Mount Collie

April 29, 2014

3143m

Wapta Icefield, BC

The mighty Mount Collie sits deeply on the BC side of Wapta Icefield, further away from population and rarely climbed. Many folks would prefer camping at its base or at least staying the previous night in Bow Hut, but fit parties can do it in a day from the Icefield Parkway. There’re big avalanche slopes and terrain traps on the approach, numerous open crevasses to negotiate on the icefield, and the summit ridge is often heavily (double) corniced making it a fairly technical ascent. It’s a major feat to have this peak successfully bagged and the satisfaction I got from that is more than some of the big and remote 11,000ers. The ridge is the craziest I’ve ever seen and it’s certainly the most difficult and the most dangerous winter ascent I’ve ever done (to date).

Ski ascent route for Mt. Collie via Bow Hut

Ski ascent route for Mt. Collie via Bow Hut. GPX DL

An Omega block (high pressure system) came and granted clear weather for 3 days in a roll, Tuesday to Thursday. But just like last year’s, temperature would boost up to crazy. Wednesday was supposed to be the first big warm-up of the season and avalanche was forecasted to be high/high/high across the range. So we couldn’t do Mt. Columbia and there’s only 1-day’s window for anything. Tuesday was arguably the best day for ski mountaineering in this entire season. A deep overnight freeze, guaranteed bludbird sky, cool temperature and avalanche condition at low/low/low, there’s no way to miss this day out. Vern and I were eyeing on Mt. Collie throughout this entire winter/spring season so far and it was finally the time to commit to it. Ferenc managed to take Tuesday off work to join us and we were very pleased to have him along.

Other than condition and timing, the most important thing for such a long ski ascent/snow climb in 1-day is efficiency. Light-and-fast is a must even though that might mean sacrificing a bit on safety. We’d bring stuffs that we definitely need and leave everything else behind. Of course food, water and avalanche gears. Other than those we packed light weight ice axe, crampons, one 30 meter 8-mm rope plus some crevasse rescue gears, no ice screw and no snow picket.

Like two days ago, Ferenc nicely invited me to stay over in his house and at 3:40 am Tuesday morning, Vern came by and picked us up. We were cruising westwards into the mountains with millions of stars above. It’s gonna be the day! We managed to get to Bow Lake earlier than expected, and by 6:20 am we were already skinning across the frozen Lake. This was my 7th time doing this approach in winter and I’m getting tired of that so I won’t go in details in my trip report anymore. There’re quite a few big avalanche slopes plus a long terrain trap so don’t underestimate this approach. We saw lots of avalanche debris in the canyon. Ascending the steep slope just before Bow Hut was tricky since the snow was icy and our skins couldn’t grip. My ski crampons helped a big time here, and shortly after this slope we took a short break just outside of Bow Hut (we didn’t go in because I was told it’s an energy sucker).

Skinning across Bow Lake in the morning. Alpenglow on Portal and Thompson

Skinning across Bow Lake in the morning. Alpenglow on Portal and Thompson

Crowfoot Mountain in the morning

Crowfoot Mountain in the morning

Cresting the first hill. Bow Glacier Falls ahead

Cresting the first hill. Bow Glacier Falls ahead

Through the canyon

Through the canyon

Up the big steep slope

Up the big steep slope

Taking a short break at Bow Hut

Taking a short break at Bow Hut

We followed a set of tracks up the headwall up the eastern half of Wapta Icefield. Higher up the tracks got too faint to follow probably due to the wind, but we didn’t see any tracks on Gordon nor Rhondda. At this point we were hoping them doing Bow to Yoho traverse or even better, climbing Mount Collie… I guess we were right, after a while we saw the tracks again, down a bit and merged to them. They surely picked a nice line towards the broad Gordon/Rhondda col. There’re some crevasses on the Gordon side and the correct way is by aiming more-or-less towards Rhondda. Now we had to lose elevation down the west half of Wapta Icefield. We should have taken the skins off but we opted for not since it appeared to be quite short. It wasn’t thank to the foreshortening view…

Onto the Wapta

Onto the Wapta

Vern and Ferenc skinning up, with Crowfoot Mountain behind

Vern and Ferenc skinning up, with Crowfoot Mountain behind

Olive and St. Nick

Olive and St. Nick

Thompson and Portal. These views are so familiar to me now.

Thompson and Portal. These views are so familiar to me now.

Ferenc skinning towards the distant Mt. Rhondda

Ferenc skinning towards the distant Mt. Rhondda

Vern happy to be on the Wapta Icefield again.

Vern happy to be on the Wapta Icefield again.

Our objective, the mighty Collie...

Our objective, the mighty Collie…

Ayesha Peak will be my last peak-bagging trip via Bow Hut.

Ayesha Peak will be my last peak-bagging trip via Bow Hut.

