Saturday, July 15, 2006

GPS to Google Earth

I'm a big fan of Google Earth (and Google Maps, especially the Hybrid view). If you upgrade to Google Earth Plus ($20 per year) you can interface to GPS devices. I picked up a data cable and tried it out. It's a little slow getting the information from the GPS but it works pretty slick. I still had Cho Oyu data on my GPS (a Garmin Geko 301) so I downloaded that first. Next was the data from the Willingdon trip. Most recently I downloaded the data from a canoe trip down the river. Very cool.

For topo maps I use Fugawi. They also have software that'll talk to a GPS but I haven't tried it yet.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Climbing Mt. Willingdon

Last weekend Shelley and I headed out to the mountains. It was a holiday long weekend so we picked a destination to escape the crowds. We had seen Mt. Willingdon in The 11000ers of the Canadian Rockies by Bill Corbett. It looked remote enough to not be crowded. Of course the highways getting there were busy (but we were enjoying our brand new Toyota Prius hybrid so it wasn't too bad).

We drove out Friday (stopping at MEC to spend money) and camped at Lake Louise so we could buy backcountry passes in the morning at the information center (and have breakfast at Laggans first!) Then we drove up to Mosquito Creek where we left the car in the hostel parking lot. (It made us a little nervous to leave our brand new car in a lot that had a lot of broken auto glass on the ground! We worried about this all weekend, but in the end the car was fine.)

We started hiking in at 10am - not exactly an alpine start, but the book said 6 to 8 hours to hike in so we still had plenty of time. The first part of the approach follows the Mosquito Creek trail, leaving it at the bridge where the north branch of the creek comes in. After that there's no real trail, although there are various faint paths. It's fairly straightforward to follow the shore of the creek. We ended up taking our boots off twice to cross the creek where the shore got impassable. After a few kilometers along the creek you angle up to the right through openings in the trees to a big grassy amphitheater with Quartz Pass above. Getting up to the pass requires varying amounts of steep boulder hopping, depending how well you pick your route.

The view down the East side of the pass is a little intimidating. The book said to be sure to "scope out the route". The question was where the route went. We explored a bit but decided to down pretty much directly from the low point of the pass where there's a narrow steep snow gully. We traversed out and back on the rock to avoid the steepest part of the snow, but the rock was loose and ugly - a bit nerve wracking with the long potential fall. Once on the snow we kicked steps down the steepest part and then glissaded the rest. Meanwhile two young guys also heading to Willingdon had come down a little further south and passed us - their route looked a lot better.

The final slog across to Devon Lakes was hot and tiring. We arrived about 5pm for a time of 7 hours - right in the guidebook estimate of 6 to 8. We had brought our new Black Diamond First Light tent - only about 1kg, our North Face Kilobags, and Prolite 3 Short thermarests. It's sure nice having this light gear to keep the pack weight down. Ice axes and crampons added a bit, but at least we didn't have to carry a rope and rack. Helmets would have been nice in a few spots.

Although the book said only 6 hours for the climb, we decided to get an early start (5am) to avoid the heat and soft snow. (And because we hoped to get a head start on the hike out that same day.) The climb is pretty straightforward. Parts of the ridge looked a little scary from below but turned out to be easy scrambling. We avoided the snow until just below the cliff band that forms the final obstacle. It was icy so we put on our crampons for this bit. The cliff isn't that high - only a body length or two - but it was early enough when we got there that the rock was covered in a thin layer of ice from yesterday's melt water. We found one spot that seemed dry and had good holds. The only problem was pulling over the lip where it was loose rock and scree slippery with ice. From there it was an easy scree slope to the top which we reached at 10am (four hours up). It was a beautiful sunny day with fantastic views all around.

Neither of us wanted to go back down the cliff band so we went over the top looking for the alternative descent described in a typical vague fashion. We ended up descending the snow gully just on the other side of the summit. It was mostly easy step kicking with a few icy parts to keep things interesting. The gully led us out onto the South "face". From below this looks very steep, but it's mostly scree with a few rock bands. Unfortunately, one larger cliff band prevents you from descending straight down so we traversed across the face to a gully beside the ascent ridge. From there it was an easy walk back to camp by about 12:00

After a break we packed up and moved camp to the foot of Quartz Pass. Shelley suggested we could go over the pass that day, but it was hot and we'd already had a long day. We watched another party go up that afternoon. When we talked to them the next day they confirmed our decision saying it had been extremely hot and the snow extremely soft. It was hot enough for us hanging out by the tent! The mosquitoes were bad enough that you'd rather not be outside but on the other hand it was too hot inside the tent.

The next day we slept through our watch alarms but still got away by 7am. Starting fresh, in the cool of the morning, it was an easy climb up and over the pass (taking the better route we'd seen the other pair take). Rather than going straight down to the creek we traversed the hillside diagonally, avoiding the awkward spots where we'd had to cross the creek. We joined the creek where a wide waterfall comes in from the West. Hiking back down the creek seemed to take forever but we eventually hit the bridge and rejoined the main path for an easy hike down to the road and the car.

We got down about noon, stopped in Lake Louise for a shower and lunch at the Alpine Club / Youth Hostel center, and drove the tedious 7 or 8 hours back to Saskatoon.

All in all a great weekend! Photos