Various Information Used for Planning Wapta Icefields Ski Trip

March 13-20, 2008

 Summary      Pictures       Routes and Descriptions         Planning    

 Introduction      Itinerary    Mapping    Beta    Trip Reports    Crevasse Rescue    Gear     Food     Avy Info 

Planning document used in preparation for trip - thanks to Robin for all the background work

Introduction, Hazards, Difficulties, Preparation

From the ACC description:
“This world-class winter ski-mountaineering destination is a spectacular journey across the Wapta and Waputik Icefields, providing you with fantastic views, amazing glacier runs, and the ultimate backcountry experience. 

Starting the traverse at Peyto Lake, we’ll make our way across the two icefields, spending the evenings warming up, eating great food and sleeping in the comforts of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Peyto, Bow, Balfour and Scott Duncan Huts.  Along the way many exciting ski ascents are immediately adjacent to the traverse to try your hand at ski mountaineering.  Objectives could include Mounts Rhondda (North and South), St. Nicholas, Olive, Gordon, and Balfour.”

As mentioned above the Wapta Traverse is an extended alpine tour across some major icefields. This is probably the longest unguided tour of glaciated terrain that our group members have done to date.

Generally the avalanche risk in the Canadian Rockies is the highest of the major common ski areas in North America. Cold temperatures and relatively shallow snow depths can produce high temperature gradients and therefore unstable snow. Fortunately doing the trip in late March bodes well for higher snow depths and moderating temperatures, although any conditions are possible. There have been some persistent weak layers in the Rockies this year, please see the article listed below. Higher avalanche conditions would probably require sticking to safer terrain vs. not being able to travel at all. This season has been particularly bad for avalanches in Western Canada, although there is nothing to indicate that we can’t do this trip safely at this point.

We can do a lot of research in advance to identify avalanche risk areas. Please work on the following avalanche avoidance skills prior to the trip if you have the chance: terrain analysis, safe group travel practices, snow stability tests. I’ve been working on snow stability test practice this winter. Please also monitor the avy bulletins for the area- Tom will be archiving them on his website, pls see the link below.

Rescue skills include group management and organization, transceiver search for multiple victims, pinpoint searching and probing, shoveling. Doing fast, efficient rescues is critical and requires practice, please make the time to practice.

There are sections of the route in the vicinity of open crevasses (in midwinter conditions) and icefalls. We’ll be taking rope and gear for glacial travel and will probably have to ski roped up through some difficult sections. We’ll plan on reviewing crevasse rescue as a group early on during the traverse. We’ll have ropes and gear to handle a full crevasse rescue scenario. In the event a full anchor has to be built for hauling we will be using skis. We will be probing the snow depth in suspect areas and in situations where we pull the group together in one area, e.g. for a break.

We could have true winter conditions including whiteout, high winds, heavy snowfall, and cold temperatures. Good navigation skills and gear will be critical. We’ll have 2 GPS along on the trip and will be preparing in advance with coordinates and maps. We’ll also be carrying a few maps and compasses. Severe weather conditions could also result in us retracing our route to the previous hut. In case of adverse conditions you are not required to move on to the next hut, regardless of reservations. This is particularly applicable if the weather conditions are quite bad when we are supposed to go over the Balfour Col.

Apparently the route can be quite straightforward in clear weather conditions- the real concern is navigating through certain sections in marginal visibility. The crux of the traverse is around the Balfour High Col, on the route from the Balfour Hut to the Duncan Hut. We have 2 nights at the Balfour Hut so we will try to scout out the route in advance during a clear weather window, potentially getting GPS waypoints, elevations, etc. I strongly recommend reading the SMS group 2005 trip report to get a good feel of the route, hazards, with pictures and maps:

Our packs will probably be in the vicinity of 40 lbs at the start of the trip. Skiing is more difficult with a pack of this size and the risk of injury is increased. We’ll plan on adjusting our ski objectives accordingly. However we will have several opportunities to drop most of our weight and go skiing with light packs. A few days of skiing with a lightweight pack prior to the trip would help.

