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New Years at Berg Lake and an Ascent of Mount Anne-Alice

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Ascent Time: 
8:20 to The Hargreaves + 5:30 to Anne-Alice
A Bit Near Toboggan Falls
Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the last few years (excepting last year of course) Liam and Jake have held an annual ski trip for New Years up to the Hargreaves Shelter on the north shore of Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park.  This year the stars aligned and I was able to make it to the trip which took form of four nights and the shelter, some ski touring, ski mountaineering, and even a polar bear swim!

This year's trip was quite the gathering with 17 people in total coming in to the shelter in two waves.  I was in the first group that would be (assumingly) breaking trail up (but thankfully a couple of snowshoers had already broken a path as far as the south shore of Berg!).  Getting in to the shelter is far from straightforward with lake crossings, steep switchbacks and numerous sections of loss and gain making for a big day (especially with the limited daylight around new years!).  In total it was 19 km of distance and 1000 m of gain on the way in.
On the first day our crew stuck mostly together until reaching the Kinney Lake Shelter where a quick moot resulted in Josh (a local Jasperite) and I pushing ahead to get the fire started in the shelter for the other folks who would be a little late in arriving.

Setting off from the Berg Lake Trail parking lot.


Liam and I were hauling the big 105L packs (which are surprisingly comfortable).


Bit of deadfall on the trail to Kinney Lake.


Still a few open sections near the outlet of Kinney Lake.


Looking back at the outlet of the lake.


While super popular in summer, the Berg Lake Trail is a completely different animal in winter.  Both in terms of animal traffic and human traffic winter is a barren time for the region with an eerie quiet along the route.  Along with less traffic comes more impressive views as nearby peaks hold their snowy coats mimicking Himalayan giants.  With the snowshoe tracks cutting a path Josh and I made pretty good time up the trail after Kinney Lake soon reaching the Whitehorn Campground and then Emperor Falls ascending the steep narrow switchbacks.

Skinning across the bridge near Whitehorn Campground.


Quite a lot of ice around here.


Trees higher up were just plastered with snow.


Almost above the big hill looking back up towards Emperor Ridge.


The highest bridge (careful skiing needed on the way back down at this point!).


Once above the big hill to get above Emperor Falls things (thankfully) flatten out and Josh and I were at last on Berg Lake itself just as the last rays of sun were starting to fade away to the west.  Crossing the lake is a long process especially when the temperature is hovering in the -30s as it was...  After 30 minutes on the lake we came off on the north shore and made it to the frosty cabin (8 hours from the car to the shelter).

Looking up at Robson near the Marmot campground.


Near the edge of Berg Lake looking back up to Whitehorn, ice fog down near the camp.


Josh ahead about to round the bend to Berg Lake.


From near the shelter looking towards the Robson group bathed in moon and starlight.


Thankfully someone had left a bit of wood inside to get the stove started but the wood was fairly soggy and didn't put out enough heat to take the chill off the frosty night (meaning some foraging for dry deadfall was then needed), but still some fire is a great deal better than no fire!  The next folks to arrive were Liam and Stacey who were budgeting on spliting the approach over two days!  Stacey, a native New Zealander, did fabulously despite the chill (and being in telli bindings!).  Somewhat amusingly she had been talking to family back home the previous day who were lounging on the beach in 30C temps  (so about 60C difference between that beach and the pristine snowy shore of Berg!).  Josh and I had set out some candels which were a very welcome sight after crossing Berg by starlight.  Before long some of the other folks were trickling in as the shelter started to warm at a glacial pace (on the first evening it was still -20 inside overnight and moral was low that we could heat it up to a comfortable level...).  The last wave of folks were quite delayed and a 'rescue team' ended up heading back to make sure everything was ok (ended up being everyone was fine but boot troubles making for a slower pace).  With the long trek in everyone agreed that the next day would be a rest day, focusing on building the most raging fire possible to start making the shelter habitable.

The shelter in the morning with the lower part of Mumm Peak catching some glow.


Sure enough the next day went as planned with a lot of wood - searching and board game playing (we ended up having Settlers, 7 wonders, bohnanza, dutch blitz, and munchkin as games people brought along so much variety), and a noble effort to lighten the load of booze that was hauled up (I brought a personal stash of 4L of wine and a 26 of rum ;)  ).  Later in the day, a quick tour up Toboggan Falls saw some excellent powder turns and built considerable stoke for the next day.

Whitehorn Mountian looks very majestic in alpineglow.


View from the railing of the shelter.


Stacey looking up at the neat spindrift coming from Robson in the morning.


Part of the crew heading out up Toboggan Falls.


The Robson group near sunset from partly up Toboggan Falls.


Sometimes not having a built in flash can be a problem...

After some deliberation the next day we set our sights on a ski ascent of Mount Anne-Alice, a beautiful peak just 5 km as the crow flies from the shelter that can be accessed by ascending the Toboggan Falls trail and then working upwards.  We would break into two groups with everyone heading up to the alpine and a smaller subset going through some more technical terrain on to the true summit.

