Banff Assiniboine Expedition II
Return from Assiniboine – August 8, 2003
Assiniboine under sunny skies and a cloud of course
We got up the next morning and decided for sure to descend the headwall and make an effort to catch a helo ride out to the Mount Shark parking area. Gary’s ankle was better but discretion is the better part valor and a 20 mile hike with 40+ pounds was not going to do any of us a whole lot of good. We figured instead to get an early start down the headwall and hope for a couple of seats on an outbound flight in the early afternoon. Breakfast was followed by packing and then we were off, down the snowfield below the hut and onto the scree above the headwall snow patch. The descent is simply a pain in the butt until you get to the base of the snow and begin the ledge traverse in earnest. The ledges had their usual uncomfortable sections but with a steady pace, it is over with in only ten to fifteen minutes. Then, we down climbed the remaining scree and two rocky slots to drop onto the trail paralleling the shore of Lake Magog.
Once back at the Lodge, I got a hold of Joe (Assiniboine Lodge) and found that there were three seats left on the last helo out so I quickly added our names to the manifest and provided the necessary renumeration. We were on the last flight out of six scheduled but I ended up coming out on the first hop and Gary and Ed on the second. The key is being willing to split the party and lounging around the helipad when the bird lands and someone else is not on the ball. Kind of like the airlines of old, if you’re flexible, you tend to get tossed in the empty seat and save bunches of time. The helo flight was the usual thrill but over all too soon as the machine banked steeply on its approach to landing and quickly let us off before snagging a cargo net of supplies and returning up the Bryant Creek valley.
I waited for the next flight and Gary and Ed were on board. Not surprisingly, all the passenger traffic was outbound due to the fires and only four people appeared inbound to Assiniboine that morning. We gathered our gear as it was dropped off and loaded up the truck for the drive back to Canmore. Unfortunately, the fire situation had not improved during our incommunicado period and we were faced with few possibilities for an additional climb to round out the trip. Highway 93 was closed so a climb on Mount Stanley was out, the Larch Valley was closed so Mount Temple and all the peaks of the Moraine Lake area were out, Joffre would entail a three day effort, Victoria was a rock scramble . . . we were pretty much out of luck on a final climb entailing any degree of glacier travel within a hundred plus miles. Our final call was therefore to go to Canmore, eat a heavy lunch, and get started on the trip home. If we could make decent time, we figured we could get to Great Falls, MT late Friday night and home by Saturday evening.
We had the displeasure of Calgary’s rush hour but after getting outside of the city we made good time south to Lethbridge and across the border to Montana. The crossing into the US was hassle free and cost us only a pair of Canadian oranges that were not stamped as to place of their origin . . . small price for passage. We overnighted in Great Falls and headed on the next morning, picking up the now empty trailer in Billings and stopping to play tourist at the Custer battlefield outside of Crow Agency in southern Montana. Then it was on south, into the heat of Wyoming and a return to the working world.