Bush Pass Base Camp, April 2018


The wild north side of Mts. Dent and Pangman.

Trip Report and Photos

Personnel: Stan Wagon, Katie Larson, guides Pierre Hungr and Andrew Wrench. All meal planning and cooking was done by Katie, with some help from me.

The plan. Climb Icefall Peak via the Diamond Spur and then get a ride to the Freshfield Icefield to try for Mt. Freshfield. Ambitious.

March 30, 2018. Katie and I leave early. Drive to Missoula via Idaho.
March 31, 2018. Drive to Golden. Small storm before Kalispell.

April 1: Meet Andrew Wrench at the Alpine Helicopter hangar and fly to our camp at 6700 feet below Icefall Peak. Pierre arrives in about 2 hours, having skied over from Icefall. We set up camp and do a little bit of skiing down from camp.


April 2: Start up Icefall. But early on it is clear there are big problems. One small avalanche ran into me but did not knock me over. And ten minutes later there was a large one about 100 yards from our spot. We abandoned the plan, skied down to 5400 feet in Rostrum Creek and then called for the helicopter to move us to a camp below Bush Pass at the head of the Valenciennes River. Cold snowy days on the Freshfield Icefield were not attractive for several reasons. We found a camp with open water -- great -- and set down there, at 6100 feet.


Icefall Peak 


Neither Katie nor I had ever done so much skiing with a down parka; it was cold. 


Mt. Arras. 


Our second camp at the head of the Valenciennes River. Nighttime temps in the first half of the week dipped to about 5° or 10°, perhaps with one night as low as zero F.


We used a Megamid for the kitchen (and Andrew’s sleeping quarters). 

April 3: Try for Mt. Valenciennes. After skiing through Bush Pass and then around the back side to the col below the summit, it appeared we would not have time for the final push. The last section to the pass was difficult with crampons on snow-covered loose rock, and one short roped pitch near the end. And we had to carry back down this too! 4500 feet for the day. Visibility was near zero in parts on return.


Pierre organizes the rope for the last bit up to the Divide. 

April 4: Snow day. Pierre has a cold and rests in camp. We three skied four down-valley runs, though only three for me. 2500 feet. Conditions were excellent. We did a little bit of booting in one steep climb.

April 5: Great day for a game of ... . We started up a broad valley just E of the one that goes up by Pangman. At the top we booted the last 700 feet, which was strenuous: boot crampons on a mix of snow and rock. But at the top it was easy to get to a little 9500-foot summit (we called it Pacman) which offered stupendous views of Dent, Pangman, the icefield, and more. We skied right to the summit and also down off the summit. That flattish ski was spectacular given the location: right along the Continental Divide. There used to be a hut at the bottom of the Icefield and the ski from there to our ridgeline would have been quite easy. Geoff Bodwin reports doing it in 1985.

Pierre then descended a steep couloir, doing jump turns in the narrow top section. I sideslipped it, but no real problem. Probably it was 38°. This run was the steepest thing we skied all week and lost a total of 3600 feet from summit to valley.


Zillebeke, Unnamed, and Valenciennes. In center is the col we went through when we circumnavigated Valenciennes in 2015. 


To avoid a possibly unstable slope, we booted up the rocks with crampons. Very strenuous. The idea is that skiing down from the top is safer than booting slowly up through the middle. 


Finally on good snow after a difficult 600-foot section of climbing rock and snow with crampons. Photo by Pierre Hungr. 


Andrew on an easier section of the climb near the end.  Photo by Katie Larson. 


Pierre and Andrew enjoy the all-encompassing views along the Continental Divide. Our camp is over 3000 feet below. 


Pierre approaches our small summit. What a spot! 


Katie, with the Freshfield Icefield behind. 


The remarkable north faces of Dent (left) and Pangman (center). 


Same, but with Mt. Freshfield in rear left. 


