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

No comments: