Friday, September 12, 2008

A grisly situation on Grizzly peak

Tuesday I did my last scramble in the Canadian Rockies and climbed Grizzly peak, an easy little 2500 meter high peak (just a 900 meter elevation gain according to Kane) to finish of the scrambling season and my stay in the mountains. With such an easy little peak and with the weather starting out to be quite nice, what could possibly go wrong! Sure enough the climb to the summit of Grizzly peak was an easy one. At one of the cliff bands below I had to use my hands once or twice, but the most part was a steep hike and the final bit to the summit was just an easy stroll. Time to wander around the summit ridge a bit, take some pictures and have a snack.

On the summit of Grizzly peak

As I was on the summit, I noticed a cloud spilling over the top of Opal ridge to the north (the "peak" behind me in the above picture). It moved southward and directly towards me. Oh well, at that elevation it would most likely be snow or hail, and that beats rain as you don't get as wet. I figured so much because when I did the final stroll to the summit, I could see the odd little hailstone fall down.

Clouds rolling over the mountain to the north

As the cloud moved closer, the wind really picked up and it cooled down a lot. It was time to put on a sweater and finish my summit smoke. I made one final picture of the descend route with small clouds starting to roll over the col between Evan-Thomas and Grizzly peak before putting on my gloves and heading down again.

The col between Grizzly peak and mount Evan-Thomas

As I was putting on my right hand glove, all of a sudden, out of the blue, I hear thunder!! It was not just some hail or snow, it was a friggin thunderstorm that was heading towards me!! And I am on the gawd damn summit of a gawd damn mountain!! Boy, was I panic-stricken at that point. I cursed out loud and packed all my stuff as fast as I can. I frantically put on the other glove and my backpack.

And then I just started to run down the mountain. And I mean, I just ran! I ran down the summit's grassy slopes towards the col. To the right of the col there's a wide gully filled with scree. I jumped into the gully and slid down on the scree. I never scree skied as fast as I did then. As I slid down the gully, the hail started to come down big time, and I mean like shitloads. They weren't the large golf ball sized stones tho, thank god for that!

I looked around to see if there was any place I could use as shelter. The only place I could see was a large crack below a large vertical cliff, which however required climbing up again. I decided to keep on running down and traversed a rib on my right to get into the next gully. Again, I literally jumped into the gully and scree skied down as fast as I could.

What had taken me more than 1 1/2 hour to ascend, only took me about 15 minutes to descend sliding down those gullies! I finally ran down a grassy rib and got into the valley down below where I felt it would be safe. At that time the thunderstorm moved in on the peak and the flashes of lightning and rumble of thunder could be seen and heard nearby.

And just to make a bad day even worse: while descending the valley to the roadside, the hail turned into rain and the trail turned into mud. By the time I got to the side of the road, I was completely soaked. So much for a nice, easy and laid back ascend of Grizzly peak, bah! This just shows you how unpredictable mountain weather can be!

A view over the edge of the summit down to highway 40 (Kananaskis trail) some 900 meter below