A Wise Decision
Our latest adventure ended up being an incomplete attempted ski touring camping trip, on Athabasca Glacier and up the Snowdome Mountain in the Columbia Ice fields area. We were up at one in the morning and skiing on the Athabasca Glacier around 4am, we thought we were going to have an amazing day, we would be reaching a nice high elevation when the sun was rising and we would have avoided all of the dangerous terrain right before the sun came up. (When travelling in Avalanche terrain or in places with a possibility of falling ice or rocks, it is best to pass by before the sun heats things up and makes them less stable). This was not to be!
We parked at the glacier parking lot and skied onto the toe of the glacier. As soon as we were starting to rope up for safety we heard the ominous rumble of an avalanche in the dark. I voiced my opinion that I find that noise slightly terrifying, but those sorts of sounds are a part of travelling in the mountains. We finished roping up and started our journey up the glacier. The first hour or so was uneventful and easy skiing.
We had checked the batteries in our GPS before leaving the house, they were full. When Chris pulled the GPS out to mark a waypoint in an area that was a very important place, the GPS said batteries are dead, hmmmm. Upon warming them up, still no luck, and the same thing happened when we changed to other batteries. Not a very good result, but we still had our map and compass, and we also are able to see pretty well. At this point we angled to a less steep section near the centre of the glacier and we soon found ourselves in an area riddled with Crevasses! Scary stuff!!!
Crevasses are cracks in the glacier that get narrower and narrower as they get deeper and deeper. This is why we rope up for Glacier Travel! If a person falls in a crevasse, their partner sets up and anchor and either the person pulls themselves out using a “Texas Prussik” or, if they are injured or unable to do that, their partner uses a pulley system to haul them out. Usually in the winter a “snowbridge” forms that allows a person to safely ski over these crevasses. This year with little snowfall and very windy conditions that scrape the snow off of the glacier, most of these snowbridges are weak or non-existent.
We were navigating our way through this area when the weather took a quick turn for the worse, as it sometimes does in mountains and on glaciers. Blowing snow and white out conditions make this sort of travel much more dangerous, one needs to see to avoid things like crevasses! We met up and decided that we were best to turn around back to our car. As we were discussing our options we heard another ominous roar of an avalanche nearby. It seemed as if the mountain was giving us one more chance to get out of there before unleashing its fury upon us!
We turned around to follow our track off the area with the crevasses and skied roped up until we were in a safe area. As soon as we descended about 100m the white out ceased and the sun started to rise. Looking back over our shoulder we could still see the storm on the higher part of the glacier and agreed that turning back was the right decision. The ski down the glacier back to the car was quite enjoyable, and we heard one more avalanche booming down the mountain as we were just getting off the glacier.
Upon returning to the car we found that we had left an interior light on. If we had stayed out overnight we probably would have returned to a car with a dead battery! One more reason that it was good we turned around!
Getting home we were happy to have a nice lunch and spent the afternoon lounging and watching movies, pretty much the opposite of the adventure we had planned, but it is much better to be safe and sound than be at the bottom of a crevasse!
If you would like to see what sort of guided adventures we offer click on the above link!