I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dan Whelan and Rong-Qin Su (Su) (www.diodiostudio.com) for the past several years and have done some exciting trips with them. In 2021, Dan and Su organized a multi-sport trip on the Columbia icefields that Tim Ricci and I were lucky enough to guide and be involved in. From that trip they created the award winning short film P3 – Pedal, Powder, Paddle that was shown at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival as well as many other places across the world.
After the P3 trip, Dan was eager to do a more substantial trip and involve his daughters (Maddy and Jess) and son-in-law (Paul) to once again, highlight the multi-sport approach to travelling in the mountains. The concept was to traverse the rarely travelled route over the continental divide from the Saskatchewan River Crossing in the East to Kinbasket Lake in the West. This would be completed on foot, skis/splitboards and paddle boards.
(Full slideshow at the end of the blog)
As guides, we travel in the mountains a lot. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, we are adventuring with you in the areas we call our backyard. Every trip is amazing but once in awhile we get the chance to be part of something truly unique, and Dan’s objective was one of those experiences. On June 21st, Tim and I once again joined Dan and Su for their next adventure. With heavy packs donned with ski touring and paddle boarding gear we hiked 9km to the turquoise hued Glacier Lake in Banff National Park. Following the shoreline and deep glacial carved valley, we hiked for another 14km to just below the Lyell Glacier. This is the access point to the Mons Icefield and was our first nights bivi. Our first day was tough with a fair amount of distance, some off trail hiking, moving through occasional deadfall with skis and fully loaded packs, but it was just a taste of what was to come.
It turns out, day one was a warmup. We left our bivi spot on day two ready for a 9-10km day with about 900-1000m of elevation gain to the Mons hut. Well, that was about right on paper but what we didn’t anticipate was the seriously thick bushwhacking required to get to the top of the moraine and a new lake that had formed at the toe of the Mons glacier. When you hear shouts of “where are you?” and you are only five meters away, you know the bushwhacking is real!
There were some tired legs on day three, but we still had an incredible day attempting Mons peak on skis/splitboards and we were rewarded with some decent turns considering it was June 23rd. We also paddle boarded on a small glacial lake with icebergs and a spectacular ice cave. That experience seemed mellow in comparison to the previous two days. We had a great night in the Mons hut that night.
It turns out you shouldn’t count your chickens before they’re hatched…who knew? We left the Mons hut and started out on what we thought would be a four to six hour descent into Icefall Brook and expected it to be our easiest day. In the first couple of hours all of our previous days efforts were compensated with world class alpine hiking. We had amazing views of the Lyell Icefield pouring over huge cliffs, 11’000-foot peaks towering above and waterfalls draining into the valley below. There is nowhere like the head of Icefall Brook. We had been told that a new via Ferrata was being created and that it was in workable shape, allowing us to more easily descend to the Troy Kirwin hut that was just being built. The new line was meant to save up to two hours and heck, who doesn’t like a bit of exposure.
As we descended on the flagged “trail” it became clear that there had been very little traffic on the route. We followed the flagging tape and GPS track, but it quickly became epic bushwhacking that made day two look like child’s play. Bushwhacking is bad enough but imagine steep, cliffy terrain with the added bonus of a pair of skis on your back. As we forced our way down the “via ferrata”, we realized that sections that were meant to be fixed were actually not finished and we were unable to reverse what we had already completed. The information that we were given by reliable sources was way off but we were committed. Five bushwacking rappels (yes, you read that right) and one sideways pitch with eye watering exposure above massive cliffs brought us to the last challenge of the day, a suspension bridge over a narrow but deep canyon. Our four to six hour expected day turned into a twelve-hour epic. Overall, a type 2 bordering on type 3 fun kind of day… (The Fun Scale).
After a night in the half-built Troy Kirwin hut, we had an uneventful hike out to the Mons Creek Forest Service Road where our vehicle was waiting. Dan had left snacks and drinks in the vehicle which we quickly devoured before driving to the paddle board put in and the start of the groups longer paddle boarding section of the trip to Kinbasket Lake. Thankfully, this was a smooth section of the trip and a beautiful hot and sunny day. Dan, Maddy, Jess and Paul put the boards in on Icefall Brook and made their way towards Kinbasket Lake to finish the trip as Su took some drone footage. We were happy for the extra day light on the longest days of the year for this trip.
In retrospect, this will be one of those projects that I remember for a long time and we are looking forward to seeing the film that comes out of it. Thanks to Dan, Su, Jess, Maddy, Paul and Tim for a memorable trip!
Jesse de Montigny
Managing Director and ACMG Mountain Guide