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Mons Peak and Mount Forbes

Difficulty: 
Ski Mountaineering (Glacier Travel and Steep Snow)
Elevation [m]: 
3617
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
67.0
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
1990
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
4050
YDS Difficulty: 
5.0
Bushwhackyness: 
Lots of deadfall and dense bush on the approach.
Tripdate: 
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mount Forbes needs no introduction to anyone who has ascended a peak in the central part of the Rockies.  From almost any viewpoint its striking snowy face rises upwards like a massive sharks tooth.  Forbes had been on the radar last year but was shelved due to no favorable weather window aligning with conditions.  This year we had time, conditions, and a somewhat confident forecast on our side so decided the time was right.

The first question was what type of gear to haul.  This year had been especially dry at lower elevations and even glaciers are drying out much faster than usual but not enough for boot travel.  Steven opted for snowshoes as well as mountaineering boots and hiking shoe for the approach.  I went skis with ski boots an old set of liners to toss in the shells for the river crossing.  We would set out with a more ambitious best case scenario of bagging Mount Forbes as well as nearby Mons Peak over a 4 day period, and as the attentive reader has already surmised from the title, that worked out!  Setting off from the car at the glacier lake parking lot at 4am we made good time but were beset by intermittent rain that made for muddy trail and soaking wet bushwhacking.  Not much to be said for the approach until the west side of Glacier lake, the trail is in very good shape allowing for a good pace and no bushwhacking.

Very mysterious looking cloud towards Mount Wilson.

 

Not the greatest views from Glacier Lake this morning!

 

A soggy Steven taking a break when the rain stopped for a few minutes.

 

Skis did create some logistical complications.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Almost at the far end of the lake, it is pretty long!

 

Past Glacier Lake things get a little more interesting.  There are a couple trails that weave in and out of each other that manage to avoid much of the unpleasantness but there is still a long swampy marsh and many patches of dead fall near the river to slow down progress (particularly when one has skis sticking far above one's pack).  We waited to cross the river until just before the lake at the head of the Glacier River to cut off the flow coming down directly from Forbes which made the crossing a little above knee deep.

Lots of delicate log walking to get through the marsh.

 

Lots of nice colors in the area.

 

Low lying fog hung around for quite some time.

 

Neat mixing water with different minerals dissolved in it.

 

Me crossing the Glacier River.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

On the other side of the river we went a bit off route from Corbett's description following a series of ledges with cairn like rocks rather than using the faint overgrown trail to the west.  Our route wasn't any better so either will go.  Carrying skis here in the thick bush was particularly character - building.  Above the ledges the moraine granted a direct access to some snow slopes that lead us up the headwall.  A treacherous cairn got us off-route ascending more technical rock than needed which given a big pack and ski boots felt sketchier than it would have in mountaineering boots (ski boots are not slab friendly).  We probably wasted a couple hours getting back on route but eventually were over the headwall and in sight of the glacier! 

 

Accross the river looking up at Arctomys Peak.

 

A wider view of the area from higher up.

 

An example of the bushwhacking even on when 'the trail'.

 

Looking back Glacier Lake doesn't seem that far away..

 

Steven heading towards the headwall.

 

Looking back at Sullivan Peak.

 

Mount Erasmus is pretty tricky.

 

Thankfully a line of snow helped us out on the headwall for a while.

 

Eventually some climbing did have to go down though.

 

Skis boots are not really made for fifth class terrain...  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Past the headwall with Mons Peak in sight, and lots of tasty running water!

 

With energy levels decreasing and planning to go for Mons as well we elected to make a low camp we could use both days rather than push for the Forbes high bivy.  Very early the next morning we awoke to much cloudier skies than forecast and reluctantly decided to swap plans going for Mons first and saving Forbes for the next day.  This was a gamble as the weather could have turned out to be worse on the day after but doing it first would have had a white out for at least some and possibly more of the route.  Leaving camp we decided Steven was more likely to fall in any hidden holes given snowshoes so I tailed back with some rescue coils.

 

Not a bad place to spend a few nights.

 

A warm wind overnight was able to scour through my windwall quite effectivelly...

 

Setting off with Mons Peak in sight.

 

Getting up to the Mons Icefield proved to be a bit interesting with dry conditions meaning holes were starting to poke their way through.  We opted for a line somewhat climbers right.  Once on the icefield getting on the ridge was pretty straightforward, head down towards the peak and go up at some point.  Steven was keen on booting up a 40 degree snow slope while much preferred keeping skis on and ascending a nearby 25 ish degree ramp so we briefly split ways.  Once on the ridge there were no navigational issues just keep heading up to the summit block.  The summit involved a steep snow slope (50ish degrees at the steepest) with overhead cornice exposure.  Thankfully given the cloudy weather the cornice and snow were not getting too warm so we headed up.

 

Wider view of Duplicate Mountain and the rest of the area on the Mons Icefield.

 

Steven with the summit of Mons and the 'shrund in view.

 

The summit of Mons was quite steep!

 

Mons Peak was rumored to have great summit views and despite the clouds they certainly did not disappoint.  Descending back to camp was pretty quick.  Snow was decent higher up but got really sticky on the icefield making for little glide.  We unroped for descent given skis and snowshoes combined but didn't get too far apart just in case.  Back at camp (oddly early) we rested up for what was sure to be a big day on Forbes.

