Monday, December 17, 2007

Ice Conditions: Moonlight and Snowline (Dec 17)

Climbed Moonlight and Snowline today (Dec 17) in Evan-Thomas Creek in Kananaskis Country. It was a mild day with the temperature hovering around zero making for pleasant ice conditions. The bottom 10 meters of both routes are thin (10cm screws can protect it) but they quickly thicken up to accept 13cm screws and even 16cm screws by the 20m height. Both have seen much traffic already thus nicely track-set with good hooks and steps. The upper sections both offer wet plastic blue ice.

2 Low 4 Zero is in its usual thin shape but it looks to have been climbed recently (bring lots of stubby screws and maybe even a few pins). Chantilly Falls looks blue and wet; however, the last step hasn't fully filled out yet and looks a little bit too pillar-like to be called WI2.

Canmore Ice Festival



The ice festival saga continues. Last weekend was the 9th annual Canmore Ice Climbing Festival. This is always an awesome event but of course I am biased since it is my home town. Lots of clinics, fun events, parties, comps and good energy. I presented a slide show for the opening evening event which was well received then taught an advanced mixed climbing clinic the following day. I missed the "Tight and Bright" party on the Saturday night but heard it went off. I managed to take 3rd place in the speed competition on the ice wall on the Sunday. Two weekends in a row (Bozeman last weekend) and two 3rd places; I'm not sure if that is a good or bad rut to be in. The ice wall and sponsor bazaar was well attended both days despite Arctic temperatures. In my opinion, this event has improved since Yamnuska Mountain Adventures took it over 2 years ago and I think it will continue to grow. www.canmoreiceclimbingfestival.com

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bozeman Ice Festival


Flailing on projects in the Bingo Cave. photo by John Irvine

I just returned home from an awesome week in Bozeman, Montana climbing in Hyalite Canyon for the Bozeman Ice Festival. This is the 2nd year in a row that Arc'teryx has sent me to this fun event; however, this was the first year for the Grivel Ice Breaker Invitational in which I partook. The comp took place on Thursday, Nov 29. The format reflected the challenges of real climbing with a partner. Every non-local was randomly drawn to climb with a local. I was paired with the talented Adam Knoff. There were 6 male teams and 3 female teams. We had between 7am and 4pm to climb as many routes as we could in any 3 of the 4 areas in the main canyon. This meant lots of hiking. Adam and I managed 11 pitches of climbing (10 different routes) spread over the Winter dance area, Twin Falls area and Genesis area. We ran back to the parking lot hitting the clock 1 minute before 4pm making us the only male team to not lose points for being late. Guy Lacelle and Ross Lynn won while Adam and I came third. The main thing is that we were pleasantly exhausted from so much climbing and hiking. I was psyched to get to climb so many classics in a day. I'm already looking forward to next years comp.

The following are the results:

MENS INVITATIONAL STANDINGS
1. Ross Lynn & Guy Lacelle - 9,950 with a 300 point time penalty for 9,650 points : 13 pitches. Elevator Shaft, The Fat One, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, The Scrappy One, Upper Greensleeves Right, Upper Greensleeves Left, Genesis I, Hang Over, Hang Over Mixed Variation, Genesis II, Slot Corner 2nd pitch, The Curtains, Over Easy.

2. Chris Hamilton & Steven Koch - 9,500 points with a 400 point time penalty for 9,100 points: 12 pitches. Elevator Shaft, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, Mummy Cooler II, The Sceptre, Fat Chance, Thin Chance, Switchback Falls, Crypt Orchid, Cave & Gully, Feeding the Cat, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.

3. Adam Knoff & Sean Issac - 8,750 points with no time penalty: 11 pitches. The Sceptre, Fat Chance, Thin Chance, The White Zombie, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right, Slot Corner 2nd pitch, Land of the Lost, The Curtains, Over Easy.

4. Whit Magro & Rob Cordery-Cotter - 8,750 with a 200 point time penalty for 8,550 points : 11 pitches. The Itchy & Scratchy Show, The Thrill is Gone, Magically Delish, Fat Chance, The White Zombie, Thin Chance, Sun Vow, Desert Dance, Switchback Falls, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.

5. Nate Opp & Brian Prax - 7,800 with a 100 point time penalty for 7,700 points : 10 pitches. The Fat One, Magically Delish, Upper Greensleeves Left, Upper Greensleeves Right, Genesis I, Hang Over, Hang Over Mixed Variation, Genesis II, The Curtains, Over Easy.

6. Kris Erickson & Pierre Darbellay - 6,450 with a 200 point time penalty for 6,350 points : 7 pitches. The Good Looking One, Mummy Cooler II, Mummy Cooler III, Mummy Cooler IV, The Sceptre, Dribbles.

WOMENS INVITATIONAL STANDINGS
1. Jen Olson & Sarah Hueniken - 6,750 points : 9 pitches. Mummy Cooler I, Mummy Cooler II, Fat Chance, The White Zombie, Thin Chance, Switchback Falls, The Overgrown Gully, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.

2. Meg Hall & Zoe Hart - 2,850 points : 5 pitches. The Fat One, The Scrappy One, The Thrill is Gone, Clump Tree Gully, Genesis I.

3. Amy Bullard & Kitty Calhoun - 2,000 points : 3 pitches. The Fat One, Fat Chance, Over Easy.

On Friday, Chris Alstrin and I checked out the Bingo World cave where locals have been bolting horizontal drytooling roofs. I remember seeing this cave 8 years ago when Pete Tapley was giving me a tour. I was surprised then that no one had tackled this obvious challenge. I am psyched to see it is no longer being ignored. After flogging ourselves in the cave, we did a lap up the Elevator Shaft, a classic WI4.

Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching clinics for the festival. I really enjoy this aspect of these vents because its gets folks psyched on ice climbing. Both days participants left with tired arms and big smiles. Mission complete.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ice Conditions: Arterial Spurt (Nov 25)

Climbed Arterial Spurt today with 3 amateur leaders from the ACC (Al, Al and Bill). It is in excellent shape with zero snow on the approach and nicely hooked and stepped ice. Typically very thin, this year it is thick enough to accept 13cm and 16cm screws. It is 3 main pitches of narrow runnel climbing but has a couple easy WI1 sections in between. Bring 2 60m ropes for the rappels off.

Approach beta: Park at the "official" Heart Creek parking area. Follow the Trans-Canada hiking trail west (towards Canmore) for 30m to the dry creek bed. Hike up this for approx 5 minutes to a cairn where you move left into the forest on a trail. This trail is followed steeply up the spur boradering the left margin of the gully. Where it flattens out you will get a good view of the route. Continue following the trail which leads up a treed spur away from the climb. Near the top follow game trails right contouring into the base of the route.

Ice Conditions: Haffner Creek (Nov 24)

Haffner is super lean on ice for this time of the year. We had an ACC group in there yesterday (Nov 24) and could only set ropes up on 2 ice routes. The right-side ice of the main wall is a narrow hooked-out pillar while the left-side ice in the alcove is very wet and chandeliered. Mixed climbing is good but expect less ice on them than usual. Half n'Half has a very thin sheet. Shagadelic has nothing. Half a Gronk is good but bring a 10cm screw for the top. Swank has no ice but can be easily climbed without.

