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One-day Wapta ski traverse

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Below Mount Balfour's east face, on the Wapta Traverse

Many people take several days to do the popular Wapta Icefields high level ski traverse, staying in any one of the four Alpine Club of Canada huts along the way. Huts must be reserved prior to the trip through the ACC. Some people tent instead. A few parties do the traverse in one long day. Telemarking ski gear is ideal for this. Skinny cross country skis are taboo; alpine touring may be unsuitable (too heavy) due to the sheer distance involved. (About 45 km)

There are 2 main variations to the Wapta Traverse. The complete traverse goes in across Peyto lake to Peyto Hut, then goes south over to Bow Hut to join the rest of the classic traverse. The Peyto section adds a considerable distance (a full day) and is not as popular. We (and most who do or have done a one-day Wapta) do not include the Peyto hut section. That would indeed be wretched excess! The most popular trip starts at Bow Lake on Icefields Parkway.

Wapta Traverse description

Ski across Bow Lake, up to Bow Hut, above Bow Hut, over the Mount Olive-St Nick col, and down to Balfour Hut (895 gain, 395 m loss). From Balfour Hut, ski up over Balfour high col (610 m gain) and down towards Mount Daly, between Mounts Niles and Daly and through trees and a gully to Sherbrooke Lake (1220 m loss). Follow the summer hiking trail from Sherbrooke lake to Wapta Lake and Trans-Canada Highway (275 m loss). Simple, eh?

To do this ski trip in a day requires a high level of fitness and guaranteed good weather. Allow 10 -12 hours. The crux is getting up over Balfour High col and down to Mount Daly. If visibility is poor, or if clouds cause a white-out, this can be impossible. We ended up having to turn back at Balfour col once because of bad weather. Remember that going from Balfour high col back to Bow hut and out to your car is longer than doing the whole traverse.

Hint: Decide to go at the last minute when you can be almost certain of good weather. (i.e. No clouds anywhere on the satellite weather map between Vancouver, B.C. and Saskatchewan!) Wait for March or April when the daylight is long. If you plan way ahead, the weather may not co-operate anyway. This is not a trip for "iffy" conditions...

Details of a one-day Wapta

Warning: This ski tour is a long, serious trip, whether as a multi-day or a day trip. It crosses large glaciers and involves dangers of crevasses, avalanches and whiteouts caused by bad weather. If you're fit, capable and experienced, the advantage of a day trip is that it is much easier to find a single day of good weather than it is 2 or more. Skiing with a lighter pack is a treat too!

Warm-up trips

Good warm-up ski trips  to prepare for a one day Wapta traverse  include: Dolomite Loop (5 hrs), French-Haig Robertson traverse (7 hrs), Burstall-Smuts traverse (6 hrs), Healy Creek-Redearth Creek loop (7-8 hrs), and Opabin-Wenkchemna Passes traverse (10-12 hrs). If your times are much longer than these, you may not finish the One day Wapta in daylight.

Most of these ski trips are described in Chic Scott's ski guidebooks.

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