Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mount Whymper (2845m) - Kootenay National Park     September 27, 2014

The only plans for this weekend in advance were to take a coworker hiking on whichever day she wanted. As the week progressed I settled on Sunday as the weather was nicer and that was the day she didn't have any plans for the evening after the hike. That left Saturday free. With everything snow free still I didn't want to waste it so I started to consider my options. Originally I really wanted to climb Mt Rae since I still really want to go back and conquer it (this is the only mountain I would use such a stupid expression for climbing it), ever since it tried to kill me when I slipped on a snow slope and self arrested in 2010. I also was looking at trip reports of Mist Mountain in case Saturday turned into a solo objective because Heath didn't want to go. Then on Friday before noon, another coworker from a different department emailed me. We had been in contact a lot because we had always planned on getting out together at some point. It turned out his original objective was out due to the increased chance of rain in the south, and he wanted to do Mount Whymper. Well I can't turn down an offer like that, so I quickly looked at, and printed out some information / trip reports on the mountain and agreed as long as our group could tolerate my general fear of heights. I need not have worried as we had a great group and my fear was unusually absent.

We set out under overcast skies for the mountains. On the road we found patches of sky through the cloud but it was uncertain whether the unsettled forecast of some clouds would hamper or stop our attempt. We parked at the Stanley Glacier parking lot and proceeded to walk up the road. There was an early cairn that pointed to a high trail above the road, then another one a few meters on that indicated the actual gully to ascent. There was a bit of worn down section that tended towards being a trail in the initial part of the gully but it was not always obvious. We ascended on this through mist without really seeing where we were going. We hoped (a lot) that the mist would rise at least a bit, so that route finding would be easier. If we were socked in the whole day we would have trouble picking the right gully farther up. 

Thankfully we were in luck. Within a hour or so of hiking we got above most of the cloud and were the witness of a great view across the valley with the cloud below us.

Mist in the morning did not give very far views. That can be both good (you can't see how very far you have to go) and bad (can't see where you are going and might make improper route decisions). Since it only lasted our approach it was good.

As we get above the cloud, looking back at Stanley Peak to the right.

Again, but with a view of our gully as well.

We continued up as the cloud continued to lift an dissipate. We were now a lot more optimistic about our chances of good weather.

You can see the next part of the ascent finally. We will go climber left on the first section as per one trip report stating it is not as steep. Then we will have to traverse left, in our case getting close to the last possible moment. This worked well though as before then there was a bit of a steep step that looked like it might not go. Traversing later made the scrambling easy.

Looking back again as the clouds dissipate in the valley.

About to go up climbers right.

Going up climbers right. The clouds had basically gone by this point. The step like terrain of small rock ledges was easy to ascend and quite fun as well. The rubble on the steps was not a problem on this mountain.

About to traverse to the left into the narrow part of the gully. Again step like terrain, whether covered in rubble or not, was easy to negotiate and quite fun. In this narrow section it got a bit steeper, but it was also more solid and had less rubble.

Looking up the narrow part of the gully.

This section was less rubbly and was very fun. Really in general this was quite the fun scramble. I must be getting better at scrambling and getting over my fear of heights more finally. Plus this was just a good one in general, there were a lot of solid holds.

Looking up from above the narrow part of the gully. After this wide open area there are several gullies to chose from higher up. Some are technical on climbers left, and some on climbers right do not take you in the correct direction, as after this section you need to get onto the ridge or you'll end up on too steep, too loose of terrain. The ridge you need to get onto is to the left. We went up the gully that another trip report mentioned directly ahead, in the center of this photo. It is distinguished by the large cubic block on its climbers right hand side. We had originally gone one more to the left in the hopes of finding Spirko's chimney based on a description on a clubtread post, but where we were was definitely not it.

Looking back down as the others come up the narrower section.

Looking back down from further on.