Banff Wardens (Emergency) (403) 762-4506


Road Distances

Calgary airport - Canmore 117 km
Canmore - Peyto Lake trailhead 123 km
Peyto trailhead (start) - Rt 1 exit (finish) 55km
Calgary airport - Peyto Lake 240 km
Lake Louise - Golden 84 km


Thursday 13: all fly into Calgary and rendezvous at the hotel. Tom has reserved a minivan. Tom, Steve, and Robin will work on finalizing food on Thurs. evening.

Friday 14, Day 1: Up early, leave hotel at 7:30 with packs ready to ski, drive to trailhead, approx 3 hours from Calgary. Stop in Canmore to get phone. Stop in Lake Louise to throw bags and extra gear in storage lockers at Lake Louise Alpine Centre, Robin has directions and 2 locks.

Slight change: shuttle company recommended parking at West Louis Lodge (end point) and doing the shuttle at the beginning, less break-in probability and then it’s available whenever we ski out. I have reserved the shuttle to meet us at end point at around 10:00, then shuttle us all up to start point. We’ll call them when we hit Banff or Lake Louise to give them an exact time for pickup. We should plan on being on the snow around 11:00 - 11:30. Cross Peyto lake, 9 to 12 (reports/routes vary slightly) km and 2200 ft / 670 m of vertical to the hut. According to reports it should around 5 hrs at a moderate pace. Sunset will be at 19:46, so that’s good.

Reservation No: 149528, Peter and Catherine Whyte (Peyto) Hut

Saturday 15, Day 2:
Reservation No: 149529, Bow Hut

Sunday 16, Day 3:
Reservation No: 149530, Rob Ritchie (Balfour Pass) Hut

Monday 17, Day 4:
    Balfour hut again

Tuesday 18, Day 5:
    Reservation No: 149531, Scott Duncan Hut

Wednesday 19, Day 6:
    Duncan hut again

Thursday 20, Day 7:
    Ski out via Sherbrooke Lake and arrive at West Louise Lodge (closed in winter). We’ll grab the stored stuff. We’ll plan on having a well-deserved team dinner on Thurs. night in Lake Louise or Banff and then we’ll drop Steve off at his hotel. The remaining five are heading to Golden for Thurs. & Fri. night, Lino has reserved rooms for all at the Ramada.

Huts (in order of travel)
Peter and Catharine Whyte (Peyto) Hut -
Bow Hut -
R.J. Ritchie (Balfour) Hut -
Scott Duncan Hut -

Apparently only the Bow Hut is heated. Huts have pots, utensils, gas stoves, sleeping pads- but NO blankets. If anybody has to cancel, cancellation fees may apply.

Mapping and Route Information


From Robin's friend Nancy:

We did do the Peyto-Bow-Balfour-Duncan and then - truth be told - at Duncan we turned around and did Duncan-Balfour-Bow-Peyto again.  We heard the ski out was cruddy, cruddy, cruddy and there was another factor (really good snow?  maybe we wanted to do more turns...I honestly can not remember)
And we went over the Balfour Col.  There was one big open crevasse and avalanche debris on the other side of the crevasse that we ended up walking very, very close too so I remember that being a sketchy bit.  But others had gone up before us including a ranger from Colorado and we followed their lead.  In March there should be nice snow bridges especially with the dumps we are getting this year.  I also remember you can check out the conditions of the Col from these huge, gorgeous windows in the Balfour hut.  The trickiest bit is therefore good for scoping out before leaving the hut. 
We did hear lots of tales of caution involving route finding at that point in the trail.  Our day had clear skies and it was a simple navigation.  In white out conditions you could be hooped.  The ski down after crossing the Balfour Col is simple but does involve delicate navigation and I remember me and Hans discussing how people would get themselves in trouble in less than ideal conditions at that point.  You have to traverse across the back at a specific point or risk going steeply down.
So if it's a white out prepare for an extra day at Balfour.  The rest of the route finding allows for far more error without serious ramifications from what I remember.
Truth be told the Duncan hut was a little tin can and if you got beautiful ski days in until that point you could turn around at the Balfour and still pat each other on the back thinking you had the greatest time ever.  It's gorgeous country.  The Peyto hut is the mountain hut against which all others should be judged (a couple were getting married there a few days after we left...there buddies were skiing in the wine!) and you will get good turns in at Peyto.
This is going on some rusty year old memories but I hope that helps and you are going to love it!


