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Two Nights At The Neil Cogan Hut Via Prospector's Valley

Mountaineering (Glacier Travel)
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Some On The Old Fay Approach
Friday, July 22, 2016

After a lengthy day on Pinnacle Mountain (the last pitch of which gobbled up a chunk of Sean's rope due to rockfall) our plan to get up to the Neil Cogan Hut was needing some revisal.  We had planned on taking the Perren Route, a 5.7 climb approach that takes a direct line to the hut from Moraine Lake but with less rope left than expected making the raps down might be tight...  There are two other ways into the Neil Cogan: the Scheizer Ledges and the old Fay Hut Approach.  The Scheizer had a bad reputation for rockfall recently so that was pushed down the totem pole.  The old Fay Hut route was long but technically straightforward and would jive with our shorter rope so that became the plan.

The trailhead for the Fay Hut Approach is a bit of a drive (and a different park) away at the Marble Canyon lot in Kootenay National Park.  After a late day before we agreed getting some sleep and not starting dark and early would be a good plan.  After a restoring breakfast and coffee at Trailhead in Lake Louise we drove to the trailhead (I can see how the cafés name could lead to confusion if the plan is 'meet at trailhead'!) and repacked for a new plan.

At the ripe hour of 10 we hit the trail and set off up Tokum Creek up Prospectors Valley.  This is actually a pretty historic approach as the Fay Huts (the original built in 1927) were long approached this way before the Neil Cogan was built.  Both Fay Huts burned down (the original in 2003 the replacement in 2009) and as of 2016 there is no plan to rebuild them.  The first part of the approach is quite flat and liberally bridged (I was jokingly calling it 'the valley of 1000 bridges' on the way in) bringing would be hut - denizens to the junction sign around 10 km from the trailhead where the Fay Hut Trail leaves the Kaufman Lake trail.


Very soon after leaving the parking lot the trail branches from the Marble Canyon bridges.


Lots of evidence of the 2003 fire around.


The trail junction is just on the other side of these flats.


The trail while quite good in places is completely eroded in others.


Having not really researched this approach that well the parts that stuck in my memory were 'do not go up the canyon' and 'in winter you will have to take your skis off for a short step with ropes for support'.  Both pieces of advice were a ways away, first there was a creek to cross and a lovely waterfall to check out!  The trail was still in good shape where it was obvious and fully washed out where it wasn't.  The ropes (several) help getting up the final few meters of scree in a rubbly gully to gain the old Fay Hut plateau.


Quite the lovely waterfall to gain the hut plateau.


Sean cooling off near the waterfall.


The crux of the old Fay Hut Approach complete with several 'fixed' ropes.


The forest fire worked its way quite high near the old hut too.


Crossing the bridge to where the new hut was located.


The ACC did a great job with returning the locations of the burned down huts to 'natural ' conditons with only a couple concrete blocks left as evidence.  After the old hut the 'don't go up the canyon' beta made sense and a steep (beyond ACMG HG terrain guidelines) series of ledges grant access to the upper plateau and moraine.  Leaving trees behind the hut itself actually became visible in the distance.


Following a thin but good trail to avoid the canyon above the old huts.


Almost free of the trees the views start to really open up.


When really zoomed in you can see the hut in this image on the lower left side of Mount Little (centre).


A wider view of the approach to the glaciated part of the valley.


Massive moraines around here.


The last push till the hut has lots of micro terrain choices but all will plop you on to the glacier which is followed to the hut.  Not the thickest of snow packs on the glacier on this day but still fairly quick for travel.  It seemed like there were more  (and more recent) down tracks, we probably will have the hut to ourselves!  Getting to the hut this held true, plenty of room for two dudes.  In total it took us a bit over 9 hours from car to hut - patio, not bad timewise.  All that was really on the plan for the next day was Mounts Little and Bowlen  (both accessed right beside the hut) so getting a good night's rest was in the cards.


