Catch a glimpse into a day spent climbing the President (3,138 metres) and Vice President (3,066 metres) in Canada's Yoho National Park.
03:50 am - I tore open the Starbucks' instant coffee sachet, lazily cursing the missing component for the camping-style French press that sat cold and empty on the kitchen shelf.
04:32 am - Crunch. I glanced around at the darkness that surrounded our team of five before quickly looking back to the ground. The gravelly trail wound around the creek and led us away from the Stanley Mitchell hut where I had eventually grasped about three hours of sleep. Blackness hid the peaks above. The pathway remained flat - for now.
05:00 am - Each step took us higher. Blisters had already sent one teammate back to the hut. Pebbles shifted from a flick of a hiking pole, rolling to rest far below us. We were climbing what seemed to be a spine made of rubble - a narrow, hardened pathway that dropped off on both sides but led directly to the glacier's toe. My headlamp revealed a patch of trail to follow, leaving the base of the ridge hidden in shadows. Step by step, we rose above the valley. For some reason, it did not seem too arduous despite how steep this same ridge appeared in the daylight. Maybe it was adrenalin - or maybe the instant coffee had pulled through after all.
07:30 am - I tightened my harness' leg strap and then dipped into my first dried fruit bar followed by a swig of water. Four of us were roped together. Our crampons gripped ripples of ice. We had crossed the icy section and reached the first bench of the glacier. Its white blanket cascaded between the peaks of the President and Vice President. Fiery glints shone from the edges of a cumulus cloud as the sun rose and a quintessential anvil formed in the darkening mass. Behind us, wispy clouds drifted and hinted at clear skies.
08:30 am - Our tracks left a zig-zag weave along the right side of the glacial tongue, but to the left of scattered rocks that coloured the edge of the snow. We had taken few turns, just enough to manage the steepness without slowing our ascent. A bergschrund's wide crevasse peered down on me with a shadowy grin and marked the highest point of the glacier.
All I heard was the scrunch underfoot of my spikes cutting into the snow as we continued to climb.
09:10 am - My feet felt lighter as I sought out stable chunks of rock amongst the scree. Crampons were unneeded along this final push to the peak, so we had tucked them beside a few boulders near the glacier's edge. I looked down on the bergschrund's bridge that stretched to the base of the Vice President's scree slope. Its debris-filled bank daunted me. For now, I focussed on reaching the summit of the President. The rock was sticky, a helpful quality for handholds to pull ourselves over the steepest sections. Otherwise, shifty slats of scree taunted me to try to unearth their steady spots. With each step, the pathway exposed a little bit more of itself and directed our group farther up the ridge. A cap of snow accumulated beside the President's peak and obscured our final steps.
The dark clouds had dispersed and blown eastward leaving a faded blue expanse to emerge. Pockets of smoke tainted far-off valleys and blew whiffs our way. This same wildfire had caused Highway 93 between Radium and the Alberta border to be closed the day before.
09:45 am - We stood 3,138 metres in elevation at the peak of the President. An assortment of pinnacles, glaciers, valleys and moraine lakes stretched around us.
10:40 am - Mission accomplished with two summits in one day! The President's rough bouldery summit now looked to be the daunting big brother from where I stood at the peak of the Vice President (3,066 metres). What had appeared as a loose, slippery climb to the top of the Vice President, turned out far more doable as we neared its scree slope.
Once again, our guide found a safe route and we gradually approached our destination. He turned what had seemed out of reach to fall squarely within our grasp.
Where: Yoho National Park
How: With an amazing guide and team at Yamnuska Mountain Adventures
Level: Intermediate Mountaineering
Accommodation: Dorm-style Stanley Mitchell Hut (run by the Alpine Club of Canada)
Fun fact: The President and Vice President peaks were named in 1907 after the then President and Vice President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Thomas Shaughnessy and David McNicoll, respectively.
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