Matt Reynolds and I just got back from five days on the Wapta with the SARTECH QL5A WInter Mountain Ops course.
Synopsis: Generally unsettled weather with light snow each day and light to moderate W wind every day with some strong gusts. Temperatures often in the minus 10 range with wind chills to minus 20. Occasional Wapta style whiteouts. Several cornice collapses and isolated slab and loose avalanches noted primarily on E aspects. Fair to good travel and ski conditions. Typical snowpack depth 200 to 250cm with some thinner areas. A number of areas of open crevasses noted and we roped up for all flat and uphill travel and even some downhill travel in poor visibility. Maintained a high level of suspicion regarding crevasses and avalanches. Snowpack felt more like late January than early March… More detailed day to day discussion below.
February 27 - Bow Lake to Bow Hut: Lake now refrozen. (There were recent reports of a person falling into Bow Lake on way to Crowfoot Glades and another report of boot top water during the previous warm spell). Travel in Canyon OK. At 11:30 witnessed a cornice collapse off the Onion that resulted in enough mass to classify as a size 2 avalanche. No propagation on slopes below. Some cracking on flatter slopes approaching final slope below hut. Crowns from several size 2 avalanches a week or so ago above Bow Canyon still visible.
February 28 - Bow Hut to Peyto Hut: Moderate to Strong W winds overnight and light snowfall (up to 5cm). Height of snow (HS) around 300 centimeters plus on the way to the Onion. From the Onion to Peyto hut the HS is just over 200cm. Surface snow very wind affected making for fast travel but poor skiing (breakable crust) below Mt. Thompson down to hut.
February 29 - Peyto Hut to Balfour / Ascent of Vulture Peak: Another 3 - 5cm of new snow overnight with continued light to moderate W winds. Encountered two large open crevasses while traveling between Thompson and Rhondda in a whiteout. Happy to be on a rope. Good travel conditions with ski penetration varying from 10 to 20 cm. Despite recent winds, good to excellent ski quality from Olive/St. Nic col and below. A number of open crevasses below Olive / St. Ni Col. (See photo) Fair ski quality up high on Vulture with good to excellent ski quality lower down on hero snow. Vulture Glacier has an average of 200 to 250cm of snow, less than expected!
March 1 - Balfour Hut to Bow Hut / Ascent of Onion: Another 3 - 5cm overnight with the usual light to moderate W winds. Thin windslabs forming in the alpine near ridge tops and similar features. More tedious trail breaking than yesterday with ski penetration upwards of 20cm. Occasional bouts of whiteout. New cornice collapse since yesterday fell over rocky slope on E side of Olive and produced size 2 avalanche that stopped in the top of the runout. When passing north of St. Nicholas on way back to Bow we skied near several open crevasses. (see second photo) Probing extensively near here a week ago showed the snowpack is as thin as 100 cm near the crevasses. Many other open crevasses noted on the way from the Onion to Mt. Gordon on a recent trip. Kept the rope on until well below this area on the way down. Excellent ski quality on glacier to the Onion. Also excellent ski quality down to hut.
March 2 - Bow Hut to Bow Lake: another 5cm of new snow overnight with winds picking up in the morning again. Noted many size 1 loose sluffs in steep terrain and one size 2 loose starting above the headwall. Despite some overnight winds the first steep slope below the hut had not yet slabbed up. Some cracking and dropping down into facets and depth hoar on the flats above the canyon. Another cornice release off the East side of the Onion overnight triggered a healthy Size 2 slab 50 - 70cm deep that ran down to near the trees. Observed another new size 2 slab in the storm snow on a steep slope above the Canyon (not threatening the route) right near where several slabs released a week or two ago.) Still lots of open water in the Canyon with one creek crossing now getting a bit sketchy. Another older E facing Size 2 slab noted near alluvial fan that wasn't there four days ago (high above the flats below a cliff in rocky terrain).
Matt Reynolds MG
Cyril Shokoples MG