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Late Start to Canadian Rockies Alpine Climbing Season

Climbers should be concerned about avalanches and big rockfall over the next few days

The summer alpine climbing season is off to a slow start in the Canadian Rockies and Bugaboos. With a rain-filled forecast in Banff, Yoho and Jasper for the next few days, those hoping to get up high will have to wait.

IFMGA mountain guide and Parks Canada search and rescue tech, Steve Holeczi, recently wrote a mountain condition report and said that, “Alpine areas in the Louise group and the Columbia Icefields still have over one-metre-plus of snow which has provided good coverage on glaciers and over bergshrunds when there is a good freeze. The flip side to this good coverage are many lingering cornices that would normally have shed by now, and the lingering concern for avalanches.”

The Bugaboos were busy at the end of June with a number of climbers making ascents of most of the spires. “The Bugaboo/Snowpatch col was in good condition with crevasses well covered,” said Holeczi. “Many of the Applebee camp sites are still covered in snow and the larger routes such as the Howsers are out of shape. The residual winter snowline in Rogers Pass is 2,000 metres and many of the regular routes on mountains such as Uto, Tupper and Rogers Peak were being climbed.”

Reports say that Sir Donald is still very snowy on the north side and the west face bypass is not in condition. “You can bet it is snowing both in the Bugaboos and Rogers Pass right now and most of these routes will be out of condition for the next week,” said Holeczi.

There was a large slab avalanche on Mount Andromeda’s Skyladder and Mount Athabasca’s Ramp Route on July 3 as reported by the ACMG. “After turning around on the Boundary Glacier this morning due to waist deep post-holing through wet snow we noticed a new size-two wet slab avalanche that ran on the steep section on the ramp above the seracs. The crownline was about 50cm deep to glacier ice running over old tracks on the typical ramp ascent route. Large depth hoar chains at the bottom of the snowpack were wet and rounding but still largely uncohesive and didn’t inspire confidence.

“This is a good reminder that avalanches are still happening in the alpine and to think about carrying a transceiver, shovel, and probe if venturing into steep snowy terrain.”

Not only do climbers need to worry about avalanches, but a lot of rain and snow will lead to big rockfall events. Climbers are advised to stay away from gullies and other places with big overhead hazard until the alpine dries up.

“The forecast is pretty grim for the next few days,” said Holeczi. “Freezing levels look to be around 3000m so expect snow in the high mountains. The best bet will be lower elevation rock climbing when the sun pops out. Once the precipitation stops, I would want to give snow and ice routes a couple days to settle any new snow and wait for a good overnight freeze.”

Three Sisters in Canmore on July 5, 2019

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