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Summer Camp 2005

Commander Group

by Julia Pulwicki
Photos by Bill Marriott



Saturday was rainy with low clouds from Calgary to Radium. As we lounged in our dry cars at the staging area beside Horsethief Creek, thinking the helicopter wasn’t coming because of the weather, Deborah more or less politely roused us midway through our sandwiches and told us to hurry up and pack - our ride was only minutes away.

After a brief safety talk we began organizing piles of gear. After a bit of chaos, our loads began to fly up to base camp smoothly. Once the chicken wire was up around our cars - a fine fortification against any furry fiends - those who did not fly up had to drive another ten clicks to the start of the hike. After two hours on a very well flagged and spectacular trail (kudos to Bill), we arrived at our home: a large outcrop of metamorphic rock at the foot of the Commander Glacier. Unfortunately though, the weather had not cleared up enough to fly high over the glacier, so high camp was still neatly stowed in the drying tent.

The next day dawned clear and bright, so everyone was eager to get up higher and explore. Some had The Cleaver as a set goal, while other groups went up just to sniff around yet ended up bagging a peak. The snow was quite slushy in the afternoon, but still deep enough that crevasses were not a huge problem...yet. Among heroic deeds accomplished that first day, we rescued a drenched summit register on The Cleaver, taking it to the warm and dry cook tent until it recovered later that week.

Monday saw a break in the weather. Groups attempting Jumbo and Commander were stuck on the large col between those two mountains in low clouds, high winds and temperatures around freezing for an hour and a half, but then the clouds lifted allowing both groups a multiple-peak day.

Karnak, the furthest of the peaks accessible to us, was summitted on Tuesday, and it was quite a long Tuesday for that group. Nevertheless, they returned with huge smiles, aching feet, and lots of stories. Wednesday and Thursday saw gorgeous weather as well, which meant people leaving as early as possible for their trips to avoid the slush and heat. There was a multiplicity of routes up to the Jumbo-Commander col by now, one thanks to a hasty descent in pursuit of wind pants that eventually got blown into a crevasse (I smell some situational irony here...)

The heat’s dramatic effects were seen clearly by Wednesday. A survey of the glaciers from Bill’s Bum (a superb ridge and vantage point above camp...really!) showed that the original routes up The Cleaver now had exposed crevasses where there had been none before, and a more roundabout and flatter route up the glacier was necessary. Huge cracks on the icefall going up to the Jumbo-Commander col were emerging, but not much could be done to improve those routes, other than leaving earlier and using even more caution. The problem with the above solution (or rather un-solution) was the fact that all the peaks accessible to us were in very close proximity to each other; doing two to four peaks in a moderate day was not uncommon, so the lure of a traverse or two was very, very tempting.

Some groups wanting a rest from glacier travel opted to climb Mt. Maye. That trip package included two glacier river crossings on slippery slabs, mountain goats, scree, a ridge walk and a magnificent bird’s eye view of the Lake of the Hanging Glacier. Groups that went on Friday, however, had clouds and then rain, making the stakes somewhat higher on the slab traverse below the glacier.

The base camp area was a pretty happening place as well. Vic’s foot bouldering routes on Morning Coffee slab were all the rage, while engineering projects on one of the main stream crossings and the path that traversed some particularly nasty, hard scree made ascents to the Commander glacier much more enjoyable. There was also a library of information in the cook tent, where one could sip tea and read over the original trip reports for the peaks in this area from the early twentieth century - routes which used glaciers that were tens of times larger than the ones we see today. The slab of rock on which we were perched showed amazing wood-like patterns of folds and layers; hunting for beautiful rock specimens could easily fill up a whole afternoon.

On occasion, Chris, the guy from around these parts who knew all the places around us like the back of his hand, would explain to us the plans for the Jumbo resort. There are planned runs on very steep, crevassed and avalanche prone terrain that would require an enormous effort to keep open for the public. The proposed access road is exposed to at least 20 avalanche paths in the space of 20 km. The cable car above Commander Glacier will be built on three posts: base, peak, and one in between on an outcrop of very crumbly and insecure rock. Since this isn’t an information pamphlet for "Save Jumbo", I’ll spare the details on ecology and waste management.

Back in camp, Friday’s party was - or rather had to be - friendly. The clouds that came in the morning let loose a mini-monsoon, so everyone crammed into the cook tent, and all of us even had a lawn chair at one point or another since a rather ravenous game of musical chairs evolved to the status of natural law. Luckily, Bill had thoughtfully dug a trench when it was still sunny and way ahead of the rains, so the overflowing streams didn’t manage to flood the whole cook tent. The rain let up on Saturday morning, so packing and flying were that much easier. We found our cars in perfect order, and finished out camp with a dip in Radium’s hot springs.

Many thanks to Bill Marriott, Deborah (manager) and Stan Bobrow, Mark Lane (asst. manager), Tom Fransham, Sandy Sauer, Terry Manning, Trevor Penford, Jeff Randhawa, Jackie Clark, Steve Fedyna, Marg Rees, John- Paul Zakordonski, Chris Lague, Vic Bell, Ken Vrinten, Marianne Azizi, Danielle Tardif, Christine Grotefeld and Greg Godek for a fantastic (as in wonderful, not fanatical) trip!