Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lake O'Hara

A last minute hut booking, an overnight in Golden, and by 8:30am on Christmas Eve we were happily skiing along the road to the Elizabeth Parker hut in Yoho National Park. Happily, since this seemed wonderfully carefree compared with a similar trip we made at this time last year. It wasn't a thousand degrees below zero, it was daylight, we knew exactly where we were going, and it was only going to take a few hours.

Arriving by midday we chatted with a couple from Lake Louise before they departed and left us alone at the hut. Since we were expecting company (there were only a few spots available when we booked) we set up in the tiny Wiwaxy Cabin next door and went for a ski up to McArthur Pass. Returning at dusk to a still empty hut we stoked the fire, drank gallons of tea, put a serious dent in the wine, cheese, and cracker supply ("Skiing for cheesus!"), and just enjoyed a quiet Christmas Eve to ourselves.

On Christmas morning ours were still the only skis outside the hut. It was kinda weird.

A few small gifts exchanged, we skied over Mary Lake up to Opabin Plateau and Hungabee Lake. It snowed heavily for much of the day but there was surprisingly little snow on the ground in most places; it felt like Rogers Pass in early November. The potential for turns around here seems pretty limited.

Returning by Lake O'Hara I pointed out the peaks I had climbed here over the years, mainly with Ross, but also with Martin, Tim, and others. Brenda was very patient as I re-told the same stories that she has already heard a hundred times before. Like the time on Grassi Ridge when Ross lead a pitch that went way, way left from the belay. I watched him disappear from sight diligently clipping the left rope. Some time later he reappeared, directly overhead surprisingly, and much closer than expected considering all the rope he had out. Now he was forging a line way, way to the right and equally diligently clipping the right rope. By the time a shout of "on belay" came down from above and the ropes came taught I had two almost horizontal ropes leading away from my harness in opposite directions. Couldn't move an inch.

Grassi Ridge at center left behind the Elizabeth Parker hut

That evening we were joined by Yves, Katja, and Genevieve from Canmore, and Lauren and Rob from Calgary. We were glad for the company and they were such interesting people. Yves and Katja had recently finished a cycling trip from Mexico to Peru. Rob and Lauren are urban beekeepers among other things and had brought a bottle of fine mead with them. This helped ease the pain for poor Lauren who had begun the ski in rented AT boots. She was in so much pain by kilometre five that she had abandoned the boots and walked the remaining seven kilometres in her hut booties, towing a sled! We felt pretty boring compared to these guys.

An uneventful trip overall. It took us 4 hours to ski in from the road with full-on backcountry ski gear using wax rather than skins. Others on lighter cross country gear easily made the trip in 3 hours or less. Perhaps I'm too quick to judge but it doesn't really seem worth the trouble of hauling in heavy ski gear with the idea of getting some turns in this area. At the risk of stating the obvious Lake O'Hara is simply a stunning place to visit and well worth the short journey in winter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ursus Trees

A very snowy drive up to Rogers Pass on Friday night. It became especially interesting when the creaky old van decided that when switching from high to low beam it would just kill the headlights completely. Thank goodness we discovered this latest quirk along a relatively well lit section of the Trans Canada. Also for good measure the heater fan now only works when the head lights are turned on. Bad ignition switch? I dunno. Add it to the list.

We headed up to Ursus Trees with Gerald on Saturday morning.

It was cloudy and snowing quite hard throughout most of the day. Temperatures were just around freezing making the snow almost but not quite wet and getting pretty slabby where the wind was blowing.

Good skiing but we've spent so much in this area that we're getting a bit jaded. First world problems! We need to start venturing further afield but it's so tough this time of year when it's practically dark at 3:30. Oh well next time we're out the days will be just a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Malakwa again on Sunday with Neal, Dan, Gerald, and John. The road was still in good shape but it's not clear if this is because it is still being plowed or simply because we haven't had much snow for a couple of weeks. The grader is still parked below 15k if that means anything.

We went up at 15k and over the top again. There was a nasty sun crust on the south side so we bailed half way down and spent the rest of the day on the road side. We explored some of the steeper lines off the ridge on skier's right of the main area. Good fun but it's starting to feel like we need more snow. No photos because...meh, same old.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


We made another trip to Malakwa back on November 29th. Pretty late blog post and mainly just for my own records at this point.

There were only a few other vehicles at 15k and this might have had something to do with the rain crust that was lurking about 10cm below the surface, so we weren't expecting much as we reached the main summit. It was snowing hard and really windy. We had a pretty good run down the opposite (south-west) side and the crust wasn't too bad. By the time we had climbed back up it was a virtual white out. I'll admit that we got a little turned around on the top, wandering around in the howling wind trying to figure out where the heck our original uptrack was. In our defense we hadn't been up here for a few years. Anyway Nick pulled out his GPS in a manly "I'll save you!" manner and rescued us from further wanderings.

