It’s summer in the Canadian Rockies. For most, it’s an experience of warm temperatures, long days exploring alpine lakes and scenic vistas, and meeting other happy travelers on extended vacations.
While it would be nice to join the majority on what sounds like a pleasant adventure, I seem to have gotten caught up in a peculiar group of friends, with different ideas of what “fun” is.
John suggested we take a stab at two 11,000’ peaks up near the Columbia Icefields during a clearing in his busy schedule, and though I tried to make myself sound busy with important matters to boost my own stature, I eventually relented and admitted that I’m as free as a bird, and we can do whatever he wants.
Mt. Woolley and Mt. Diadem are a unique in the sense that they share the same col, a one-two combo of climbing one, descending the 1000’ back to the col, and then summiting the other. Two tall mountains in one day – the dream of any conceited climber.
The journey began at the 12km pull off, just north of the Columbia Icefields Visitor Centre. Fifty paces, then plunge into thigh-deep, flipping cold glacial waters that is the Sunwapta river. We brought extra shoes to sacrifice to the wet, but John seemed to have forgotten his shirt at home.
Trekking up Woolley Creek for the next 4 hours on the approach to our bivy was scenic and uneventful. The air, the sights, sounds offered by the rushing water were all welcomed – except for the small flock of mosquitoes swarming behind both of us until we reached treeline.
A handful of bivy sites exist at the upper section of the creek, right before the glacial pond. I think it is safe to say that reservations aren’t required.
We awoke at 3:30 the following morning. For breakfast; kick ass overnight oats that still managed to be delicious without having a full “night” to soak. We geared up and carried on, with visions of summit fuzzy peaches hitting our tastebuds with a heightened sense of sweet and sour at altitude.
Thunderstorms have a funny way being somewhere in the forecast, but usually inconsistent in their time of arrival and intensity. Well, hopefully you can read into what happened next.
At first, there was some rain. Then, a lot more rain. Then, the rain came in from the side. At this point, I’m not really sure my $900 gore-tex jacket is really all that waterproof, and just as I think “Well, it can’t get much wo-“, a debilitating crack of lightning struck the peak of Mt. Woolley just a few hundred metres to our west.
As we expeditiously made our way down, I couldn’t help but reflect on why we were here in the first place. Was it to summit a mountain, or was it to spend a few days of quality time off the grid, with a balance of solitude and the company of a good friend? Peak optional.
Back at camp, we retired our wet wares, and enjoyed glints of sunshine obscured by traces of the storm system driving its way east. After a heavy siesta, 9:30 to 3:30, we enjoyed some bocce around the bivy site, making use of various obstacles, pools, and small shrubs to create a sort of high-altitude desolate mini golf. Would definitely play again.
The rain returned with ferocity. At 3:00 the following morning, it was still going strong with a the calming pitter patter on the nylon fly. With little motivation from either of us to make breakfast and harness-up in the pouring rain, we snoozed on. Sometimes a little push from a friend is good, but I was happy we unspokenly on the same page for this one.
In many ways this mountaineering trip, which are usually characterized by a shortage of everything by the end – food, sleep, physical stamina, flipped into more into more of a moderate hike with a bunch of unnecessary glacier gear. For me, it serves as a nice reminder: You don’t need to go all out, all the time. We didn’t do anything “epic”, and I still had a blast.