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Mount Rhondda, Mount Thompson, and The Onion

Snowshoe Mountaineering
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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Steven and I had been talking about heading up the Wapta Icefield for some time and this was the weekend the plan would finally work out. I (as I often am) was limited in time and could only manage a day trip and so we decided to try to squeeze in as many peaks as we could, which turned out to be Mount Rhondda, Mount Thompson, as well as a quick jont up The Onion.

After getting to the Num-Ta-Jah lodge parking lot around 2am and taking a nap for a few hours we set out at 4:30 up the well trodden trail (at least in the trees) to the Bow Hut. This was my first time up to the Bow Hut (Steven's fourth) and given the night sky and no moon it was hard to tell what sort of scenery was surrounding the route until the descent later in the day. We set a quick pace and quickly passed through the gully/terrain trap I had heard about previously, moved up above treeline and before long the hut was in view. It took a hair over 2 hours car to hut and we stopped in to grab some water just as the sun was rising (and folks in the hut were starting to wake up and greet the awesome views the day would bring). The Bow Hut seems pretty swanky as far as Rockies huts go (on an unrelated note I just watched a documentary on Mt. Blanc and apparently there is a 120 person hut complete with a kitchen staff half way up it, what decadence!) but it can definitely be a time-sink. After re-stocking on water it was time to rope up and set out onto the icefield.

Gaining the slope right above the Bow Hut took a bit longer than it looked like it should but soon enough we were out onto the icefield-proper and basking in the amazing views. St. Nicholas Peak looks exceedingly impressive in morning glow and all the other surrounding peaks were just as impressive. Steven lead a line pretty much straight towards Mount Rhondda and not too long after we were on Rhondda's slopes and getting better and better views. Its hard to express just how impressive the views on the Wapta are on you're first time there and stopping to just look around was a common trend for me. The ridge of Mount Rhondda was pretty much just a snow slog (but an enjoyable one) until finally reaching a summit wand and the cliff bands separating it from Mount Habel. We took a fair bit of time to soak in the views before heading back down Rhondda to where we stashed our rope and then started towards Mt. Thompson.

From the summit of Mt. Rhondda Thompson doesn't look very far away at all but it is a lot of distance and much elevation re-gain! It didn't take long to gain the lower slopes of Thompson but the summit itself was a long way up and felt like twice as long. By this point both Steven and I were low on water and with the tropically warm temperatures of the day we were both feeling really sluggish and progress towards the summit was painfully slow. Luckily while the elevation gain took a fair bit of time the views kept getting better and better prodding us upwards. It's hard to tell where the proper summit of Mt. Thompson is, but we travelled to where there was a summit plaque which seemed to be if not the highest then equally highest point along the ridge. After a quick stop of pictures we were heading back down the slopes (which was refreshing by comparison to the ascent) across the glacier and over to The Onion.

As far as named summits go The Onion is probably the easiest peak I have bagged yet (it is pretty much directly on the way back from Mt. Thompson towards Bow Hut). That being said it still is a good viewpoint and if you are in the area it is well worth the trip up. After The Onion it was a quick descent back to Bow Hut (another delicious meltwater refill) and then back down to the car (even more skiers had come up during the day making the trail very obvious). Car to car took us slightly over 12 hours, despite a somewhat fierce sunburn this was one of my favourite day trips so far.

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