The Wapta Traverse, often called “the Haute Route of North America”, is a classic ski traverse linking an alpine hut system along the crest of the Canadian Rockies. The traverse crosses the Wapta Icefields, along the border of BC and Alberta, in Banff and Yoho National Parks.
On this trip we spend 6 days on the traverse, moving between huts from north to south, exploring the impressive skiing terrain in the vicinity of each hut. The huts are set up with comfortable mattresses and kitchen supplies – aside from day touring equipment we only need to carry sleeping bags and food.
Distances between huts are generally not more than half a day, and we use each hut as a base for exploration. For much of our time ski touring we carry light day packs, whether skiing long north facing powder runs or summiting one of beautiful peaks along the traverse.
This trip is lead by an AMGA Certified Ski Guide.
6 Day Itinerary
Day 1 – Trailhead to the Peyto Hut
We meet at 8am at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre next to the Samson Mall in Lake Louise, AB for group introductions, orientation, gear check, and group gear/food distribution. After checking in with Parks Canada we’ll shuttle one of our vehicles to West Louise Lodge, about ½ hour west along the Trans-Canada Hwy. Then we’ll drive north to the start of the traverse.
It takes most of this first day to get to the Peyto Hut. Our tour begins by dropping down to Peyto Lake from the Icefields Parkway. We cross the lake and ascend moraines below the Peyto Glacier. Above the moraines we put on our harnesses and ski up the center of the glacier, eventually reaching a hut perched on a rocky outcrop. The view from the Peyto Hut is impressive, looking across an expanse of uniform glacier at big skiing terrain on the other side.
Day 2 – Peyto Hut to the Bow Hut
We spend the first half of the day on a ski tour of the area (light packs), exploring the adjacent terrain, and potentially skiing from the summit of Rhondda North Peak.
In the afternoon we return to the hut and take a break, before packing up our gear and traversing up and over the crest of the icefield. We rip our skins and glide down to the impressive Bow Hut, the biggest of the Wapta huts.
Day 3 – Bow Hut to Balfour Hut
Today we traverse to the Balfour Hut, ascending along the base of Mt St Nicholas, one of the most iconic peaks along the Wapta Icefields. This is an excellent en route option for a ski mountaineering ascent, weather and snow conditions allowing.
From our high point, the route descends the Vulture Glacier to our hut, which is situated beneath the mighty Mt Balfour. If time allows in the afternoon we’ll explore some of the terrain on the lower flanks of Balfour.
We’ll stay here at the Balfour Hut for two nights.Day 4 – Mt. Balfour
With an early start we set off on a ski mountaineering ascent of Mt Balfour, 10,774’, the highest peak on the Wapta Icefields. Our route takes us up towards Balfour High Col and we use the rope for this crevassed stretch of glacier. We traverse under the north face of Mt Balfour, home to impressive steep lines that can be skied with good stability and snow coverage, and over the east ridge onto the south side of the mountain. From here the ascent is relatively straightforward, finishing with a steep climb along a corniced ridge.
We take in the views on the summit and prepare for a long ski descent. Depending on the pace of our day we may have time to ski another lap or two on one of the beautiful faces beneath the east ridge.
At the end of the day we return to the Balfour Hut and relax for the evening.
Day 5 – Balfour Hut to Scott Duncan Hut
We pack up and retrace our skin track up to Balfour High Col. From here we’re able to rip our skins and glide down the Waputik Icefield to the Scott Duncan Hut. This is considered the most involved stretch of the traverse because of the more complex glaciated terrain through this section, and we’ll likely use the rope. However we’ll have previewed most of this terrain the day before.
If time, energy, and conditions allow, an excellent objective in this area is Mt Daly – literally right behind the hut. The north face of Mt Daly is one of the more impressive descents on the entire traverse, a long and sustained face holding cold powder snow well into the spring.
Back at the hut we enjoy our last evening on the Wapta Traverse with a big dinner, and plan our exit route for the following day.
Day 6 – Scott Duncan Hut to West Louise Lodge
Our ski out to the road takes us on the Schiesser/Lomas exit route – descending 3400’ over a distance of 12 km. From the hut we descend slopes below Mt Niles to Sherbrook Lake. We put our skins on to cross the lake and for the short ascent on the other side. Eventually we end up on the summer trail which descends around the shoulder of Paget Peak to the parking lot at West Louise Lodge.
Custom 4 Day Itinerary
Day 1: Trailhead to Peyto Hut
Day 2: Peyto Hut to Balfour Hut
Day 3: Balfour Hut to Scott Duncan Hut
Day 4: Scott Duncan Hut to West Louise Lodge
Distances & Elevations
Trailhead to Peyto Hut – distance: 6.2 mi (10 km), gain: 1800’ (550m)
Peyto Hut to Bow Hut – distance: 3.8 mi (6 km), gain: 500’ (150m), loss: 1000’ (300m)
Bow Hut to Balfour Hut – distance: 4.4 mi (7 km), gain: 1900’ (580m), loss: 1400’ (430m)
Balfour Hut to Scott Duncan Hut – distance: 6.2 mi (10 km), gain: 1700’ (520m), loss: 1050’ (320m)
Scott Duncan Hut to West Louise Lodge – distance: 7.5 mi (12 km), loss: 3500’ (1060m)
Need rental gear? Items with the RENT link are available through us.