Across the Wapta

Across the Wapta

Great views of Yoho's giants. Goodsirs in the distance.

Great views of Yoho’s giants. Goodsirs in the distance.

Following the fresh set of tracks we soon started gaining elevation towards Collie shoulder. There’re many ways to go through those open crevasses. Last year during my crevasse rescue course the guide suggested going climber’s right but I’ve also seen trip reports indication going straight up the middle. On this day the tracks would lead us climber’s left up an obvious ‘ramp’. The terrain was big around there but having already done the Athabasca Glacier approach, the Collie’s holes and seracs just didn’t look that big… It was also apparent those guys weren’t doing Collie so at one point we had to leave their tracks. There were still open crevasses around so we eventually decided to take out the rope. Turning sharply rightwards, Ferenc was high on energy and broke trail from here all the way to the low point on Collie’s summit ridge (NE ridge).

Vern coming up, with Mt. Gordon behind

Vern coming up, with Mt. Gordon behind

The "backside" of Baker, Habel, Rhondda

The “backside” of Baker, Habel, Rhondda

Looking back down at the Icefield

Looking back down at the Icefield

Ferenc skinning up. Big terrain around

Ferenc skinning up. Big terrain around

Ferenc and the seracs

Ferenc and the seracs

Impressive seracs

Impressive seracs

Seracs on the slope, with Baker behind

Seracs on the slope, with Baker behind

Onto Collie shoulder now

Onto Collie shoulder now

Looking back again.

Looking back again.

Vern and I skinning up. Photo by Ferenc

Vern and I skinning up. Photo by Ferenc

Ferenc and Vern skinning up towards the low point on the NE ridge

Ferenc and Vern skinning up towards the low point on the NE ridge

The closer we got to the ridge, the more impressive these cornices appeared, and once we were hitting the ridge crest, looking upwards it was a big wow moment… Holy moly that’s gonna be an awesome and intense snow climb… I’ve successfully led up difficult corniced ridges like Vermilion, Wilson, Balfour, Andromeda, but this one made them like beginner’s level… There’s no time to enjoy the view at this point and we had to immediately concentrate on the challenge ahead. We soon took off the skis and put crampons on. We also decided to keep the ropes on for the ascent in case someone breaking through the cornices so the other two could jump down the other side. There’re two sections of this ridge. There were still lots of cornices on the first section but those are small and we were (kinda) able to tell the boundaries. The actual ridge was knife edged with 40-50 degrees avalanche slopes on both side. There were a few points I had to bail the crest to either south or north side. The traverse on the south facing section was particularly dicey. There’s a bergschrund below waiting to eat us if there’s even a small sluff. The slope was already sun baked and snow already started to ball under my crampons.

The ridge started "easily"

The ridge started “easily”

Now it narrows to a knife edge. This was what I saw upwards.

Now it narrows to a knife edge. This was what I saw upwards.

Me and Vern ascending the ridge. Photo by Ferenc

Me and Vern ascending the ridge. Photo by Ferenc

Same as above. Photo by Ferenc

Same as above. Photo by Ferenc

A gigantic bus sized cornice marked the start point of the second section. There’s no way to stay on the ridge crest anymore and we had to traverse climber’s right (north) side. This also marked the most intense part. Facing inwards kicking-step and front-pointing while traversing a 50-60 degree avalanche slope with extreme exposure on climber’s right and bus sized cornice on climber’s left, it was more than words can describe. There was a section where I couldn’t even plant my axe in and had to use the ice climbing mode. “Thank” for our earlier decision so we didn’t have a lot of gears to protect it even if we wanted to. Of course I didn’t feel the need of any protection but if any of us slipped or even just a small sluff we’d all gone down… And at the mean time there’s still a real possibility of punching down the cornice so falling off the other side… After a while the slope angled eased a bit but due to the cornice we kept traversing far from the edge until topping out on the summit. The views were needless to say, awesome towards each direction. Giant BC peaks like Mt. Mummery stole the show and Rockies’ 11,000ers were trying their best to compete.

Me leading up the crux section. Photo by Ferenc

Me leading up the crux section. Photo by Ferenc

Partial summit panorama. Click to view large size.

Partial summit panorama. Click to view large size.

Partial summit panorama. Click to view large size.

Partial summit panorama. Click to view large size.

Look at this cornice...

Look at this cornice…

Me on the summit

Me on the summit

Ferenc on the summit

Ferenc on the summit

Vern and I on the summit

Vern and I on the summit

The mighty Mt. Des Poilus

The mighty Mt. Des Poilus

Marpole, Carnarvon and McArthur in Yoho

Marpole, Carnarvon and McArthur in Yoho

Des Poilus is high on my list as a summer ascent.

Des Poilus is high on my list as a summer ascent.

