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Hungry for Hungabee: A Return to Lake O'Hara

Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Technical Rock)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
Thursday, August 3, 2017

When coming down from Deltaform Mountain a week prior, Steven and I were looking over towards Hungabee quite pleased that some nice big snow patches were still hanging on near the bivy.  Armed with a good weather window and a couple days off work the plan very quickly took shape and we were off driving to the Lake O'Hara trailhead for a not so alpine start, booked in on the 0830 bus.  Taking the bus or not was a tricky decision; on the one hand it saves energy and cuts off 11 km of walking; on the other hand not using it allows for an earlier start.  With Corbett's book recommending 10-12 hours for the route from the bivy we reckoned that taking the bus and finishing the route that day might just be possible (at least with maybe just a bit of descending down scrambly rock by headlamp).  From the get go our plan was to try the Stanier-McKnight variation of the West Ridge Direct line, a newish route that avoids much of the danger of the traditional face route.  The route was known to have lots of scrambling below and then several pitches of low to mid 5th.  Not wanting to take any chances we came armed with a beefy trad rack and a whole whack of anchor cord.


I do have a reputation for often bringing too much stuff on multiday trips: extra fancy desert after a long day of climbing, a full tent when a bivy sack might do, bivy beers to aid in PTCD (post-trecherous choss decompression, a common Rockies affliction) recovery.  On some trips this is a little bit excessive but for Hungabee Mountain accessed from Lake O'Hara, a two-ish hour approach to the traditional bivy makes extra luxuries quite possible.  


The bus let us off outside the snack shelter at Lake O'Hara a little after 0900 and then our race against the sun began. Cruising along the well-maintained trails we made good time to the Opabin Plateau and onwards to the wee Opabin Glacier.  Steven opted for taking the scree on the climbers left while I kicked up the glacier (if we brought crampons and an ice tool might as well use em).  Rejoining together above a short band of talus we arrived at Opabin Pass an hour and fourty five minutes from the bus, not bad!  About twenty minutes of scrambling took us to a flat ledge with a nice snow feature serving as a northwestwards wind wall, a fine place for a bivy.


Smoky views above Lake O'Hara.


Looking north across Lake O'Hara.


Not much further after, up at Opabin Lake.


Looking up towards Opabin Pass.


A wee glacier to ascend to reach Opabin Pass.


Good progress up to the pass!


A fine place to set up a bivy.


After quickly setting up camp and shuffling gear (I had actually brought a pack within my big pack, one that climbs much better than it carries) we left towards the ridge of Hungabee a little after noon.  Benefits of the afternoon start were better visibility for route finding, warmer rock, and still having the next day for another chance on the peak if we had to turn around early. Downsides are mostly due to timing, it is a long way up and down and spending a night on the route is a real possibility (we did pack bivy supplies just in case). Afternoon rock fall from Hungabee also has a fearsome reputation, but should be much less malevolent on the direct line.


Setting off from the bivy up Hungabee Mountain.


The lower parts of the mountain were actually decent scrambling with a few trickier moves thrown in the mix for variety. We made steady progress upwards hitting the traverse section around 3000m and soon after breaking off onto the West Ridge Direct route. True to the beta the route consists of a series of low/mid 5th pitches leading up to the North Ridge. We opted to solo the low 5th in the interest of speed and pitched out the two mid 5th sections with Steven getting the lower and I the upper leads.  There was a good network of rap anchors for the way down which certainly improved our mood (better chances of not being benighted!).


Me working up one of the lower bands.  Photo by Steven.


Lots of loose rubbly terrain to be encountered ascending the lower part, and the upper part, maybe just in general ;)


Steven on the traverse, not a good place to slip.


Higher up we opted to solo some of the lower 5'th to save time.


The first pitch of cimbing that Steven lead.


The start of the second pitch I took over on, lots of high steps!

After topping out of the North Ridge along crumbly black rock we could see the rest of the way to the top: working through some more crumbly black rock, a semi solid-looking yellow band, and then more crumbly black rock to the summit.  The first black band was 'straightforward but sketchy' ("sketchforward"?) and we were pleased to find a rap station at the top of it. The yellow band actually had some nice moves, and more reliable holds. Things were looking up at this point before Hungabee played its final card, a notch breaking up our path from the straightforward 3rd and 4th class terrain to the summit!  After looking around for a bit pro seemed quite scarce, and jumping across very foolish so we got out the rope and belayed across. A fall would be very unpleasant but not fatal.  I drew the short straw tackling the traverse first and very gingerly teased the poorly bound handholds while slithering over to the notch. A few stemming moves later I was over on the far side and came across a rap station (yay for not having to go back across that) to get Steven across.  From the top of the notch it was smooth sailing to the summit; though under a red sun and lost in a sea of smoke.


