Trip Report

Personnel:    Stan Wagon, Silverthorne, Colorado, 61; Katie Larson, Montezuma, Colorado; Kim Clark, Montezuma, Colorado; Elke Dratch, Breckenridge, Colorado; Bill Egbert, Breckenridge, Colorado; Ben McShan, Durango, Colorado
Guide: Pierre Hungr, Vancouver,

Location: Two valleys south of Battle Abbey in the Selkirk Range, SW of Golden, British Columbia.

Background: In 2000 Katie and I viewed Snow Ocean from the top of Typee near Battle Abbey. That view inspired our 2004 Wrong Way traverse from Snow Ocean to the Abbey via the Wrong Glacier and Oasis Lake. In 2006 some of us hoped to spend a week at Oasis Lake, but that trip never happened. But Oasis Lake stayed in my mind as a great place for a base camp, so in 2013 we decided to try again, with guide Pierre Hungr, who had taken us on the Lyell Traverse in 2012. It worked out well!

Wednesday April 17, 2013.  Drive north with Katie and Kim. But I neglected to check weather and I-25 was closed at the Wyoming border because of snow. Same with the first obvious detour, US287. So we took Colo14 through Cameron Pass to Walden (100 miles). Horrible drive in no visibility near pass. Went into snowbank near summit. Plow man helped us shovel out, then some zero-visibility whiteout driving. Walden was okay, then more snow to I-80. Then ok to Pocatello and Idaho Falls where we spent the night. Lost 8 hours total. We strongly suggested that Elke and Bill take the Idaho route the next day, which they did.

April 18  Picked up Ben in Shelby, Montana. Met his parents. Dinner in Canmore. Golden at 9 pm. Trip distance as we did it: 1576 miles. Shortest way: 1314 miles. For the record, Elke’s way via Salt Lake City: 1367 miles.

Friday April 19: Our cooler, left outside the motel room was stolen. Late Friday night: It miraculously get returned. A few things missing. We think the thief heard about our anger and returned it. Very annoying. Dinner with guide Pierre. Our shopping and packing day was successful.

Saturday 420. Met Eileen (cook for Robson at the Abbey) at Jita’s. Also Abby Watkins, who told me that Anton Wopereis, a guide in New Zealand whom Tom Whitesides and I had hired for a couple days on Mt. Aspiring in 2000, died in 2008 on Mt Cook: ice came out on an easy part of the Cook ascent; after the crux. This was a heli stress day. Met Hans-Peter Stettler at the hangar, as well as friends, Ellen and Jeffrey and Kurt, from our neighborhood in Colorado; they were going to Battle Abbey, with Robson and Olivia Gmoser as their guides. Also their young son Max was going in.

But by 6 pm we decided conditions, and time, did not warrant an attempt, and we put it off to Sunday. This was for the best because setting up camp takes a couple hours. We were told we could carry (people and gear) 2300 pounds. We weighed in at 2350, which was fine. The pilot was unsure it would all fit, but it did. So we went in (next day) with a tremendous amount of gear: two tables, seven chairs, lots of food, cider, beer, etc. The Bell 212 is a phenomenal machine! The big topic of conversation all day was the death of five snowboarders and skiers in an avalanche near Loveland Pass (near our house in Colorado).

Sunday 4/21: Helicopter flew us in (Craig Ward pilot) with no problem, nice and early. We set up camp at the exact spot as in 2004, just above the open water, with four small tents and the giant Arctic Oven base camp tent, which Pierre had. It served as a superb cook tent. In the afternoon we skied up to Oasis Pass and then traversed S a bit for a nice N-facing descent. Powdery at the start, then crusty. Back to camp.  2700 feet climb.

It was very exciting to be back in this valley, which we passed through in 2004 on our traverse from Snow Ocean to Battle Abbey. The peaks were first explored by Sam Silverstein and friends, a group from Dartmouth College in 1959, and they named many of the peaks after Dartmouth features (Goodrich (librarian), Hanover (New Hampshire), Big Green), as well as Moby Dick. And of course the infamous Wrong glacier, named after an incorrectly placed supply drop by airplane. They made the first ascent of Moby Dick; Hans-Peter Stettler, whom I met this day, had made the first winter ascent of the big white one. Since my doctorate is from Dartmouth, this was especially meaningful.

Pierre designed a nifty food storage system: a cellar blocked by the coolers. Yet there were no animal tracks of any sort at camp; no sign of martens or wolverines. Irony: A pine marten was at Katie’s house on return.

Monday 4/22: Overnight there was a serac fall from the West Wrong Glacier that caused a large snow avalanche to propagate. It went over our track in the valley, and ruined a hunk of the N-facing slope on Goodrich. But that slope is giant and there was plenty left for us. This was a clear day and we started by climbing this slope to the west fork of the Wrong Glacier, as we did in 2004, and then a nice line all the way to the Goodrich-Odysseus col at 8800. We roped at the top section through some crevasses (but overall the snow coverage over the crevasses was excellent; better than in 2004). The other side was steep and would be difficult and dangerous to pass through either up or down, though perhaps not impossible. The col had a nice alpine feel with the west ridge of Goodrich rising above us. The descent from here was 2600 feet of superb cold powder. At the bottom we went through a steep gully and Kim started a slab avalanche that she rode out. This was perhaps the steepest single pitch we skied all week. Then we went up-valley for lap 2, climbing up under Odysseus for a second 1800-foot powder run. Great day. 4600 feet climb. Gear is all working. I am not as fast as the others on the climb, but I keep up.