Report from Mark Klassen, Mountain Guide, Feb 2008

Our group and a Scottish crew tag-teamed across the Wapta Feb 15-18, starting at Bow and finishing at Sherbrooke.

Conditions on the icefield seem pretty normal for this time of year. Of note however was that I probed only 250 cm of fairly low density snow on the toe of the glacier leading to Balfour hi col. That said, coverage on the route to the col was more filled in than I had ever seen it, with few signs of crevasses. I didn't probe higher on the route because I was scurrying away from the seracs, but it was smooth sailing quite close to the rock nunatak pretty much all the way. The upper slopes of Balfour were scoured by the recent wind event, with few cornices above the ascent route.

On Feb 17 we saw a recent size 2 avalanche below a cornice on a south aspect of Mt Gordon, probably as a result of strong north winds on Saturday. We also saw plenty of fresh debris below cornices on east aspects in the Sherbrooke valley today, Feb 18. Lastly, we saw a large avalanche on a south aspect below a cliff band in the Dolomite Peak area on the drive back to Bow today. Solar radiation was strong on south aspects today.

We were fairly conservative in our terrain selection this trip due to recent avalanche activity. We used the upper bench start to Balfour hi col (starting at the north end of the moraines) and dropped to the lower bench half way, to avoid the steep slopes on the direct approach through the moraines. Traversing below Niles today we dropped down to about 8100 ft from the Niles-Daly col, this is just above the first steep slopes on the classic exit. Then we skinned up a short, moderate moraine slope to regain the Schiesser-Lomas exit. This avoided most of the exposure from the upper slopes and cornices of Niles that you are subject to if you take a high traverse from the N/D col.

We had localized whumpfing in the moraines below Niles today, but nothing up on the icefield and in the trees in Sherbrooke the snow felt quite supportive, although I'm sure we have a few layers of concern in that terrain as well.

Report via Steve Bourne (Mar 2008)

Lisa (the ACMG guide) lived and worked in Canmore for 10 years and has done the wapta many, many times.  She suggests that we ought to have some method of communication, but, more importantly, that we may want to consider changing our route for day one and entering from Bow lake instead and going to Balfour hut on day one and if we want either to just ski Mt Rhonda (as a day trip and back to Bow) or out to Peyto on day 2.  She says the hike in to Peyto across the peyto lake is super technical at the split before the glacier, then the glacier traverse is heavily crevassed and that he approach route to the hut is much wider away than marked on the map and is one of the most technical aspects of the whole trip.
She says this is extremely ambitious (c.12km) for day 1 with fully loaded packs and a late start (likely 11 or 12).   She says real chance we will not make hut before dark and very difficult route that is not frequently traveled by groups.  She says although the route is beautiful, we can get the feeling for it via a day trip (day 2) to Rhonda.  I will, out of an abundance of caution, make an inquiry as to whether there would be room to stay at Balfour on Friday, in case we decide to do it this way.

Second report via Steve Bourne (Mar 2008)

Just got off the phone with the president of the Rocky mountain (canmore) section of the ACC.  ...  He has been on the wapta three times this winter and is going this week again.  He says its all good and stable, and the peyto route is long for a day with all our gear, but very manageable as long as we choose the high route through the canyon at the entrance to Peyto glacier.  He says going through the canyon with all our gear is way too exposed - and was strong about that.  he says he hasnt roped in all year, except in the usual balfour col area.  Says we should do the hike to Peyto in about 5 hours, give or take.

