Wapta Ski Traverse Routes, Descriptions, and GPS

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Route Descriptions

Descriptions, tracks, routes, waypoints, etc., were created for our personal use and we make no warranties as to reliability;
although we believe they are accurate they should not be relied on by others.

Day 1 - Peyto Lake to Peyto Hut

We started in the small parking pull-off about 2.5km beyond Bow Pass. The first 1km was a narrow downhill trail with somewhat slick conditions to the lake. Then across Peyto Lake and up along Peyto Creek. We took the moraine route, up to the right of the Peyto Creek gulley, because it is supposed to be less avalanche prone. (The rib up the moraine can be seen in one of the pictures left. The start up the rib to the moraine is about 4.3km from the start of the lake and about 2.5km from the end of the lake.) The climb up the rib was a little steep and wind-blown in spots and was the most technical part of the whole traverse. Then across the top of the moraine with a couple spots where we had to take off skis because of rocky outcroppings. We had a short down-hill to the glacier (avoiding an obvious crevasse) and then across the middle of the glacier until it steepened. The hut is just over the left steepest part of the glacier but we stayed in the middle or towards the right on the climb up the steep part to avoid crevasses. This meant we went up and then turned back (to the left) to access the hut with a short climb. The hut coordinates given on the ACC site dit not match what I got in the field so I substituted my reading.

11.5km, 2,640ft up, 730ft dn, 5:25

Day 2 - Peyto Hut to Bow Hut

This was a pretty easy day. Visibility was OK to good. We followed other people's tracks up the glacier heading south, then turning a little SE, for about 3 1/4 km from the hut. (We probably could have headed a little further south and gained a little more altitude to then glide down towards the Bow hut.) Then we turned ESE towards the Bow hut. We were warned not to turn east too early as that would take us down towards the Bow glacier. In good visibility the key seems to be to wait to turn E until you can see the St. Nicholas peak, and then go down under that. The Peyto - Bow route was easy enough that I think we could easily have gone Peyto - Balfour hut in one day (in decent conditions, of course).

6.8km, 1,100ft up, 1,330ft dn, 2:52

Day 2 & 3

Day 3 - Bow Hut - Balfour Hut, with ascent of Mt. Gordon


Again visibility was pretty good. We decided to climb Mt. Gordon from the south, a pretty gradual climb except for the last 20-30m. Views from Mt. Gordon were very good and the ski back down to the glacier was fun. (We ended up taking our full packs up, but we were warned about the ravens if we stashed anything at the bottom. The ravens have learned to get into packs and steal food, so we were told to bury anything we stashed during a side-trip.) Three of our group went E over the saddle between St. Nicholas and Mt. Olive onto the Vulture glacier, then south but giving the crevasses on the east flank of Mt. Olive a wide berth. (We were told that in poor visibility one can head east or ESE from the saddle until one runs into the rock walls on the east side of the glacier, then follow those south, to safely avoid the crevasses under Mt. Olive.) The ski down the glacier towards the Balfour hut was not really steep enough for fun skiing. We easily found the hut, but again my GPS reading in the field did not match the coordinates on the ACC site.

The direct route (without the ascent of Mt. Gordon) would be about 8.3km with about 1700ft up and down. The other three of our group went through the Vulture Col. This is supposed to be more avalanche prone than the route through the St. Nicholas / Mt. Olive saddle (the SE face of the col can get wind-loaded). Our group resorted to a belayed ski-cut at the top. The snow at the top was hard, but lower down was apparently good skiing.