The anchor situation has changed this year since parks cut down all the burnt trees along the rim. There are various new bolt anchors from the past few seasons that you can use or try to make V-thread anchors in the ice near the lip of the routes.

Ice Conditions: Anorexia Nervosa (Nov 21)

Guided Anorexia Nervosa on Wednesday, Nov 21. A fresh skiff of snow (3cm) made the talus / scree valley approach stumbly. The climb itself is fat thus NOT living up to its namesake. The first pitch has lots of good hooks and takes 16cm screws. We broke the final tier into 2 pitches so as not to bomb the belay with ice. The final pillar also offered perfectly spaced hooks. Cold day with a temp of -9 at 1pm. All 3 of us enjoyed the full experience of "screaming barfies" in various appendages. My feet suffered through them 3 times.

Weathering Heights is also fat but is wet so not a good for cold days unless you like cables for ropes.

Malignant Mushrooms is not in nor is Aquarius.

Wicked Wanda looks big from the parking lot.

Nice clear-cuts near the Big Hill. Feels strange that driving across a creek is bad but de-forestation is perfectly fine.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Mt Little (Aug 28)

Climbed Mt Little from Moraine Lake (aka Mt Big or Mt Not-So-Little) in a 13 hour round trip with Lake O'Hara Lodge staff, Tom and Julia. It was a cold, clear night with thick valley cloud hovering at 2000m which moved out by 9am. The slippery log crossing at the end of the lake had a good centimetre of ice coating it (crampons on). The Perren Route has dried off with no snow left from the last the day before. The glacier had 15cm of new dry snow with almost no wind effect. The snow face (NW aspect) of Mt Little sported almost 30cm of snow from the past couple of storm cycles overlying ice. Signs of old sluffing but no new activity observed. The upper rock ridge was heavily plastered which made the scree sections easier but short rock sections a bit slower. Cold day with -2C on the summit (3139m) at 12 noon. The snow on the face was still dry on our way down but it was moist and balling on the lower tongue of the glacier by 2pm.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alpine Conditions: Mt Huber (Aug 15)

Guided Mt Huber today (Aug 15) up and down the Huber Ledges. Clear night and blue sky day made for great conditions. Still a lot of snow up high from last weeks storms (Hungabee and Biddle are pretty white) but the Huber Ledges are snow free. Beware of slippery verglass where you cross the gullies. Anything that looks wet was actually thin ice.

The storm snow has repaired the final ice face providing 20cm of supportive snow over the ice allowing for good steps with ice screw anchors (you have to dig down for the ice though). The bergshrund is also in good shape providing several options on the left side for crossing. Some breakable crust (2cm melt-freeze crust over 20-30cm of storm snow) on the glacier making for punchy trail breaking.

Aidan Millar (11 years old) has spent every summer of his life under the bulk of Huber. This was his first time climbing it. Maybe Mt Victoria next when he is 12. I was impressed by his strength as we managed the climb up and down in 9 1/2 hours. Good job Aidan! Also with us was his dad, Bruce (owner/manager of the lodge), and his nephew, Eric.

Alpine Conditions: Odaray Glacier (Aug 10)

It was "winter" today (Aug 10) up at the O'Hara zone. A dusting of snow is present, as of this afternoon, at treeline. We found a fresh 10cm of wet snow on the Odaray Glacier. The clag lifted enough to observe that the big rigs (ie- Victoria, Huber, Hungabee, Biddle) are caked in white. By the time I left at 4pm, it was still raining hard.

The original plan was Mt Victoria but bad weather had us executing Plan D! Natasha (13) and Alexander (9) had an adventursome day nonetheless. It is fun to get out with youth who are keen on the mountains.

Alpine Conditions: Wapta Icefield (July 27-Aug 1)

Just spent the past week at the Bow Hut for a Yamnuska "Intro to Mountaineering" course. Despite hot valley temperatures, it did not get too warm up on the glaciers with good supportive snow all day; even into the afternoon. On the other hand, the massive sun-cups made for an awkward stumble-fest. Over all, more-than-normal snow coverage on the glaciers for this time of year but where bare ice exists, the snow bridges / snow plugs are junk (ie - not supportive). We climbed Rhonda South (July 29) and Mt Olive (July 31), both offering straight forward ascents via their normal ridge routes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Alpine Conditions: Mt Fay (July 25)



I climbed the Central Ice Bulge on the north face of Mt Fay today (July 25) with Brad hagen and Mark Zieber. We approached via the Perren Route yesterday which is snow free except for an awkward snow moat at the base of the 5th class quartzite climbing. This is best deeked by working up its left edge. The glacier is losing snow coverage fast as the firn line creeps up hill. The main crevasse areas are easy to negotiate. The snow walking is stumbly due to the slushy sun-cups in the afternoon.


Cooler temps and clear skies promoted a solid overnight freeze. We were pleasantly surprised to find the bergshrund well bridged with re-frozen debris. Good alpine ice on the face with a 2cm of soft recrystalized surface ice overlying the permanent blue ice. Only a small bit of old cornice remaining on the far right of the top-out. Start as early as possible because by 7am a few sun warmed rocks were beginning to clatter down.

The west ridge is bone dry making for quick travel. The bergshrund at the base of the short ice face leading to the ridge is easily passable (going up or down). The Roth-Kallen is a dirt chute complete with gaping shrund. Definitely should be avoided.

Crampons were used for the stream crossing at the end of Moraine Lake yesterday and today. The logs are slightly submerged and tres greasy. Crampons and a trekking pole makes this a non-issue.


Of note, there is no cell phone coverage at the Neil Colgan hut (I'm with Rogers) but by hiking only 30 vertical meters up hill behind the hut on the scree ridge of Mt Little, I was able to get full reception. Perfect for getting updated weather forecasts and reading bedtime stories to the kids.


All photos by Mark Pijl Zieber.



Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mt Rundle rockfall events

Spring in the Rockies means rockfall. Snow melts and water flows causing loose rock to become lubricated thus heeding the call of gravity. This past week we have had a couple major rockfall events worth noting. Both occurred within the same week on either end of Mt Rundle. The first noted was by Matt Mueller and myself while guiding at Rundle Rock in Banff. It occurred sometime between Monday evening and Wednesday morning (May 28-30). Massive new boulders are scattered around the belay area of the steeper, pocketed wall. There is a big fresh scar on the steep rock wall above and right of the Rundle ridge. It is unsure whether more debris is poised to come down. It would have been disastrous if people were hanging out in the area at the time of the rockfall as they surely would have been vaporized. It might be a good idea to avoid this area for a while.
The second occurred around noon on Friday (May 1) on the EEOR rock face above Canmore. I did not get to see it personally but folks who did said it sounded like an explosion complete with massive dust cloud that completely obscured the summit. The release came from the top of the diamond buttress between the rock routes Dropout and the MacKay route. The path is obvious from town as a lighter coloured streak down the face. See photos by Klaus Furhmann who managed to snap off a few pictures from his deck in Peaks of Grassi.