Balfour is one of my favourites

Balfour is one of my favourites

Impressive Mt. Laussedat, with Mt. Sir Sandford behind

Impressive Mt. Laussedat, with Mt. Sir Sandford behind

Mt. Mummery

Mt. Mummery

A sea of front range peaks looking eastwards

A sea of front range peaks looking eastwards

The mighty Mt. Forbes

The mighty Mt. Forbes

Murchison rises behind Mt. Baker

Murchison rises behind Mt. Baker

Mt. Patterson is also high on my list

Mt. Patterson is also high on my list

Impressive peaks in BC

Impressive peaks in BC

Mt. Sir Donald in the distance

Mt. Sir Donald in the distance

Mt. Rogers massive on the left skyline.

Mt. Rogers massive on the left skyline.

Hector rises behind Gordon

Hector rises behind Gordon

Cataract Peak looks impressive.

Cataract Peak looks impressive.

Giants in the Selkirks. Dawson et al.

Giants in the Selkirks. Dawson et al.

Mt. Stephen

Mt. Stephen

Temple and the familiar Lake Louise/O'Hara group

Temple and the familiar Lake Louise/O’Hara group

Dolomite Peak and a bunch of front range peaks. Crown and Tower on the far left.

Dolomite Peak and a bunch of front range peaks. Crown and Tower on the far left.

Peaks on Freshfield Icefield

Peaks on Freshfield Icefield

Goodsirs rise behind The Presidents

Goodsirs rise behind The Presidents

On the descent we decided to rope off just so we wouldn’t all fall down if one member slipped. Downwards was surely more awkward but following a set of tracks was overall easier. And for me, the orientation of the slopes was also in favour as I could hold my ice axe on my dominant hand (right hand) on the descent. I managed to get a lot of photos showing Vern and Ferenc descending the ridge. The descent went by fast and the excitement was relatively short lived. Now looking ahead, a fantastic ski descent was waiting for us!

The slope is very exposed. You don't want to slip here...

The slope is very exposed. You don’t want to slip here…

Gigantic cornices on the other side

Gigantic cornices on the other side

Facing inwards and traverse

Facing inwards and traverse

Me descending the ridge. Photo by Vern

Me descending the ridge. Photo by Vern

Vern and Ferenc continuing down the knife edged section

Vern and Ferenc continuing down the knife edged section

Continuing down...

Continuing down…

And then traverse on the south facing slopes.

And then traverse on the south facing slopes.

Ferenc finishing the ridge.

Ferenc finishing the ridge.

Hungabee and Biddle

Hungabee and Biddle

If every ski trip is like this I’ll quit snowshoeing, honestly. We had the best snow condition. I don’t ever remember being able to do parallel turns in the backcountry before. It felt even better than the resort and we were flying down the Collie’s bowl and then down and around the crevasses onto the Wapta Icefields. It took us about 15 minutes from the ridge to the icefield below, amazing! The slog back up to Rhondda/Gordon col wasn’t as exciting though. The tracks kept going upwards and never came to an end. I felt very tired at this moment due to dehydration. Again, Ferenc was cruising ahead so by the time we finally crested the high point I gave him the rope just to slow him down a bit. Then came the downhill. The snow wasn’t as great as in Collie bowl but still better than most of my previous ski trips. It was a great run down to Bow Hut. This time we went in to drink some water and eat some food…

Skiing down Mt. Collie's slopes

Skiing down Mt. Collie’s slopes

Into Collie bowl

Into Collie bowl

Ferenc ready to ski down the 'ramp'.

Ferenc ready to ski down the ‘ramp’.

Impressive serac country

Impressive serac country

Vern skiing down

Vern skiing down

Ferenc making turns

Ferenc making turns

Upward slogging back to Rhondda/Gordon col

Upward slogging back to Rhondda/Gordon col

Vulture Peak in the afternoon

Vulture Peak in the afternoon

Back to Bow Hut

Back to Bow Hut

The rest of the return was also great. We were expecting lots of isothermal crap but on this day, the cool air held the snow nicely and we had a fast run back. The slope just below Bow Hut was a bit awkward for me to descend and the uphill just after the canyon was a bit painful, but other than that I enjoyed the rest more than on snowshoes. There’re lots of side-sloping on this trail and those are horrible snowshoe terrain but perfect for skiing. The slog across Bow Lake was also fast thank to the good snow. Our round trip time was 11 hours on a steady pace.

Done. Looking back from near the parking lot.

Done. Looking back from near the parking lot.

Overall I think it beats up Balfour and Wilson to qualify my favourate winter/spring ascent to date. We certainly picked the best day to climb Collie and it was all worth to take the day off work. I hope there’s another high pressure system in the next short while, but even if not I’m very satisfied with this season already. Balfour, Ghita, Andromeda, Olive and Collie, that’s not a bad list given the basal facets and persistent weak layers in the previous months.

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