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

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.