Not sure if these are isolated events or related but I would be cautious about what I decided to climb and what I hiked under the next couple of weeks until things settle out. I've even put off guiding plans for the NE buttress of Chinaman's peak (Ha Ling) for a week or so to make sure.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bugaboos to McMurdo (Apr 21-25)

Day 1: We (Daryl Ross, Rob Owens, Mike Stuart and myself) left CMH BugabooLodge at 9:15am and skied past the Kain Hut by 12:30 (+2, L SW @ 7520 ft). We decided overnight temperatures offered a solid freeze so we boot packed up the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col reaching the top at 2:30. About halfway up a small but noisy wet slide popped off the rocks of Bugaboo Spire to our right which definitely helped us pick up the pace. An enjoyable ski down the Vowell Glacier offered some nice turns as a reward for our 5 1/2 hour uphill grunt. Experienced some big whumphs on the low-angled terrain leading up to Bill's Pass. We spent almost 2 hours brewing up and eating supper at the pass so the west facing descent would cool off. At 6:15 we packed up and dropped into the "toilet bowl"-- a deep depression surrounded by ice cliffs and steep slopes. Skins back on we, punched up to the Malloy Glacier. We avoided the comforts of the Malloy Igloo since it is out of the way and set up the Megamid on the glacier at 8:30pm.
Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col (Daryl Ross photo)

Day 2: Departed camp at 6:15am (-10 C and calm wind) and worked up the glacier to the top of the Conrad Icefield. Instead of following the route as described in the guide book we stayed skiers left aiming for GR088246 which deposited us at heli flags. A notch through the rock ridge got us easily to the top of the Conrad Icefield. We doubled poled down the gentle glacier to an icefall at GR063271 which we took on skiers left near the rocks. Skins back on to work up around Mt Thorington then another good run down to Crystalline Pass. We spent a 1 1/2 hours brewing up then started the long contour to Climax Col. This is one of the cruxes of the trip and should be done in the am but we found ourselves dealing with it at 5pm. Steep boot packing and a cornice got us to the narrow ridge. The other side is very steep and west facing thus baking in the sun. We probably should have waited but pushed on through some spooky snow (Mike ski cut a size 1 wet point release). A short 100m descent from the col then we skinned up to the Hume Pass (heli flags) at 6:45. The descent from Hume Pass was the worse of the trip: bad snow compounded by bad visibility. We dropped off the ridge too early instead of following it to the actual Hume Pass. We paid for our mistake by losing time negotiating cliff bands. We bumbled our way down to treeline and started setting up camp at 8pm @ 6000ft in the trees.

west side of Climax Col (Daryl Ross photo)

Day 3: We managed to leave camp by 5:30am reaching Snowman (aka Snowmobile) Lake at 7:15am. Sled tracks and highpoint marks everywhere. Quite industrial for the backcountry. Luckily it was not the weekend. We hit Syncline pass at 11am (L SW, SH 5 on 3mm MFC) and skied the Vermont Glacier down to treeline opting to avoid the Syphanx high route. A hot, sunny slog got us to the ridge above and east of the Syphanx Col (GR983456). We then skied an awesome Bobby Burns heli run (Action Direct) straight down to our cache in Malachite Creek. An evening of cheese smokies, brie, two bite brownies and 12-year old Glen Livet helped recharge the batteries.

east side of Climax Col (Daryl Ross photo)

Day 4: Left camp at 5:45am then used boot crampons to climb the steep slope to Malachite Col (9:30am). At this point, our blue sky weather changed to whiteout conditions on the Carbonate Icefield. As we neared the western edge of the glacier, Daryl, second from the front, fell into a crevasse. At that pint Mike realized he was also on a snow bridge. An intense hour ensued as Daryl extracted himself from the slot and we probed our way to solid ground. We booted down the scree ridge onto International Glacier at 12:30 and used the compass and GPS to navigate our way to the valley. We hit the International Hut at 3:45 and brewed up for over an hour. We left at 5pm intent on reaching McMurdo Hut that night. Complex route finding through cliffs and spurs south of Mt David ate up time and we ended up bivying high on the south ridge of Mt David. We dug in at 9:30 and finally went to bed at midnight.

Upper Vowell Glacier (Daryl Ross photo)

Day 5: A slow start the next morning had us boot packing to the top of the ridge by 7am. A short 25m rappel from hand-placed chockstones got us to where we needed to be. A short skin up and we were at the top of the Spillimachen Glacier. The new 10-15cm of storm snow from the previous afternoon gave us great skiing down the glacier to the McMurdo Hut (reached at 10am).

My knee was tweaking and I was not keen on totally thrashing it so I decided to fly out from here having completed the Purcell section of the trip. The other 3 continued on for the Selkirk portion to Roger's pass. They left McMurdo by noon and skied up through Silent Pass and down into the Beaver Valley where they saw fresh grizzly tracks. That night they slept at the base of the steep slope leading up to Beaver Outlook. The next day they skied onto the Deville neve, did the rappels down the headwall, skied up past the Witch Tower onto the Illecillewaet Neve and got to Roger's Pass at midnight. Proud effort!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Higher Ground

The Canadian premiere of "Higher Ground" by HG Productions will be screening at the Canmore Collegiate High School on June 7, 2007. The world premiere is happening on May 24 in Boulder, Colorado at the Boulder Theater. For more information check out the website www.hg-productions.com

Click on the poster image to view it larger

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ski Conditions: Bow - Emerald Traverse (April 12-13)

Just did the Bow Lake to Emerald Lake Traverse via Emerald Pass (April 12-13) with Simon Robbins. After a late start due to van issues and vehicle shuttling, we managed to leave Bow Lake at 11am on Thursday. A fast skate ski across the lake was followed by a sweltering slog up to Bow Hut where we had some tea and soup. We had blue sky offering great views as we crossed the Wapta through the Gordon - Rhonda Col. We roped up for the short crevassed climb past Mt Collie (the only section of the traverse we donned the rope for) then descended the Des Poilus Headwall on grabby breakable sun crust to the Des Poilus Glacier which we double-poled to the toe. We set up camp in the moraines at the toe of the Des Poilus Glacier at 6pm.
The weather made an about face that night with the blue skies changing to grey overcast sky and light snow. We woke at 6:30am and departed by 8am for Isolated Col. We worked up the ramp to the col (9:15am) in a whiteout then descended the other side into Little Yoho Valley. We avoided the wind scoops in the gully by cutting skiers left over a rib and into the next gully east. At treeline, we maintained our elevation and contoured skiers right through trees to gain the head of the valley. From here we worked up moraines and a narrow draw to the small glacier on the north side of Emerald Pass (12:30pm). The descent of the other side into Emerald Basin looked big, complicated and exposed. We were glad for the overcast sky which minimize the overhead hazards. If it was sunny, we would have bailed and had to ski out Little Yoho Pass which would have reached Emerald Lake by a safer option.
This is a frightening place that I doubt I ever want to ski again. Tons of exposure to overhead hazards like cornices, multiple converging avi paths, cliffs, etc. Of the 1200m vertical, we experienced breakable sun crust on the upper 400m, rock-hard melt-freeze crust in the middle 400m and piles of avi debris on the lower 400m. I didn't take a single photo of this section because we were focused on getting out of there. Nothing like a big terrifying place to make you feel really small. A friend who had done it the week before quipped, "might as well turn your beacon off and put it in the pack cause it ain't going to help in there". It might have been scary but at least the skiing was really bad....
Weather: Yesterday was blue sky and -7C on the Wapta (@ the Gordon-Rhonda Col) @ 2:30pm. Started snowing around mid-night, with 3cm of HST at our camp near the toe of the Des Poilus Glacier. Moderate SW winds both days. Overcast ceiling hovering around 2900m today.

