Wapta Speed Traverse

The idea of the Wapta speed traverse has captivated and intrigued me for a long time, years ago when I did it in a day for the first time I was instantly curious how fast it could be done.  Reiner and I set out last year in an attempt to bang it off quickly but impatience and a lack of experience meant deep trail breaking and a bit of an epic retreat.

When the idea was raised this year the recent snowfall and cloudy day in the forecast made me skeptical conditions were perfect, and when speed is the name of the game, the route needs to be prime. Skintrack needs to be already broken, visibility needs to be perfect, and ski pen needs to be shallow enough that skinny skis will carry over the surface and not get bogged down on the flats and low angle skiing that is common on the Wapta traverse.  

But…. F.O.M.O. and the adage “you don’t know until you go” meant my alarm went off at 3 AM so James and I could meet Reiner at the Bow Lake parking lot at 5.

The trail was fast and furious off of the start, all of us were pretty pysched and tried our hardest to stay efficient and mindful of the pace as the task ahead and amount of terrain to cover was a bit daunting.   We made it to the Bow hut in a little over an hour, made use of the facilities and received the first funny looks of the day from groggy hut dwellers peeking out the window to see 3 crazies in Lycra, on kids skis and with a possessed look in their eyes.  We got back after it slowing slightly to breaking trail up the Onion as the sun rose and the wind howled, making it to the Olive/St Nic col in about two hours even before a quick transition, some cold gel and a long flat, pole downhill to the base of Mt Balfour and the crux of the route.

A quick regroup and eyes on our route up to the Balfour col it was starting to set in that conditions were less than perfect, the wind was blowing, the col mired in thick cloud and the 15 people that slept in the Balfour hut were just leaving and not ahead like we had hoped.  Without a paved skintrack to haul ass up we were forced to spend time navigating the crevasse and serac fall hazard.  Doesn’t anyone get an early start anymore?

As we thought, progress slowed but with the Reinarian out front we still clipped along at a decent pace.  That was until we got to the Balfour high Col and entered the “ping-pong ball”.  We skied in a snow plow down the glacier towards Mt Daly, following the arrow on the GPS trying to fend off vertigo and nausea.  After a few disorienting hilarious moments and alot of slow skiing we hit the lowest slopes of Mt Daly and were able to handrail along its South ridge out of the “pea soup” to the last descent and a few thousand feet of breakable sun and temperature crust.

We skied the trail out from Sherbrooke lake to the West Louise Lodge parking, high-fived and clicked the watches.  40 km, 1805 m of climbing in 7:24. 

The trip was really fun, it provided the opportunity to do solid recon of the route and allowed us to test out what gear worked and what didn’t. I doubt it’s the fastest Wapta traverse ever done but it continues to make me wonder, with perfect conditions, all the right gear and a fit team…..  how much faster?

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3 Responses

  1. Yeah! Nice TR, so stoked to get after some big stuff! Fired up now.

  2. Full Wapta……. i think that starts from peyto lake guys
    … good effort though… maybe next yr

  3. Ya, the original plan was a Peyto start but when we saw the weather that morning we knew we’d be lucky to even make it through from Bow. So, as Ian states in the post, Bow is where we started.
    Awesome day though with great partners and some good laughs. Peyto to W. Louise really fast is still on the radar though…….maybe even this year?!

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