12.9km, 2,880ft up, 3,030ft dn, 5:09

Day 2 & 3

Day 5 - Balfour Hut over Balfour high col to Scott Duncan Hut

This is the route with the most objective danger, and considerable navigational difficulty in poor visibility. We started about 9:30 in moderate visibility (you can see in the photos). We had plenty of visibility for close navigation (avoiding crevasse, etc.) but not enough to see distant land-marks. We were quite happy to be using GPS with decent way-marks. We took the safer avalanche route (easterly route up the ramp under and to the west of the nunatak). The way-mark for the col was taken from an ACC accident report and proved to be right on the mark. From reading trip and accident reports the key here seems to be not straying east into a cliff area, and of course visibility (worse than we had and we might have waited a day). The col itself was wide, flat, and windy. The trek across the glacier to the Scott Duncan hut was uneventful but slow in low visibility. In the end we probably should have stayed a little more east (left) - we lost a couple hundred feet that we had to regain when we reached the hut. We missed the easy ramp up to the hut that lies NNE of the hut (just under Mt. Daly) and accessed the hut by a rocky route from below and south of the hut.

11.2km, 2,510ft up, 1,510ft dn, 6:37

Day 7 - Exit from Scott Duncan hut via bench above Niles Canyon

This was pretty easy, except for the steep descent through the trees at about 6km, and then the luge run in the final km.

Weather was clear and cold to start but by the time we got to Mt. Niles it was warm. We started about 9 or 9:30, letting the guided group with which we shared the hut for the night get ready and out first. We took the bench above the Niles canyon (going between the nipple and Mt. Niles) because of avalanche concern. There is a big crevasse or hole just NW of the nipple and we were surprised to see a set of tracks going between the hole and the nipple - the hole would be a horrendous terrain trap if the steep slope of the nipple avalanched. We went across under the east slope of Mt. Niles, and in the warm sun I would have been happier to be a little further away from it.

Once we got to the flats above Sherbrooke Lake it was just a plod. I ended up putting on skins for the most of the flat across the lake and down the creek until the final km or two, which was a bit of a slick luge run.

14.2km, 390ft up, 4,170ft dn, 3:52

Wapta Traverse GPS tracks, routes, and waypoints

GPS waypoints in printed and downloadable format (including the files listed just below). You will want to use a program like EasyGPS to manipulate and transfer to the GPS unit.
Smaller file (roughly 80kb) with GPS routes and waypoints - no saved tracks.
Larger file (roughly 1Mb) with GPS routes, waypoints, and saved tracks to allow comparision of waypoints with the actual track recorded in the field.

Descriptions, tracks, routes, waypoints, etc., were created for our personal use and we make no warranties as to reliability; although we believe they are accurate they should not be relied on by others.

To the left are files with GPS tracks from our trip, plus routes and waypoints (.gpx GPS eXchange format file). The hut waypoints are actual readings from the field while all other waypoints are interpolated from the map and recorded tracks. You can use the program supplied with your GPS unit, or (sometimes better) a shareware program like EasyGPS (try Googling 'Easy GPS') to read and manipulate the .gpx file.

One important point: Topographic maps apparently can be (and often are) less accurate than GPS. I came to this conclusion from examining the recorded waypoints and routes, comparing with maps and reported waypoints, and researching background information and speaking with experts on mapping and GPS. (See http://egsc.usgs.gov/isb/pubs/factsheets/fs17199.html for USGS standards on map accuracy.) As an example, the location of the St. Nicholas peak recorded by GPS was about 80m west of that shown on two maps I examined. (The peak is at the northern end of a north-south knife-edge ridge, making it relatively easy to identify the difference between the GPS and map location.) Bottom line seems to be that topo maps, particularly for remote areas where surverying by traditional methods is more difficult, can have inherent uncertainty. Maybe not too surprising when you consider that 100m on the ground (a large error with modern GPS) translates to only 2mm on on a 1:50,000 map.

Note that this does not make me less likely to use a map or less confident in relying on a map, just cautious in how I use a map and GPS together. In future I won't be too worried if my GPS position is off from a map by 100m or 200m, and I still don't think GPS replaces a good map (and compass).

