Wapta Traverse

Dragonfly on the Wapta
Jun 17-21, 2018

I know what you’re thinking — Tom, it’s summer… the Wapta traverse?

Well it was a lot more pleasant than my experience 6 months ago leaving Bow Hut in the dark at 8:00 am with -35°C temps and clouds and wind. And the snow was pretty good too — from Sunday to Tuesday it was great spring ski touring conditions.

There was very limited avalanche activity all week, with only a couple of isolated loose wet avalanches off steep E to NE aspects on Wednesday in last weekend’s storm snow, up to size 2. Temps were hot, up to 15°C at 3000 m that day, with unrelenting sun: we were comfortable in T-shirts at Scott Duncan and slept with the door wide open.

Glacier coverage is excellent with 1.5 m probed near Bow Hut and 2+ m elsewhere for the most part. Crevasses are mainly well bridged still with sags starting to show on the bigger ones (see photos).

My two clients are not skiers, so it was a Walkta, and we packed snowshoes with us to deal with the soft snow that we expected later in the trip with the hot forecast. For skiers out there this might sound like a real bummer, given the excellent skiing potential. But I have to admit that for this trip at this time of the year, the pros and cons of snowshoes start to even the scales with skis. When you don’t need them, they are light and mountain boots are way better than ski boots. Going down, of course, I wished I had skis. It was a bit surprising to me that there was not a fresh ski track to be seen — where were all you nuts who lug your skis for hours to find rocky faceted snow pockets in October? You missed a good one.

In any event, you definitely needed something to keep you on top, skis or snowshoes, past about 11 a.m. or even much earlier by the end of the trip. Not bringing either would have greatly limited your options. We were able to have long days (which started at 3:00 am or earlier and ended at 2:00 pm or later) in comfort instead of postholing to our knees.

Wednesday things started to really warm up, with a marginal overnight freeze over Balfour High Col, and for our exit yesterday (Thursday) it definitely felt like full summer weather hit the high country with almost no overnight recovery and wet snow way up into the alpine. Add to that yesterday afternoon’s thundershowers which would have been rain all the way to mountain tops.

Trail Conditions

Access to Bow Hut is on a mainly dry trail up until close to hut elevations. Egress from Scott Duncan was on snow up until the headwall directly above Sherbrooke Creek . We more or less followed the red line on Mark Klassen’s new map, which worked fine. The headwall descending into Sherbrooke Creek is steep but manageable, we kept to the skier’s right of the gullies, bumping left as we descended. This brought us to the creek confluence at valley bottom where we found a summer trail. It’s partly covered in snow and often flowing with water but OK. Thanks to the parks trail crew for their work on the trail from the north end of Sherbrooke Lake south, which is in good condition now with a couple of wet spots.