By now it had been snowing for a few hours and was beginning to pile up nicely. We had a couple of runs back on the north side before the short day caught up with us. Back at the car we finally crossed paths with Loic and Tess and friends. We've followed their blog for so long that it almost felt like we knew them even though we had never met before. Good to meet you guys!

A quick stop at the Burner for a Backhand and off for home.

This week (December 8th) we heard that the road would only be plowed to 6km beginning in December. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


We were very happy to be invited for a day of early-season skiing at Malakwa with Gerald, Neal, Neil, and Dan. The place was hopping, and it was exciting to run into a number of friends over the course of the day. There's something about running into people you know randomly, and especially in the mountains, that makes us feel generally good about life.

The skiing was still a bit early season, with some rocks and stumps showing through. Although our party did not suffer any damage to bodies or skis, there was much evidence of core shots and edge grinds in the tracks and exposed rocks.

Malakwa is a funny place - sometimes, when you least expect it, you find skiing nirvana. This time we angled for where we thought the lines were, but on balance came out a little short of the best the area has to offer. Still a super day though, with plenty of good turns.

We followed up with some food and beer at the Burner, which has seriously upped its game since we first went there maybe five years ago. Good food, good service - and still great beer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Asulkan Cabin

Just another November weekend at the Asulkan Hut...

It's important to keep these traditions alive! No comparison to last year when we carried our skis for much of the journey in. This year we were up to our necks in snow at times...well, the tele skiers were anyway. Great snow, but all of it sitting on top of the buried surface hoar from last weekend. We had three significant skier remotes and also watched the Raven's avalanche path run almost full length.

Nevertheless we had a safe weekend, caught up with Dustin, hung out with yoga John and yoga Jeff, and shared the hut with a great bunch of guys from Vancouver.

Still no Brenda. I told her she didn't miss much. I don't think she reads this blog.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Balu Pass

While Brenda was at a "conference" on a cruise ship in the Caribbean the rest of us had our very first turns of the season. It was a quick trip up to Balu Pass with a detour up into the lower reaches of 8812 Bowl. There was great coverage and people were skiing everywhere. 8812 was completely tracked out. We must have seen a dozen people come down off the north side of Cheops including a dog. Clanged a few rocks on the luge run out but overall a great start to the season. The one caveat being the surface hoar that developed over the weekend. When that layer gets buried I think we'll be hearing about in the avalanche forecasts for weeks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Shuswap River

Edit June 2017:
Google pulled the plug on the Picasaweb photo service and the photos in this post will no longer click through to larger versions. If you're interested here's the full album on Google Photos:

A few weeks ago we paddled another section of the Shuswap River. This time we started just below Mabel Lake at a convenient put-in called Brants Hand Launch. From here it was about 25km of paddling down to Trinity Bridge.

The first order of business was to remove all man-eating spiders from Steve's canoe.

Swaddled up in many layers against the cold damp morning, a few strokes got us away from the shore and very quickly we were heading downstream at a ferocious clip.

Perhaps a little too ferocious for my amateur paddling skills as we very nearly dumped crossing an eddy line trying to avoid a mid-stream boulder. The bow of the canoe was quickly swept upstream in the reverse flow of water. Our $200 garage sale craft heaved heavily onto her down stream side and perched there for a few sickening seconds before settling down with us pointed back in the direction we'd just come from. Anyway it gave us a good vantage point to watch Steve, Fred, and Junko slide smoothly past with a few feet to spare.

We had thought that the salmon run was pretty much over but in fact the river was heaving with fish. There were enormous Chinook salmon everywhere, thousands of bright red Sockeye, and also what we guessed to be Kokanee. At times the water would explode with fish, scaring us half to death. We saw dozens of Bald Eagles, occasionally seeing one swoop down to snatch a salmon from the river, and also what we think were several Golden Eagles as well. The Goldens were huge.

Around the mid-point of our journey the river widened, slowed, and began to meander back and forth. We paddled lazily along in the warm fall sun.

