Wapta Speed Traverse 2012: Success

Pushing to the Balfour High Col

2:30 in the morning is a ridiculous time for an alarm to go off, stumbling out of bed to go skiing when the grass is green and it’s warm outside seems silly but when my alarm went off after 4 hours of sleep I was wide awake and psyched.

The idea of the Wapta Traverse done in a single push in Skimountaineering race style is something I’ve obsessed about for years.  I feel a goal like this gives the hours of training and racing a sense of purpose.  Trying to time the conditions to be just right is challenging bordering on impossible, there’s too many variables to ever guarantee success.  Snow conditions,  varying terrain, nutrition, gear, weather all need to be in order to see the mission complete.  It’s easy to not get it right.

The trip started poorly as Melanie Bernier and I skied down from the Bow Summit to Peyto Lake, navigating by headlamp and memory I attempted to cut a corner between two switch backs which ended up taking us off route skiing through a steep scrubby rocky treed section where we had to run/stumble down hill in 70 cms of isothermal snow.  It was rough going, but our stoke and caffeine levels were high enough that it was going to take more than 400 ft of isothermal shnarb to hold us back.  Below we easily made ground on the supportive crust across Peyto lake through the canyon, moraines and eventually onto the glacier.

Unfortunately though it was not going to last with breakable crust giving way to fresh blown snow and 20 cm ski pen above 8000 ft.  At this point I hit a wall and sat in behind Mel while she powered through the kilometers, after eating a PBNBB sandwich I managed to perk up and take the lead over the St Nic/Olive Col.  Once there we congratulated ourselves on making it half way in a bit over 3 hours.  Seeing tracks out to Vulture Col, an alternate route to the base of Balfour, we were doubly happy to know we’d have a set skin track up to the Balfour high Col, happy to be done with the tiring, slower trail breaking.

Route from Peyto Lake to Wapta Lake

Three and a half kilometers of rolling glacier gave our legs a needed rest as we stood and let the scenery meander by, deposited at the moraine of the Balfour glacier our hearts sunk as our trail breakers had instead turned around and skied back out the way they’d came, leaving us to punch the 1800 ft route to the Wapta high point.  Cue “the Burner”…  Melly stepped up, threw on the rope and pinned it through the broken bottom half of the route giving me time to down a few gels and drink some water/HEED mix, before she stepped aside for me to take it to the Col.  Satisfied with making the high point of the traverse we took a moment to absorb the day and appreciate  where we were and what we were doing.  I also took the time to absorb a caffeinated gel, endurolyte tab and some ibuprofen.

Success! Happy and tired at the West Louise Lodge

Snow conditions were superb down to the Scott Duncan hut, a supportive crust carried us to a set track over to the Niles/Daly col and we enjoyed firm safe conditions on the ski out to Sherbrooke lake.  We skated across the lake, racing for the start of the monkey trail/luge track and the waiting car beyond.

Car to Car 7:34.  After some discussion within the skimountaineering community I consider this the fastest known time, slightly faster than Will Gadd’s FKT of 8 hrs flat, his well written account here.

It feels good to have this goal completed for the time being, we ‘re satisfied with our time given the conditions we encountered.  I’d encourage other teams to give it a go, with better strategy and support I think it could fall in less than 7.

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7 Responses

  1. Great stuff Ian and Mel!
    And what was the vertical gain (and loss) on the day?

    I will give it a go at some point. Conditions are crucial though and they are especially difficult to judge when it is so high, since by the time melt-freeze does its thing snow disappears from lower elevations.

    • Yah Stano, it’s definatly a tricky one to time. One factor that Reiner, James and I talked about last year that would play in was skier traffic. We figured that the melt freeze or atleast firm travel conditions were important but how many skiers are up there putting in skintracks was also an important consideration. Maybe planning to go on Easter long weekend, or to call the ACC to see what hut usage will be like… A thought we batted around.

      The vert was pretty modest really, I think it was just shy of 2000 m, it’s the distance that’s the crux on this thing.

  2. Congrats, so stoked for you guys!

  3. Nice work that is a BIG day! Glad you had fun too:)

  4. Congrats ..sounds like it was an excellent adventure son.. 🙂

  5. killer Ian, Good work Ian and Mel

  6. You should have brought some breakfast burritos. Nice job.

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