Avalanche Activity: none observed.

Snowpack: HS on the Wapta and Emerald glaciers was 230+ cm. A variety of surfaces ranging from wind pressed defrags on the flats; boilerplate sun / melt-freeze crust on south aspects and wind deposited powder (up to 10cm) on north aspects.

Ski Quality / Travel Conditions: We had absolutely no good skiing. Breakable sun crust on south aspects above treeline. (ie - all of our descents; down the Des Poilus Headwall, Isolated Col and Emerald Basin). However, we skinned up some nice dry powder on the north slope of Isolated Col which would have been good skiing if we were going the other direction. Travel was fast with ski pen ranging from 0 to 5cm. We did not need ski crampons. The crust was mature and supportable in the valley bottoms.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ski Conditions: St-Piran (Apr 10)

Rob Owens and I headed out for a morning rip up St-Piran above Lake Agnus in Lake Louise. Fast travel up the summer hiking trail gained Lake Agnus. We skinned and boot packed up the south slopes to Goat pass between St-Piran and Niblock then up its SW ridge. Our goal was to ski the north facing avalanche paths but they were too icy and had lots of avalanche debris from mid-path to near bottom of path. We decided to ski the east slope back down to Mirror Lake. Skiing back down the hiking trail provided some extreme snowplowing that made the quads ache.

Weather: Broken skies all morning. At Lake Agnus it was-4 C @ 9am @ 2135m with calm winds. On the summit of St-Piran (2649m) we observed moderate gusting to strong west wind. No precipitation all day despite a promising weather forecast.

Snowpack: Melt-freeze crust (2cm thick) was strong and supported skis on south and east aspects. We did not venture on north and west aspects. The crust was still supportive down to 1950m by noon. Below 1950m the crust was breakable with moist snow underneath.

Ski Quality: Fast travel on supportive melt-freeze crust. Turns were noisy and fast; not dissimilar to Norquay first thing in the morning.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ski Conditions: Little-Middle Couloir (Apr 8)

Mr Buszowski and I headed out for a morning mission to the Little-Middle Couloir on the Three Sisters. It was a good objective for the day since pm temperatures were forecasted (and indeed were) very warm. The hike up Three Sisters Creek was done in approach shoes carrying boots and skis. The steep trees up and around the small waterfall was pretty icy and slippery (My elbow still hurts from wiping out). We put on boots and skis and started skinning where the drainage from Little/Middle Sister hits the creek. Only a few hundred meters up the drainage forks and for some reason we ended up in the right fork, some bushwhacking finally got us back left in the correct drainage. We skinned to within 50m vertical of the col between Little Sister and Middle Sister. The snow above us was hammered from pin-wheeling from the day before so ski quality would suck. It would have been nice to reach the col and see over the other side but we decided that it was better to not hang too long in the gully with the day already warming up.
Good pressed powder in the gully lead to fast recrystallized boot top snow in the bowl. In general, surprisingly good skiing. Unfortunately, that all changed at around 2000m where things got nasty. A thin unsupportable sun / temperature crust made for difficult skiing in the lower drainage. Much kick-turning and side slipping ensued. It ended up being a 6 hour car-to-car journey which was not as quick as I thought it would be. Most of the time got sucked up hiking and bushwhacking. Total ascent / descent on skis was 800m with only half of that being good quality. A great backdoor adventure nonetheless.
Weather: Clear, sunny skies with the temperature at 10am being +4 C (at 2050m). Wind was calm. by the time we reached the car at 1pm the temperature was pushing +15C

Snowpack: A variety of snow surfaces ranging from recrystallized facets to a thin unsupportable sun / temperature crust. In the trees around 200m we found moist bottomless mash potatoes. In the gully itself, the snow pack is thin with lots of rocks poking through on the edges.
Avalanche Activity: None observed but large pinwheels from yesterday's warm temperatures.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Ski Conditions: Cathedral Mt (April 4)

Simon Robbins, Marc Andre and myself had an incredible tour on Cathedral Mountain in Yoho National Park. We left the car at 8:30am and cruised up the Lake O'Hara road to where you turnoff and cross Cataract Creek. In Chic Scott's guide book, he describes a "steep headwall or gully" that must be ascended to get to the moraines and glacier. Both of these can be avoided by cutting right (east) onto a treed shoulder which is much safer and gets you to the same place. Once above tree line, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the snow. It was only 10cm deep but had seen absolutely no wind affect. After topping out on a perfect slope, we all were psyched to rip off skins for a quick lap before continuing on with the rest of the ascent. As Simon put it, "it would be rude not to ski such good snow". 100m descent over a steep moraine feature had us hooting and hollering as we carved up the buttery powder. It was just what we needed to keep us focused for the next 900m of elevation gain. The summit ridge is a real treat: A narrow sidewalk of snow with big cliffs on either side. A short bootpack and we were on the summit enjoying a 360 view that included Victoria, Hungabee, Huber, Stephen and Balfour.
For the descent, we choose to drop into the couloir that dives straight for the Trans Canada Highway near Field. This is an amazing line when viewed from the highway or Mt Field but good stability is required. It is a huge hourglass with a big bowl funnelling into a 2m wide gully at mid-height. A couple parties ahead of us had already skied it that day so we followed there tracks into the huge toilet bowl. I know a bunch of folks that have skied this shot but usually the snow sucks. We had bomber conditions with a good 10cm of fluff over crust. As the narrows approached, jump turns were needed to check speed. If you are a hot skier , you may choose to straight line the narrows but I am not such a skier so opted for the conservative approach of side-slipping. Just before the gully opens up and lessens in angle a short 1m step of blue water ice needs to be slipped over.
The gully then opens into a bowl and mellows out until treeline where it drops steeply into a drainage. This gully felt not dissimilar to a terrain park at the resort complete with halfpipe feature, drops, and obstacles. The odd bit of sun-crust had to be dealt with but for the most part it was good skiing the whole way. From the summit at 3200m to the highway at 1400m, it is a 1800m descent. Add on our little 100m lap on the way up makes for a 1900m day.
Weather: We cooked from solar radiation on the way up despite thermometers reading -11 C at 1pm at 3000m. Scattered sky all day with mainly calm winds. On the summit a light SW wind.

