French-Haig-Robertson On Foot -- Aug 16, 2008

Elevation Gain: 1000 meters (3280 feet)

Climbed by: me, MarkL, Andy, Peter, Anthony.

I'm not sure which category to put this trip in. Is it a hike? Not really, considering all the extra equipment that was carried to handle the crevasses safely. Was it a scramble? Certainly we had to use our hands, but we also used a rope, and that's kind of counter to the scrambling creed. Was it a mountaineering trip? Close, but we never had any plans to, and made no attempt at attaining any summits. But the equipment we used is closest to that used when mountaineering, so that's the category I chose.

This was an Alpine Club trip hatched by MarkL in lieu of a multi-day Wapta trip (also on foot) that would have involved too many contingencies to be put together on short notice.

We gathered at the PetroCan by the Cochrane turnoff on the Trans Canada, and piled everyone and all our gear into Peter's truck, arriving at the Burstall Pass parking lot about an hour and a half later. We put on our boots, hefted our weighty packs onto our backs, and we were off!

After a very short discussion, we left the main trail onto what we assumed (rightly, it turns out) to be the French Creek trail. It's a slightly overgrown road that leaves the Burstall trail to the left as the Burstall trail curves around to the right just a couple hundred meters from the parking lot. It's not the well-maintained gravel access road that must be used by maintenance vehicles. It's further along, and considerably more rustic looking.

We followed the trail for a short while, and eventually came to the point where one would normally cross French Creek. It was reasonably high, and didn't appear to offer an obvious crossing-point so we carried on along the right-hand side of the creek. There is a scramblers' trail that goes up and over a hump, accompanied by some light bush-whacking. Eventually you come out in a wide flat area at which point it is very easy to cross the creek at a log jam right at the mouth of the valley, and carry on along the trail. Be warned, however, that the trail comes and goes, is covered in dead-fall, and enters and leaves the creek-bed whenever it feels like it.

Eventually, we made it to the toe of the French glacier, roped up, and walked up it. It was entirely covered in snow, and crampons weren't needed, though Andy and I put them on just in case (Andy was leading and I was behind him). I figured that if he actually fell into a crevasse, as unlikely as it seemed, I'd appareciate the extra traction.

We topped out on to the Haig glacier, and turned to the right where the Haig/Robertson col was supposed to be. Sure enough, a rather benign-looking scree slope was plainly visible. No problem, we all thought! It was about a kilometer away, and didn't take much time to reach.

After a moment's debate at the bottom of the scree, we started to climb up it. One of the first things we all noticed was that it was steeper than we thought. I think that if we had kept walking on the glacier to the middle of the scree slope the angle of ascent would have been more manageable, but it's hard to be sure. Certainly the grade was nicer to walk on after side- sloping over to that part of the scree. If I had to do it again, I would try walking more or less straight up from below the lowest point on the top of the col. Surely it couldn't be any worse than attacking it from the side closest to the French glacier...

Mark got to the top of the col first, being the smartest route-finder in the bunch of us, and I was a fairly close second after abandoning my line in favour of following Mark's. This gave us time to scope out our route a bit, which we took advantage of. The Robertson glacier was covered in snow almost all the way to the bottom. After a food, rest, and water break for everyone, we roped up with me in the lead, and off we went!

It took very little time to descend to the bottom of the snow line, and then we had to walk on bare, wet ice. It was very cool how the running water had carved tiny canyons in the ice. We stopped and filled our water bottles with fresh glacier water, and it was some of the best water I'd ever drank in my life!

We decended the wet ice until there wasn't any ice left directly underfoot, then carefully removed our crampons for the walk out. I volunteered to carry the wet rope, since it was my route-finding that was largely responsible for it getting wet. I was pleased to find that some people had taken up coils to keep the rope from dragging in the water in between them. Thanks!!!

The walk out from the toe of the Robertson glacier was long and boring, but it had to be done. This is where a winter ski-out would be a really awesome addition to the trip! Next time I'll do it on skis for sure!

Total trip time, parking lot to parking lot was about 11.5 hours. It felt like more, but it was well worth it!