Mt. Habel *March.24, 2012*
One down and forty nine to go! On Saturday, March 24 Vern Dewitt and I reached one of the more elusive summits in the Wapta Icefields. It was a perfect beginning for our Summits for Seniors campaign. Driving out Friday afternoon it was not looking too good, overcast skies and some scattered flurries, terrible avalanche conditions and the forecast was not promising. On the drive out we were trying to stay optimistic thinking that even in the case of white out conditions we would at least get some exercise.
Turning north from Lake Louise we could see how much snow had recently fallen, it was deep. But now the sun was shining and by the time we parked the car everything felt better. Our plan was to ski into Bow Hut, an 8km trip with 390m elevation gain. Leaving the car at 4:30pm we made excellent time, arriving to the Hut by 6:45pm, a good pace in excellent conditions.
The Hut was at or near capacity of around 30 individuals. People from all over Canada, a few Americans and even a couple from the Netherlands all made our acquaintance. It is an interesting place to spend the night with a wide variety of conversation, laughter and camaraderie. People are usually really well behaved and respectful in this environment, maybe it’s the remoteness of the place, the vastness of the alpine or possibly it’s just the sense of adventure/exhaustion that we all feel when spending the day skiing in a winters paradise. Regardless, by 10pm it’s pretty quiet as everyone turns in fairly early anticipating a poor night sleep (imagine sleeping in an open room with 29 other people).
Rising at 6am and heading up sloop by 7:15 Vern and I made great progress steadily skiing up the(practice) slopes, so called due to the obvious location of excellent, safe and moderate ski terrain near the hut. Within 40 minutes we topped out on the Wapta Icefield itself. This beautiful stretch of glaciers is several hundred kilometers in size, and contains dozens of beautiful mountains throughout its expanse. For a good view of what the world would have looked like during the ice age…..look no further. Once on top, the ice field is fairly flat. Yes there is elevation gain and loss throughout but it is rarely significant. The views however were exceptional and so were the skies. Our forecast of scattered flurries was replaced by the bluest sky I had seen in years. No cloud, little wind and although cool, one knew that the afternoon sun would warm things up. It was in these conditions that Vern and I pushed on breaking trail across several kilometers of snow before making the ascent to the northeast ridge of our objective.
Avalanche conditions were better than I had anticipated, as the area experienced many slides in the previous days. By 10:30am we were on the summit ridge where we ditched our skis and continued on foot to the summit tower about 1km straight south. The going was pretty straight forward with mild exposure to the west and a corniced ridge to our left (east). Shortly after 11am we made the base of the summit block, it looked pretty easy at first but we roped up, put on our crampons and brought out our ice axes as a precaution.
Leading, I attempted a few possible routes to the top but my fear of gravity prevented me from making that committing move. Climbing rock in crampons is hard enough but to do it with minimal pro (gear placed in cracks of rocks to safeguard a fall) was harder yet. Vern requested we try a route that he was informed might be easier. From my angle it looked suicidal but once he headed across a steep gulley and down climbed a few meters he stepped right onto good ground, so I followed and it really was a lot easier than it had looked. Soon we were on top of peak #1 in perfect weather, it was noon. After our obligatory picture taking, identifying neighboring peaks, and feelings of grandeur; hunger and thirst began taking its toll. Once we down climbed back to our packs I was able to send the “On Top” signal from my GPS messenger device to my family back home. And now it was time to retrace our steps back to the Hut.
The return trip went without incident, the only thing to report is how nice all that lovely fresh snow was to ski. Just beautiful! We made it back to the hut by 2:40pm to pack our sleeping bags, etc. and then continued to the car arriving by 4:30pm. It was a 9 hour day and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, tired but not dead and ready to start planning our next adventure.
Mt. Habel is 3055 meters (10,083ft) high and the elevation gain from the parking lot is 1115m. Because of the time of year, this is considered a ski assent meaning we were able to backcountry ski up as high as we could on the mountain before removing our skis and climbing by foot the rest of the way. Because of the technical nature of the summit tower, it would be deemed foolish to attempt this mountain without crampons, ice axe, the use of a climbing rope and the ability to know how to use it.
Thank you again to Laird Gilliss and family for sponsoring this peak. I hope you enjoy the pictures and bragging rights as this was no wimpy mountain!