. We took this opportunity to try for Mt. Victoria and Mt. Huber, two of the 11,000 ft peaks in the area. We had a spot booked on the bus on Friday afternoon, which meant that we could bring all sorts of stuff up to the campground. We arrived early and wandered around Lake Louise for a bit before our departure. This gave us a chance to take a look at Mt. Victoria which towers over the lake. I was feeling a bit apprehensive!
Looking up at Mt. Victoria from Lake Louise and feeling nervous!
The warden at the bus told us that other groups had tried Mt. Victoria recently but had turned around because of avalanches and snow (which made the Huber Ledges very slippery). With this in mind, we decided that we would just go and see how the route was, and if we had to turn back it wouldn't be the end of the world. The alarm went off at 3am. We took our time eating breakfast as the sunrise wasn't until 7:15 and we didn't want to be climbing the Huber Ledges in the dark. After doubling back for the bear spray, we started up the road at 4:20am. We made quick work of the Wiwaxy Gap trail (500m of elevation up a well maintained trail) and arrived at the pass in total darkness, with only a faint glow on the horizon. The stars were amazing! We considered waiting at the pass for a bit more light, but it was cold so we kept moving, following cairns up into the Huber Ledges. Luckily, the trail was quite distinct at the beginning, and beyond that, it was well marked with many cairns so we didn't have any trouble finding our way. The crux of the scramble came quickly. I followed Kyle up the slippery, wet rock and clipped into one of the two bolts to move through the steepest section. With that out of the way, we felt really good!
The crux pitch of Huber Ledges (in the blackness)
 With the cairns leading the way, we traversed out left a long way, getting rained on by dripping rock. As we ascended, we got into some snow, but nothing that made us think about turning around. It took us quite a while to make it through the Ledges, partly because it was dark, but also because we took our time on the slick rocks and had to do some boot-packing through the snow. We kept looking back to see if there was anyone below us. We were expecting another party to be coming up for an attempt on Huber, and kept convincing ourselves that we could see their lights below.
Our first glimpse of what was around us as the skies started to brighten
Almost enough light to turn off the headlamps
Kyle breaks trail across Huber Ledges as the sun rises
 Finally we made it up the Ledges to the toe of the lower glacier. There was a bivy that we used to take a break and rope up. There was evidence of avalanche activity on the glacier, mostly wet slides and pinwheels. It was slow going through the avalanche debris and the frustrating breakable crust from all the snow that had fallen last weekend.
Looking down on the lower glacier with lots of old avalanche debris (note our tracks)
It took almost an hour to cross the lower glacier and we had the same issues with post-holing on the upper glacier. Breaking trail was exhausting work and Kyle did it all (thanks Kyle!). We crossed two snow bridges without any issue and slowly made our way up to the burgshrund at the top of the glacier.
Upper glacier with a horrible breakable crust
Mt Victoria summit above a big crevasse
Making our way up to the burgshrund
 We arrived at the burgshrund at 10:30am. We had not been moving as quickly as we had hoped thanks to the snow conditions. We opted to cross the burgshrund on the far right side where it was small. This positioned us below a lower angle snow gully that traversed right and topped out on the far right end of the ridge. The other option was to take the middle line up the headwall, trending left before crossing into another gully and topping out in the middle of the ridge (see the notch in the ridge in the picture above). I think the second option is the typical route and would have been the better choice as it meant less ridge traversing. I have also read that there are two rappel stations so it would have also assisted the descent. Oh well, now we know for next time.
Gearing up for the burgshrund and snow gully ascent
 Kyle lead up over the burgshrund and I followed. After that, we unroped for the rest of the climb. I boot-packed the snow gully but got really nervous on the traverse and had Kyle take over. The snow wasn't very deep and we were kicking down to rock which was very unnerving. 
Kyle taking the lead to traverse the snow field
Looking back down to the glacier. Can you spot our tracks?
