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.