Looking up again from a bit farther on. This section is rubble and steps with a few larger steps that require some fun scrambling. Originally we went up a bit more climbers left and found some harder terrain. On the way down we stuck more to the center of this photo and it was easier.

Looking over at the various gullies from below the technical one we thought was Spirko's. As we were wrong we traversed over to the next one to climbers right. You can see it here with its large cubic block on the corner.

Looking back down.

Almost at the large cubic block gully. In my opinion the small ledge traverse to get into this gully proper is not as bad as others claim. It goes climbers left to right so our coming from this side helped us find it easily from the bottom. Yes it is a small ledge, and yes the ledge is strewn with rubble, but there are decent handholds so it doesn't feel that sketchy. This way worked very well for us, and I would guess it could possibly be the correct way that Kane went up. It is very hard to tell from his description though and other people are sure to disagree with me. The slope before the ledge traverse is very loose scree and is a bit steep, so that does add to what could feel like the sketch of the traverse. But again we didn't feel it was a problem. In fact on the way up I was worried that we hadn't done that bit yet and it would be farther on. It was only on the descent when we had to look down it more that I realized this was indeed the same section.

 After the bit of a traverse looking down at the large cubic block.

Heath considering his options. The rest of the ascent was easy on rubbly step terrain again. We tended left and hit the ridge where it has a wide flat section. Above a bit of a step, that could be avoided on the far side of the ridge, we could see the rest of the route to the summit. The ridge is easy and there was even a bit of a trail through most of it. There are a few cairns where we gained the ridge although it was mostly obvious where we had to come back to.

The ridge. The summit cairn was on the far side from our ridge, although the part in the center that we hiked over to get to it looked higher to Heath and I.

Summit looking northeast towards Castle Mountain.

Summit looking down at the ascent route.

Summit looking northwest into the upper part of Chickadee Valley.

 Summit looking southeast at Stanley Peak. Too bad we can't see Mount Ball. Its hidden in the clouds.

Summit looking south. Mount Vermilion is left of center and next to the left is Mount Haffner. That mountain we ascended on snowshoes this last late winter/spring. Behind the col between them is Numa Mountain from last weekend.

Summit looking northwest.

Starting back down the ridge. Since bushwacking and sidehilling both sounded terrible and the ascent hadn't given us any real problems, we all decided it was best to descend the same way we had gone up rather than the alternative down scree in the south bowl.

Off the ridge looking down the gully.

Heath on the last part of the ledge traverse to get out of the top gully and into the wider area.

Looking back up from a bit of the ways down. All small steps like this had an easy way down even if you had to go a bit right or left to find it. We never had to do any major traversing from our center line to find the easiest way down.

Going back down the narrow part.

Looking back up as we start to trend a bit skiers left to get back into our originally side of the first gully.

Mount Whymper as we descend the approach gully. The clouds have lifted. The summit is to the right.

Looking back from very near the road.

I was very pleased at my lack of fear on this ascent. I must be getting better at scrambling finally. It was also a really fun scramble and I highly recommend it.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Floe Lake Backpack & Ascent of Numa Mountain (2725m) - Kootenay National Park, BC    September 20-21, 2014

This was the second annual larch backpack. Last year we did a backpacking trip around the same time to Twin Lakes / Gibbon Pass / Shadow Lake to see the larches. It rained about half of the trip, which felt like the whole time, but we did see a lot of beautiful larches. Well, I decided that this should be an annual thing. So this year I picked another backcountry larch destination to backpack into. Floe Lake on the Rockwall trail was my pick. I'd done the whole trail back in 2010 in three days, but that was a long time ago and I was willing to go again. I'd seen pictures from other people of Floe Lake area at this time of year and it was beautiful. Also I could add on an ascent of Numa Mountain. This one isn't in any scrambles book currently (Kane or Nugara) but I'd seen trip reports and knew that there was an ascent route up from Numa Pass, and that the views looked really good. Unlike a lot of backpacking plus mountain plans of mine, this one turned out really well. I think the trick is that the trip should be short. Longer backpacks should be left alone to simply be backpacks, and not have mountains added onto them.