☐ Skis with touring bindings – AT, tele, or splitboard: Your setup needs to be suitable for uphill touring and downhill skiing/riding.
☐ Boots: AT, tele or snowboard boots.
☐ Poles: Adjustable poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse).
☐ Climbing skins: Fit to skis (ex: Black Diamond Mohair Mix).
☐ Ski crampons: Specific to your setup.
PACK & SLEEPING BAG
☐ Pack: 50-70 liters with some method of ski attachment.
☐ Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic, rated to 20° F (+/- 10° depending how warm you sleep).
☐ Compression stuff sack: Sized appropriately for your bag.
AVALANCHE SAFETY GEAR
☐ Transceiver: Modern, single frequency [457 khz] transceiver, preferably less than five years old. A digital 3-antennae model is highly recommended (ex: BCA Tracker 2, Mammut Pulse Barryvox, Peips DSP). RENT
☐ Shovel: Lightweight avalanche shovel. A metal blade and extendable handle are recommended (ex: G3 Avitech, BCA Companion EXT). RENT
☐ Probe: Dedicated probe, ski pole probes are not sufficient. RENT
☐ Ice axe: Lightweight 50-60cm mountaineering axe (ex: Petzl Snowracer). RENT
☐Harness: Lightweight alpine harness with adjustable leg loops (ex: Black Diamond Couloir). For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. RENT
☐ (2) Locking carabiners: Pear shaped recommended (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (3) Non-locking carabiners: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ Cordalette: 5-6m (15-20’) of 6-7mm nylon cord.
There are many possible layering combinations for your upper body. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: Patagonia Capiline 1 or 2).
☐ Lightweight insulating layer: Light fleece or synthetic layer (ex: Patagonia R1 Hoody).
☐ Softshell or shell jacket with hood: For wind, snow, rain, cold, etc.
☐ Puffy (insulated) jacket: Synthetic or down with a hood (ex: Patagonia Micro Puff).
☐ Baselayer bottoms: Medium weight (ex: Patagonia Capiline 2).
☐ Ski pants: Softshell is preferable for touring.
☐ Socks: Wool or synthetic, they should work well with your ski boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not heavy socks. Your ski boot liners provide plenty of insulation.
☐ Sunglasses: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection (ex: Julbo Dolgan).
☐ Goggles (optional): Preferably with low light lenses (amber or rose) and UV protection (ex: Julbo Around Excel or Down).
☐ Warm hat
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc – Weather dependent.
☐ Face protection: Buff® recommended.
☐ Helmet (optional)
☐ Light glove: For touring.
☐ Ski glove
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Thermos (optional)
☐ Camera: Don’t forget extra batteries.
☐ Extra batteries: For your transceiver, camera, etc.
☐ Headlamp RENT
☐ See Details.
☐ Repair kit: We suggest carrying a small repair kit with items specific to your ski or splitboard equipment. Extra binding parts (including mounting screws), an extra tip loop for your skins, an extra pole basket, etc. Other great MacGyver items are bailing wire, zip ties, and duct tape.
☐ Wax: For skis and to prevent snow from glomming onto your skins.
FOR THE HUTS (OPTIONAL)
☐ Hut shoes: Down booties or Sanuks work well.
- Previous backcountry skiing/ski touring experience and basic proficiency
- Advanced-intermediate skiing ability
- Experience skiing in off-piste snow conditions (ungroomed slopes)
- Excellent physical fitness is required for this trip.
- You should be able to ascend and descend 2,000’ vertical feet in a day on skis while carrying a 30+ lb pack.
• Guiding and instruction with an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide
• Breakfasts and dinners on the traverse
• 4:1 ratio (5:1 max)
• Hut fees
• Parks Canada overnight fees
• Group equipment: ropes, safety gear
• Transportation and lodging before and after the trip
• Lunch food and personal equipment
• Parks Canada entrance fees
In the mountains “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. Bring enough food for 4 or 6 days in the mountains (depending on the trip). Be sure to emphasize variety and don’t just bring energy bars and gels. Real food provides just as much energy and generally tastes better.
WHERE TO MEET
Lake Louise Visitor Centre next to the Samson Mall in Lake Louise, AB.
Fly in to Calgary International Airport. It’s about a 2.5 hr drive to Lake Louise. Renting a car is the easiest option, however there’s also an airport shuttle that runs multiple times per day.
Drive times from the US can be slowed at the border.
From Calgary, AB: 2.5 hrs
From Vancouver, BC: 10.5 hrs
From Coeur D’Alene, ID: 7 hrs
From Missoula, MT: 8.5 hrs
From Seattle: 11.5 hrs
Greyhound Bus Lines connects east to west and stops in Lake Louise.
PRE & POST TRIP ACCOMODATIONS
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your program. Note that many plans require you purchase insurance within 21 days of your initial deposit.
- Touring the Wapta Icefields by Murray Toft
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