Snow: HS was 220cm on the flats of the glacier at the col between Cathedral Peak and Cathedral Crags. Melt-freeze crust stayed intact all day even as low as 1400m. Ski pen ranged from 5 to 10cm of HST laying over the crust. Surface form is still stellars with no wind affect.

Avalanche Activity: None observed. Ski cut steep convex rolls with no results. Minor pinwheeling on steep south aspects.

Ski Quality: Good dust on crust on all aspects / all elevations. A little sun crust near treeline. Didn't need ski crampons.

All photos by Marc Andre

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Ski Conditions: Tryst Lake (Apr 2)

The promise of an upslope spring storm had Jeff Relph and myself scurrying for Tryst Lake in Kananaskis Country. This area is very popular so you need to get there early which is what we did. We met up with other Canmore friends, John, John and Ross for a morning of steep and deep. With no one else there, we were granted our "shred passes" and took full advantage by skiing 5 different chutes (200m vert each) to the lake. Once the uptrack was set, we were going from skins on at the lake to skins off at the top in 20 minutes. We ski cut the top of each gully before dropping in resulting in size .5 to1 avalanches in each. Slabs were releasing 30cm down (the storm snow) on stellars and running 1/2 to 3/4 path. Later in the day, we witnessed a skier accidental of size 2 on the steep rocky face in the middle. No one got buried or hurt.

Ski quality was amazing, complete with faces shots. After we destroyed every chute, Ross and the two John's had to get back to town but Jeff and I were hungry for more. We headed over to the twin paths before Super Slope. 20cm of cold powder on a strong melt-freeze crust provided fast skiing. It was so good we headed back up for a second lap.

This was my first time skiing at Tryst and I have always heard that it is usually skied out. We felt lucky to have fresh tracks all day. In total, we managed 1750m of vertical.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ski Conditions: Lawerance Grassi Peak (Mar 28)

Jeff Relph invited me along for a Canmore range ski traverse mission. The plan was to hike up the backside of Ha Ling Peak to ski the Canmore Couloir (aka Town Gully aka Miner's Gully) then ski/boot up to the ridge above Canmore Wall and ski into the Ship's Prow drainage to continue over the Ship's Prow for a descent into Three Sisters Creek. How could I resist an interesting adventure right above my home?




























Leaving the car at 7am at the Goat Creek parking lot, we transitioned a few times between skinning the icy trail and hiking until we finally decided hiking was easier. The wind was gusty strong from the west once on the ridge between Ha Ling and Miner's Peak threatening to blow us off. It felt very wintry despite the air temperature only being -5 C. Even though there hasn't been much new snow for transport, intense ridge top transport was observed.


















A test pit at the top of the couloir revealed 55cm of HST and wind deposited snow sitting on the rain crust. A compression test produced the low end of hard results (CTH 21) and was quite resistant (not planer). HS was 220cm. Ski pen was 15cm with the top of the gully providing good powder but the lower section turning wind crusted. In general, good quality skiing and a classic line.

Instead, of continuing down the open bowl (traditional descent), we traverse skiers right and donned crampons for a 1.5 hour (600m) boot pack up the S-couloir on the east side of the North Face of Lawrence Grassi Peak. The gully (which occasionally gets skied) is steep (up to 50 degrees) and narrow (2m wide in places). We managed to stay on old debris most of the way but had to climb over some thin spooky slabs (2-10cm thick). We topped out at 2700m on the ridge not far below the summit.



















Upon seeing the route over Ship's Prow, we immediately shit-canned the plan without need for discussion. It looked too exposed and sketchy so we skied the SE aspect down to below Ship's Prow for 1100m vertical of skiing. The snowpack was thin (HS = 80-100 cms at the top) but supportive with a variety of laminated crusts being the dominant layers. Good skiing near the top turned to frozen sun-crust. The lower angle terrain in the lower bowl was perfect dust-on-crust. A size 3 (last 36 hr) out of the steep rocky wind-loaded ledges (NE aspect @ ~2500m) ran across the lower bowl.

We were surprised at how far we could ski down the narrow gully. The snow was well frozen allowing us to keep skis on (mostly) down to 1600m leaving only 200m vertical to walk to reach the Peak's of Grassi neighbourhood. Nothing beats a big adventure within spitting distance of your front door. In total we had about
5000' of ski descent.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ski Conditions: Wapta Icefields (Mar 21-26)

I spent 5 days on the Wapta Icefields as a practicum with Brian Webster and his 6 guests. Dick, Wendy, Reed, Rick, Peter and Ben were keen for an adventure on skis and that is what we got. The plan was for a Wapta traverse from Bow Lake to Sherbrook Lake. The weather was surly right from the first day as we skied across Bow lake in a vicious headwind. As we worked up the final gully to the hut, a size 1.5 slough poured off the headwall right of the ice cliffs. but did not travel far once it hit the flats.

We had day 2 planned for touring above the Bow Hut and maybe bagging a peak but that night, the wind reached extreme values. With the glacier scoured, Brian made the call to drop down and spend the day on Crowfoot Mountain which offered a bit more shelter from the Patagonian-esque weather. We worked up the moraines to the toe of the small glacier on the backside of Crowfoot Peak where the snow became more wind affected and crusty.

Day 3 dawned calm but the wind picked up again once on the glacier above Bow Hut. Glaciers seemed well covered with 240cm of HS at lower elevations and 300cm+ at upper elevations. With heads down, we trudged over the St Nicholas - Olive Col then cruised down the Vulture Glacier to Balfour Hut. The ceiling lifted enough to give us a quick view of the crux of the traverse, the Balfour High Col. Friends had warned that a large crevasse has been causing many groups to turn around as it bars the safest route pushing you close to the steep face and ice cliffs on Mt Balfour. This crevasse combined with poor stability due to strong-extreme winds for 4 days and poor visibility the next morning, made Brian decide to turn around and return to the Bow Hut. Everyone else at Balfour Hut agreed and bailed as well. GPS and Compass work got us back to the Olive-St Nick Col where we "enjoyed" some flat-light skiing back down to the Bow Hut. Of note, cornices were growing rapidly with the wind and new snow. We observed a 4-5 meter layered cornice on the Onion and other lee features.

The final night it was snowing (straight down as opposed to sideways) steadily (almost 4cm / hour). Almost 30cm of HST but over night the incessant wind returned blowing most of it towards Saskachewan. From the hut we observed a few new slabs (up to size 3) that must have pulled out over night with the new load. All was not lost, as the best section of the slope was sheltered enough to preserve the fresh snow. 4 laps of knee deep goodness made up for all the headwind slogging of the previous 4 days. Brian rated stability on March 25 at P / F / G.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ice Conditions: Louise Falls (Mar 18)

Guided Louise Falls today (March 18). It is still in great shape with lots of hooking and stepping due to lots of traffic. The big hanging daggers on either side of the pillar are a little unnerving but exposure time can be limited by choosing safe belays and climbing lines. The walk off is a well packed trail. Weather today at Lake Louise was cool in the morning then warming up quickly by noon. Lots of low cloud drifting around but this was burning off by the time we left around 12pm. We hit brief rain and snow showers on the drive to and from (between Banff and Castle Junction)but no precipitation at Louise itself.

