Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ice Conditions: Haffner Creek (Dec 13 & 14)

The ice was voicing dissatisfaction with the Arctic weather at Haffner Creek the last two days. All day groans and pops were emanating from the pillars and daggers. Surprisingly, nothing spontaneously broke but a few of the snapping sounds were loud enough to make us think they were close to coming down on there own. We refrained from climbing anything that was not well supported and hooked out. It is worth the reminder that sub -30 C temperatures are not ideal for ice climbing. The ice is very cold resulting in fragile pillars and brittle bulges that are primed to explode. Definitely avoid hanging out under and climbing on free-hanging icicles and skinny free-standing pillars (even on top-rope).

On a different note, I was surprised to see the T2 dagger on the Trophy Wall on Mount Rundle was still in one piece. I was certain this cold snap would snap the pillar. Also, I was shocked to see that Sea of Vapours is formed (or should I say forming). A Few days ago there was no hint of ice above Postscriptum and now there is a silver streak snaking down the entire corner, albeit very thin looking.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ice Conditions: Rogan's Gully (Dec 7)

Left the car at 7:45 in a light drizzle (-1 C) that turned into snow. The ice on the first pitch is thin but takes 13cm screws. The two mixed pitches pitches in the middle offer fun M4 climbing. On the first one, the steep chockstone moves are protected with a new bolt on the left wall (Thanks to whoever placed it). I managed to place stubby under the second chockstone. On the second mixed pitch, a #2 Camalot can be stuffed under the first chockstone then fond a good thread at the second one. Both these pitches have solid two-bolt belays. The final ice (right hand flow) is slightly delaminated with the warm temps but easy (two-bolt anchor at the top no the left).

This is a fun moderate mixed gully in early season condition. It gives a taste of alpine gully grovelling without the commitment. Of course, later in the season, ice covers the rock and chockstones turning it into its normal WI2 condition.

By noon, it was dumping (S2). With the new snow this afternoon, the bowl above will be reaching threshold amounts so the route should be avoided for a couple days until things slough and settle out.

The first photo is of Jason Wheeler on the second mixed pitch. The second photo is of his busted crampon lashed to his boot with bailing wire. Never leave home without bailing wire and duct tape...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ski Conditions: Bow Summit Area (Dec 3)

Matt Mueller, Christina B. and I had a great day back up in the Bow Summit area skiing the Jimmy Junior Cirque. The temperature at 1030 was -17 Celsius so we spent little time stopping and lots of time skiing. We managed four runs, all of which were of great quality--cold boot-top powder. The Nov 2 rain crust is still doing its job keeping us off the ground. HS is still averaging 60-70cm but some areas are much less with the new snow barely covering the previously wind-scoured scree. Having said that, I only hit one rock all day. Almost no wind but what slight breeze there was made for very cold noses. Days are short, and combined with the cold temps, it wise to avoid getting too remote in case of injury or equipment failure.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ice Conditions: Haffner Creek (Nov 29-30)

I just spent the past two days in Haffner Creek doing mixed clinics for the ACC Calgary Section. Yesterday there was only one other group present: a fellow guide with the Yamnuska Semesters students. Today (Sunday), the crag was packed with over 25 climbers swinging tools. There are only two ice good lines at the main area so the mixed routes saw lots of traffic. Half n' Half, Mojo, Shagadelic, Half a Gronk and Swank all have enough ice on them. The water is flowing (actually gushing so bring a Gore-tex jacket) so more pure-ice pillars should be formed soon. There are still a couple spots of open water in the creek near the mouth of the canyon but someone has made a makeshift bridge out of 2-by-6.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ice Conditions: R&D (Nov 26)

There must be more ice finally forming because the Ranger Creek area was not its usual over-crowded self today; only three parties including us. As suspected R&D is a hooked-out peg board; no swinging necessary. We climbed the newly formed pitch upper pitch, erroneously thinking it may have not seen an ascent yet. Our delusions of grandeur were nurtured by the fresh ice with nary a hook to be seen--silly us. Of course, there was a V-thread at the top. There is quite a bit of water flowing from the rock overlap, which has covered up all sings of the previous passage. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant romp turning R&D into a two-pitch climb. This second pitch goes at WI3 and maybe add an R to that grade since it is a little thin off the ledge. This will most likely keep thickening as long as the tap stays on. The photo shows R&D (you can see the hooks from here) and the aforementioned second pitch up.

