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On our journey home from Shangri La ,  Darek hit Jita’s for some java while I dropped in on my friend Sigi at International Timberframes.  As we continued west, he mentioned running into Isaac K at the coffee shop, and that “Ice Axe” and a couple of the local riff-raff were teeing up a Rockies mission the next weekend.  Would I care to join?  Upon learning that the main objective was a summit coveted since my first forays into the Rockies (with  Jeff V) , I was quick to commit.   A decade ago we were intimidated by the huge approach to access Mt.Forbes (the highest peak in Banff National Park at 3612m), easily dealt with if you feel like blowing some cash on the coolest taxi on the planet.
 A flurry of emails and phone calls and it was set.  We would fly into the Mons hut,  and attempt  a third descent of the NW Face of Mt Forbes. On board: Pierre B, Isaac K, Tyler M from G-town and Conor H and myself repping Revy. My last outing with Tye and Ice Axe involved the first descent of the Comstock Couloir, and I was pumped to get back out in the mountains with them.

No Kidding...

Once deposited at the Mons Hut and happy we had managed the cache drop at Bush pass on the way in, we headed out onto the Mons Icefield.  Before gliding down to our camp below the N glacier of Forbes, we ditched a bunch of gear and headed for the summit of Mons.  A straight forward track up the glacier and a bit of a steep bootpack to summit was the perfect intro to the area, and the skiing was great!


Ice Axe off the summit.


We dropped down to a point that allowed access on to the North Glacier and set up the Mid.  The objective was hidden from sight at our camp, and we burrowed into our bags anticipating what was up around the corner.

NW face of Mt Forbes from the Columbia Icefield. Photo Jon Walsh.

First  to tackle the 1800′  face were Jon Walsh and Ptor Spriceniecks in September of 1997.  They chose two feet and a heartbeat over 2 rotors and gallons of Jet B avgas, and nailed it in an impressive  push.   The  face of  was not skied again until July 2005, posted here ,  but only one party member is named: Andrew Field.  Does anyone know who else was on this mission?   
We set off in the early a.m. under clear skies, the stunning scenery clearing bleary eyes as well as a strong cup of coffee.  Easy travel and some cautious route finding got us through the middle section of the glacier and to our first view of the line.

Conor H with the summit of Forbes finally coming into view.

The next hour of approach was a constant study of the terrain ahead.  Weighing consequences, refining the route as perspective changed, trying to judge snow depth and consistancy…we settled on straight up.  Skinning until the angle called for bootpacking, we put on our crampons and punched up to the choke that was our way through the rock band dividing the face.

Through the choke.

Once on the upper face the snow firmed up, keeping everyone “on their toes”.  The question of skiing this icy slope was the only thing breaking through the focus needed high on this exposed face.  Not much was said at the windy summit as we quickly made the call to poke out onto the face skiers right of our ascent line.  Convincing myself that it looked marginally better than what we had just come up, I concentrated on clicking in without losing a ski and started off.  A handful of very cautious side slipping traverses mixed with tentative turns put me back at the top of the choke, heart pounding .  Whew!  Full on!  With a check here to see if all were good, Pierre and I continued down, side stepping through some rock to a clear line through. 

Pierre B. laying it down in the steeps.

Getting out onto the lower  face eased the tension a bit, still very steep but a clear shot to the bench below, and much better skiing. We watched as our teammates opened it up out the bottom, and shared in a jubilent celebration at the base of one of the wildest lines of our lives.

Tyler M. happy to hit some softer snow.


Isaac K rolling into the party.

Snacking up and gazing back at the face in near disbelief filled the next few minutes, and we turned the skis towards camp.  The winter camping ritual of hot food and water production took over the evening, along with talk of the day.  I added a hundred metre sprint in down booties to my exercise quota, chasing my sleeping bag blowing down the glacier.  Glad I caught it, because we dived into the bivvies as soon as the sun disappeared.

Morning brought fine weather again, and we tailed a group from the Mons hut up on to the west glacier.  Our next goal was to reach our food cache in Bush Pass,  restock, and head for the Freshfield Icefield.  Sounds easy…

Isaac looking for the anchor.


Anchor marked in Red.