 

Quite excellent view from the summit of Mons Peak.

 

More zoomed in.

 

One last one for good measure.

 

Looking up at my as I kick my way back down.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Now is time for the skis to prove their worth.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Zoomed in towards the lower glacier on Forbes.

 

Steven following our tracks down to the flat part of the Mons.

 

Given how warm the daytime high was likely to be (and the fact we weren't at the high bivy) we woke up around 2 am and after gobbling down a quick breakfast set off upwards towards the glacier.  It may have just been due to the darkness but the journey from camp to the toe of the glacier seemed to go on for ages and be less straightforward than we anticipated.  Eventually though we reached ice and after cramponing up it was time to put the skis on, at last!  Ski crampons were very critical given the icy crust (and steepness of the snow) but being properly equipped travel was quick.  Steven didn't seem to worried about holes in his 'shoes given conditions so our spirits were high as we were treated to a fabulous sunrise looking back towards Mons and The Lyells.

 

Starry skies await us above on Forbes Glacier.

 

Almost time to even turn the headlamps off, yay for summer!

 

Looking back at Mons Peak near moonset.

 

Outstanding sunrise viewpoint.

 

Finally seeing the Lyells free of cloud!

 

Even on the first of June navigating the glacier was not completely a cakewalk, with some large holes already being open and smaller anklebiters starting to emerge from their winter slumber.  Before long we made it onto thicker glacier and got our first good views of the ascent face.  The 'shrund was bridged and the route looked in fine form.  We were getting pretty stoked!

 

One of the more broken sections, I was glad to have skis!

 

Glow on Mons Peak.

 

Glow on the Lyells.

 

The upper mountain is in sight and it looks pretty good!

 

More zoomed in view, our route aims to intersect the right skyline ridge after crossing the 'shrund.

 

Looking back to a lovely morning.

 

Can't wait to start heading up the face!

 

Setting out up the face towards the ridge the snow was in good condition with a couple kicks yielding good feet and axes sticking nicely.  We were cruising up pretty good switching lead a couple times to keep our pace up.  Later in the year people occasionally encounter a rock step on Forbes soon after gaining the ridge.  Thankfully we had a snowline all the way up which made for an enjoyable steep bit if front pointing.  Above the rock step we had decent snow for the last bit of height dropping just below the ridgecrest before the summit itself was reached.

 

Looking back at Steven on the steepest roll.

 

Me leading up a front pointing section.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Taking a break above the rock step (which was just another snow step for us!).

 

Great viwepoint for the Lyells.

 

We were pretty glad we didn't go for Forbes the day before as views from the summit were downright fantastic.  As with most steep snow climbs you can't hang around the summit too long as temperatures quickly turn from tepid to tropical.  Thankfully the snow had softened just enough to make facing outwards simple and we ended up chatting about the great views while strolling downwards (having done Bryce recently really made this seem less steep!).

 

Summit view from Mount Forbes.

 

Zoomed in to the North.

 

Zoomed in to the West.

 

Zoomed in towards The Freshfields.

 

Ah the Lyells, soon... soon...

 

Steven kicking down the steep section.

 

Looking back up at the face.

 

Once down the face skis really proved their worth with excellent snow making for effortless turns.  Regrettably just in case Steven fell into a hole on his 'shoes I couldn't go all out but any turns are still good turns!  Once down below the icefall we elected to try to find a snowline back to camp rather than scree and slab bashing and were actually pretty successful (had to take off our footwear several times but managed to get down 80 percent on skis and 'shoes).

 

Me enjoying the snow.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Zoomed in looking back towards our route.

 

Can you spot Steven in this picture?

 

Down on the lower glacier, great snow for easy turns.

 

Following a snow-line back to camp.

 

Back down at the toe of the glacier, time for a break and then starting the voyage home.

 

Back at camp we took a short break before packing up and starting the trudge back towards civilization.  The crux of the deproach was certainly the headwall.  Getting up the damned thing on ski boots had been a big pain and down climbing our ascent route was not an option.  Thankfully a series of helpful cairns let us down to a point where we could get back on snow with only one rap (that being said we did have to lower our packs down a couple tricky steps along the way).  Once below the headwall the bush - slog began and my memory gets kind of fuzzy.

 

Me rapping down the headwall.  Photo by Steven Song.

 

Almost back into the bush.

 

Down by the river just before the crossing.

 

Nice area up here by Arctomys Peak.

 

Steven crossing the river back over to the north shore.

 

The next morning we awoke hastily trying to beat the forecasted rain and make good time descending the last bit of the trail back to the road.  We ended up passing one older couple who gave a confused "ski's!?" when they thought we were out of earshot.  Getting back to the car and changing back into running shoes was quite nice (as comfortable the ski boots were).  All in all another excellent trip, fabulous timing to have both Mons and Forbes work out.  No idea how Ferenc daytripped Forbes, must have been quite the day!

 

Sunrise above Glacier Lake.

 

Quite a good trail around the lake.

 

On the east shore of Glacier Lake looking back towards Forbes.

 

Ye Olde trail sign.

 

Looking over the Howse River from the viewpoint.

Hopefully this bridge never shares the same fate as the Athabasca Crossing one!

 

Another fantabulous trip.

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