HS below the climb is still below threshold amounts. The strong winds from the past week are evident in that all fetches are stripped to scree. Stiff winds slabs are surely lurking above the routes but should pose little threat until the next major inputs (i.e. snow, wind or temps).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ski Conditions: Bow Summit Area (Nov 25)

Ali Cardinal and I decided it was time to check out the skiing so we headed to the Bow Summit area hoping to find some turns. Bow Summit proper is completely destroyed with tracks, so we skied a bit further south below Jimmy Simpson. We weren't expecting much as we skinned up over a 7cm-thick wind crust (first photo) but sheltered spots provided some good wind-pressed, boot-top powder. The Nov 2 rain crust was present all the way to our high-point (2400m) offering good support and keeping us up off the rocks. Average HS was 50-60cm but variable with as little as 20cm only 10 from the deeper spots.

Tests: Compression test (N aspect, 2200m, 25 degrees) failed in the hard range on the facets (almost but not quite depth hoar yet) between the rain crust and the ground.

Avi Obs: A size 1 loose-snow point release occurred just after 1200 on a SE aspect starting from steep cliffs (second photo). It ran 100m on what appeared to be the Nov 2 rain crust.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Icefall Lodge

My long-time good friend Larry Dolecki owns and operates an amazing new fly-in ski touring lodge located on the west slope of the Rockies. It is only 60km from Golden, B.C. as the crow flies and has access to unlimited glaciated terrain as well as good tree skiing for those murky and/or poor stability days. It could also be a convenient basecamp for the remote and relatively untapped ice climbing paradise of Icefall Brook. Check out the website at

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ice Conditions: The Playground (Nov 14-15)

Well, there is no ice to report at the Playground but then again there is never ice at the Playground. This crag was developed last year by a couple industrious locals, Eric and Pat, solely for drytooling. I ended up guiding there two days in row, which was fun for everyone. There are some great intro drytooling routes in the M5 to M6 range that have excellent positive hooks and easy moves. The crag is located on Grotto Mountain on the right-hand side of the drainage coming from the eastern grotto.

Approach Beta: To get there, park at the Rat's Nest Cave parking, which is found at the far east end of the mining scar. It is on the right-hand side when driving east along the 1A just before the road really starts to curve. The parking area is ringed by boulders. From here a good trail leads up hill. A couple hundred metres out of the car park, you will see the powerlines up ahead. About 100m before the power lines, a small trail with flagging tape branches off left. From here a combination of game trails and old roads head west above the mine scar and eventually into the drainage and up to the crag. The entire path from the Rat's Nest trail junction to the crag is flagged with yellow and pink flagging. If you miss the first flagging and go all the way to the powerline cutline then simply turn left and follow it downhill where you will regain the correct route and pick up the flagging again.

Ice Conditions: Ross Lake Headwall (Nov 12)

I guided the ice flows up at Ross Lake Headwall. I had never been before so was excited to check out a new area. The right-hand flow offered two pitches of ice with the first one being a short but steep WI4- pillar. The gusty down-flow winds from the hanging glacial valley above created some severe spindrift adding to the alpine aura. The approach takes between 1.5 and 2 hours and is a pleasant walk except for the final grunt up frozen scree to the base of the ice. The photo shows the ice (we climbed the right one) but is of poor quality due to the flling snow.

