Trip Report

The Peak: Mt Forbes, 11850 feet
Dates: Aug 2-7, 1999

Why? 1. Forbes is my wife's mother's maiden name, so I have thought for years of climbing it. It is highest peak in Banff Nat'l Park and #6 in the Can. Rockies.

2. We saw it from Peyto Peak two years ago and it looked VERY impressive

3. Joe Kramarsic climbed it with Yamnuska Guides a couple of years ago and recommended it and gave me some info.

Personnel: Stan Wagon, 48; Katie Larson, 34; (Colorado)
   David & Vicki Nebel (Portland, Ore., 52; 47)
   Phil Hage, 50 (St. Paul, Minn.)

August 1: Fly to Calgary. Katie and I sit beside Norm Green, whose name we did not recognize, but who, we learned later from Phil, was the owner of the Minnesota North Stars, later Dallas Stars hockey team. I think he somehow sold the Dallas team, maybe on unfavorable terms; after all, he was NOT traveling in first class!

Meet Phil at airport. Drive to L. Louise, meet David and Vicki, stay at hostel. We had an unfortunate interaction with the ranger since he said we couldn't camp where we wanted to. David thought he was wrong so we went back and asked him to please check the exact map and boundary of the random camping region. He was totally wrong and was making the rules up. So we got our way.

Aug. 2: David loses wallet. Two hours taken to cancel credit cards. We start hiking from the Saskatchewan River Crossing (approx 4700') at about 11:30. By 6 pm we are past Glacier Lake at a good campsite. But it is dreary that our elev. is still 4700'. The trail is generally ok, some small bushwhacking where the river had washed it out. We are now very near the ACC camp of c. 1948.

Aug 3: Onward to the river crossing. We get sidetracked by a trail up to the Lyell Icefield which costs us 300 feet of unnecessary climb. But this forces us to cross the river at the safest point, upstream of the second lake just where the river comes out of the glacier. The crossing goes easily, in about 5 small sections, but the water is, as promised in the guidebook, "brutally cold". Only about knee high. At this point Vicki is unsure whether she should continue as the going has been rough. We cannot promise her it will be easier -- in fact, we are fairly sure it will be harder as we are still at 4700' and now need to get to 7000 for base camp. But we assure her she can do it, and she believes us.

Because of our position, we could not easily look for the supposed trail up the Mons valley, so we bushwhack 600' to a promising-looking saddle, where indeed we find the climber's path. This bushwhack was heinous! But now we are on the moraine and have easy travel -- until it cliffs out. But there are trails around the cliffs that look like they will work, and they do work, though the terrain is difficult and Katie and I and David had to do some double pack-hauling over some exposed, but short, climbing moves. We top out somewhat higher than we want to be at about 6:30 and start looking for camp. Weather is great. We use our two-way radios to coordinate the search for camp and find a great site with a small pond just above the toe of the Mons Glacier. It turns out to be a great camp for three nights.

Aug 4: The route description for Forbes makes it sound easy, so I figure a 7 a.m. departure is ok, since all are tired. Probably we should have left at 6. All but Vicki head up at 7, gain the North Glacier, rope up, wind through the exposed ice (low-angle, obvious crevasses) with no problem. At the firn line Katie takes the lead from me and continues up through the snow, which is mushy. Hmm...maybe this is what the ranger meant when he said it might be early for Forbes! Still, we get to just below the col with no problems, though Phil is tired and stays there to wait for the three of us to make our summit bid. There are a couple of snow ramps up the face, and we quickly choose one and go, Katie staying in the lead and breaking the steps all the way to the summit. Because of avalanche concern we stayed near the rocks, and that means there were 2 or 3 icy sections where we were front-pointing on 50-degree ice. But that all went well and we just continued up and up and up for 1200 feet. Then over the lip onto the ridge, and a spectacular walk up 300 feet of snow ridge in a fabulous position. We are now totally towering over everything. The relief is tremendous and we all move very carefully on the summit. Clouds were moving in so the views weren't great, but we knew we were somewhere special. There was no sign of any other parties having climbed it.

