Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Seasons, They Are A-Changin'

Technically it is still summer but it sure does not feel like it. On a bike ride in the foothills last week, I found myself ducking under branches weighed down with fresh snow. Having struggled to stay warm while rock climbing the last couple of times out, I was reluctant to head back up to The Lookout on the strength of yesterday's forecast. That, plus with the crappy weather recently, Eamonn, J and I were keen to drive the Icefields Parkway to see if something interesting might not have frozen up. As it turned out, it is still a bit early to dust off the ice tools, but we did enjoy a fun scramble up Mt. Coleman. Blue skies, amazing views, and a good lungs-and-legs workout; I have had worse days out.

Mt. Amery (on the right) from the meadows of Sunset Pass.

Aurora on the north face of Mt. Amery looked nearly good to go.

Eamonn and J looking up the Alexandra River valley.

The summit ridge, over a vertical mile above the Parkway, did not feel very summer like.

J slogging toward the summit, with (from the left) Mts. Saskatchewan, Bryce, Kitchener, Stutfield, Alberta, Cromwell, Woolley and Diadem.

The Columbia Icefield framed between Mts. Columbia (on the left) and Andromeda.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Amethyst Lake Rockwall traverse

As I am writing this, cold rain is falling outside. It being September in Alberta, this means it is snowing in the hills. Summer is definitely over in the Rockies. Sure, there will still be sunny days at The Lookout and on Yam, maybe even some crisp indian summer in the alpine, but the warm afternoons and dry rock on the high peaks will have to wait until next year. And so I find myself thinking back to the season that has just ended, and the great adventures shared with good friends.

A month ago Dana Ruddy, Eamonn Walsh and I walked twenty kilometres into that magical place that is the Tonquin. Our goal was the traverse of the Amethyst Lake Rockwall, taking in the summits of Redoubt, Dungeon and Oubliette. We were up before dawn and hitting the trail by headlamp. The ten kilometres of hiking around the lake went by quickly, all the more so as I was half asleep through most of it. The sun rose into a sky hazy with smoke from forest fires burning in British Columbia as we tried to keep our feet dry and hopped across a marsh below Lookout Pass.

Scrambling up blocky quartzite to the pass set the tone for the rest of the day. In the end we only roped up for three pitches: one near the top of the North-West Ridge of Redoubt Peak, and a couple more getting up to north summit of Oubliette Mountain. This does not mean the day did not lack for excitement: scrambling unroped with a drop all the way down to the valley bottom below one's ass kept boredom at bay. Incidentally, there is no better way to improve one's skills in moving in that kind of terrain than to try to follow Eamonn for a day across narrow ledges, tightrope ridges and exposed walls. As it was, clad in soft, slick running shoes, he was having to wait up repeatedly.

As the day progressed, some worryingly dark thunderheads billowed up to the south, but fortunately in the end did not amount to much. Late afternoon saw us lounging on the final peak of the traverse, the main summit of Oubliette. With the sun blazing down and hardly a breath of wind, we stretched out on the warm quartzite, closed our eyes and pretended we were at the beach.

The descent had us paying attention again, as we faced in down a steep snow gully with an unforgiving runout over cliff bands far below. It was early evening by the time we were hiking across the marshy valley bottom. A magnificent caribou hardly paid us any attention as we squelched past, with the prospect of a freeze-dried dinner driving us on.

Summary: A traverse of the Amethyst Lake Rockwall (IV 5.6) by Dana Ruddy, Raphael Slawinski and Eamonn Walsh. 17 hours camp-to-camp.

The Amethyst Lake Rockwall. From right to left, the summits are: Redoubt Peak, Dungeon Peak and Oubliette Mountain. The descent gully runs down and left from Oubliette; a giant mosquito is sitting on the summit of Dungeon.

The sun rising into a hazy sky over Amethyst Lake.

A great boulder with an unfortunate landing below Lookout Pass.

The essence of summer in the Rockies: early-morning light on the northern Ramparts. From left to right: Mount Geikie, The Turret and Bastion Peak.

The same peaks later in the day, with Mount Robson visible in the distance.

Having fun yet? From left to right, Dana and Eamonn.

"I sure hope that block stays put!" Photo: Eamonn Walsh.

Dana just below the summit of Redoubt, with the ground far, far below.

"Far from the madding crowd..." The summit register on Redoubt Peak.

Dana coiling the rope after yet another rappel along the ridge.

Afternoon cloud buildup over the summit of Oubliette.

The sun setting over the Amethyst Lake Rockwall.

The wildlife is a big part of what makes the Tonquin such an unforgettable experience.