Summit Elevation (m): 3288
Elevation Gain (m): 230
Trip Time (hr): 2.5
Trip Distance (km): 3.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Travel on a very crevassed glacier – much easier with a good snow base. Note: Stats indicated are from a glacier bivy near Mount Brazeau.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: MN6; YDS (I)
Map: Google Maps
I don’t think either Ben or I really cared if we summitted another peak on the Brazeau Icefield or not, after two grueling days spent ascending Brazeau and Warren in marginal conditions. We already had the two 11,000ers and obviously the best views, but did we have ALL the best views? We suspected that there were still a few more good views we didn’t have yet. Most people traverse from Brazeau to Valad and Henry MacLeod on their way back to the high bivy. We had already noticed that there were a number of crevasses on Valad and we didn’t feel like traversing back over them, but Henry MacLeod looked dead easy from our camp. Since we were already at 3,000 meters, MacLeod should only be around a 300 meter height gain and my GPS put it at only around 2km distance. After a leisure breakfast (still in that infernal cold west wind), we set off for one last peak before getting off this melting icefield for good.
Immediately on leaving camp we were reminded where we were when I found “Charlie Two” – another crevasse on the opposite side of camp from our first crevasse – “Charlie One”! We shrugged that one off and continued on heightened alert up the glacier. I kept glancing back at camp as we climbed because I’d spotted a large black raven that morning, flying past camp. I needed my food and we didn’t have enough snow to bury it. Ravens are infamous for stealing climber’s food while they’re gone and I didn’t trust this one…
The climb was easy and soon we were on the final bit of snow before the scree to the summit cairn. Wouldn’t you know it, we found some more crevasses just before the scree but eventually we worked around them and started up the scree. The summit views didn’t disappoint. We got great views of Coronet Mountain and Brazeau. We weren’t tempted at all by Valad as it was lower than MacLeod and we needed to get off the glacier before the snow bridges weakened further.
After snapping a ton of photos in the clear morning air, we descended the mountain to camp. Thankfully the raven hadn’t visited and we packed up camp quickly before heading off the glacier trying to follow our melted out footprints from a few days previous. Overall the descent went well. We took our time avoiding weak snow bridges and even belayed each other over one problematic crevasse, using ice screws as anchors and swimming over the bridge on our stomachs! Finally we were descending the last bit of ice on the upper glacier towards the rock traverse to the lower icefield. We crossed the melted out lower icefield and were finally completely off glaciated terrain. It felt great! We could finally just relax and take the crampons off.
In a funny twist, we walked into our excellent rock bivy site about 3 minutes before I noticed someone else walking down towards us from the col and realized it was Rob Maiman who we’d run into on our Twins trip earlier in the spring. He was apparently going to follow our footsteps again!! 🙂 We had a good laugh about the odds of meeting Rob again and we updated him on conditions. Vickie and a friend were with him, so at least they’d have 3 on the rope. They set up their bivy right at the col, just above us. There were three more excellent bivy corals at the lip of the moraine above us, but they didn’t have water access and were even windier than our location.
After sitting around for a while, we decided that we were getting cold (that darn west wind again!) and so we would take a jaunt up a ridge just south of our camp which we dubbed “Bivy Ridge“. We ascended so fast that we decided to keep traversing for a while and enjoyed the views over Swan Pass and back along our approach route. We also spotted yet another party of 3 coming to the bivy and after speaking with Rob again he confirmed that they were also going for Brazeau.
This was a busy place! In a really frustrating twist, my bear spray that I’d left in ‘our’ bivy coral was missing! Someone had actually been up there in the two nights we spent camping on the glacier and taken my brand new spray and holster!! I wasn’t too happy about that – but I guess I should have left a note. We didn’t think it was that busy at Swan Pass!
Egress from Swan Pass
After a much warmer night on the rock rather than ice of the glacier, we awoke to light rain and clouds on Sunday morning. The rain stopped as we packed up camp and started the trek back to Poboktan Creek. The return trip was quick and uneventful under a sky that grew sunnier with each passing minute until it was a warm summer day in the valley bottom. Four hours after leaving our high bivy we were back at the parking lot where I met Alan and Jen and gave them a lift to Banff.
They kept me awake with entertaining stories of their last 40 days on the Great Divide Trail and I kept them awake with stories of the many peaks along the way that I’d climbed. As I drove back to Calgary alone, I contemplated the last four days and how lucky I was to experience the Rockies the way I have this year, with many remote peaks and gorgeous, wild terrain.