Ice Conditions: Stanley Headwall (Nov 10)

There were groups on Nemesis, Suffer Machine, Sinus Gully and Thriller. One team also top-roped the top section of Killer Pillar but the middle was still too fragile looking to even TR. It is still flowing with water so should fill out and be climbable soon. This will be the third time in known history that it has formed. There is lots of ice at the Killer Cave and the classic BIG mixed routes like Distiller, Rototiller and Caterpillar have substantial ice on them. Some friends this week went over to Clucking but they did not climb it since it looked very thin and detached. The first two pitches of Nightmare on Wolfe Street look climbable but the top half needs a bit more time. Dawn of the Dead has enough ice on the first two pitches but like its neighbour, the top need to fill in a bit more. French reality appears all there but looks stiff. The steady storm pulses throughout the week have steadily increased the amount of snow making walking more difficult but definitely not enough to ski yet. Some big sloughs were observed off of the ledges above Acid Howl over to French Reality. photo: Nemesis (Nov 10, 2008)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ice Conditions: Chalice and The Spoon (Nov 6)

photo: Lone Ranger (left) and Chalice and The Spoon/Blade (right)

Yesterday, I climbed Chalice and The Spoon in Ranger Creek, Kananaski Country with Jeff Lockyer and Marc Dastous. The temperature was much colder than when I climbed R&D last week thus resulting in the tap being turned off. Instead of wet, plastic ice, the climb offered cold, hard ice, but at least there were still some hook placements. The first pitch was WI4+ with lots of rattly hooks. On the second pitch, we wanted to do the Blade but the ice seemed a little too brittle for skinny pillar climbing so I scooted up the left-hand Spoon variation. Our double 70m ropes got us from the top to the ground in one long rappel. There was a total of seven groups of climbers working both the a.m. and p.m. shifts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coldsmoke Powder Fest 2009

Once again the Coldsmoke Powder fest is happening again in Nelson. I have yet to make it to this cool event but maybe I'll finally get there for it this winter. It sounds like it follows the same format of the ubiquitous ice festival that we have come to love: entertaining slide shows, instructional clinics, fun comps and of course rowdy parties.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The 2008 Canadian Alpine Journal

After two months of hunched over my "confuser", the 2008 CAJ is finally complete. We sent it off to the printers today. Yeah-hoo! This is my first year as editor so the learning curve was steep, to say the least. Fortunately, I was smart enough to surround myself with a highly skilled team of wordsmiths and designers. A big thanks goes out to Helen Rolfe (Contributing Ediotr), Lynn Martel (Copy Editor), Suzan Chamney (Layout/Production), Hermien Schuttenbeld (Graphic Assistant), Anne Ryall (French Editor), Zac Robinson and Chic Scott (Historical Experts), David P. Jones (Columbia Mountains Expert) and, last but not least, Geoff Powter (Editor Emeritus). The 2008 CAJ should be available by the first week of July. I just hope all this effort was not in vain and it informs, inspires and entertains.

Cover: Raphael Slawinski on the first ascent of Victoria's Secret Deviation on the Stanley headwall, the Canadian Rokcies. Photo: Wiktor Skupinski

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ski conditions: White Pyramid (May 2/07)

Enjoyed an amazing day of spring skiing up on White Pyramid today with some friends (nice change from 3 weeks straight of editing CAJ stuff...). We were expecting cruddy turns but ended up with perfect conditions.

Approach: Park at the pull-out on the west side of the highway about 5km north of Waterfowl Lakes. We botched the approach to Epaulette Lake by gaining too much elevation on the treed ridge and had to lose 150m. The beta is to cross Mistaya Creek (still fully frozen so no wading) then keep angling rightwards without gaining too much elevation until you hit the creek/drainage coming from Epaulette Lake . This is then easily followed to the lake. We discovered it on the way down of course.

Weather: Clear skies all day with a bit of light wind on the summit ridge. -1 C at 10:30 at 2200m and stayed sub-zero until back down to the lake.

Avi Obs: Despite intense insolation, we did not see anything moving even from steep solar aspects in the afternoon (only minor pinwheeling). Some older debris from at least 2 days ago.

Ski quality: Excellent from top to bottom. Dry wind pressed powder (boot top) for the upper section then buttery moist M-F crust down low.

Summit Ridge: Instead of gaining the summit ridge from the head of the valley (steep looking gully/headwall) as described in Chic's book, we cut left a few hundred metres before and worked up moraines and gullies putting us onto the ridge further up. We wore skis to just before the sub-summit then boot-packed to said sub-summit, which is about 150m lower than the main summit. The ridge became more involved than we anticipated so did not continue to main summit. Light AL crampons and an axe are a good idea. Ski crampons were not required.

photos: Ross Mailloux