Surviving the Ice and Snow of the Canadian Rockies and Kananaskis Country
Reshma Survies Snow Camping
Summer in the Rockies-warm gear is essential
When hiking and camping in the Rockie Mountains or doing the Kananaskis country hikes between Banff and Calgary warm winter type gear is essential. Certainly on sunny warm days you can swim in clear mountain lakes and streams. But those same sunny days can suddenly be covered with snow clouds and cold winds. The principle is layering. Women can start with a sports bra and underwear that can double as bathing suit bottoms, and then start adding warm quick dry layers. Men can start with a pair of nice underpants or light running shorts. This way if it suddenly gets warm and you are by an inviting lake you can strip down and plunge in. Of course if you have the lake to yourself you have the option of skinny dipping.
My friend Doctor Reshma contacted me from her home in Delhi where it was over 100 degrees F.
"Great Reshma, you are welcome to visit but we are going camping in the Rockies. Want to come? Some days it may be a bit cold."
When Reshma flew into Vancouver we were having a heatwave. Since the temperature was approaching 90 degrees F, she didn't feel like practicing putting on the layers of long underwear, fleece, hats mittens etc. which I piled next to her pack.
Beautiful Kananaskis Country
We drove through Banff half way towards Calgary then turned south into Kananaskis Country. While Banff is jam packed with tourists, Kananaskis Country is quieter with many animals:goats, mountain sheep, moose visible from the road. In the visitors center were scary mounted predators but we told Reshma not to worry. That night we made camp by a beautiful lake, had dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags. In the morning I saw Reshma had not put on her long underwear.
"How did you sleep?" I asked.
She replied "I almost froze to death in the night. "
"Why didn't you put on your hat and long underwear?"
"I couldn't put them on over the fleece and hoodie."
Our friends lent Reshma a below freezing designated sleeping bag, we showed her how to layer. She never removed the long underwear.
SNOW IN AUGUST
It was warm and sunny when we started the hike to the ptarmigan cirque accessible from the highest point on the highway. "Should I bring my jacket?" she asked. "YES!" We replied.
Up above the tree line the views were great, rock faces, glaciers, scudding clouds in deep blue sky. There were fossils in the rocks and we saw ptarmigan, marmots, mountain sheep, and bear sign-places where the grizzly bears have dug up the sod hunting marmots.
Then the clouds blew in and it started to snow. We went down. Reshma was shivering and glad she had brought her jacket and hiking poles.
Reshma on the Glacier
Reshma is undaunted
We decided to drive the Banff Jasper ice fields Parkway to the ice fields. By now Reshma was well bundled up and not shivering so much. She was game to go up on the Athabasca glacier. So we by passed the "Danger. Stop, do not go close to the glacier." signs and I showed her how to use the hiking poles and ice axe to walk up the toe of the glacier. Up we went. The ice was open with lovely clear streams. We drank some ice water and did not fall into any crevasses.
As we were hiking up the glacier we had fantastic views of Mt. Athabasca on our left side. I had mad two attempts to climb this mountain when I was younger. The first attempt we turned back because we had come without a rope and there were signs of hidden crevasses. The second time I tried I was more experienced and we came with lots of gear. We climbed up the approach ridge the night before the climb to have a good start. This was fine with lovely golden light at sunset. Then the clouds rolled in and there was a thunder storm. We ducked down below the ridge to avoid the lightning strikes. The next morning we got going early and summited before noon. The summit ridge had a large ice overhang on one side. Coming down the sun had warmed the slope and snow was sloughing off, but there were no avalanches. I remember it as a steep but very aesthetic climb.