 Finally we topped out on the ridge around noon. It was such a great feeling to be all the way up there, looking down at Lake Louise. We started along the ridge towards the summit, but it was much further than we had hoped, with lots of unconsolidated snow over loose rock, making it slow going and pretty sketchy. I was feeling tired and uncoordinated, making navigating the ridge even more difficult. At that point we decided to turn back. It was going to take way to long to get to the summit, and we didn't feel like we could do the traverse safely in those conditions. Despite not making the top, we were both super stoked to be all the way up on the ridge!
Victoria Ridge!
A long, sketchy ridge traverse lies between us and the summit (voted best place to be violently ill in Lake O'Hara)
Made the ridge! That's good enough for me!
Great view down to Lake Louise, we were there less than 24 hours before!
Happy times on Victoria Ridge - and relief that we were heading home
 We had not seen any sign of the Mt. Huber group all day, which was unfortunate as we were hoping that they would have put in a bootpack to the top for us! Unfortunately we didn't even try for Huber because it was so late by the time we got back down to the glacier and we were both feeling pretty tired after the long slog up to Victoria.
Looking over to Mt. Huber from Victoria Ridge - not a bootpack in sight
Excited to be descending and getting out of the wind
 I think we turned around just in time. The sun had just hit the SE face as we started down and the snow was turning to slush. There were lots more pinwheels at the bottom of the face and we were both very happy to get down and away from that situation.
Feeling #blessed to be down the gully, off the sunbaked avi slope and over the burgshrund
 The crust on the glacier had melted and it was much easier going down the sloppy snow. We had our crampons off to move faster, but every so often I would step through to glacial ice and go for a bit of a slide. That kept me on my toes!
Descending the glacier - much more enjoyable than the walk up
Black hole of doom (crevasse) below Mt. Huber. We will be back for you Huber!
Lakes galore in the valley below!
Ice fall below Mt. Victoria
 Crossing the lower glacier, it looked like there had been a number of avalanches during the day, but as we crossed (quickly), we noticed that all our footprints were still intact, suggesting that they were all old avalanches. Either way, it was a good feeling to get past that section. At the bivy, we unroped and put away our glacier gear. There were a few new sets of footprints in the snow! The other group must have come up to the bivy and turned around. It looks like nobody was getting a summit today.
Wiwaxy Gap and Lake O'Hara far below
 It was nice to come down the Ledges in the light. It is a really cool part of the route that I didn't appreciate on the way up. It was pretty quick going down, but really disheartening to see Lake O'Hara 800m below us and know we still had all that way to descend.
Crossing the Huber Ledges looked much different in the light of day
Lots of cairns to mark the way on the Ledges, with Lake O'Hara below
Rappel down the crux pitch on Huber Ledges - we climbed that in the dark?!
 We spotted the other group at Wiwaxy Gap but were not able to catch up to them. By the time we had got onto the trail, my feet were so sore that it was all I could do to keep moving. It was such a relief to get down to the bottom, I ripped my boots off and stood in the lake for quite a while to numb the pain. The route had taken us 13 hours camp to camp and we did 1400m of elevation.
Only a few hundred vertical metres to go down Wiwaxy Trail. My poor feet!
On Sunday, we slept in then went for a hike with Kyle's family out to MacArthur Lake (~6km return). It was nice to get out and stretch after our big day Saturday, and to see a different part of the area. We had great weather for our hike, but clouds started to roll in as we made our way back to camp. As we were walking down the road, the rain started. Perfect timing! We had just enough time for a quick lunch in the picnic shelter and a hot drink before we caught the 2:30 bus down to the parking lot. What a great weekend, despite not getting any summits. Thanks Connie for organizing the camping!
Reflections on Lake O'Hara
Mt. Huber reflection
Beautiful views at Lake O'Hara
Milino family plus Jenny at MacArthur Lake
Best hiking/climbing buddy ever!
MacArthur Lake High Line Trail
Connie hiking among the larches
Stormy skies as we head back for camp
Mt. Huber (foreground) with Mt. Victoria behind it
We were there!

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