The weather turned out awesome. There was hardly a cloud in the sky the whole weekend. It was a perfect bluebird weekend to end the summer with. We didn't even need to wear any extra clothes on top of our t-shirts on the summit of Numa Mountain it was so nice. You couldn't even say that of a few of our summer hikes.

The campground for Floe Lake is really nice. We got to camp within the larches there and it has a really great kitchen area on the lake. You couldn't ask for much better. There are a lot of tent sites here though, it could be a pretty crowded camp. When we were there it wasn't too bad. 

We got a late start on this trip, on Saturday because of construction on highway one. For some reason completely beyond me they were re-paving perfectly good looking road between the Sunshine turn off and the Bourgeau Lake trail head. It was super annoying. We also got up pretty late due to a house warming bbq the evening before. We started our hike at noon. Oh well, we are super fast hikers. It only took us 3.5 hours to make it up the 10.7km and 697 meters elevation gain. Four years ago when I did this trail it took me 5 hours. I was carrying a bit more, but I was also just not in as good shape. I remember when doing this trail in three days (rather than my planned five due to various reasons), it being one of the hardest hikes I'd ever done. This time we got to the lake with plenty of time to enjoy the sun on the lake shore before it set behind the Rockwall, even though we started so late.

Floe Lake trail goes through an old burn. In the summer it is filled with fireweed. Now that it is fall it is a bit different. 

Lake shore before the sun goes down. Since the Rockwall is so huge it blocks out the sun early in the evening and you cant get good pictures of it in the afternoon until the sun goes down. Some of the larches behind me haven't turned yet, but those closer to treeline are all golden.

 Lake shore after the sun set behind the Rockwall.

Heath and the Rockwall behind him.

The best time to get pictures of Floe Lake is in the morning when the light is coming from the east and hitting the west facing wall. The lake was still for us and gave great reflections. Some of the best views ever, but hard to get good photos from around the lake as it just doesn't fit on your camera. We slept in till around 8:30am even though I meant to get up earlier, but thankfully we didn't miss the views before the sun came fully over the horizon.

Floe Lake in the morning.

Another part of Floe Lake.


Heath at the kitchen area starting up the jet boil for our regular breakfast of oatmeal, and coffee for him (I can't drink coffee).

A panorama of the lake. Really just a stunning view. I can see myself doing this one again in a few years at the same time, but that time doing more exploring around the lake instead of ascending a mountain. I mean there isn't even another mountain nearby that is a scramble anyway. Hopefully I can wake up a bit earlier that time.

After our breakfast we couldn't linger due to time constraints, but started up our ascent of Numa Pass where we would leave the trail to ascend Numa Mountain. There is a great place just out of treeline to get pictures of Floe Lake and it's portion of the Rockwall. 

Looking back on our ascent to Numa Pass.

Ascending to Numa Pass.

I think I'm going to have to put this one up on my wall. So beautiful. The trip would have been worth it just for this. But of course, I at least, am addicted to climbing mountains, so onward we went.

View from slightly farther up.

Me from ever so slightly farther up.

After ascending Numa Pass we started up the slope to the northeast. It was steeper than the trail of course, but not overly steep.

Almost to the top of the initial slope. Heath coming up behind me. We had thought we could contour around this initial slope but it looked too steep and unpleasant. So both on ascent and descent we went over it instead. That is why Heath is further down than me, but not towards Numa Pass which is to the right here, but rather farther down this ridge towards Floe Lake.

Looking over at Numa Mountain, or at least the false summit, from about the same place as the last photo. We will ascend the whole slope to our left and then descend back down to the col before starting up the steeper slopes to the false summit. The scree didn't have too much give, so it was stable but not good for scree skiing. It also didn't make very good scree for side-hilling at all. Not that I even enjoy that activity in any conditions, and probably wouldn't have chosen it anyway. The other party ascending the mountain on this day chose the same route as we did.

