A Little Secret - Moraine Lake climbing access by bike

 

We hit upon the perfect time to visit Moraine Lake, in the fall after the road is closed to vehicle traffic.

Over the years I have headed in to the Valley of the Ten Peaks five times in the winter to try a particular first ascent. After skiing up the access road, which is ski track-set once the snow flies, one is regaled by the famous vista of the lake, but without the notorious summer crowds. On my most recent effort, I realized that riding a bike the 12 kilometres up the road is much easier than waiting for the snow to fall and then skiing it. And in spite of not making it up our proposed new route, we had a great wilderness experience. It seems that one of the most seasoned mountain guides in Canmore knows this little secret as well, as we met him and a friend on their bikes on their way in to The Alpine Club of Canada Neil Colgan hut and the climbs of Mount Fay.

 Jay Mills leads a mixed pitch high on Mt. Tuzo. Photo Ian Welsted.

Jay Mills leads a mixed pitch high on Mt. Tuzo. Photo Ian Welsted.

Twelve kilometres isn't a long way to go by bike. By waiting until mid-October, when the road is closed to vehicle traffic, one is rewarded by having one of Banff Park's most famous tourist attractions almost to oneself. A few smart locals and tourists have clued in to this gambit, but it is nothing compared to the hordes of summer. On the day we headed in there were a total of four bike riders at the Lake.

A New Line on Mt. Tuzo?

Our adventure consisted of attempting an alpine first ascent on Mount Tuzo, next to the famous Supercouloir on Mount Deltaform. Between the Perren Route, the normal access to the Neil Colgan Hut, and the Supercouloir there is a wide sweep of wall. Jeff Marshall had completed an ascent of the North East Ridge of Tuzo in the summer, but in the last 20 years there has been little new route activity in the valley. We were looking for an elusive ice line to make the climbing more manageable on this large sweep of rock.

 Ian Welsted on new ground in the Valley of the 10 Peaks. Photo by Jay Mills.

Ian Welsted on new ground in the Valley of the 10 Peaks. Photo by Jay Mills.

Destination: Neil Colgan Hut

Jay Mills, lead guide at Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides, and I started up the wall in the dark. We started one gully over from our intended objective, which slowed us somewhat. Wanting to enjoy the climbing, and thinking we could climb quickly, we chose to go with no bivy gear. We wanted to climb quickly, top out, and then traverse to the Neil Colgan Hut, which Jay has visited many times as a guide. It was the security of knowing that the hut was up high that we didn't need to worry about getting stranded.

 The Neil Colgan Hut above the Valley of the 10 Peaks. Photo by Gavin Boutet.

The Neil Colgan Hut above the Valley of the 10 Peaks. Photo by Gavin Boutet.

But the climbing didn't go quite as planned. We climbed 13 pitches, most of which were easy ground, interspersed with rock cruxes. The rock was surprisingly solid and Jay at one point commented that with all the protection possibilities he was wondering if we were even in our home range of the Rockies. At 10 pm Jay headed up a rock pitch with little smatterings of ice, climbing by headlamp. As I followed with our pack I knew I wouldn't have been psyched to be leading that pitch. Having used up his mental energy Jay realized that the next pitch was beyond him. I felt the same, unwilling to risk injury so high up and in the dark. This would be our highpoint.

 Jay Mills follows a pitch high on Mt. Tuzo. Photo Ian Welsted.

Jay Mills follows a pitch high on Mt. Tuzo. Photo Ian Welsted.

The next day as we rode out we encountered two climbers, who we realized we knew as we biked closer. They had the system figured out: their ropes were strapped to their handlebars. Heading in to the Neil Colgan Hut, they were carrying small backpacks. With no crowds to deal with, and great late fall conditions, I'm sure they had fun at one of Banff Park's mountaineering gems.