Summer is in full swing in the Rocky and Columbia Mountains!
Things have been heating up in the past week with hot and dry being predominant. At the same time we have seen some rapidly moving cold fronts creating lightning storms and wind events. For the coming week it looks like much of the same.
Overall trail conditions are good but vestiges of winter and spring can still be seen on high passes and along the continental divide with snow and muddy sections being reported on some routes.
Cragging areas, multi-pitch rock venues are now snow-free. Alpine rock objectives will also be rounding into shape but expect some lingering snow patches at the highest elevations and on north aspects.
Near glacier toes some shallow snowpack areas have been reported in the Lake Louise and Columbia Icefield areas, with better travel above 2800 m. In the Mt Robson area there was good coverage down to about 2400 m. At around the 2900 m level the snow from early summer snowstorms has not had a chance to settle and deep trail breaking may be expected above that elevation, with soft snow on ridges that may impede travel.
Ice faces are icing up, and some couloirs are drying out to rock.
You may expect summer trails and most rock climbs to be in prime summer conditions.
Classic Rockies alpine rock objectives such as Louis and Castle are dry. In Rogers Pass Mt Sir Donald has some lingering snow patches on the rappels, and the west face bypass is not recommended at the moment due to snow. I expect most other classic Rogers Pass objectives to be in good shape. No reports from the Bugaboos this week but I would expect decent travel conditions on the glaciers and most routes being dry.
In the Lake Louise group Lefroy and Aberdeen look to still have decent snow cover. The west ridge of Fay is in good condition, but the north face routes are now ice. Most ridges and rock features look mostly snow free.
Popular glacier climbs such as Mt Athabasca are in good shape, with a caution for thin, weak bridges at the firn line due to the warm temperatures. At the Columbia Icefields the ice routes are, well, icy. Expect some bergschrund difficulties.
An experienced party was turned back by soft snow on the NE Ridge of Mt Bryce. The Helmet was climbed, with some deep, soft snow encountered on the Berg Glacier.
The consensus on our main concerns is rockfall and lightning.
Melting snow on rubbly rock ledges will be hucking rocks down snow/ice faces and couloirs even in the early hours if freezing levels remain high. Some rock routes and approach routes, such as the Fuhrmann Ledges on Lefroy, may affected by this hazard as well. Choose climbs that are not threatened by this type of terrain.
Keep an eye on the weather and make a run for it if you see thunderheads approaching. Avoid high elevation routes and head for the crags if electrical storms are forecast.
Choosing objectives based on the conditions at hand and not what you planned to do a month ago is always the key to staying safe in the mountains. There are lot of options out there right now. Choose wisely and have fun!
ACMG Mountain Guide