It took us about 6 hours to reach Trinity Bridge including a leisurely lunch break. We hand lined the boats around one tricky section but otherwise it was easy paddling. Portions of the river are certainly flowing quickly but it's straight forward and very accessible for the weekend warrior who is comfortable with short sections of almost white water. The lower section of the river from Trinity to Enderby is much calmer.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Matriarch-Macabre-Grimface Traverse

Update November 2017:
The photos in this post were hosted on Google's Picasa Web Albums. Google shuttered the service and these photos no longer click through to larger versions. Sorry about that. Here's a link to the album on Google Photos if you are interested:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

For the third year in succession we were hiking up Wall Creek in Cathedral Park on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. Our previous two trips had ended in cold, wet, ignominious defeat. Our cunning plan this time: there couldn't be an unforecasted blizzard on the same day for three years in a row. Actually that was our plan last year too...."Couldn't possibly happen twice in a row."

Anyway, late in the day, with the heavy packs beginning to weigh us down, we sure hoped for third time lucky. It was a nice hike with the late after afternoon sun angling sharply through the trees and the many wild flowers standing out brightly against the forest floor.

This time it took us 4 1/2 hours to arrive at the bivy site, a stunning location at the head of the valley.

As in previous years we were visited by some curious deer at dusk. They circled round our campsite closer and closer until within just a few metres of the tent. After we'd gone to bed we could still hear them padding around out there. Their steps sounded oddly human. It was bit spooky to be drifting off to sleep only to be jolted awake at the sound of footsteps just a few feet from our heads.

We got away early the next morning (no snow...yay!) and continued for a short while along the hiking trail before heading more or less straight up towards the gully and notch where the climbing begins. The scree is pretty crappy in the gully. Staying along the edges near solid rock offers the path of least resistance. This rather unimpressive photo gives a rough idea of where the notch is located.

It took us 1.5 hours to get to the notch where the climbing begins. From here "the route features perfect rock, high exposure, incredible views, and a variety of techniques including several rappels" to quote the good book and that pretty much sums it up. The first pitch is probably the best of the entire day; easy 5th class with a piece of gear or two above a tremendous drop down the other side of the ridge.

From then on we switched between scrambling, walking, short pitches of real rock climbing, a 5.8 variation, the odd piece of gear, rappelling into notches, climbing back out of notches...

The challenge was to be efficient with the rope without knowing what was coming up next. Ultimately the best solution was for each of us to take up coils with several meters between us. Then the rope was out of the way for most of the scrambling and we could drop the coils for short pitches or rapping when needed. The best part of the day was definitely the aid ladder which we'd read about. We were unsure if it still existed. Simply awesome.

Matriarch and Macabre passed by (not without snacks of course) and we were looking at Grimface shortly after midday.

Scraping our way under and over the big chockstones provided endless amusement as we scrambled up through the chimneys of the SE notch route. This first photo of Brenda shows most of the route in the background.

After what I'll call the "lower" chimneys we arrived at a gravelly notch just below the summit dome of Grimface. The rough directions we'd gathered online mentioned another chimney leading to the summit. We'd had enough by then, so instead we went to the right and followed an easy crack and corner system for 20 metres or so before cutting back left. We were on top at 2:00, 7 hours after leaving the tent, a bit longer than expected.

We didn't have a really good idea about the descent and made the mistake of relying on some directions we found online rather than following our own instincts. We followed a line of cairns that lead us towards the wrong gully. We sussed it out eventually. For anyone looking for descent info...just continue north along the ridge, bit of walking, bit of down climbing, until you come to the obvious (and I mean really obvious) wide scree gully about 30 minutes (?) from the top of Grimface. From the top of the correct scree gully you can see that it continues all the way down to the valley floor; you can practically see your tent. If you are looking down a gully that doesn't obviously descend unbroken to the valley floor, it's the wrong one.

Drive to km 38 on the Ashnola River Road and begin hiking at a large wooden bridge. After approximately 1.5 hours keep right at a fork in the trail. ~800m elevation gain ~12km, 4.5 to 5 hours of hiking.

We debated long and hard about what rope or ropes to use. In the end a single 50 metre 9mm was enough. The longest rap was pretty close to 25m. There was only one real pitch of climbing which was the first pitch of the day (plus the 10m 5.8 variation, the alternative being an easy chimney). The rest of the time we were short roping or carrying coils and slinging blocks for short belays. We had considered using two 30m ropes (keeping one in the pack and only breaking it out for the long raps). In retrospect I think this would have been a pain the butt. We had a light alpine rack but never placed more than 2 pieces of gear on any pitch. We used a medium 1.5-2" cam (on the 5.8 bit), a medium hex, and a #6 or #7 nut. We wore comfy rock shoes. Crossover climbing/approach shoes would have been a good alternative.

7:00am depart tent, 8:30 col, 10:08 Matriarch, 11:22 Macabre, 2:10 Grimface, 3:53 Tent

Other trip reports online here and here.

