What better way to celebrate St Paddy’s day than to do so on the Pat Sheehan Traverse. Granted, the Pat Sheehan traverse was named after a Canadian, and wandering around on a glacier in a blizzard is about as Irish as green Molson, and St Paddy’s day was actually the Tuesday after, but close enough.
I’m going to hazard a guess and say that the traverse is probably beautiful and possibly has some good skiing. I’m sure with good visibility and stability, both comments would be true. Anyhow, I can verify that it felt like a long way, both mentally and physically. I didn’t observe much on day 1 and day 2 the light was flat and stability poor, but the GPS said the route was 34 km and 1700 m of ascent. The route description in Chic Scott’s book seemed pretty accurate. There was a trail broken up the initial treed slope to the hanging valley. The side hill traverse is a lot less exposed to avalanches than it looks like on the map. The glaciers are relatively flat and we didn’t find any crevasses, although summer air photos sure show quite a few. Both the descent into and out of Castleguard meadows are significant avalanche slopes. The descent into Castleguard meadows can be mitigated by flowing benches to the west. The descent from Castleguard meadows onto the Saskatchewan glacier can not. There is a ~50 m vertical slope that is 37.5 degrees, loaded by predominate winds. We were lucky it had already slid the night before, twice.
The group dynamic was excellent. Everyone worked very well as a team and shared their skills and expertise to the benefit of the group. Katherine brought her degree in Meteorology to good use (her prediction that the weather was going to be down right aweful turned out to be correct), I brought my IFR training to help navigate us through a cloud, Mike showed great leadership and kept us trucking along and Ewen translated for Katherine so that we could understand what she said. Everyone took turns breaking trail, carried their share of the gear, and most importantly, contributed to the group decisions. It was awesome, and made the tough conditions manageable.
Although the trip was clearly not type 1 fun, it was an adventure and served a very useful purpose. Mike and I are heading to the Freshfields for 9 days, and needed to verify our winter camping and travel skills. The prevailing winter conditions are abnormal this year, and require adjustment from normal systems. Stoves were impossible to keep lit in +50 km/hr sustained winds and omnipresent spin drift. Our stoves continuously got blown out, and lighters refused to work. Katherine brought a flint and steel which worked much better. Most of my winter camping had been at <-20C, which is actually easier to stay warm in than the very windy rain/snow which soaks everything instantly. Down was near useless and should have stayed in my bag. More gloves would have been nice, especially gloves that are warm when wet. Setting up a tent such that is is protected from the wind, but also ventilates is really difficult. Any wind break quickly gets filled in, burying the tent and plugging most of the ventilation. Digging a tent out in the middle of the night in no fun. An exposed tent gets battered by the wind. I guess you can make your choice from two bad options, but I think I would opt for something in between. Probably a tent at ground level with a wind break to break-up strong gusts.
In the end, a really good trip.