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Mount Fraser (Simon Peak), McDonnell Peak, and Thunderbolt Peak

Ski Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Steep Snow)
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Dense descending Oldhorn Col and Thunderbolt Peak, moderate around the hut
Saturday, April 25, 2015

With a mixed forecast blocking out larger plans Steven and I joined forces with Liam and set out on a four day ski trip to the Wates-Gibson hut setting our sights on Mount Fraser, the second peak in the Tonquin Valley.

We decided to repeat the same approach line as last year (pretty much to the day), when Liam and I set off with Meghan and Jake on the Great Divide Traverse (which Liam and Jake carried on all the way to Mexico in an epic 8 month adventure!) heading up Portal Creek and then over Oldhorn Col before descending down to reach the hut.

At the not so dark hour of 7ish we set off from the trailhead and quickly found that snow levels were much less favorable than this time last year at the trailhead making for some chewy rock - skiing along the trail for 30 min or so until we could jump down into Portal Creek.  Once in the creek travel was much swifter and we progressed upwards quickly.


After a while we could get onto the creek the progress improved.


Still wintery up here.


Liam below Oldhorn.


Good views from near Maccarib Pass.


Ascending the first col.


Neat looking mini-cornice.


Atop the first col, better views than last time I was here.


Looking across the valley towards Majestic and Manx.


Down in the bowl between cols.


Gaining Oldhorn Col was as steep as we remembered from last year and took some boot - work to gain the crest.  From the col descending down the bushy slopes towards the hut was as gnarly as before but lighter packs made for less hassles.  Soon enough we had reached Chrome Lake and a short (GPS aided) bit of routefinding lead us to the bafflingly placed Wates-Gibson hut.  We had thought we had the place to ourselves but upon arriving found a fellow from Morinville (Sean) had skied in via the Astoria trail for the evening (nice to have some conversation for the evening).  After some well-deserved feasting we got some sleep planning to arise around 4 to set off for Mount Fraser.


First view of The Ramparts from Oldhorn Col.


Time for the downhill to start.


The first bit before the dense bush was excellent.


Steven pointing up at the dense bush we had to ski down through.


Following tracks almost at the hut.


Hanging out after a long day in.


Mount Fraser describes the mountain massive west of The Ramparts which consists of several subpeaks.  We had our sights set on Simon Peak (the highest) and McDonnell Peak.  Both peaks are accessed via the Fraser glacier gained SW of the hut.  We set off and were almost at the edge of the glacier for sunrise.  The journey up the glacier to the unnamed - McDonnell col was quick and pleasant with the warming sun balanced by a brisk mountain breeze.  From the col Steven and I ditched our skis pretty quick (Liam carried on slightly higher).  Booting up the rest of the ridge to a crossroads where our routes for Simon Peak and Mount McDonnell would diverge.  Given some building cloud we elected to go for Simon Peak first (lest our views be blocked) which involved traversing a steep snow face below the summit of McDonnell.  Steven bravely lead the charge while Liam and I snapped and great many pictures and enjoyed the warm sun before joining him on the shady face.  The traverse was further than it looked and was entirely a 'no fall zone' due to the unsavory runout path below.  Past the face the rest of the route up Simon Peak was a walk up with a few cornices to be avoided but otherwise no hazards.


Almost sunrise as we start our ascent towards the glacier.


Nearing the Fraser Glacier, Outpost Peak above.


Nice sunrise.


More views of Oldhorn.




Glow on the Southern Ramparts.


I wonder if there are rock routes on this face.


Onwards up towards McDonnell Peak.


Upwards aiming for the col on the top right.


Mount Erebus looks quite striking for this angle.


Liam ascending the upper glacier.


Time to ditch the skis and carry on upwards on boots.


Lovely views on the other side of the ridge.


Steven leading up with McDonnell Peak looming above.


Looking over towards our main objective, Simon Peak (left).


Lovely views to the west.