More photos over here on Picasa on Google Photos:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Markhor - Needle Traverse Part Deux

We tried this traverse two weeks ago with limited success. Okay fine no success. But once we'd finished picking the thorns out of our hands and figured out where we went wrong it was time to have another go. I'm going to write this one up as a true trip report.

Edit September 2014:
A better way to do it.

Edit June 2017:
Google killed Picasa Web Albums so the photos in this post are dead links. Here's a link to the album that these photos are from:

Park at the Needle Peak trailhead on the south side of the highway. There is an underpass here and it's accessible from both the east and west bound lanes. Walk east along a gravel track adjacent to a small stream for a few hundred meters. At the height of land (there were two yellow pole-like markers when we were here) turn to your right (south) and hike uphill first through thick brush and then through mature forest. After about 30 minutes you will hopefully arrive at the base of a large open slab capped by a series of overlaps on the upper right. Don't confuse the slabs like we did on our first attempt.

Walk easily on the slab angling up and left.

When the going gets tough at the top of the slab it's time to take a few calming breaths, batten down the hatches, and plunge into the undergrowth on your left (east).

Don't bother trying to gain elevation at this point, it's just too much work. Traverse for a few hundred metres until you come across some slightly less thick brush that will allow you to head straight up with less effort. We found that the little streams afforded slightly better upwards travel. It's heavy going but you should emerge into a lovely meadow and talus field a couple of hours after leaving the car and just in time for second breakfasts.

With your back to the highway you will be looking up at a large cirque. On your left (east) there is ramp of brush and small trees that leads up and out of the talus. Head towards the ramp skipping joyously from block to block in a happy unencumbered brush-free manner. From the top of the ramp follow a series of slanting brushy ledges leading up and right (south-west) until you reach the ridge. Ta-da! Three hours from the car. It's a pleasant walk from here to the top of Markhor.

There are a few options for the descent down the SE ridge of Markhor. Staying right on the ridge crest is the most aesthetically pleasing but verges on low 5th class rock climbing. Staying more to skiers left, following the path of least resistance, is quick and easy but a bit scruffy.

After descending from Markhor you arrive at an obvious saddle on the ridge line. It is possible to bail here to the north side of the ridge; it's not pretty, tremendous bushwacking, but it goes. Stay to skiers left to avoid the steeper bits. Otherwise you're not far from the the top of Needle.

Continue along the ridge. After the next high point there is a 15m descent down a sharp ridge to a gravelly notch (crux #1). Easy low 5th class down climbing. Easy yes but don't fall off. Seriously. A member of our party who hadn't done much rock climbing was a lot happier with a rope above him.

Looking back at crux #1.

Scramble carefully up out of the notch and walk across to the last bump on the ridge before the final ridge walk up Needle. This last bump is imposing and the route doesn't seem obvious at first. We scrambled up on gravel covered ledges to the base of an obvious dead tree. A sketchy move around to the left side of the tree seemed the best option. Ahead is the obvious ridge leading to the top of Needle.

Easy, obvious scrambling except for one 15m stretch about half way up (crux #2). Here you are forced onto the left (south) side of the ridge to scramble up a 15m long slanting crumbly ledge. Again, not difficult, but falling would be bad. We used the rope again for this short section to keep the stress levels down, using a tree above for a quick anchor.

The summit of needle is just ahead. Continue over the summit to find the hiking trail that leads back down to the road.

We took 8 hours car-to-car.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mount Rogers

Update June 2017:
Google killed the Picasaweb photo service and the photos in this post no longer click through to larger versions. If you're interested here's the album containing the photos:

We lead an ACC trip to Mount Rogers in mid August. We had climbed Rogers just a few weeks previously as part of the Swiss Peaks Traverse so were pretty confident that the route was in good shape and didn't hold any surprises in store for us. We were at Hermit Meadows by late afternoon and spent a relaxing evening chatting with friends old and new.

The next morning dawned clear and cold. We were away by 6am and soon the moraines were below us. Out came the ropes and the crampons for the pleasant walk across the glacier.

Once across the bergschrund we removed the ropes and began kicking steps upwards.

The sun was slowly creeping higher into the sky and by the time we reached the Rogers-Grant col by 9:30 or so we were all sweating buckets. One change from 2-weeks ago was a good amount of fresh snow; perhaps 20-30cm of wind deposited snow quickly getting moist in the morning sun. There was some significant trail breaking up the snowy ridge from the col.

There were a couple of relative beginners in the group and I think this was the most memorable part of the day for them. Certainly was for me anyway. What a setting! We were all smiles on the summit.

Leading trips for the ACC can sometimes seem a chore, but this was a fun, and dare I say, even a rewarding trip with really interesting people. If anyone from that day happens to read this...thanks!

Full photo set here on Picasa.