After negotiating the 50m rappel pictured ( part of the Great Divide traverse) we dropped into Forbes Creek.  With no water to be found in the boulder strewn drainage, we built a quick fire to melt some snow and reheat some leftovers.

In the spirit of the boys in '67.

 Turned out the water wasn’t needed, we were replacing our  smoky snowmelt with mountain fresh stream water 20 minutes further up the valley.  Scanning the alpine terrain of the head of the valley wasn’t offering up any easy options to our much need food above.   We settled on a steep climbing traverse under the North Glacier of Mt Niverville, reaching the benches and gullies of the broad pass under darkening skies and deteriorating weather.  Looking for the slightest break from the honking winds, we dug in the mid and a snowcave in the lee of a small knob.  Winds blasted through the night, and the weather plus 20cm of freshly windslabbed snow  didn’t have us motivated to carry on the next day.  An unwise decision to trim the rapidly growing cornice above our camp resulted in a half buried Pierre, a broken pole and a hole in our main shelter.  Cursing my bad decision and vowing to better my communication skills ate up the rest of the day along with digging in a  camp out of harms way.

The next day was not much better, weather-wise, but we tip-toed onto the North side of Niverville and boogied across the glacier under looming  cornices, toward the col that  we needed to pass through to access the Freshfield.  On edge after yesterdays indicators of tender conditions, and triggering a small slab tucking up to the base of the slope leading to the col, I gladly gave up the lead to Ice Axe.

Through the notch at last, we followed old tracks  to where access on to the Freshfield was possible , and started the long slog to our next camp.  Heads turned to the west to take in the sporadic views of the faces and aretes of  Pangman Peak, Mt. Dent and Mt. Freshfield, the shifting cloud cover kept  the summits hidden from sight.  Dropping the packs in the vicinity of Mt. Lambe was a brief respite, next up was dig in time.   Our camp setup system was a serious task, and with a few days of refinement behind us, we set to digging out a big square pit for 3 under the mega-mid, attached by tunnel to the kitchen cave, with benches set up to accommodate the remaining two. Well worth the effort,  comfortable for all.

Plush digs.

Crawling back into my bag after an early morning pee, a sudden sharp pain started  in the right side, middle of my back.  A futile hour of tossing and turning looking for a position that would ease the stabbing sensation led to the realisation that it was not going away. 

 Something was wrong. 

 Waking the others to let them know as much, I writhed in pain wondering what the F*%# was going on while they set the rescue plan in action.  Skinning a short distance from camp allowed them to contact Parks Canada on the radio, and after an hour or so we heard the buzz of the rotors.  Visibility was  poor, and the 407 could not see our camp in the expanse of the icefield.  We could see them hand railing the SW slopes of Solitaire Mountain, but they peeled away and headed back down the valley.

  My heart sank.

I was desperate for that ride, after three hours of the worst pain I have experienced.  The boys quickly formulated Plan B, and I put boots on to skin the short distance to where we had last seen the chopper.  Fifteen minutes later I was greeted by wardens Steve H. and Diane V., and they loaded me up (pretty routine, compared to this). My condition was improving as I related the details of the last 4 hours of misery, much to my relief.  Unloading at the hospital in Banff, I felt close enough to normal that I wondered if the rescue was the right call, was I just a wimp with a muscle spasm or something? 

 The doctor confirmed our earlier un-educated diagnosis of kidney stones, and I passed the stone right there in the hospital.  About the size of a piece of quinoa, yet the cause of much excruciating pain passing from kidney to bladder.  Everything you have heard about kidney stones, believe it.

Feeling better about the rescue call as well as physically, I spent the afternoon walking around Banff  in my down booties and wallet-less, but with $20 cash that Tye slipped me before my rapid exit.  I caught up with a couple of friends while  Cody L. completed the rescue effort by driving to pick me up from Golden.   I closed my eyes on this crazy day and was thankful to all involved in it, and to be resting  in Cody’s comfortable abode,  almost home.

The rest of the crew stayed on the icefield and skied out via Wildcat creek and the Peyto glaciers over the next 3 days.

Great job on the rescue boys, many thanks.



Chimera-Handcrafted Splitties from the Wasatch


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