Steven about to step onto the face.


Liam following up the thin slope.


Steven on very much a 'no fall' slope.


Looking back towards the ascent ridge.


Good views from the other side of the face.


Impressive cornices on them thar ridge.


Quite a few panos up here...


Another near summit pano.


Steven on the summit of Simon Peak (the highpoint of Mount Fraser).


If we were an hour earlier summit views would have been outstanding.  Regrettably clouds rolled in and shrouded many of the peaks to the north and west, and then also south and east!  The views we did get through gaps in the weather were outstanding and we'll worth the trip.  After hanging around so our GPS would get some decent elevation readings we started descending and retraced our steps to the ridge below McDonnell.  At this point Liam and I were a little less motivated for McDonnell but Steven enthusiastically lead the way 'until it gets hard' the which turned out to mean 'reach the summit'.  Thanks to Steven for leading on up as it gave us some more excellent views (and a 2 peak day!).  Descent down from McDonnell was pretty quick.  Back on skis we enjoyed a super nice run down the glacier and back to Outpost Lake (with a short bit of elevation to regain...  damned strange hut location...).  For the rest of the trip we had the hut to ourselves and caught up on feasting, reading, and general conversation.


Partly cloudy summit pano.


Another party cloudy summit pano.


Back down almost back on the steep face.


Zoomed in views.


Liam almost back on the ridge below McDonnell.


Steven heading up McDonnell Peak.


The sky starts to clear again while ascending McDonnell.


Back down towards our skis we go.


Nice spot for a snack out of the Outpost serac zone.


Steven getting some turns in while descending back to the hut.


GPS for the first couple days.


The next morning we awoke light and early setting off to ascend Thunderbolt Peak, a nearby mountain which (from the hut register) seemed to be the most popular peak around.  We picked a gentle line up Eremite Creek to the open valley before backtracking on a bench to reach the summit ridge.  The last ZZZ m of gain were boot packing on snow/boulders before gaining upper pristine snow slopes.  Summit views were quite favourable even with much cloud blocking off more distant peaks.  Descent back to the hut was via a more direct line (see GPS below) which could also serve as a ski ascent route.  Back at the hut more reading and feasting was enjoyed.


Setting of for Thunderbolt Peak.


Liam in the creek.


After reaching the head of the valley, making a U turn and heading upwards.


Cloudy skies, not too warm though which was nice.


The long ridge of Thunderbolt, the summit is on the far left side out of view.


A fairly steep snow/scree slope to ascend after leaving the skis behind.


Steven with a prominent false-summit in the distance.


Steven with the true summit poking through above.


Good views back to The Ramparts from the snow slope.


Liam taking in the views.


Summit pano number 1.


Summit pano number 2.


Summit pano number 3.


and last but not least, summit pano number 4.


Back down returning to the hut.


The next morning we arose around sunrise for our deproach day.  I sent off for a weather forecast the previous night which came back as toasty warm and sunny, a good time to avoid the steep slopes we used on the way in.  Consequently we took the long way round, traversing beside Amethyst Lake and then up Maccarib Pass before rejoining our approach track along Portal Creek.  Thankfully once in Portal Creek, despite very soft sun baked snow, we were able to pick a way down to the trailhead with only minor forays into the bush (creek skiing is quite a fun time!).  Before long we were back at the car and rambling back to Jasper in search of pizza.


Leaving the hut for the last time this trip.


Fabulous morning views.


Great colors above The Ramparts.


Liam about to cross the bridge along the deproach trail.


Very quick skiing around here.


Looking back towards Thunderbolt, Outpost and the edge of The Ramparts.


A good day for plenty of sunscreen!


Lakes make for good pano-spots.


Further along the trail with Mount Clitheroe above.


Almost at Maccarib Pass.


Liam wiht Chak Peak in the distance.


Back down in Portal Creek, not far to go.


Steven negotiating an open step on the creek.


Awesome trip!

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