The Onion

December 21, 2012


Wapta Icefield, AB

I’d never thought about squeezing in a Wapta trip towards the end of this year, until when Kevin Papke invited me to join his 2-day trip to Bow Hut. The timing was just perfect (right after my last final exam), at the shortest day-time of the year, and also the what’s so called “End of the World”. Of course I was interested in, but given the fact I had no backcountry skiing experience, I managed to squeeze in some last-minute shopping and also a solo ascent up Monarch Ramparts one week ago. I felt pretty good except for getting multiple blisters.

As the date came closer the group had grown big and since not everyone could line up their work schedule we had to split up into two groups. Vern, Kelly, and Wietse would ski in Thursday afternoon, while Kevin, Bill and I would go in Friday morning. The forecast did not look super inviting but we kept the plan anyway. If got lucky with the weather then our primary objective would be the aesthetic Mt. Olive, and the back-up plan would be Vulture Peak.

The Onion and Vulture Peak ski ascent route from Bow Hut

The Onion and Vulture Peak ski ascent route from Bow Hut

I left Edmonton at around 9 pm Thursday evening and slept in car (-15 degree) at the Petro Can along Highway 1. The next morning we all squeezed into Bill’s Jeep and even with the snow tires and 4×4 the driving was painfully slow due to the fresh storm snow. Icefield Parkway was entirely snow covered and we knew we had lost some valuable time here even though everybody was trying to keep positive. The bright side was the better-than-expected weather – as we approaching Bow Lake it had turned bluebird! Eventually we managed to start skinning by around 9:40 am… Plodding across Bow Lake was a slog, but the view was awesome under morning light.


Observation Peak and a subpeak


Mount Jimmy Simpson


Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and Mount Jimmy Simpson


Panorama of Bow Lake


Looking back at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge


Bill Kerr skiing across Bow Lake


Kevin and Bill on the other side of Bow Lake


Portal Peak

The skin track disappeared at the first hill section, and from there on, we had to break trail all the way in. Anyway, at the first canyon, the route goes into the trees on climber’s left side, up for about 50 vertical meters, crossing an avalanche slope, and then descending into the valley floor again. Now facing towards Bow Falls, we took the left hand side canyon. We managed to stay at the bottom of this canyon for a long distance, and eventually we had to take off skis over a 3 m rock step. I didn’t remember this part from my last trip in this area, but that was in April so the snowpack was much thicker. The route then goes into the trees again, passing the turn-off to Crowfoot Mountain, and then we were staring at Bow Hut. We picked a line on the left side, maintaining elevation, over some undulating terrain, and eventually veered right, up a steep slope. It took us more than 3.5 hours to the Hut and I have to say that this was the slowest pace I’ve ever done for the same approach.


Mount Thompson


Topping over the first hill. The view opened up.


Bow Glacier Falls, a popular place for ice climbers


Skiing in the 2nd canyon. This is a terrain trap so move quick!


Our first objective, The Onion


Avalanche coming off Vulture Peak

For us, the Bow Hut wasn’t an energy sucker, but definitely a time sucker… We spent about 40 min in the hut, and eventually it’s time to resume the ascent by about 2 pm. We only had a bit more than 2.5 hours daylight time. Bill had done Vulture Peak so it was only Kevin and I going up the headwall. We met Vern’s group coming back from Mt. Gordon, and after a bit of discussion, we figured we wouldn’t have enough time for Vulture Peak. Instead of attempting and failing, I pointed out the alternate objective, The Onion. There’s nothing to describe about The Onion, except we took off skis too early and ended up post-holing..


Panorama of Wapta Icefield from the summit.


Vulture Peak, our objective for the following day.


Mount Olive and St. Nicolas Peak


Mount Collie, Mount Rhondda, Mount Habel, Mount Baker


Looking back towards the highway.


Mount Thompson and Portal Peak


Our track across Bow Lake is visible.


Me on the summit.


Another photo of me on the summit.


Kevin on the summit

Even though The Onion is just the least significant bump on the Wapta I felt exceptionally satisfied. The views were incredible under December’s deep blue sky and it seemed like we had the entire icefield to ourselves in this weekend. Skiing down the headwall was a blast, and in no time we made back to the Hut.


Kevin enjoys the skiing down the headwall

Now I finally met Kelly Smith. We are both from Edmonton but we didn’t know each other before.. A big thank to Bill who gave me treatment on blisters, and then a big big thank to Kelly who prepared the best meal I’ve ever had in the mountains. Wow!! We shared mountain stories for the next couple of hours, and then nervously went to bed hoping the world wouldn’t end…


Kelly prepared awesome meal for us


Dinner in Bow Hut

And, the world did not end so we had to ascend something on the next day.

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