Two climbers are the first to complete the mammoth Horse Shoe Traverse in one push.
The route in Rogers Pass, links 14 peaks over 38 km, with a total elevation gain of 4,600 metres. According to the Rogers Pass Alpine Guide Book the route takes most parties 3-4 days, however on July 17, Eric Carter and Leif Godberson did it in 24 hours and 20 minutes.
The “grand daddy of traverses in the area” links Avalanche Mountain, Eagle, Uto Peak, Mount Sir Donald, the peaks of Terminal North and South, Youngs, Leda, Pollux, Castor, The Dome, The Rampart, Afton and Abbot.
“If you’ve ever been up any of those peaks you get the feeling of an ongoing ridge-line, to be able to link that up is pretty dreamy,” said Carter.
The experienced duo from Squamish and Canmore have had their eyes set on the traverse for some time. They attempted it in one push last August but had to pull the pin halfway through.
“You need the right combination of weather and conditions, if it’s too early there’s too much snow on the big mountains and if it’s too late there’s not enough snow, there’s just ice [on the glaciers],” said Carter.
The pair cut the trip short last year due to a lack of coverage on the Asulkan Glacier as they attempted to descend off of Young’s Peak. It was too late in the season and there was too much exposed ice.
“It was quite tricky, we ended up having to improvise some rappels to get down,” said Godberson.
After getting through the crux, the pair realised they where moving too slow, so they cut their losses and headed home through the valley.
This year conditions aligned.
“I think it was the heatwave we had at the end of June and beginning of July,” explained Carter, “We weren’t expecting conditions to be ready that early, after that, the snow melted off the big peaks but hadn’t quite effected the glaciers.”
The pair started walking around 3 am. They traveled light, however they made sure they had the necessities for a retreat or an unexpected scenario. They were prepared to leave gear behind and in end they did.
“We discussed different strategies and what would be the best way to attack it,” said Godberson. “We definitely wanted to get the Avalanche to Sir Donald and over the terminals in the light.”
After a seamless start and successfully reaching the summit of their fourth peak, the pass’ iconic Mount Sir Donald, the pair found their way onto the two peaks, known as The Terminals. In their attempt the previous year the pair cut off the ridge and bypassed the South terminal. this time around they stayed on the ridge and came across their first real challenge on the south peak.
“It was a little tricky getting off that peak,” said Godberson. “It was actually the only peak I hadn’t done before. I had heard that it was not too tricky, but getting off it proved to be one of the trickiest parts of the traverse. In the end we had to leave some gear behind [to make an anchor].”
After navigating the challenge the pair continued on, crossing the Illecillewaet Glacier before reaching the spot that had caught them out the year before. Much to their relief the glacier was in good form and the pair were able to easily down climb the north face of Young’s Peak using crampons and an ice axe.
They had now reached the curve in the horse shoe. They skirted the head waters of the Asulkan Brook and began making their way back along the mirroring peaks, moving north again as the sun set.
“It was nice being up there, walking back towards the highway, slowly getting there and looking across at the other stuff that we had done.”
The pair navigated the final three peaks in the dark, by headlight. At sunset the smoke thickened, filling the cones of light from their head torches with an ashy haze.
“The ash was falling, it was like driving down the highway at night in winter with snow coming down on the windshield,” said Carter.
Carter explained that the hardest part was the mental and physical aspect of being awake and moving for 24 hours, although he said the heads-up nature of the terrain made it easy to stay awake. He added that dealing with wet feet for another 10 hours after crossing the glaciers was testing and that his feet are still recovering.
“There aren’t a lot of record attempts, and there’s certainly people who could do it faster than us,” said Carter. “But that [the fact that nobody had completed it in one push before] was our motivation to do it in a day, for sure.”
The pair had experience, the right equipment and had exposed themselves to almost all of the traverse prior to taking it on, so they knew what they were getting into.
“When we finished and got back to our trucks, we crawled into our trunks and got a couple hours sleep,” said Carter. ” Just as I was shutting my eyes I could see the sun coming up on the horizon. I was like, ‘oh man, that was a long day’.”