Our group skis up Toboggan Creek, quite nice that it is filled in!


Taking a break for some water in the upper creek.


And the ants go marching on!


Really nice views around here.


The group with Mumm Peak in the background.


Thankfully we were able to use some of our ascent tracks from the previous day to speed up the approach and soon after we were up in the alpine glorying in the amazing views to be had all around.  Liam, Jake, Josh, Jimmy, Leo, and I would head up to the summit with the rest of the folks enjoying some turns in Toboggan Creek on the way back to the shelter.  Getting up Anne-Alice in the winter requires switchbacking up a steep avi slope to reach a high col which thankfully was in good conditon (after double checking with a few pits).  Above the col, a seemingly endless ~500 vertical meter ridge is ascended to reach the false summit (all the while with increasingly awesome views to all directions to keep you motivated).


Looking up to the ascent col (middle of the image).


Briefly out of the sun as it passes by The Helmet.


Liam with some pretty intense sunglasses.


Here the group parted ways, still lots of good skiing ahead for the folks heading downwards!


Skinning up the main avalanche slope on the route, quite steep in places!


Jimmy and Josh happy to be back in the sun and getting closer to the summit.


Part way up the slope, great views of Robson.


At the false summit looking towards the true summit.


There is a sting in the otherwise non-technical line up Anne-Alice between the false and true summits.  A 100 m drop divides the two summits which requires either carefully scrambling on a thin and often corniced ridge or dropping onto a small glacier and kicking up.  We had a rope and (some of us had) harnesses so kicked the glacier and before long were standing by the summit cairn (with a rock hard frozen register) with a jaw drawpingly amazing view all around us.  We all spent a fair bit of time snapping pictures and admiring just how great this viewpoint is!


Time to switch from skis to boots for the true summit.


Looking back at the false summit.


Partial summit pano from the true summit.


Zoomed in pano.


Whitehorn and Philips are great looking peaks.


Another summit pano looking north and west.


Zoomed in.


Focusing on the impressive bulk of Mount Bess.


Robson, The Helmet, and Resplendent make for great views.


In this light Whitehorn is almost a more impressive mountain than Robson itself.


The sun rising just above the summit of Whitehorn.


Time to get the skis back on, going to be a good run!


Skiing back down from the false summit was sureal with evening glow casting a rainbow of colors across the skyline, the sun hovering directly above the summit pyramid of Whitehorn, and the bulk of Robson directly ahead.  The turns were sick, the views were amazing, awesome objective for these conditions.  The run down to the shelter was near 1400 vertical meters of almost entirely downhill powder (a couple flats to give some variety).  Once back at the shelter it was time for a grand feast (and some star pictures in the evening) to celebrate new years.


Starting the run down, hard to focus on turns with these views!


Josh popping up on his splitboard while Liam skis down with Steamboat Peak in the background.


Jimmy carving up the powder.


After the top slope we went down one at a time for the avi area.


Still great lighting when we got down to lake level.


It finally got warm in the hut this night!


The next morning on New Years Day the main event was a polar bear swim in the chilly waters of Berg Lake.  Setting up the swim was a tricky proposition with 50 cm of ice to be axed and chiseled through.  Jake bashed a way through most of the ice and then we both finished off chissling out a roughly man sized hole to the dark abyss of the lake (which based an avi probe measurement was at least 2 meters deep!).  After stoking the fire in the shelter to raging levels, folks filed out and took a dip (with quite varied reactions to the water after coming out).  A post swim warm up break in the shelter before a light ski capped off the day quite comfortably.


Jake standing beside the hole into the frosty abyss. Photo by Liam.


Jimmy testing his mettle (with a fancy hat!).  Photo by Liam.


Setting off towards the Alberta border for a quick ski.


Good views of the route towards Snowbird Pass from the Nunatak.


Lynx and its outlier for make for a great trip.


Very frosty trees down by the hut.


An endless sea of stars above the Robson group that evening.


Faint aurora into Alberta with the shelter in the bottom left.


A little later another look up towards Robson.


The next day everyone started to pack things up while sorting out a good breakfast (having to cook and gobble down all the remaining bacon was not that upsetting of a task).  We would head down the trail in a few different groups.  I ended up taking about 3:40 to get down much of which was actually enjoyable (if somewhat frantic) skiing.  Overall this was a pretty excellent trip, great skiing, great people, great views and lots of fun games.  Certainly an excellent way to spend New Years!


The next morning as we started our way out.


Whitehorn Mountain has quite the ridge.


At the bridge, almost to Whitehorn Campground.


Looking up at the gargoyles atop the Emporer Ridge route on Robson.


Back at Kinney Lake, quite lots of cross country skiers about.


Frost flowers sprouting near the inlet of the lake.


Quite the awesome trip!

Average: 5 (1 vote)


Awesome! I have done the hike 3 times in the summer and fall but never in the winter. It is a different place in the winter. Wow. I might have to try it.

By Doug

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