After a few back and forth e-mails, the location for this year’s section camp was settled on the Mt. Alexandra region. The section visited this area in 2011 and looked to be a good one. The first week had only 9 participants out of 12. Fortunately, that meant more stretching room in the cooking tent!
Logistics were finalised thanks to the amazing organisation of Claire, George and Susan.
Saturday’s fly-in day came around pretty quick. A pick-up of 4ish PM allowed us a leisurely breakfast at the Big Bend Cafe, time for waivers signing and driving the 90km of Forestry Service Road. Luckily, the road was in great condition and we located where Alpine Helicopters would pick us up. Once it arrived, the pilot helped us organise the gear-sling that would bring all our base camp needs to the alpine. A review of helicopter safety procedures got us ready and soon enough we were circling the cirque were we would set-up camp. After locating a water source and flat ground, the gear sling was quickly flying up valley towards us. The pilot expertly dropped it within 6 feet of where I was kneeling. Two more flights of gear and people had us now in Camp building mode and settling in.
The 2nd day was spent exploring the approach headwall that we would navigate for an ascent of Mt. Alexandra. It was also that descent so knowledge of this trail was essential. A good trail cairned from 2011 was located and we made our way up some great 3rd and 4th class scrambling. Future route-finding kept it at 3rd class except for one 5.2 rock step that was unprotected. A bolt and piton anchor at the top provided safety for seconds and on descent. An exposed, easy traverse followed below Coral Peak leading to the Alexandra glacier. One team of 3 (Jeff, Vern and Dom) headed for Coral peak around the West side. Another team (Luc, Philippe and Simon(Team Poutine)) headed for the North side up a steep snow and ice face. A 3rd team (Susan, Rick and Laura) headed up the Alexandra glacier to further explore the approach to Mt. Alexandra.
On the 3rd day, a large slab of rock on the shoulder of Rose Petal Pk. begged to be explored. Jeff, Susan and Luc set out to pick a line up it. After some discussion, we settled on a diagonal crack system. A direct corner also looked good but it was shut down or required multiple small placements. Braver, well armed souls might have explored it. The diagonal was showing some vegetation meaning potential for gear placements with some gardening (if it grows, it goes). Four long pitches followed with each pitch needing 4-5 protection pins and each belay 1-2 pitons. We removed all of them because we needed more for the rest of the route. With only 1 piton hammer, the seconds had to clean the pins with an improvised literal “rock” hammer. On the summit ridge, we realised we were on an overhanging loose rock slab. We abandoned thoughts of continuing to the summit and fixed an anchor for an exciting 70m double rope rappel down the back side. Snow patches provided a quick descent and we stopped at an Alpine tarn for a quick cool down swim. In the mean time, Philippe and Simon headed up Rose Petal. We saw them make quick progress up the glacier and they saw us on the summit ridge looking for an anchor. Other members rested in camp preparing for the next day’s objective.
The 4th day was the big one. Camp was split into 3 teams. Jeff and Vern would leave first at 2 AM planning for Mt. Alexandra and pioneering a descent to link-up with two more peaks. Philippe, Simon and Dom left at 4:30 AM with Alexandra in mind. Luc, Susan, Rick and Laura would form the final team, leaving at 5 AM and draft in the great kick steps left behind by the other teams. Staggering the starts would provide safety by avoiding being below each other. We made good time and by 2 PM everyone in Camp had summited Mt. Alexandra!
We slowly made our way back down as fatigue set in. At the anchor for the 5.2 rock step, darkness caught up to us. Luckily, at the base of the rappel, Philippe and Simon had come back up to help carry some gear back down the 3rd class descent. Everyone was now in camp eating, drinking and laughing. In the early morning hours, a huge thunder storm rolled in above camp, making us glad to be tucked in our sleeping bags!
On the 5th day, we rested. Some explored the meadow blooming with wildflowers and the lovely tarn. Others went bouldering on the 2 house sized boulders above camp. A pair of bolts was found on top of one of them and we enjoyed some good forearm pump. The largest one provided some steep climbing to get off the ground. A nearby romantic stream kept the beer cold while we pulled down.
The 6th day was quite short for some. Most of us woke early to attempt the White Rose traverse. Early lightning strikes had half the teams scurry back to their sleeping bags. Jeff, Philippe and Simon headed out in between the storms and battled their way across the traverse enjoying some classic and exposed glacier travel. They were threatened by more lightning storms but made good time and got back to camp safely, if a little wide eyed!
For the 7th day, we elected to try a quick scramble up Whirlwind Peak to beat another round of lightning storms. Jeff and Susan made it up and over the peak, enjoying some fine glissading down the backside. After grinding their way up a steep meadow and finding large animal tracks, the storm arrived. They both ran back to camp, making it back in time to beat a hail storm. It stormed the rest of the day, making it easy to finish the food and drink supply late into the night.
As the 8th day dawned, everybody slowly got up and started packing our individual tents. We did some thorough cleaning and maintenance jobs of camp, preparing it for the next week’s participants. The helicopter soon arrived and as usual, we only had a quick handshake and exchange of information with many familiar faces. Before we knew it, we were back below the west side of Mt. Bryce and driving back to Calgary.
The week was a great success. It was spent in great company in a beautiful location with multiple objectives. These camps really bring people together and allow each member to get to know one another. Returning each evening to the comforts of a great camp set-up completes it!