On a side note, Kicking Horse Pass has been closed all day due to an avalanche closure so no though traffic to Golden via the Trans Canada Highway. A detour by Highway 93 South and Radium is required if Golden and beyond is your destination.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ice Conditions: Weeping Wall Right-hand (Mar 17)

Richard Hunter and I climbed Weeping Wall Right-hand today. Highway 93 North is snowy and icy to Bow Summit (poor driving conditions). North of Bow Summit it was just wet and not slippery. Mixture of rain and wet snow all day. Total accumulations at Weeping Wall was about 10cm of moist snow (could easily make a snowball). There was some sloughing from lower angled ice shelves as the heavy snow built up.

The climb is still in great condition with good plastic ice and solid screws. The new snow plastered to the ice (even the vertical ice) made finding placements awkward but this should melt off quickly. There was also two groups on the left side. Snivelling Gully looks to have lots of open water now. I wouldn't even use it as a rappel route.

Beware of raven's. We left a pack at the base which they managed to un-zip and pull all the contents out. My wallet was lying beside my pack with everything pulled out of it. Luckily I had no cash for them to steal. I have even heard of raven's relieving their bowels on packs just to add insult to injury. Needless to say, it's better to fully rack up at the car and not leave anything at the base.

There was a car parked at Polar Circus but today did not seem like the day to be up there. With "considerable hazard" in the alpine posted then the heavy wet snow combined with warm temperatures, I would avoid big terrain trap routes like Polar Circus and similar.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ice Conditions: Carlsberg Column (Mar 16)

I climbed Carlsberg Column today (March 16) with Richard Hunter. The access road is still open, or at least it was today. They seem to keep putting off the closure. They are doing logging work near the beginning of the road but were allowing vehicular traffic through.

Carlsberg is in its usual big blue condition; however, it has not seen as much traffic as usual (probably due to the fact that many people think the road has been closed) so it requires a lot more swinging and less hooking. Use caution on the 3rd class approach/descent. Last weeks avalanche cycle combined with recent cold temperatures has made the snow surface very hard. A small slip traversing across the slopes could easily turn into a tumble (with major consequence).

Of note, when rappelling from the small tree on top, it is very easy to get the knot stuck at the lip. This has happened twice this season to me. The solution is to rappel to the lip then feed the rope so the knot is beyond the troublesome lip. With 60m double ropes, this leaves just enough on the ground. Both times, I pulled the ropes from way over to the right and used a small tree to set a 3-to-1 Z-pull (with my ATC-Guide and Tibloc) to pull the rope.

From the road, Pilsner Pillar looked fat but has a brown streak down it which is probably a ruminant of the heavy rains last weekend. Guinness Gully is still big and fat and had two parties on it today.

The weather today in Field was more wintry than the Bow Valley with temperatures maxing out just below zero and snowing lightly all day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

If it ain't Scottish, it's crap!

I returned home last week from an amazing climbing trip to Scotland. The Scottish hills and crags are the birthplace of technical ice and mixed climbing in the same way that Chamonix is the orgin of alpine climbing and Yosemite shaped big wall climbing. Since I began ice climbing 15 years ago, I have always wanted to check out Scottish winter climbing but have been scared of wasting a week or two sitting in the rain waiting for conditions to get good. Indeed, Scotland is known for fickle weather but it is this same maritime weather that is the reason why the ice and mixed climbing is so good. Magazine photos of hoared rock and rime ice have tantalized me for years. I have also found the Scottish style interesting where bolts are forbidden and a ground-up onsight ethic prevails.

My opportunity to visit the Ben's and Corrie's of Scotland came in the way of the BMC winter meet which is a week long event where 2 climbers are invited from various countries around the world. This unique gathering occurs every 2 years and has been going on for 10 years now. I represented the Alpine Club of Canada as part of a late Centinnial project along with 40 or so other climbers from all over including most European countries and as far away as China, Japan and South Africa. Yes, South Africa has ice.

Our basecamp for the week was Glenmore Lodge near Avimore in the Cairngorm Mountains. The first evening, Mr Scotland himself, Simon Richarson gave a short slide show on the various areas of Scotland as well as lecturing us on proper Scottish winter ethics. He warned, "If you are caught climbing rock without a good coating of white, you will be sent home". To me coming from the Canadian Rockies, this seemed contrived and silly. Why wait until the rock is caked in snow then have to go and scrape it all off so you can climb the rock underneath. Why not simply wait until the rock is snow free? The answer is simple. Winter is Scotland is different than here. We do not have to fake winter since it begins in earnest in October and sticks around until late April. Even if our rock is dry, the frigid temperatures still dictate winter techniques as opposed to summer rock shoes and chalk. Conversely, the weather changes hour to hour in this maritime climate so certain rules are self-imposed to keep "winter" ascent legit.

The first day, I was paired up with Ollie Metherell, a climber from Sheffield. We headed into the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms to Coire an Lochain home to classic mixed routes like Fall-Out Corner, Savage Slit and The Vicar. Thinking mixed climbing, I underestimated the weather and dressed in my normal rockies winter garb of softshell jacket and pants. By the time we completed the 1.5 hour approach (this is their "roadside " crag) I was soaked to my underwear from the horizontal slashing rain.

The following day Ollie and I went to Ben Nevis and climbed the classic Indicator Wall which ascended 3 pitches of moderate ice topping out right on the summit of the UK's highest peak. The ice was thin but very soft making for enjoyable climbing but useless for ice screws. It is given Scottish IV 4 which is like WI3 but felt more serious due to the thin ice and run-outs.

Simon Richarson tempted me with a plan for the next day: A new route in a remote corner of the Cairngorms called Braeriach. The next morning we arose at 4am and set off on bikes for a 1.5 hour ride up a valley. This was followed by 3 hours of hiking up and over a pass in whiteout conditions. Simon's map and compass skills got us across the high plateau and we dropped down the other side to our objective. an unclimbed buttress on Corrie of the Chokestone Gully. Simon graciously took the first pitch so I could have the crux mixed pitch. His lead entailed almost vertical grass climbing. Nothing beats a good stick in turf and we occasionally encounter this nebulous medium in the Rockies. This was different as all four contact points were embedded in solid frozen flora. My lead started up a steep rock corner decorated with rime. It was perfect mixed climbing. one foot on rock, one on snow. One tool in sunk into a blob of grass while the opposite hand stuffed into a verglassed jam. Pure ecstasy. The corner was topped by a roof which was pulled onto neve covered rock. At home, low-angled snow covered rock instills fear since it typically consists of powder over slabs with no gear. In Scotland, the snow thaws and freezes all winter forming squeaky neve offering quality pick and point placements. One more short pitch of steep snow through the cornice and the route was in the bag. Now for the grueling return trip back to the car. In total , a 12 hour day with 3 pitches of climbing (really only 2 real pitches). We named the route "Slovenian Death Water" (Scottish V 6 or M5) after Rok Zalokar's grandmothers homemade schnapps she sent him to Scotland with for getting us all wasted. I definitely prefer single malt scotch whiskey.

