Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sorcerer Lake Lodge

Another annual hut trip has come and gone. It's hard to believe that 12 months have passed since I wrote about our last hut trip. Where does the time go?

We have already been to Sorcerer twice. It's such an amazing place that when we last flew out from the lodge back in 2007 we booked a week in 2009 as we stepped off the helicopter. Of all of the huts we've been to, Sorcerer has the most impressive and varied terrain, the best accommodations, the nicest owner, and is the most professionally operated of them all. You've got a special place Tannis. Thanks!

The trip got off to a good start in Golden where we stayed at the Ponderosa Motel. When the proprietor learned that we were repeat customers he was barely able to restrain his enthusiasm. As we organized gear in the parking lot he chatted and joked with us. At one point he ducked into the office and returned with Ponderosa Motel ball caps for each of us!

This time of year you can get full-on spring or full-on winter conditions. Thankfully we had conditions that were more like winter with cold temperatures, generally clear skies and just a hint of spring in the air. The March 1st layer was still reactive at tree line. Although the avalanche conditions generally improved throughout the week we still avoided some of the steeper lines that we've skied in past years. There was also less snow in general, a common story in the Selkirks this year. There were many holes and fractures showing on the glaciers that we'd never seen before. We often wore harnesses and probed for crevasses whenever we stopped for lunch or something.

There were a couple of pine martens around the hut this year. They were incredibly bold. One only very reluctantly gave way to let me through to the sauna; he growled and hissed at me as I passed. Having left a pair sandals on the deck I returned to find one of them missing. Thief! I was miffed. From then on, after returning from a day of skiing I would wander around the hut with a shovel and dig up random marten holes looking for the stolen booty. It seemed a hopeless endeavor but I persevered.

On the fourth day I followed a particularly well worn marten path away from the hut towards the lake. It led to series of deep rocky nooks. As I approached actually saw the little bugger clambering up the cliff side away from me. I scrambled down to the lake and lowered myself head first between the rocks to peer into the darkness. As my eyes slowly adjusted I slowly discerned the outline of...a sandal! There it was far back in the deepest nook. Aha you little bugger, victory is mine. Well, victory of a sort anyway since there wasn't much sandal left. Still...screw you marten.

Here's the link to a schwack of photos and a video starring one of the infamous martens.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Asulkan Cabin

Our trip to the Asulkan Hut this weekend seemed to mark the transition from winter to spring skiing. It began in the customary manner; clagged in and misty. We wondered if we would even be able to venture above the hut. We shouldn't have worried. An incredible overnight gale had the hut shuddering on it's foundations and made the simple task of collecting snow for water a major ordeal. But the wind blew away the clouds and we awoke the next morning to blue skies and the sight of an impressive avalanche that had crashed down off Mount Leda and continued down towards the mouse trap.

And thus began a remarkable two days of skiing. Blue skies, warm temperatures, great snow. It couldn't have been any better. Even when we had completely exhausted ourselves we didn't want to call it a day and just kept going up for more. A few in the group put in something over 2000m of vertical on Saturday. The place looked like heli-ski terrain by Sunday.

We had some visitors on Saturday afternoon.

Avalanche control was on-going in the valley and the helicopter had been dispatched to prevent a group from dropping into Loop Brook from Sapphire Col without a permit. You'd think the prospect of getting a Howitzer shell in the head would be enough of a deterrent?

Anyway they stopped in at the hut to do some repairs and to grace us with their presence.

How does that joke go...What's the difference between God and Mountain Guide? God doesn't think he's a Mountain Guide.

Okay not quite relevant but the idea is there. I guess they meant well.

Oh one last thing. We met a guy named Grog Still. He reminded us of someone but we couldn't quite place the name. He was shooting video with someone he kept referring to as "The Slough Monkey". Anyway he said he'd send us some footage. If he does we'll post it here.

In the meantime here's our own little video.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Bonney Moraines and NRC Gully

On Saturday we headed up Loop Brook and skied in the Bonney Moraines. The moraines are a complicated mix of old, twisted, and interlaced ridges just below the glacier on Mount Bonney.

Despite the relatively normal sounding avalanche bulletin everyone was quite wary of the avalanche conditions. "Spooky" is a word that avalanche professionals seem to be using a lot this year. Looks like some skiers just avoided getting caught in this little nasty:

Anyway we did a couple of laps on one of the gentler moraines and then ventured onto the steeper treed slopes on far skiers right.

The skiing was, in a word, awesome.

Steve, Nick, and Fred headed home after skiing on Saturday. Brenda and I stayed and we had a short day in NRC Gully on Sunday.

If NRC wasn't just a giant avalanche path we would ski here more often! The turns-to-effort ratio is brilliant; you simply step out of the car, go up, rip off your skins, and ski right back down to the car.

But the fact remains that NRC is simply a giant avalanche path and I find it a little spooky.

Earlier this year a truly big avalanche ripped through NRC that ran beyond it's normal runout and tore up mature timber. We found lots of evidence of this event. Most of the trees have fresh scars on their uphill sides like this one:

The skiing was so-so. NRC is west facing, compared to Bonney which faces north, and the warm sun earlier in the week had made a crust that lurked about 30cm below the surface. We managed to avoid any classic telemark-death-crust-face-plants, but, like the crust itself, the possibility was always there, lurking!