A quickly thinning snowpack on the glacier below the hut.


The hut itself is guarded by quite the cliffband with an easy bypass.


Inside the Neil Cogan Hut things look very familiar to those who have stayed in the Wapta huts.


Sean looking out at a helicopter that was passing by.


Evening colors over Mount Bowlen.


It is hard not to be impressed by Mount Hungabee.


Evening views to the north and west.


The Rockwall lives up to its name!


One last evening view before time for star pictures.


Stars rising above Mount Allen.


The next day we woke up to a great disaster.  Given the snazzyness of huts I brought a whack of pancake mix for breakfast but forgot to pack butter!  Dark days indeed.  After salvaging breakfast we set off up the lower snowy slopes of Mount Little.  While a very short route, little is quite enjoyable with a dash of snow, a hint of rock, and the usual dusting of scree as you work your way to the summit.  Summit views are quite fine indeed.


Mount Little had seen a fair bit of traffic over the last few days based on tracks.


The tracks heading to the right in this image lead over to the top of the Perren Route.


Sean about to transition onto rock from the snow.


Looking back down the snow slope the views are pretty spectacular.


One stemmy chimey stands between us and easier terrain above.


Sean negotiating the crux move.


Nice straightforward scrambling to the summit.


Mount Fay is quite impressive from many angles.


Looking back to the north towards Eiffel Peak (left) and Pinnacle Mountain (right, where we were the day before).

After making it back down to the hut, lunch was the first order of business (having a hut for a lunch stop is quite luxurious).  After lunch an afternoon scree bash up Mount Bowlen was in order following a beaten trail right from the front door.  Bowlen is only 120 meters above the hut but the views of the Valley of The Ten Peaks and Moraine Lake make it well worth while.  Getting back to the hut a little before 2 it didn't feel like we'd climbed two peaks but we did I suppose.  The rest of the day was divided into rest, reading, and eating (with the prospect of weather moving in mid afternoon and snow very soft).  All day my Inreach had been behaving oddly (never getting a gps fix and not sending messages), apparently in this case a 'soft reset' is needed but that is not on the internal help files!


Sean downclimbing the one tricky section.


Back down changing into snow-mode.


Good snow for plunge stepping downwards.


Looking up at Mount Biddle from the Biddle/Little col.


The route is pretty much a scree bash, but a scenic one.


Sean enjoying the second summit of the day.


Looking over to Mount Fay, the big prize for most trips to the Neil Cogan Hut.


Looking over to Deltaform and Neptuak Mountains.


You can almost see the whole of Moraine Lake from the summit of Mount Bowlen.


Interesting clouds over Mount Hungabee that evening.


Really neat lighting.


A last picture to the east, Mount Saint Bride looks quite nice in the centre-left.


On the third day we woke up to a light drizzle and cloudy skies (confirmation that a snow line on Mount Fay would not be going down) so packed up, finished off dishes and got ready to head down.  Thankfully the rain stopped fairly soon and the lingering clouds made the way back a little more comfortable than the scorcher on the way in.  One other difference was water color, the creek was running clear and low with less glacial melt.  Descending back to the old Fay Hut was quick, down to the turnoff also quick, and then the last flatish part dragged on for a while.  For the last 0.7 km we took the tourist bridges over Marble Canyon which was actually kind of a cool looking view.


Descending back down the glacier in lite drizzle.


Sean making his way down the rubbly section below the ol Fay Hut.


The waterfall was flowing with a lot less intensity today.


Back at the trail junction with interesting comments on it.


Quite a few flowers even right beside the trail


Looking down on Marble Canyon from one of the tourist-bridges.


Even without going up the Perren Route this was still a pretty solid trip.  Can't wait to head back up to the Neil Cogan and head up some other routes in the area.  Depending on the group a traverse of up The Perren Route and down the Fay Hut route could be kind of cool.


Kind of an interesting way to get up to the hut.

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