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!