Rockies and Purcell Mountains
The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Training and Assessment Program conducted Alpine Guide Training Course between June 29th and July 6th, 2019.
Throughout the week we travelled in Kananaskis Country, Columbia Icefield and the Bugaboos Spires areas. Weather over the week was variable and deteriorated as the week progressed. Experiencing everything from sun in K- Country to heavy rain and wet snow on the Columbia Icefield area. Heavy rain, hail and thunderstorms continued in the Bugaboo Spires as we exited down the Kain Hut approach trail. During the onset of the course the freezing levels were below 3000m on the Columbia Icefield and at or above 3100m in the Bugaboo Spires.
The lower elevations along highway 40 and Smith Dorrien are mostly snow free and exceptionally green from the regular showers experienced this past month. These heavy rains also put loose rock and rock fall at the top of our hazards list while out climbing.
Although we are over the hump for tick season, we still found a handful on our ropes and jackets at the end of the day.
Parkers Ridge is quickly loosing it’s snow, and summer-skiing potential is becoming less inspiring. Currently hiking would involve minimal snow travel and wildflowers are starting to show their brilliant summer bloom.
The Athabasca North Glacier provided easy climbing conditions but the rain and warm temperatures were quickly melting out rocks above the toe of the glacier presenting an elevated risk to the climbers below. The snow was of variable in depth, but completely water saturated and totally unsupportive which limited our observations to below 2700m. We expect very weak crevasse bridging and difficult travel conditions on the glaciers until cooler temperatures prevail and some good refreezes on the snow pack occurs.
Approach to the Bugaboos is snow free and easy travel except for the final creek crossing before reaching the Kain Hut. The bridge is not in place, and crossing the creek along the regular trail can not be done easily. A large avalanche has left a pile of snow and debris just upstream of the regular trail which at the present provides and easy crossing option to regain the regular trail. Be cautious as this melts out and could present a serious hazard of falling through into moving water below.
The travel groups managed to climb East Post Spire and the most northerly of the Pigeon Feathers. The toe of the Bugaboo Glacier remains snow covered for the time being and we were able to travel safely between exposed crevasses on the glacier with a wide enough birth from the exposed moraines above.
The upper Bugaboo Glacier presented straight forward glacier travel although the rain saturated upper snowpack did not inspire confidence in the crevasse bridges or cornices.
All in all a difficult period to be trying to travel in technical alpine terrain. Our primary concerns given the conditions and the terrain we were looking to visit consisted of avalanche hazard which was certainly present as we witness or saw evidence of numerous slab and wet loose avalanches from steep glaciated terrain up to size 2.5. We also witnessed ongoing rock fall out of the usually suspect areas. Storm intensity and lightning had us turning around and heading downhill from our objectives on several occasions. Fresh bear scat was also noticed in several locations on the hike down from the Kain Hut yesterday reminding us that the animals are out and about and probably not enjoying the miserable wetness either.
Overall the conditions are difficult at this time. Things will come into shape eventually but for now given the weather forecast we are happy to return to low elevation rock climbing when the showers subsist for long enough to dry the rock.
Sent on behalf of the 2019 ACMG TAP Guide Training Alpine students.