Tuesday 4/23: Pierre decides that the good weather (clear, though windy, as it was all week long) justifies trying the long loop we hoped for. Start to Oasis Pass. Pierre checked on a shortcut left to “West Scylla Pass” but it did not work. There were cliffs below us, so we went north a little bit to an icy but easy descent on the west side of Billy Budd to the Stygian Pool (marked Stygian Lake on the map). From there we climbed a long slope S to the pass. This provided great views of the west side of Billy Budd and the transverse ridge that gaves us so much difficulty in 2004. But my camera was incorrectly set (glove error; 1600 ISO) and photos failed; aaargh. As we rested there, at the head of the Westfall River, a natural class 2 avalanche came down on a slope across from us. No danger to us, but it was completely natural on a slope of the sort that we often ski. Pierre says it is rare to see such things. So that is three avalanches on our terrain in three days. It was not on our route up or down, but sobering to see.

We continued up alongside the Chinese Wall’s south side (a cool feature) and then into the pass south of Scylla Mountain, which offered views into a new basin: the S side of the Goodrich massif, and even a view over to Snow Ocean. We hoped for an easy way down, but Pierre had to look around a bit to find the best way. This was a steepish broad gully, with a small amount of debris in it. We skied it for about 15 turns and then cut hard left to traverse the basin to the other side. This was a nasty and exhausting traverse through a lot of debris. There were a couple choices for how to get over the massif and back to the Wrong side and Pierre went for a rocky section that required one belayed pitch of steep snow. Pierre belayed us two at a time from a bollard anchor. At the end the rope got stuck on a rock requiring Pierre to downclimb to get it. This section was slow, but it put us at a great place -- the Goodrich-Hanover col. From there it was easy cold powder all the way down to the Wrong icefall, where we went left as in 2004. That section right beside the giant seracs was beautiful as always, and we cruised through the left ledge exit to camp. Nine hours and 5900 feet of climb and we saw some amazing terrain this day. A memorable alpine tour.

Wednesday 4/24   Time to explore the remaining exit from camp: Down to Houston Creek, up the trees to Houston Lake (where we camped in ‘04), and an attempt on the Harpoon Glacier, perhaps the primo ski line in the area, but it is south-facing so probably not in great shape. The descent to 5000 feet was very easy, though Pierre cut a very small slab just out from camp (avy #4). We saw one ptarmigan as we exited the trees up Houston (using ski crampons in here; my first use of them ever). Then came the headwall, which was steep, again requiring ski crampons and a couple of difficult kick turns.

We headed up Harpoon, again with ski crampons on an icy slope. But about 1000 feet up the wind slab made it imprudent to continue. So we descended into Houston Pass, traversed south a bit, and then the long ski run down to 5100 beet, near the very bottom. On the way up, near the slab of the morning, Pierre, while booting up the final slope to camp, triggered another slab. No consequences, but now five avalanches in four days. There were no more during the week. He cleaned out some hangfire and we all booted the bed surface back to camp.

This day had 9.5 hours of skiing and 6000 feet of climb. These two hard days certainly tired me out; at age 61 the climbs are getting tougher.

Thursday 4/25. We made a try on Billy Budd, getting to within 300 vertical of the summit, but then wind slab on the steep upper face turned us back. We used ski crampons to get up, and the ski down was fine as the icy slope had softened. At the top we skied down a little bit with skins and ski crampons on, a novel experience. So an easy day overall. Weather getting a little worse, but it was still okay this day. I needed a nap in the afternoon.

Friday 4/26.  We headed towards the Wrong-Vistamount col via the Wrong Icefall. Getting up past the icefall was quite difficult, requiring very steep kick turns. They were hard for everyone, but especially for me as I did not have much experience doing them on such steep slopes. But we managed, and cruised up the glacier. Where it steepened there was, as usual, wind slab hazard, so we never made the pass but instead climbed to near a small summit at the end of the ridge separating East Wrong from West. That was a cool spot, close to the West Wrong Icefall, and with a view straight down to camp. The ski back was uneventful. By late afternoon it was raining, so we decided to try to go out Saturday; the warmth meant that Sat. skiing would not be good. We called Alpine Helicopters to arrange that. We had had good weather for all of our six ski days here, in terms of visibility. Warmth was a problem by the end of the week, but overall this has to count as a good-weather week.

Saturday 4/27.  We packed up and spent all day in the large tent waiting for the helicopter, but the weather was not good enough for it to fly, either for us or for Battle Abbey.

Sunday 4/28.  Weather a little better. Pilot Mark came in at 10:30 catching us by surprise (our radio was low on batteries; the satellite phone worked fine all week though). An engineer (Ray) was with him and Mark shut down making the takedown of the large tent and the packing easy. Katie and I heard it first and it lifted spirits a lot as we had been just sitting in the tent waiting for over 24 hours. A 20-minute ride and we were back in Golden. Drive to Great Falls. Dinner with Brice Addison. No mermaids in Great Falls on a Sunday night.

Monday 4/29.  Long drive back from Great Falls to Silverthorne, arriving 11 pm. One police stop in Montana with only a warning.

Summary: It takes a lot more effort to set up a base camp than to go to a lodge (but a lot less than a traverse). We were a coherent and enthusiastic group of six friends, and we knew guide Pierre from last year. We feel we were safe all week despite high avalanche danger and had superb skiing in an area of great alpine beauty that is rarely visited. And Tuesday’s tour -- the Dartmouth Loop -- was a ski day we will always remember: new and varied terrain and high passes in a very remote setting.

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