Trip: Bow Yoho Traverse - standard Trip Date: 04/10/2017 Trip Report:
Swish, swish, swish, swish……
For hours we’ve been slogging out of the Little Yoho valley on the snowed over road after we found no room at the Stanley Mitchell hut. Darkness was approaching and our sole car was 46km away at Bow Lodge, on the other side of the mountains. We had left the Guy hut early that morning (a day ahead of schedule) hoping to beat an incoming storm. Beat the storm we did; only to find that backcountry skiing is not the fringe activity it once was. The Stanley Mitchell hut was going to be packed that night (without us) and the few residents hanging around when we arrived midday were less than enthused by our presumptuous arrival. “You know you’re early enough to make it out to the cars by dark tonight……” Under different circumstances we might have forced our way in for the night, but considering our interactions with the guided ACC group that was hot on our heels (who did have reservations for that night, and a Sat phone) we hung our heads, shouldered our packs, and kept moving. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan.
As is the case with most trips though, things did start out according to plan four days earlier. Four of us had driven up from the Skagit, staying at the excellent hostel in Lake Louise the night before we were to ski into the Bow hut. We had made the calculated choice to bring just one car, reasoning that if we got out early on the last day we shouldn’t have a problem sending All-American Naval Commander Trent hitching back to the vehicle. We knew full well that no sober Canadian would pick up Scott, Kit or I. Just to make sure, Scott prepared a cardboard sign on the drive up, stashing it with a six pack at the exit as we drove to Lake Louise. He used up two markers, and we all got a little lightheaded, but it passed the time. The forecast looked OK, at least for a few days, and we went to bed with “high” hopes.
The ski into the Bow hut was uneventful, which is pretty normal - it is a highway these days, plus the weather was benign. The hut was quiet when we arrived but shortly thereafter a 10 person guided ACC group trickled in and filled the place up. They were due to spend a few days at the Bow hut and we were glad that we were slated to leave the next day for the long crossing of the Wapta/Waputik Icefields to the new Guy hut. We got in the hut early enough to head out for some skiing, but we opted to save our energy for the crossing and hopefully a climb of Collie the next day. We wanted to make sure we didn’t relinquish the corner table either!
“Left!.....Left! …….Griffith! LEFT!” So went a good part of day 2 as we blindly felt our way across the ice towards Mount Collie. It is amazing how hard it is to keep a straight line when you can’t tell sky from ground (and how spooky it is). Situations like that make you extremely glad for apps like Gaia. Using our pre-loaded routes it was relatively easy to keep out of the icefalls and on an efficient route, only slowing us down a bit. Still, it can’t change the fact that being in the lead really sucked.
As we approached Collie the clouds began to lift and stock in our venture looked to be trending up. We cached most of our gear in a hole to ward off ravens and set up towards the impressively large cornices of the summit ridge. Normally these cornices require care, but 2017 was an especially heavy snow year on the Wapta and these looked like Coast Mountain cornices. When we got to the ridge it became apparent that much of it was double-corniced (the ridge is east/west running) and we stopped to discuss. Kit boldly offered to unrope and explore the first part of it, which none of us objected to! He pretty quickly came to the realization that it was much worse than it looked like from below and backed off, asking “One of you guys want to take a look?” Ummmmmmm, no thanks.
Kit checking out the summit ridge of Collie:
Scott and Steve approve of sending Kit first
So a run back to the cache with light packs was our consolation prize for the day. That, and arriving at the brand new Guy hut to find it empty! It really is an impressive place in a stunning location. Well insulated, brightly lit, heated, and thoughtfully laid out (with the exception of the outhouses, more on that later), the Guy hut is an excellent addition to the already formidable hut array in the Canadian backcountry. Even better, day 3 dawned clear, calm and sunny. Yoho Peak’s north slope was right by the hut and had stable, untracked, boot-top powder. It was an easy choice to spend the day lapping the great snow and admiring the scenery. Scott and Kit even rallied for a post dinner lap after Steve and my’s legs were totally fried. I watched from the ridge near the hut marveling at the light. It was one of those windless, magical, winter nights in the alpine, where it seems much warmer than it actually is.
The Vice President:
But our reverie was brought to a close pretty quickly. The ACC group had trickled in during the late afternoon and the guides were busying themselves organizing the hut and getting dinner going. It was going to be a full night in the hut, a far cry from the quiet of the night before. We were finishing our dinner when one of the guides came into the hut and announced that one of the outhouses was out of commission while they went to change the barrel. Kit and I exchanged glances, since it is considered poor form to neglect barrel changing and we had thought that neither barrel was close to full?? Admittedly, we hadn’t looked from below since a huge drift blocked the door to the barrels (and we wanted to ski all day and not dig), but looking from the top seemed to show lots of freeboard.
We didn’t have long to think on this however, as the guides burst back into the hut. Fixing her gaze on Kit and I, one announced “BOTH barrels are overflowing and some of the waste is NEW. We’ve determined that it is impossible to change the barrels and we are working to dig a new latrine out in the snow outside the hut. You CANNOT use the outhouses.” And they rushed back out. Uncomfortable silence, nervous glances. Sixteen people all looking at each other, some having paid a lot of money (not us!). I got up, put my gear on and went out to investigate.