The color bands in the strate after gaining the north ridge are quite striking.


Me carefully climbing along the north ridge, not a good place to slip.  Photo by Steven


Looking back at Steven as we comes up across the 'sporty step'.


On the summit, not the greatest visibility in the distance but cool views locally.


Zoomed in towards Deltaform Mountain.


Zoomed in towards the horrible choss pile that is Pinnacle Mountain.


The summit register (a two part affair) had many big names from the past and a surprising amount of recent traffic from the past few years.  Views were not the greatest given the smoke but the local giants were out, and it was pretty cool to look back over to Deltaform!  We had reached the summit a little over 4.5 hours from camp. Leaving the summit at 1630, there was still a lot of terrain, and a lot of raps to get through. Spending a night on the route, or at least significant headlamp navigation, was still a possibility.


A last pano from the summit.


Steven and I on the summit with Mount Temple on the left.


The upper raps to get back to the North Ridge top went pretty well with the wind being our main adversary.  Even with a 70m rope there was still some exposed downclimbing to do between stations, not terrain for the faint of heart!  Once topping out back on the North Ridge our next few hours would be a cycle of: coiling rope, rapping, sketchily downclimbing loose exposed rock, finding stations, coiling rope, and so on..  Progress was painfully slow at times, especially on some of the lower angle raps, but it was still progress.  Eventually the rap stations ran out and very carefully dowbclimbing pebbles on slabs intermixed with narrow ledges became our world.  Whenever one of us would knock down a big rock, the image of it roaring down the slope and eventually striking the valley below was sobering. Step (and grab) very carefully on this one.  This is also not a mountain to ascend if there is another party on the route, rock fall is everywhere.  200m of very mentally draining down climbing later we were ready to start traversing back onto the main ridge and after a brief blunder of staying too high were on track. The quartzite band of the lower mountain required a very different type of climbing to the limestone above, and adjusting to trusting large flakes and dinner plate ledges while dowbclimbing took a bit of time.  One long rap took us through the trickiest of the quartzite but there were still exposed sections of technical dowbclimbing to tackle.  Eventually through we descended to the base of the ridge and only 3rd class rock stood between us and the tent!


Steven on the second rap coming down from the summit block.


Looking over towards Abbot Pass from a rap below the north ridge.


Working our way back across the loose, rubbly traverse.


The evening sun was a little menacing with the smoke.


Back at camp the stress of the day eased off. We had managed to get up and down with daylight to spare!  After getting the stove roaring, and clawing into our windwall for some snowmelt it was time to gobble some dinner and start to rehydrate.  By the time we had enough liquid water for dinner the sun was down and a red moon blazed down over us.  Not a bad evening for KD with jalapeno cheese smokies!  We were briefly baffled looking down to the headwaters of Tokkum Creek with a red glow coming from the valley. Was someone camping down there with a light in their tent, was there a fire?  Turned out it was the reflection of the smoky red moon in a small tarn!  Mystery solved we headed to bed, with no real stress for the following day. We would wake up when we did and then head down for whatever bus out would be next. Getting the peak on the first day was pretty sweet!


This reflection was oddly bright, even to the unaided eye, quite confusing initially!


The next day the smoke had started to dissipate and views were actually quite decent. To descend back to Lake O'Hara was a straightforward affair but still required careful footing and a few patches of proper downclimbing. Thankfully with the smoky and cloudy skies overnight there was little freeze so we could walk down the Opabin Glacier without breaking out the crampons.  The rest of the walk was quite speedy and we reached the bus stop with plenty of time to spare.


Getting ready to leave the bivy for the ramble back to the bus.


An odd large canister stashed near the Opabin Glacier.


Looking back up towards Opabin Pass, and Mount Hungabee.


A good variety of colors from this viewpoint.


Almost back on the main trail 'highway'.


A last look across Lake O'Hara, much less smoky this morning.


While waiting for the bus to arrive there were a few other folks at the bus stop including Larry Stanier (who had made the first ascent of the line we took!).  It was quite neat to say hello to one of the first ascentionists of a route right after finishing it.  Larry's thoughts on the regular route after we were saying it looked bad were "it's not as bad as it looks, it's far worse".  The West Ridge Direct certainly seems like a more preferable line!  After a quick bus ride we were back at the car, certainly not a long trip!


A good (if trecherous in places) route up an impressive mountain!

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