Saturday, April 26, 2008

Young's Peak Traverse

Huzzah! We've wanted to do this one for ages.

The traverse goes up the Illecillewaet drainage and onto the Illecillewaet glacier, up Young's Peak, and then descends the 'Seven Steps of Paradise' into the Asulkan Valley. Guidebook time is 8-10 hours. Probably within our powers -- just!

The forecast for Saturday was brilliant. We spent Friday night at the Asulkan parking lot and made an early start the next morning. It was a stunning day. Blue skies, no wind, fresh snow.

We'd never been as far across the glacier as we were planning to go today. Navigation would be a challenge if the visibility deteriorated. There was also some concern about a possible cornice which we may have to tunnel through (we'd brought ice axes for the purpose) and also the super steep and often icy slope right off the summit.

So it was with a spirit of adventure that we made our way towards the Illecillewaet. However we're not the fastest climbers around. It wasn't long before another couple caught up with us. We chatted and discovered that they also had the traverse in mind. After they had passed us we both felt a little deflated. That spirit of adventure that we'd started out with was somewhat diminished knowing that there would be others only a short distance ahead of us doing exactly the same route. In many ways the decision making would be out of our hands. There would be a track in the snow ahead of us pointing out where to go and which slopes were safe. Stuff like that.

Anyway we plodded on but it wasn't long before we grew to appreciate having them ahead of us. The higher we climbed the deeper the snow became and the tougher the trail breaking became. Actually we only imagined how difficult the trail breaking got -- we weren't doing any. It looked rough! They went on and on for hours. We caught an occasional sight of them in the distance.

The views opened up and we began to see some of the other places we've skied this winter. This is the route on Video Peak that we skied in March.


The Illecillewaet glacier is a rolling sea of ice and snow that disappears into the horizon on all sides. I couldn't imagine trying to do this traverse in bad visibility. It would be so easy to get turned around. Our friend, Steve, who has accompanied us on many of the trips that we've written about this year, once spent three days and nights on the Illecillewaet struggling to find his way home in a storm. Shudder.

Eventually we got our first look at the ridge that would lead us up Young's Peak.


It was at this point that we noticed that the other party had turned around and they were now coming back towards us. Doh. Perhaps there was no way through.

When we met them on the track they told us that they'd done the traverse before but that today the cornice looked bigger and nastier and that the upper ridge looked too icy. After hearing this we didn't think much of our own chances but we thought we'd at least go check it out for ourselves. They wished us luck and we went our separate ways.

It was a bit odd but it was the best outcome for Brenda and myself. They had done all of the tedious trail breaking across the glacier and then left us to our own devices for the more interesting bits at the end.

We descended a short way and then re-ascended onto the ridge. Getting past the cornice was no problem in the end so we didn't need the ice axes. Would have been cool to tunnel up through a cornice though! We made a steep and narrow track upwards along the ridge trying to avoid the cornice on one side and the steep west face on the other side.

The top seemed just minutes away but every time we looked up it didn't seem to be any closer. Brenda, all 105lbs of her, broke trail all the way up the ridge. Finally we topped out at around 2 o'clock.

I can't believe I posted that photo. I look like I've just been hit on the head. Brenda looks like a seagull shat on her nose. We were pooped.

Now what? We thought again how diabolical it would be up here in bad visibility. It helped that we'd scoped out the route from the Asulkan side many times before but it still wasn't completely obvious where to go. We headed towards this wind role and peered over the edge.

We knew what we were looking for but the convex slope made it really difficult to see what was below us. There was a party climbing upwards from the Asulkan hut and we must have looked comical as we zig-zagged back and forth craning our necks. To them it was obvious what was below us but we couldn't see a thing.

Soon we got our bearings. We made a good long examination of the slope. It looked fantastic but it didn't exactly instill us with confidence. It was cross-loaded by the prevailing winds and there were 30-40cms of dense storm snow that had now been in the sun for a couple of hours.

However we decided it was okay and after only half-jokingly mumbling to Brenda "If it goes, be quick", I dropped in.

Yee-haw! It was fabulous skiing. After the first few turns my thoughts changed from worrying about the snow stability to concentrating on not providing a crowd-pleasing crash for the gawkers below! The slope is foreshortened in this photo and doesn't look all that steep. Brenda's track is on the left. She wins the award for kicking off the bigger sluff (and getting the biggest cheer from those below).


Feeling pretty chuffed about the whole thing we decided to try something else new and descended behind the Pterodactyl rather than past the Asulkan hut. Again, fabulous skiing. It's thrilling to be skiing down through unfamiliar terrain, not quite knowing what you'll find next. (To which I should add "in good light".) The Asulkan hut is at center right of this photo. The Pterodactyl is the feature between the hut and our descent route.

Looking back up at the route from the Asulkan Valley.

The always cool GPS track in Google Earth.

And, finally, it was 9 hours car to car (inside guidebook time!) and 1770 meters of climbing on the day.

What's on for next weekend...anyone up for a ski?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Icefall Lodge

I think this was my 9th hut trip with these guys over the past 10 years. I wouldn't miss it for anything.

A helicopter-centric video (there wasn't much ski footage) and
some more photos