The guides had been to this hut before and knew that the poop chutes (for lack of a better term) from the floor to the barrels at the Guy hut were different. They were two sectioned, whereas the rest of the huts on the Wapta just have one section between floor and the barrel. So when we were looking if the barrels were full or not, we couldn’t see the second section since the overflowing waste was more than a couple feet OVER the top of the barrel, frozen in a gigantic stalagpoop. We obviously weren’t 100% of the problem, but we hadn’t tried to fix it either.
Seeing the frozen masses protruding several feet out of the top of the barrels, plus the frozen slurry around the base, the guides had given up after they had dug their way in and discovered the full extent of the problem. But if fatherhood has taught me anything, it’s that poop can be fought successfully. But first you must not be afraid to get dirty. I carefully looked at both barrels, noticing that one was much less over-full than the other. If we could somehow chip off the stalagpoop (SP) flush with the top of the barrel so that we could slide it out from underneath the chute, we could replace with a fresh barrel. I had to agree that the other barrel was hopeless. I also wish I had taken pictures, but I was scrambling to save face in front of my hut mates.
Walking back in the hut I found the guides in heated conversation, discussing how and where to build the emergency latrine. At this point things were a bit grim outside with low temps, a freshening wind and snow. Nobody was relishing an exposed toilet, and tensions were running understandably high.
“You won’t need to do that. We’re going to change one of those barrels.”
“WHAT? You can’t change those barrels!”
“We’re going to change the barrel.”
“It’s impossible, there is NO WAY you are going to change it.”
“We’re going to change that barrel. Kit, get your gear on.”
Steve and Scott offered to be the back-up team in case we needed reinforcements and Kit and I prepared for battle. Luckily the hut had dishwashing gloves. Our first tactic was to grab an old broom handle and try and chip the SP from above, while the other stood below keeping the chunks directed into the barrel. This wasn’t as effective as we had hoped, since the top of the poop was still several feet below the floor making it difficult to hit with much force or accuracy. We stopped and regrouped as a team below (the guides were watching with fascination). Our initial attack had cracked the SP so that it was leaning against the chute. We discovered that we could raise the lowest section of the chute enough to give us enough room to maneuver it over the top of the stalagpoop, but how to get it into the new barrel? It must have weighed 30-40 pounds and was a couple feet long and a bit thick at the base. Kit grabbed a shovel and tried to guide it into the new barrel but that wasn’t working well.
“Drop the shovel and grab the chute Kit, I have an idea!”
As he slowly raised the chute I reached in and grabbed the stalagpoop with my hands, twisted, and dropped it unceremoniously into the new barrel. Boom! In seconds we had the old barrel slid out, the new barrel slid in, and the top securely in place. One outhouse was open for business again! We were so focused on the task at hand that we barely noticed that the two guides had bailed screaming out of the room when I grabbed the SP. Steve and Scott would later say that it looked like they were being chased by a wolverine. As we exited after finishing up the job the guides were still laughing and babbling in disbelief in the snow outside. I approached the head guide with my brown smeared gloves,
Kit and I were not quite expecting the hero’s welcome Team America received upon entering the hut. Plied with whisky and chocolate, everyone wanted the story retold in gory detail. The guide even made a satellite call to the ACC clubhouse to sing our praises, asking that they comp us all a night in the hut (which they did). After a rocky start to the evening, it certainly ended on a better note than any of us expected.
Leaving the Guy hut the next day (shooting for Isolated col, up and left of Kit where the sun/shade rib goes left of):
Slogging the road out from Stanley Mitchell:
Which is why, when we found the Stanley Mitchell Hut was full the next night, we opted to keep our hero status and just keep on skiing to the road. But wait, we didn’t have a car there, and it was getting dark quickly. We sent Steve out with the sign and some money to the highway to try his luck. It was likely to be a two hitch ride, so there was the possibility that he would get stuck in Lake Louise for the night and we would have to bivy at the road (we found several hidden keys, including to a sweet sprinter, if things got really grim). Not ideal, but it was what it was.
A sign helps when hitching:
Steve had been gone for a half hour or so when I saw a Parks Canada truck coming down the dead end road to the trailhead. I waved the guy down and it turned out that he was a road maintenance guy. I explained our situation and that we had a guy out on the highway with a sign and could he maybe give him a ride, ideally all the way to Bow Lake?
“So let me get this straight. Your car is at Bow Lake and you don’t have a ride. And this was your plan?”
“Ummmmmmmm, yes sir.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he gruffly replied and sped off.
Is it time to get into the Sprinter yet?
An hour and a half later, just as it was getting dark, Steve flies into the parking lot. Whew! We had all our clothes on and were starting to eye that Sprinter. As usual Steve had saved us from a life of crime. His story of how he so quickly got to the car was pretty interesting. He hadn’t waited long at the highway when a young lady (of course!) stopped to give him a ride. She could only take him to Lake Louise but did he mind if she first stopped and rolled a smoke? As she did, her dog nervously barked in Steve’s ear. Beggars can’t be choosers, he thought. Just as she was getting ready to pull back on the highway a truck pulled up behind her with its lights on. A man walks up to her window and taps on it. As she rolls down the window, the guy ignores her and says straight to Steve,
“I heard you were looking for a ride to Bow Lake. Get in.”
Gear Notes: Standard ski mountaineering gear plus lightweight climbing gear (Al crampons, light axe) Approach Notes: In via Bow Lake and Bow Hut standard freeway.