Online Trip Reports

Guiding outfit’s Yamnuska description, gear list, etc.:

SMS 2005 trip report w/ maps:

Trip report with pics from 2004, done with Yamnuska:

Good trip report from experienced (unguided) group (starts on p. 5)

Nice trip report on classic traverse.

Accidendt Report from Balfour Col incident: – skier fall off cliff at Balfour High Col

Report of Wapta traverse (not as good as above): - shorter route, and got turned back (Michael Lanza from AMC) - must be paid member, and not our route, but does have java map and waypoints

Crevasse Rescue and Glacier Travel Resources

-ACMG online information:
-Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue by Andy Selters- ROBIN good but not great, more mountaineering focused
-Videos online: search YouTube for “ACMG crevasse rescue”, should bring up several videos by guide Cliff Umpleby


Go as light as safely possible. It is a hut-to-hut trip, but we’ll still be carrying a decent amount of weight due to food, sleeping bags, crevasse rescue gear, etc. Extraneous weight slows the group down, increases energy expended and chance of injury, and makes skiing less enjoyable. I’ve tried to keep the gear list consistent with what is typically listed for guided groups.


Clothing/Personal- be prepared for below freezing temps during the day and wind


Not Required

- sleeping pads, pots, utensils, mugs, helmets, bivy bags, pickets, ice screws, cell phones (no reception)
- note from TSC - reconsider bivy bags with late start Fri?

Food and Menu Planning
Product No. Total Servings Cal g Fat Producer
Rice & Chicken 2 20.90 8 410 14 Mountain House
Wild Tyme Turkey 2 23.90 8 370 11 Alipine Aire
Chicken Rotelle 2 24.70 8 360 10 AlpineAire
Beef Stroganoff 1 10.95 4 360 8 Natural High
Pasta Primavera 1 10.45 4 300 9 Mountain House
Leonardo da Fettuccine 2 17.90 8 330 19 Alpine Aire

Avalanche Information

For More Details (Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks)

Warden Office: (403) 762-1470
Emergency: 403 762 4506
24 Hours Recorded Message: 1-800-667-1105

Route Ratings from CAC On-Line Avaluator

Travel & Contact Information

See this page - password protected

Waypoints & Waypoint Management (igrnore this)


The UTM for the Balfour high col is NH 384 120 on an older NAD 27 map. For the newer NAD 83 maps it would be NH 383 123. The Murray Toft composite map, revised third edition, does not have a clear indication marked on it, but it appears to be NAD 27. … we advise groups to trend towards skiers right in poor visibility rather than trending skiers left. This may result in an increased likelihood of encountering crevasses, but a reduced likelihood of falling over a cliff. (

•    Peter and Catharine Whyte (Peyto) Hut GPS Coordinates: 5139' 48"-11632' 42" 11U 531470 5723692 (I think NAD83)
•    Bow Hut GPS Coordinates: 5138' 06"-11629' 24" NAD27 (I think should be NAD83) 11U 535296 5720566  
•    R.J. Ritchie (Balfour) Hut GPS Coordinates: 5135' 30"-11627' 18" NAD83 11U 537754 5715765
•    Scott Duncan Hut GPS Coordinates: 5131' 42"-11624' 06" NAD83 11U 541506 5708750

In Setup->Units set Position Format to UTM/UPS and Map Datum to NAD27 (Canada). Scott’s Bow Hut Grid Reference of 355203 is simply a 3-digit representation of the Easting (355) and a 3-digit representation of the Northing (203) lumped together to make a single number. A key piece of information that I lacked, however, is that the 1:50,000 National Topographical Series maps, similar to Murray Toft’s Touring the Wapta Icefields, assumes an Easting ‘prefix’ of 05 and a Northing ‘prefix’ of 57. Knowing this, the Easting then becomes 0535500. I zero-filled the remaining two spaces to complete the 7-digit number the GPS requires for the Easting (the Grid Reference is sufficiently accurate anyway). Similarly, the Northing then becomes 5720300. Of course, one could just read the Grid References directly off of the map, which I did for key features such as Olive – Nic. Col, Balfour High Col etc