The Freshfield Icefield, with Pangman Glacier in foreground. The peak in the distance just right of center is Nanga Parbat. 




Rostrum, Zillebeke, and unnamed. In rear left is Clemenceau, with the Twins just right of center.


Leaving our little summit. Photo by Pierre Hungr. 


Our steep couloir descent. 


The couloir is right of center here, and has a slight wine bottle shape. Photo by Katie Larson. 

April 6. Snow day. 3200 feet for me on various down-valley north-facing runs. Excellent snow.

Saturday, April 7. Bush Pass and traverse to near Niverville Col. From Bush Pass we gained a beautiful high plateau with one short section of booting on snow, and then had a superb cold-power descent into Forbes Creek: a 2200-foot ski run. The long climb back to the pass led to the familiar 2300-foot descent on the W side to return to camp. So this was our second 4500-foot day.

We returned to camp to pack up for the 5:00 heli pickup but at around 3:20 we heard the 407 coming in. He was in the area so came early. We were essentially ready so there was no real problem. We stopped at Campbell Chalet to pick up a pack, and then to Golden. Wonderful to get this great service. BUT: At the hangar I found that my computer bag with computer, wallet, passport, phone, and iPad was not where I had placed it. The staff reviewed all their flights for the week and, after a stressful hour, found that the bag had been mistakenly shipped to Bugaboo Lodge. There was no more flying this day, but on Sunday morning they were dropping off four guys in the Bugs to start the Bugs to Rogers traverse.


An easy section of booting got us onto a nice plateau to reach Niverville Col area. 


Stan on the lovely plateau that stretches from Bush Pass to Niverville Col. Much of our skiing was with down parkas on.  Photo by Pierre Hungr. 


Mt. Forbes, which Katie, David Nebel, and I climbed in August, 1999. 


Pierre, with Valenciennes and Cambrai behind. Perfect cold powder here below Niverville Col. 






Niverville Col just left of center with our tracks visible. Note the lovely plateau on the right which provided easy access from Bush Pass. 


Stan below Bush Pass. The cliffs and cornices here forced us north for the easy long climb back to the pass. 


In the middle of the long climb back to Bush Pass. 


An Alpine Helicopter zooms in to pick us up ahead of schedule. 

April 8.  Well, the aforementioned dropoff of the four guys was interesting too. They had placed two food caches en route, and at the final dropoff one of the skiers realized his skins were at the cache at International Basin Hut. So he was flown there to retrieve the skins, my computer bag was picked up at the Lodge, and all was good again. We left Golden at around noon and spent a pleasant hour and a half with Chic Scott in Banff. Then we made it to Great Falls, Montana, and on April 9 did the long drive from there to home, taking a short cut to avoid Fort McLeod and going from Casper, Wyoming, to Walden, Colorado, for some variety at the end.


The red letter “6” is the helicopter bringing us to second camp. Two days spent in valley skiing, three spent in getting up to the high ridges along the Continental Divide on the B.C.-Alberta border. Yellow is the Valenciennes day.

Gear Notes:

•  The rubber clips at the front of the Dynafit skins are a real weak point. One broke. I had a spare. Pierre has seen many failures.

•  Glue on today's skins seems very poor. Snow was constantly getting between skin and ski for all of us.

•  My new Scarpa F1 boots worked great; they are a pain to get in and out of, but I developed some techniques.

•  My ski pack had a small fleece vest in it that I was not planning to take. It came in handy. At camp I would wear: T-shirt, long-sleeved T, fleece vest, down vest, down parka.

•  My light glove liners and light ski gloves both developed many tears quickly. My main ski gloves (Mountain Hardwear) weathered the week with no wear and were warm enough.

•  Hand warmers were extremely useful.

•  My down booties seemed useless for outdoor use. Too lightweight.

•  Camera notes: I used my new SONY A6500. Battery life in the cold was a problem, but I had a strong spare battery pack for recharging, and three batteries total.

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