Summit Day!

Sure enough, Andrew makes me get up at 2am. We have lots of time to pack our packs, eat a warm breakfast and so on. We catch a ride in the pickup truck again.

At the trailhead area, group after group of hikers departs into the black darkness, winding their way up the mountain like little torchlight processions. We are shuffled around, first assigned to one instructor then another. We are the last to get going. It soon becomes apparent that we are the slowest group. Of four students, two missed the first day of the course and seem unsure on their feet, although fit.

Combined with my marginally slow speed and the instructor's tendency to stop and explain basic walking techniques, we make our way up the mountain at a fairly leisurely pace. The all-essential (on hikes of this magnitude) nutrition and hydration requirement is not neglected.

Even so, we keep with the group in front of us.

There is no point taking any pictures until the sun rises.

Here we have almost gained the summit ridge.

Huffing and puffing up the first summit, at an altitude approaching 11,000 feet, several stops are required just to get our breath back. That's the first summit behind the instructor in the last picture.

Our guide Marco says there is no need to rush, we are doing just fine timewise and will have plenty of time on the summit to make the 2:30pm return time.

Here we are in the saddle between the summits, looking up at the main one. It seems close, but look at the people in the large view of the second picture.

Anyway, we meet the lead group coming back the other way. The chief instructor whispers with ours and they go on. Then it is announced: We were too slow and have to turn around without doing the summit.

You've got to be kidding.

They are not. Without our knowledge, or our guide's for that matter, there was a hard turnaround time of 11AM. Any later and the snow on the slopes further down may not be safe because it has soaked up too much sunlight (even this explanation is not offered at the time). We have to go down. Meanwhile the other group, which we've caught up to, still gets to do the summit!

I can't believe this. Andrew and I are already chafing at being lead up the mountain on short ropes - on a leash essentially - being told where to go every step, with no chance to exercise our own judgement or any of the stuff we've learned in the last two days (or the experience Andrew has from far more extensive courses and a much bigger mountain in the past).

So this is the reward for my lousy ice climbing performance, and my discussion with the instructors the night before? Well it won't do. I put my foot down. An ugly scene threatens. The guide of the group ahead of us, who has nothing to fear from the chief instructor (our own instructor is a freshly licenced new-hire) intervenes. Another whispered conversation is had, then it is announced that we can do the summit, but quickly.

We charge up the rest of the way. It doesn't take long.

Again, no explanation is offered for the instructor (the other group is seen here) staying below the summit ridge and roped to the others. Only when we go up ourselves does it become obvious. The ridge is very narrow and drops of steeply toward a cliff on the other side. Going sliding off there would be fatal.

By the way, Andrew is mystified because self-arrest (the technique of stopping yourself from sliding after you've fallen down) was only mentioned in passing for ice, and not at all for snow.

Anyway, we take lots of pictures -- I have discovered a warm and working battery -- in the less than two minutes that we have on the summit.

View looking down into the valley. Hilda Peak (the mini Matterhorn, not so imposing looking from up here) visible at far right.

View looking toward the Icefields Centre, over the glacier that we came up on. We are well over a mile higher here.

View north along the summit ridge, toward Snowdome, which is the high point of the Columbia Icefield

Random other views...

Andrew has the presence of mind to snap the "fist in the air" summit picture of me.

Now we actually get a break on the plateau just below the summit where it is safe to sit down.

Then we start the descent. We charge down as fast as we can, intending to show them down below. Indeed, we catch up with and pass three groups ahead of us (who were not hurrying). Only after we have done this, and gotten off the ice, do I relax enough to take more pictures.

And so we've done it, in 9:15 hours! Given we have done the summit after all, we play nice with the instructors. Our own guide, Marco, is a really nice guy anyway, if he had been a little better informed of our capabilities and objectives, and the hidden deadline, none of this unpleasantness need have happened.

We return our gear and do a turbo packup and hit the road, since we have to get back to Calgary tonight. Some more scenery stops...

I want to see Lake Louise. It's famous and I've seen other people's pictures of it. So we go in there. Ho hum. Hotels and tourist stuff everywhere. The fancy hotel at the head of the lake is a modern concrete block type building. The lake is very nice, but to us, who have seen scenery just as good "in the wild" only a few hours ago, this tourist machine does not hold much appeal. We get out of there. I had wanted to see the famous Banff townscape too, but now it's not worth it.

We eat in Canmore, and make it to Calgary before dark. There we empty the car, sort the motel room full of scattered gear back into our duffel bags, shower and crash at about 8pm. Might as well re-acclimatize to Ottawa time.

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