Castleguard Meadows via Saskatchewan Glacier Training Trip July 17th-19th, 2020

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2-Man Mountaineering Trip for recon on Castleguard Mountain (Columbia Icefields)


July 17th, 2020

After setting out from Cochrane, AB my father and I arrived at the "Big Bend" near the Athabasca Glacier (Tourist Hotspot) and began gearing up for our presumably long trek. Walking across an old bridge we quickly found ourselves on the right path (an Old Army Access Road that was used to shuttle cold-weather gear for testing on the Saskatchewan Glacier back in WWII). Trekking 2.75km with roughly 150m of elevation we got our first glimpse of ice, Mt. Andromeda featured an amazing icefall/seracs that spanned  400-500m and ran down the entire backside of Andromeda South East side. A Gorge with a log debris bridge, our first dangerous and objective hazard stood between us and access to Saskatchewan Glacier. We safely and promptly crossed the abyss of raging water and began trekking aside a stream. After finding somewhere to cross we found ourselves in a labyrinth of braided streams and a never ending esker field that spanned the width of the valley. Trekking for roughly 1-2hrs we found ourselves coming upon our first terminal moraine only to find that a few terminal moraines turned into a maze of lateral and terminal moraines that sprung to the toe of the glacier. Long and grueling, the route-finding took hours until we managed to set camp 300-400m from the toe of the glacier. We quickly fell asleep after soup, hot chocolate, and a freeze dried meal.        

July 18th, 2020

Waking up at 6:00am my father and I quickly boiled water, got freeze dried bacon and eggs, soup and hot chocolate going and after breakfast we were finally ready to tackle the day ahead. The weather looked promising, however, the wind was constant and never ending. We geared up and quickly navigated the remaining plethora of moraines and made it to the toe of the glacier. After I finished practicing French and German Snow and Ice climbing techniques (This was my first mountaineering adventure and a training trip for the Wapta Icefields infamous Mt. Gordon with the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) we roped up and began our trek to Castleguard Meadows, route-finding, navigating, reading snow and ice. My father spotted a carcass about 50m away that we assume was ravaged by wolves or a bear (prior to this we had not seen any animals or animal tracks). Finally we were given our first view of Castleguard Mountain and studied it for around 15 minutes. The summit was still snow-capped and the East headwall looked strong, however, the burgschrund was vast with little to no snowbridges. We began our descent, following our line of wands that were strategically placed, stepping and jumping over dry crevasses we marched our way down to the toe where we met another group that had attained a bivy permit at Castleguard Meadows. After chatting for around 15 minutes we both quickly went our separate ways. We navigated the moraines back to our bivy site and ate lunch, then rested and reflected on the day. The sun slowly set and we got dinner going. We were hit with sleet, rain, and shivering wind so we set down for the night in our Black Diamond Fitzroy that seemed to be bomb-proof. We both quickly dosed off to sleep and were awoken multiple times throughout the night by howling wind and hard rainfall.     

July 19th, 2020

We awoke around 6:00am from a restless yet peaceful night of wind and rain, we quickly packed up camp and began our trek down the moraine riddled valley, following the shore-line of this great glacial tarn, we came upon dozens of wolf tracks and boot marks. It was a mistake to route-find through the moraines on the first day, the most trodden path was next to the tarn. We took a few hours on the way out while the way in took countless hours, however, the braided streams were much broader and stronger. We took sometime to find the safest crossing-point and avoid any injury or fall as this would result in the individual getting swept into the ice cold gorge. It turned rather hot in the treeline and we were no longer blessed with wind to cool us down. We made it back to the truck, relaxed with triumph and enjoyed the view as this adventure quickly came to an end. 

- Ryan Netzband

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