Frontrange Imaging

Peyto Hut Hike and Ski, May 2011

Peyto Hut is the northern-most Alpine Club of Canada hut on the Wapta Icefields. The trip in to the hut is a comfortable day starting at Peyto Lake, on the Icefields Parkway highway running between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta.

Last ski trip of a great season! Thursday morning forecast is for rain from Friday to Tuesday so we are not too enthused, but organizers Gemma and Darcy talk us into getting out for one last weekend of skiing. Forecast changes on thurs pm to one day less rain, then improves again on Friday – things are looking up! Leave Calgary at 6ish sat morning in mixed weather but still not optimistic about the weekend. Stop at Laggans in Lake Louise for snacks at 8, and leave Peyto lake parking lot 9ish.

Kathy working her way through the forest on the way to Peyto lake.

Kathy working her way through the forest on the way to Peyto lake.

The trail down through forest is soft wet snow where there is some, and walking over obstacles all the time. Peyto lake has water around the edge but the ice looks solid so we venture across, skiing quickly on the hard surface. It feels good and solid, and the hard frozen surface makes for a quick crossing.

Kathy about to cross the still-well-frozen Peyto lake on Saturday morning. Rhonda North and South behind.

Kathy, Gemma and Darcy on the morraine. Mt. Thompson is above Gemma, and the two peaks of Rhonda are to the right, on the Peyto Icefield.

Kathy, Gemma and Darcy on the morraine. Mt. Thompson is above Gemma, and the two peaks of Rhonda are to the right, on the Peyto Icefield.

Once across the lake, the route to Peyto hut follows the stream coming off of Peyto glacier when it can, and then skirts up moraine to go around a canyon. Stream crossings are not bad but result in wet boots for all. Going through the morraines to the glacial research station is skis on, skis off, on, off as we go from snow to rock. We all look forward to getting on the glacier and just keeping the skis on!

Darren, Gemma and Darcy heading up Peyto glacier.

Darren, Gemma and Darcy heading up Peyto glacier.

Gemma and Darcy in front of Rhonda North.

The weather has turned out beautifully, and upon arriving at the hut we unload the gear and settle onto the deck to burn what skin isn’t already red from the trip in. We have the hut to ourselves – a great luxury! – so naturally gear is soon spread everywhere. Dinner by Darcy is rice and curry.

Gemma and Kathy lounging in the sun.

Gemma and Kathy lounging in the sun.

Gemma goes for a walk as we lounge on the patio deck.

Rhonda North and South in evening light.

Darcy and Gemma enjoying the stunning view out the new front windows in Peyto hut

Darcy and Gemma enjoying the stunning view out the new front windows in Peyto hut

Saturday morning: Rhonda North

Sunday morning starts with light cloud and we all sleep in. Somehow the sun and heat have put us all into relaxation mode, and the planned early start doesn’t quite materialize – so much for the 7:00 start. Head across the icefield to Rhonda north around 9. Sky is clearing, the sun is out and it’s very hot as we climb up the gentle slopes towards the ridge.

Gemma skiing off the deck as we head towards Rhonda on Sunday morning.

Darcy and Gemma skiing towards Rhonda South.

Darcy and Gemma in front of the icefall on Rhonda South.

By 11:30 we have gained the summit ridge under mixed blue skies, but the storms are gathering around us. After a long break at the (false) summit, Gemma and I try and reach true summit by foot – interesting roped-up walking along the line between cornice drop on left and steep rocks to the right. We are stopped by a narrow section that would require walking on the cornice proper, overhanging a very large drop.

Darren and Gemma explore the summit of Rhonda north

Gemma on the summit of Rhonda

Gemma and I return to Kathy and Darcy who have been relaxing in the calm and warmth and we all ski down the summit ridge and then down main slope on 10cm of mushy snow with amazing vistas of the Wapta Icefield below. A second run is talked about but we decide to head back to the hut as the snow is softening very rapidly.

Kathy skiing spring corn on Rhonda.

Kathy skiing spring corn on Rhonda.

Gemma skiing down Rhonda.

Gemma skiing down Rhonda.

Gemma skiing down Rhonda.

Gemma skiing down Rhonda.

On the way back to the hut, Kathy and I venture onto slopes south of hut, but unexpectedly find ourselves in wet, heavy and scary snow. We escape quickly to the moraines and back to hut for another session of lounging on the deck.

Peyto Hut and Mt. Thompson.

Peyto Hut and Mt. Thompson.

Saturday afternoon, deck lounging and cloud watching.

Once off the rapidly-melting snowpack and safely back on the deck of the hut, we get right to the task: drinking whiskey slushies and lounging around. All feeling very very lucky for the weather we’ve had! There are storms all around us, but we seem to be in the middle of a glorious blue hole in the sky. Eventually a storm finds us, and the late afternoon rain shower comes in as we cook dinner, around 6.

Rhonda South (left) and the summit ridge of Rhoda North (right).

Rhonda South (left) and the summit ridge of Rhoda North (right).

Mt. Baker as afternoon clouds roll by.

Mt. Baker as afternoon clouds roll by.

As we site around inside after dinner, polishing off the wine, we decide to write a haiku for the hut register. After much scribbling and giggling, we are all very pleased with ourselves:

Avoiding Rapture

May long skiing trip
A pending apocalypse…

Blue skies follow group
Double fist pump, sunny deck!
Rain makes heavy snow

Sweat dripping in eyes
Hour on hour of left and right
Rhonda calm summit

Turning, turning home
Whiskey slushies, sunny nap
Rain storm, run inside!

Next day out through mud
Return to civilized life
Will there be zombies?

Background: May 21st was believed by some to be the end of the world – Rapture as they call it. Part of the motivation for the ski trip is that we didn’t think that zombies could make it up to Peyto hut, making it a safe place to hang out while the world ended.

Sunday morning, ski out

In the morning we are up early to pack up and get out to the Payto Lake crossing before the warmth of the sun softens it too much. It’s a quick ski down the glacier, and then a slow walk up the morraine, and down towards where the stream enters Peyto Lake. The snow is very soft and unsupportive by the time we drop off the moraine, and we need to be very careful about dropping through to the rocks.

By the time we get to the lake, it’s all wet mush, and the three days of warm weather has melted a lot of the ice around the edge. We contemplate if we can cross safely vs. walking around. We decide to put the ropes on, find some solid-looking ice on the ice, and then start across. Occasionally a layer of ice collapses, and someone sinks 6 inches into the slush – it’s a terrifying and nerve-wracking crossing, and we are all very relieved to reach the other shore with only slightly wet feet.

Great trip, but now it’s time to hang up the skis and get on with summer!

Darren Foltinek, 2011

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