The next day was a wash due to extreme avalanche hazard and hideous hangovers we all suffered from Rok's grannie's moonshine. I felt human enough by the afternoon to go on a whiskey distillery tour. Nothing like the hair of the dog that bit you.

Day 5 also posted high avalanche hazard but Viv Scott and I managed to sneak safely up to Coire an Lochain to do the classic steep chimney, Savage Slit (V 6). I lead the first 2 pitches as one resulting in one of the best pitches of mixed climbing I had ever climbed. Perfect pick slots and bomber nuts and hexes almost whenever you wanted; all of which was nicely coated in frost and verglass. Dreamy.

The final day, everyone gunned for Ben Nevis with big goals. Some locals guessed it was probably the most productive day of Ben Nevis ever (check out this news link). Testy Simon Richardson routes like Darth Vader and Cornucopia saw 3rd and 4th ascents in addition to 3 new routes being established. Ian Parnell gave me a gnarly dose of hard Scottish mixed with a first ascent on the Sioux Wall. Last winter he and Ollie made a winter ascent of the summer Sioux wall route at VIII 8 naming the mixed version Sue Wall after Sue Nott who Ian climbed the Colten-MacIntrye on the Grand Jorasse a few years back. Freddie Wilkinson of the USA and Rok were gunning for the 3rd ascent of the Sue Wall making for social belays. Our line took the steep arete to the left. After a moderate first pitch of snowy rock, Ian spent 2 hours unlocking the tenuous crux second pitch. It was technical and bold compounded by route finding difficulty. By the time I reached the belay, Ian was already shivering so he launched off on the next pitch which was still hard but had better gear. This deposited us at the Sue Wall finish which was climbed in 2 more pitches to the top. I pulled over the cornice on top of the Ben just as it got dark. Without headlamps, we carefully worked down the ridge trying not to fall off the cornice. It was easy to locate the top of the #4 Gully descent due to all the traffic from the busy day. We didn't get back to the car until 9pm and immediately drove to Fort William for greasy Fish and Chips.

I already can not wait to return to Scotland. The Haggis sucks (bad texture, no flavour, nasty ingredients) but the excellent single malt and classy climbing more than makes up for it. Scotland's no bolt ethic and ground-up onsight style provides big adventure from little mountains. It is no wonder why some of the best alpinists in the world hail from the UK. My four days of climbing were some of the best mixed climbing I have ever done. As the saying goes: "If it ain't Scottish, it's crap!"

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ice Conditions: Chantilly Falls (Mar 12)

With heavy rain falling all night, we needed a safe venue for a multi-pitch day. This much rain in mid-March is pushing our realm of experience so descision making needs to be very conservative. High avalanche hazard, road closures and the concern of rock fall limited our options. We decided on Chantilly Falls in Evan-Thomas Creek in Kananaskis Country. Moderate rain on the hike in gave way to graupel at the base of the route. Temperature at 9am was +4 C. The ice was very plastic (one hit shit) but had lots of surface water flowing over it thus saturating ropes, slings and gloves. It was definitely a Gore-tex day. The only rock fall observed was a few small rocks releasing left of the climb when we first arrived. Other than that surprising little in the way of natural rock fall. Having said that, there is much unfrozen loose rubble to either side of the ice that is easily knocked off with careless feet and/or rope work. This evening in Canmore, temperatures are already returning to more seasonal values which should gradually improve conditions on routes that were not overly affected by the recent rain storm. It is fair to assume that lower elevation routes took a beating and if still standing should be treated as structurally suspec. Example: "Hers" in Grotto Canyon crashed down today as reported by a fellow guide on Grotto Falls.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ice Conditions: Wedge Smear (Mar 11)

It was a warm, wet day at Wedge Smear in Kananaskis Country (March 11). At 1:30pm at 1760m at the climb, it was +7 C. Light rain was falling all afternoon. Now in Canmore this evening, it is a steady moderate rain. Feels more like late-April than mid-March. Despite these unseasonal weather conditions, the ice was blue and plastic without as much surface water dripping as one might expect. The flow is wide offering a variety of WI3 to WI4 lines to climb. Of the three bolted mixed routes on the right side, only the M8+ is climbable as the other 2 (the M5 and M7) are formed over with ice. The M7 could be climbed but you can cheat by stemming off ice the whole way. With High to Extreme avalanche hazard forecasted, an avalanche free zone, like Wedge Smear, is the only game in town. Please stay far away from any climbs that have even the slightest bit of open snow above them until the weather turns more seasonal and snow stability improves.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Ice Conditions: Louise Falls (Mar 9)

Brian and I climbed Louise Falls this morning (March 9). Temperatures were more seasonal at Lake Louise with a -4.5 C at 8am at the base of the climb. The ice was dry but well pocked with lots of hooking and stepping. The pillar is in easy shape due to the amount of traffic it has seen and is no harder than WI4. The are some big ugly hanging daggers fringing the roof on either side of the pillar. If one of these decided to snap, it would be game over if you happen to be climbing beneath them. Therefore, find sheltered belays off to the sides and avoid spending too much time under them. The far right or far left margin of the lower apron often feels less exposed but today the safest line on the lower half appeared to be right up the middle since there it is only the fully-formed pillar above you and not the big icicles that threaten the sides. The walk off is well packed out and offers straight forward cramponing on hard packed snow.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Powder Cowboys

I had my best week of skiing ever during the last week of January while doing a practicum at Power Cowboy Catskiing. I know this post is a little late but I recently received some photos from the week that got me reminiscing. Pow Cow, as it is affectionately known, operates in the Lizard Range on the southwest edge of the Rockies just across the ridge from Fernie ski resort. This area gets much more precipitation than most of the Rockies thus has a deep snowpack and quality powder. Most of the terrain is treeline or below but the trees provides shelter from the wind thus keeping the snow deep, light and fluffy. The photo of me left is by professional photographer Todd Weselake of Fernie.

Long time friend, Darcy Chilton, is the mountain manager and he was my in. I spent the entire week tagging along and learning the art of downhill ski guiding and snow safety forecasting. My first 3 days were helping as a tailguide. Darcy was the lead guide. Simon Robbins the tailguide. Me the practicum guy aka the assistant tail guide. The week began with a huge dump of cold smoke. It was my first experience with over-the-head blower. I will never forget my first face shot and cliff drop.