Descent was mostly plunge-stepping, slightly varying the up route to avoid the ice, and we were soon back with Phil. Every hour we checked in with Vicki by radio. With her binocs she could see us on the final ridge.

As soon as we unroped at glacier's end it started to rain and was soon raining hard, some lightning, and very low visibility. We found the bottom of the Mons Glacier, and crossed it, but now were unsure of which gully climbed the 200' to camp. We figured it out and were soon at our tents, somewhat wet (though not too cold). It was still raining, but my new tent is large and we were all able to dry out and then gather in that tent for dinner. Katie did all the food prep. and cooking for the trip and the food was superb. Very satisfying day, though there were lots of wet boots, socks, etc at camp.

Aug 5: Too tired to do much in the a.m. and the planned climb of Mons seemed like too much to contemplate. The sun came out so we dried clothes and at noon Katie, David, Vicki, and I climbed for a couple of hours up the Mons Glacier. Very pleasant, especially the views of the Lyell Group and Icefield. On our return Phil reported that he found some promising cairns heading down, so Phil, Katie, and I explored that and found a great route on the low-angle rock beside the waterfall and gorge. Clearly this is THE way to ascend or descend to the toe of the Mons. There would be a few places where packs would need to be lowered, but it was generally quite easy on good rock. Good. This must be the place where the guidebook refers to handlines and the ranger referred to rappel points, though we saw no gear. Not really needed. [Aaargh...I just read the guidebook carefully. Had I done so on the approach we would have found this on the way up.]

This day we identified a very interesting new flower for us: Yellow (or Evergreen) Saxifrage. Very pretty and abundant all around camp and the trails much lower.

Aug 6: Off we go. The new route goes well. We head again to the most upstream point of the river, right where it comes out of the SE Lyell Glacier and try to cross. But the water level is now a lot higher. And there are dozens of small ice blocks floating in the creek. We cross, but not without incident. I stumbled and got my camera wet. Vicki fell once onto her back. The water was still not terribly deep, but the current was very strong and the silt meant one could not see the bottom, even in the shallow regions, so foot placement was a guess. One error: Phil had his walking stick out but the rest of us neglected to take our ice axes out. They would have helped I think. I wonder what the water temperature was? All I can say for sure is that it was above 32 degrees.

We were now done with the difficulties and we walked up to the tremendous ice cave above the stream to check it out. Very nice. At one point a huge car-size serac came off, crashing about 5 feet down. I think 100 years ago this entire second lake would not have existed as the glacier would have been very thick at this point and would have existed well downstream.

The high water meant the trail back was under water in spots and this made for a tough section of bushwhacking, and more wetness here and there. At one point I stupidly stepped on some floating logs and went in to my waist. The clear water was hard on our eyes as it was so clear one could not easily guage the depth. Where the clear joined the silt was most interesting.

Joke of the trip: David's quip that the guidebook title was "Selected Climbs in the Canadian Rockies" not "Recommended Climbs in...."! But the summit was really very rewarding. The final snow work is somewhat like Andromeda's Skyladder Route and David and I guess that the Kain Face on Robson must be much like this too.

Well, no real problems and we got to the park campground at the outlet of Glacier Lake at around 7 pm. One other party was there. Light rain shower overnight. We had planned for one day from base camp to car but changed the plan to allow two days. Good thing! We figure we covered 42 miles in all, with 30 of them shouldering the packs (mine was probably 48 pounds, Katie's 52, David's 60).

Aug 7: Out in three hours. Lots of strawberries on the trail slowed us down. Overnight a chipmunk or mouse got into our food bag (pack) which was annoying as we had hung them on park cables specially designed for bear protection. Back at the hostel David found that someone had found and returned his wallet with all cash intact!

We stayed at West Louise Lodge that night and wandered the Lake Louise Hotel and had a superb late dinner at the Post House.

Aug 8: Drive to Calgary in rain the whole way.

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose on these things.....this one was a winner!

PS: The new picture book by Shirahata is tremendous. It has a good shot of Forbes, which is why I got it, but he also has some tremendous photos of dozens of the important peaks in the Rockies and Selkirks and Purcells. One of Sir Donald is especially good.

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