Wednesday, February 8, 2012
High Pressure Harvesting
Columbia. Well, usually it does and for most of January it sure did. Alas, last week the snow hose shifted its focus, and squinty eyes and sun burned noses returned to the mountains of BC.
With my father in law, the original owner of my backcountry ski lodge Valhalla Mountain Touring, in place as the hut keeper, I knew I needed to get out of my neck of the woods and go play in the big peaks of Rogers Pass. A quick 2.5 hour drive from home (not including the snowmachine ride to my truck and the half-hour ferry ride inland), Rogers Pass is the number one place I go to play when I have some time off. If you haven't been, its time to change that, as it is host to some of the best road-accessed ski touring in the world, hands down.
However, my "time off" didn't last very long, as a client of mine got in touch from snow starved Alta, Utah wanting to connect and ski in Rogers Pass as well. Being that I am a mountain guide for a living, I couldn't say no, especially since I know I can drop the hammer with Andrew (my client) and never lose him. He has the luxury of retiring at an early age and ski touring out of his front door in Alta, and is notorious for skiing 7 to 8,000 vertical feet every day he heads out. A day of work with him is like showing a good friend who is keen and fit a good time in the hills, with no compromising the objectives that I want to ski. But then again, my job is always about going out and showing great people a great time in the hills!
We met for the first day of high pressure and skinned up at the front door of the Glacier Park Lodge, the lone hotel in the middle of the pass. For $100 a night, two people can share a room, with world-class ski touring everywhere you look. With temperatures still cool, 20 cms of fresh, non-wind affected snow everywhere and bomber stability, we set out to ski until we ran out of daylight. We headed up Video Peak first, one of the easiest access summits in the park, but still 4,300 feet of uphill to get the summit, and a 35 to 40 degree 1000-foot headwall that you must negotiate to tag the peak. I dug a quick pit to confirm what I knew about the snowpack: no persistent weak layers and no slab on with any storm snow weaknesses. Before we knew it, we were eating lunch on top and staring down a 2,000-foot run of perfect boot-top pow. It was so nice, we had to do it twice. We then busted over to the thigh-burning 2,500-foot 8812 bowl for a lap, and finally found a nice 1,000-foot treed pillow gully to take us home, 9,500 feet for the first day at the pass in the bag!
With the warm, high pressure settling in, I knew we had to act on the second day to ski any solar aspects, as they were going to get cooked by the sun. This was a no-brainer for what objective to choose — Rogers Peak. With 6,300 feet straight up from the highway to the summit in one push, and a 1000-foot, 45-degree headwall, it is in my mind one of the crown jewels of ski objectives in the pass. Glaciers, old growth, moraines, steepness, knife-edge summit ridge, this line has it all. For the icing on the cake, I decided we should link it into the Tupper Traverse, another uber classic of the pass, that involves skiing around the rock sentinel of Mt Tupper, and exiting via a 4,000-foot avalanche path down to the highway. Halfway through the day we caught up to some friends of mine, five to be exact, and we all spent the day together and I convinced them to ski out the Tupper as well. We cruised along, skied the headwall in amazing snow and enjoyed the epic long descent back to the car. All told, 7,800 feet of up and 8,500 feet of down.
Day 3 and it was time to explore the other side of the highway for some shadier options. If Rogers is the crown jewel of the north side of the pass, then Young's Peak is the gem of the south side, with 5,500 feet of gain up to the summit via the famous run known as the '7 Steps of Paradise'. How can you go wrong with a run name like that? So once again we rocketed up, ate lunch on the summit and skied another epic glacier run of a few thousand feet to the valley bottom. Of course while on the summit we looked across the valley to another amazing summit and run, Castor Peak and the glacier below. So, with another 4,000 feet of uphill, we hit the peak and enjoyed another massive run in sweet snow back to the car, with another 9,500 feet in the bag for day 3.
Day 4 came along and no one was tiring so I planned to bring Andrew up another new valley for him. This time we went up Loop Brook to the Lily Glacier and ascended 5,000 feet to the Dome and the summit of the Rampart. We did a few laps of the 2,000-foot glacier and then opted out of skiing down the Dome glacier, as we could see it was wall to wall tracks from the weekend traffic, and where we were had plenty of untouched lines. So once again, another huge powder run to end the day and 8,500 feet of skiing under our legs.
Our last day came, and the weather started to return to normal with no more inversion and some moderate winds in the alpine. The highways crew was targeting all of their new guns on the avalanche paths in the clear calm weather, so many zones of the park were shut down. We decided to return to the Video Peak area of Day 1, but put a few variations on the first day's theme. I was keen to ski a line I had done before, the north face of Video, but a little bit of slab from the winds, and a cold, dark look down the super committing 45-degree convex role to drop in, made me hesitate. Instead we took another run down in the powder on the SE face that we did on the first day, and went for a new summit, 8812. Wrapping around the back from Bruins pass, we entered a much more remote, glaciated basin, that no one had skied in yet. The summit is guarded by a short 50-degree headwall requiring a few minutes of boot packing. Five meters from the top, while booting up, I triggered a shallow hard slab that tried hard to wash me down the face, but luckily I was near the top and hung tight. Andrew was tucked behind a rock, safe and sound, so no worries there. I guess my instincts were right to not drop in on Video... I wouldn't have buried myself in a slide, but losing a ski that far away from home in the backcountry is not something you want to deal with. We clicked in and skied a beautiful line down the north glacier for 2,000 feet, climbed back up to Bruins pass and skied the last 4,000 feet back to the hotel and my commute back to Valhalla Mountain Touring.
In five days we skied a tally of runs that has taken me a bunch of years to accumulate. Timing and partners is everything in the mountains, and Andrew and I managed to put it together for an unbelievable ski trip to Rogers Pass.