As the week progressed, the snow stop falling and stability got good. Darcy, Olivia Stoffer and I were on snow safety which entails whipping around on snow machines with our skis strapped to the sides in the search for relevant information on what the snowpack is doing with regards to stability. After the first day we decided the stability was good and improving so the definition of "snow safety" morphed from collecting information to finding the coolest chutes and ripping them. Darcy had his eye on the north face of April Fools Peak. Over the course of 2 days of "work", we skied 3 gullies on this face, 2 of which may have been first descents. Each time we dropped into a virgin untracked couloir, I was nervous with excitement but after the first couple jump turns, I relaxed and let the skis do there stuff. The photo left is by professional photogrpaher David Silver of Fernie. It shows the right side of April Fools Peak and if you look closely you can see our tracks. Check out more of Dave's images at www.davesilverphoto.com

Needless to say, after 8 days straight of skiing (remember I am a skinny legged climber), my poor chicken legs were toast. I am already looking forward to heading back next winter as an official tail guide.

Ice Conditions: Weeping Wall (Mar 7)

Climbed Weeping Wall Left-hand today (March 7) with Brian McKenna. A white-ish, sun-leeched crust is providing soft one-swing sticks but you need to chop and dig deep to find semi-blue ice for trustworthy ice screws. I was happy that I brought a handful of long screws (ie- 19 and 22cm) for anchors. Central Pillar and Right-hand Weeping Wall were also climbed today.

I would avoid rappelling down Snivelling Gully as there are lots of free-hanging icicles baking in the sun ready to crash down and sweep the gully. The bolted rappel descent immediately right of Right-hand Weeping Wall is a less hazardous option.

Even though Weeping Wall does not have much in the way of Avi terrain above it, the warm temperatures (+7 C at 12:30) has turned the snow isothermic causing wet slides from seemingly benign features. We witnessed a size 2 avalanche release off of the treed ledge between Weeping Wall and Mix Master that dusted the highway.

By the time we were driving home at 1pm, light rain was sprinkling the windshield. It's getting a little too warm for ice climbing. Need to find high, north facing routes with no avalanche hazard.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ice Conditions: Grotto Canyon (Mar 6)

I spent a warm day in Grotto Canyon with Brian McKenna of Toronto. It was +6 C at 2pm; not exactly winter conditions. The dirt road into the upper parking is an ice rink in the morning. A SUV ahead of us got stuck on a slight incline and could not go forward to backwards without slipping sideways so they parked it in the middle of the track to wait for softer ice in afternoon which would offer better traction. Seems best to park further back and walk a bit more.

Grotto Falls: It's a waterfall in the truest sense of the word. There is lots of surface water flowing over the ice and it is impossible to keep ropes and gloves dry.

Hers: Very white and sun leached. Lots of rock showing through and closer inspection reveals that it is all detached from the rock behind. Seemed too sketchy to climb safely so we gave it a miss. I think it is done for the season.

His: The ice is in better condition than Hers; it is blue and well attached. A big ice umbrella / roof has formed halfway up but is well protected by bolts on the left. I think these bolts are new this year since I have never seen them before.

Mixed routes: The 3 bolted mixed routes are very wet with lots of water flowing over the rock. I'd avoid them until temperatures get colder or you'll just end up ripping unfrozen rock holds off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Guiding Life

I just polished off a long stint of local ice guiding working 18 days straight. I find it pretty hard to call it "work" since I was climbing 3-star classics everyday. In early February, I was out with Richard Hunter from Toronto for a few days including Grotto Falls, Weathering Heights and Moonlight Falls. I had never climbed Weathering Heights before so it was great to tick this classic smear. It was Richards first excursion into the Ghost which is always a wild adventure combining redneck 4x4'ing with remote ice climbing.

Immediately after, Rob Owens and I hosted the ACC Rockies Ice Camp. This is an annual trip offered by the Alpine Club of Canada which tours the best the Canadian Rockies has to offer. The first three days we based ourselves out of the Beauty Creek hostel which is located on the Banff-Jasper Highway just north of the Columbia Icefields. This rustic hostel is closed in winter but they open it up for one week every winter specifically for this trip. Juan, Jim, Lynda and Gene joined Rob and I for an outstanding week of waterfall hunting. Our mission was to sample the entire range in one week so we started with Maligne Canyon (Jasper National Par) just outside of the Jasper town site. After everyone did a few laps on the Queen and The Last Wall to fine-tune their technique, we embarked on the Original Route. The Original Route is primarily horizontal but is a neat adventure that works up the entire length of the canyon negotiating open pools and interspersed with short steps. A final 30m pitch of WI3 accesses the very top of the gorge depositing you at the parking lot. It feels very similar to the slot canyoneering one might do in the Utah desert except it is winter and everything is frozen.

We then travelled south to the Weeping Wall (Banff National Park) where we enjoyed stellar "blue-goo" conditions; "one hit shit" as we call it. Day 3 was the classic beer climbs of Carlsberg Column and Pilsner Pillar in Field (Yoho National Park). Day 4 we split up with Rob heading into Wicked Wanda in the Ghost with Gene and Lynda while I climbed the uber-classic roadside Cascade Waterfall (Banff National Park) with Juan and Jim. It was a super cold day and I actually ended up with "Screaming Barfies" in both feet while belaying the boys up the last pitch. The final day we all went cragging at Haffner Creek (Kotenay National Park) so the team could test their mettle on some steep funky pillars and get a taste for mixed climbing. Rob and I are already signed up to guide the ice camp again next year in mid-February 2008. In the meantime, we are also doing the ACC Ghost Rock Camp at the end of June. The plan is to camp in the Ghost for a few days of multi-pitch limestone then return to the civilization of the Bow valley to finish off the week with classic big faces like Yamnuska, Chinaman's and EEOR.

This past week I worked a Yamnuska Hot Ice with fellow guides and friends, Steve Holeczi and Pat Delaney. Again, another fun week of multi-pitch ice including Snowline, Louise Falls, Weeping Wall and GBU. Neil, Keith, Ari, Martin, Rod and the youth, David were keen so we stuffed them full of steep ice. The last day we climbed GBU in the Ghost en mass. The previous couple days we received 20-30cm of new snow accompanied by strong winds. In the Ghost, this means truck-eating snowdrifts. One of the best parts of climbing in the Ghost in winter is that you are able to get in touch with your inner red-neck. Neil did a proud job of negotiating the deep drifts. The only way to not get stuck is to keep forward momentum. This means keeping the foot on the gas and redlining the engine so you can keep speed. We managed to suck back half a tank of gas in approximately 3km but at least we did not have to shovel (well, not too much...).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Blog-man Cometh

I finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and become a member of the blogging community. It seems like an easy way to get ice and mixed conditions out "there" in a quick and timely manner as well as spray about recent personal adventures and shenanigans. I can't promise that it will be regularly updated but hopefully I can discipline myself to try to stay current. After climbing or skiing all day then getting home, making supper, cleaning up, changing diapers, play wrestling, getting the munchkins ready for bed and stuffing the pack for the next days mission, I might have a few minutes of spare time to hunt and peck at the keyboard to create stimulating (well, at least maybe coherent) postings every few days. Late New Years resolution: To become a proficient blogger. I have never been able to keep any past resolutions, so we will see if this one is any different.