A second point is that the coordinates for the huts as reported on the ACC website (as of winter 2008) are not perfectly accurate. Actual location measured in the field was up to 370m distant from the coordinates reported on the ACC site. (This may be related to the first point above. The coordinates may have been digitised off a map and inherited the innaccuracy of the underlying map. In addition, however, there appears to be some confusion over geodetic datum - the ACC states their coordinates for the Bow hut are NAD27, when analysis shows they are more likely to be NAD83.) My measurements from the field, which appear to be accurate within 20m or less, are as follows:

The classic printed map (1:50,000) called "Touring the Wapta Icefields" - I found it at www.canrockbooks.com
You can get custom-printed maps (1:35,000) at www.mytopo.com You may even still find the maps I created at MyTopo - one for north and one for south

Trip Statistics

All descriptions, tracks, routes, waypoints, etc., are for the personal use of Tom, John, Lino, Mark, Steve, Robin and should not be relied on by anyone for any use.

Ascent (ft) Descent (ft) Dist (km) Time Description Track Map
(yellow morn, red afternoon)
Day 1 - Friday 14-March, in to Peyto hut 2,640 730 11.5 5:25 Start at 1:10pm after many problems (lost luggage, missed shuttle) and with only three out of the six group members. Weather partly cloudy and not very cold. Day 1 day 1
Day 2 - Saturday 15-March, Peyto to Bow hut 1,100 1,330 6.8 2:52 Nice weather, passing clouds, a little fog and snow Day 2
day 2
     Day 2 afternoon, climb St Nicholas Peak 2,060 2,060 6.8 3:21 Mark and Tom climbed St. Nicholas peak with Chris (who had portered food up to Bow). The peak was clear before the climb and after the climb, but naturally it was completely fogged in during the climb and on the summit. Robin, John, Lino made it up to Bow about 6:30pm.  
Day 3 - Sunday 16-March, Bow to Balfour hut, plus ascend Mt. Gordon 2,880 3,030 12.9, 8.3 to hut 5:09 Side trip up Mt. Gordon before group split just below Nicholas / Olive saddle. Tom, Robin, Steve went over saddle and down Vulture glacier (shown on map) while John, Mark, Lino went over Vulture Col. Weather partly cloudy. (Direct route Bow to Balfour about 7.5km, 1653 ft up and down.) Day 3
day 3
     Day 3 afternoon, poke around Balfour hut 1,340 1,320 6.2 2:57 Robin and Tom poke around Balfour hut, ski a couple slopes. Another group of six in Balfour hut for the night  
Day 4 - Monday 17-March, ski around Balfour hut 2,850 2,850 12.7 6:33 Weather was blowing hard, snowing, low visibility. The other group in the hut left for Scott Duncan hut. Our group went down Waves Creek to find some skiing in the trees at lower elevation. Once in the trees conditions were nice without much wind, but wind was still blowing up at the hut. Good day. Day 4
day 4
Day 5 - Tuesday 18-March, Balfour hut to Scott Duncan hut over Balfour high col 2,510 1,510 11.2 6:37 Left Balfour hut about 9:30, headed over Balfour high col. Visibility between 200-1000m all day, snowing off-and-on. On col there was about 1-2 ft of new, unconsolidated snow. Used GPS extensively for navigation. Day 5
day 5
Day 6 - Wednesday 19-March, explore Balfour glacier 1,840 1,800 10.4 5:02 Skied over to Balfour glacier looking for skiing, but with new snow we did not feel comfortable skiing anything steeper than about 20 degrees. Visibility off-and-on. A guided group of seven came in, putting hut over-capacity (13 for the night). Day 6
day 6
     Day 6 afternoon, ski laps below hut 1,430 1,400 3.7 3:25 Tom, Robin, John, Lino started to hike up Mt. Daly, then came down and skied a few laps below the hut.  
Day 7 Thursday 20-March, exit from Scott Duncan 390 4,170 14.2 3:52 Clear day, cold at start but warm once we made it to Niles. We exited via the bench above Niles canyon because of avalanache danger, but the section under the east face of Niles was a little nerve-racking in the warm sun. Day 7
day 7

Full traverse route-map Traverse(without the side-trips).