Looking back down after ascending the slope to the false summit. After this there was a short summit ridge. We stayed on or near the crest which had a trail most of the way. We did have to go over a few very short steps, which added interest to what was becoming a plod.

Top of the false summit looking south at Floe Lake. The Floe Lake trail doesn't gain much elevation till ascending a headwall just before the lake. The headwall is just behind the hill in the center of this photo. The trail before it is nearly at the level of the river visible on the left, and after it is at the level of the lake of course. So you can see from here it gains a lot of elevation in one section. That is really the theme of the entire Rockwall trail, which is the roller coaster backpack of the Canadian Rockies.

Top of false summit looking northwest. Numa Pass is not visible but is to the left, from there the trail descends to Numa Creek.

Top of false summit lookig northeast towards the true summit which is only slightly higher. The false summit has better views of Floe Lake than the true summit. 

The view back down to the road is of course better from the true summit as it is further east. To get off the false summit there is an exposed step that is getting into more lower moderate terrain than easy. It is really the only place the ascent isn't in the range of easy scrambling though. I think you can go to the south off the ridge crest to get around it a bit. But I really don't like side-hilling and the step didn't seem that bad. Perhaps I am getting better at scrambling since I am not getting scared as much anymore. The rest of the ascent to the true summit was easy, we stayed on the ridge except for a slight detour to the south to avoid a big step you couldn't really scramble.

Summit of Numa Mountain looking east towards Mount Ball in the distant center. We climbed that back in august of 2012. It involved a painful full day bushwhack on the way in and out, but it is really satisfying to know we've climbed it. Out of all of Kane's mountains in his book, this one is really the farthest out there, not in distance but in the sheer effort it takes to get there. We also had great weather on that trip.

Summit looking north. Just right of the center is a small bump on the burned out ridge. That is the summit of Mount Haffner which we ascended on snowshoes. Our first snowshoe ascent, and Heath swears to be his last. There may have been some post-holing fun on that one at lower elevations.

Summit looking north. In the far distance to right of center is the Lake Louise group.

Summit looking northwest at where the rest of the Rockwall trail goes. After descending to Numa Creek it ascends the steep slopes to the right of center.

Summit looking west.

Summit looking southwest, along the ridge between the false summit and the true summit. Foster Peak in the distance. 

Summit looking southwest towards Floe Lake which is not visible.

Summit looking southwest. The parking lot we starting in is more than 1500 meters below. It is between the road and the river, the small rectangular patch of grey.

Zoomed in view of the Lake Louise group. Mount Temple we also ascended in 2012 , but during this time of year, to the right.

Me on the summit.

Zoomed in view of Mount Ball which is the highest mountain in this photo. Beatrice Peak which we also ascended on that trip is to the left of it. The ascent route of both goes up the slopes of Beatrice first.

After taking our time on the summit despite the long way back to camp, then time to pack up, then finally the long way back to the car we still had to complete today, we made our way down.

The final ascent back up to the false summit. The exposed step is right at the end.

The ascent up the slope beside Numa Pass was painful, but soon we were on our way back down to the trail. We then hurried down the trail to the camp so we could start packing up. The only thing I would change about this trip would have been spending another night at Floe Lakes so we didn't have to hurry out the same day and walk so far in one day. It would have been nice instead to take a short nap after the ascent, before waking back up to another relaxing evening by the lake.

Larches on the way down from Numa Pass.

After packing up, the descent down to the car was a bit of a slog. We made really good time though, only taking 2.5 hours to get back. The ascent of Numa Mountain and back to camp took 4.75 hours. We got back at 6pm. Then we went to Banff for dinner, which was good because there was another traffic jam due to bridge construction between Banff and Canmore, and then after dinner had a short stay at the hot springs. A really great weekend.