Thursday, January 27, 2011

Needle Peak

This past weekend we had two reasons to go west to the Coquihalla rather than east to Rogers Pass. The first was that the avalanche conditions were still kinda wonky in Glacier Park. Most permit areas would probably be closed anyway. The second was that our friend Dave had moved from Montreal to Vancouver making Needle Peak a good in-between meeting place.

Brenda and I usually make one trip a year to the Coquihalla area. It's a nice change and an easy day trip but we usually come away feeling a bit underwhelmed. The terrain seems limited. However I must admit that we haven't really explored much and perhaps it's our own imagination that limits us.

We had a few turns, got some sun on our faces, and chatted endlessly with Dave.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

McGill Shoulder (Bostock)

Avalanche hazard peaked over the weekend. We headed for the trees at McGill Shoulder, although calling it "tree skiing" would be a bit of a misnomer. The main features here are the two main avalanche paths which drop down from the summit and several smaller paths on either side. We spent the day skirting along the edge of these paths, staying in the mature trees where we could. Good skiing. Things are finally beginning to fill in.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Stanley Mitchell Hut

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:

The appeal of the Stanley Mitchell hut was just to be there; a place we'd never been to before, a remote and quiet location to welcome in the New Year. But the real story of this trip was about simply getting there rather than being there.

The hut is 24km from the highway. The first 13km follows an unplowed road to a picnic shelter at Takakkaw Falls. Many parties break up the trip by overnighting at the shelter and then continuing on the next day. It's only a 700m elevation gain from highway to hut but nevertheless 24km is a long way to go in midwinter with a three day pack on one's back. Another concern was the temperature which was forecast to be somewhere in the mid minus 20s.

We couldn't coax any of our regular ski buddies to join us on this trip. Wusses! Nevertheless Brenda and I felt that getting to the hut in one day was within our powers...but only just.

The alarm went off in our hotel room in Golden at 3:30am mountain time. That, dear friends, is a brutal 2:30am Kelowna time. My severe distaste of alpine starts outweighs an even greater distaste of searching for unfamiliar huts in the dark at -20C at the end of a long day. At 5:00am we were skiing away from the car.

The blowing snow flashed through the light of our headlamps and our breath froze instantly onto our faces and clothes. It was absolutely freezing. Maybe we've grown soft living in the Okanagan for a few years, but this seemed seriously, intensely cold.

We plodded along in the darkness without speaking much, the only sound being the scritch-scritch-scritch of pole tips in the packed snow. We had our skins on at this point. In retrospect it would have been much better to use kick wax but at the time we couldn't see far enough into the darkness to know if the road stayed flat ahead of us. Although I don't think we could have stopped anyway, it was far too cold to start futzing with wax.

After a couple of hours a silvery moon rose over Mount Stephen to the south and gave a bit of light to see by, and soon the sun began to inch it's way over the peaks and into the valley. It raised our spirits a bit but didn't provide much in the way of warmth. We paused briefly to take off skins and jam them quickly inside our coats. The snow was cold enough that we didn't need wax but even this brief stop left me with frozen fingers and a creeping feeling of desperation; I was getting colder and colder and nothing seemed to help. I think part of the problem was that we weren't climbing upwards and the slow shuffling along the level road wasn't allowing me to generate any heat.

By 9 o'clock I was beginning to have serious doubts about making it to the hut that night when we finally saw the first road signs indicating that we were close to the picnic shelter. Our pace quickened and soon the shelter was in sight. Was that a wisp of smoke coming out of the chimney?

Yes it was! We kicked off the skis and waddled stiffly into the shelter. Warmth! Don't get me wrong it was still well below freezing but it was infinitely warmer than outside. Someone had spent the night and the stove was still warm. In a rather rash maneuver I threw off my pack, grabbed the fuel bottle, tossed a few small logs into the stove and doused the whole lot in fuel. Whoosh! Instant heat. Heaven.

We spent over an hour huddled next to the stove, warming up and melting snow for hot drinks. As warmth slowly returned to fingers and toes so did our confidence in getting to the Stanley Mitchell. When a group of three arrived at the shelter on their way out from the hut, thus ensuring that there was a track all the way in, we knew we could get there ourselves. It took another five cold hours (we aren't the fastest thing on four legs) but we did get there with reasonable time to spare.

We had the fire roaring away and it was just beginning to get dark when three ice-encrusted apparitions appeared outside the hut. Jon, Jamie, and Tim (whose names we learned later) had made much better time than we did despite the 8 liters of wine and 1.5 liters of booze they packed in! They took pity on our paltry hip flask of Scotch and shared generously. We really enjoyed our three nights with them.

Cold, however, was the constant theme. The hut never really warmed up despite the blazing fire that was burning the entire time. The stainless steel kitchen counter was a particular challenge; anything slightly moist that came into contact would freeze instantly to the counter top. Food scraps, tea, pot drips, and damp cutlery added daily to the morass. The only really warm spot in the entire hut was right in front of the stove door where we all spent a considerable amount of time. Afterwards we learned that the temperature at valley bottom had dipped down to -33C during our stay. Being 700m higher I'd be willing to bet that it was considerably colder at the hut.

We explored the area but didn't stray too far afield. In exposed areas the wind had been howling resulting in a classic shallow Rockies snowpack of styrofoam over sugar. Down lower in the trees there was better snow and we had some fun with Jon and Tim skiing the gentle slopes south of the cabin. I didn't remove a single layer of clothing the entire time.

New Years Eve was celebrated in fine style as Brenda and I did our Good Christian Duty by helping the others work through their stash of booze. We slept in very late the next morning.

The trip out was still cold and the slog along the road was still tedious but it only took just over 5 hours to get to the car.

Somewhere near the end I asked Brenda which modern convenience she was thinking about most. Her reply of "Car batteries" put a bit of worry into the final few kilometers. Thankfully when we got to the car the engine did spark to life but it was touch and go for a moment.

Often the measure of success for a trip like this is whether or not you'd do it all again, and sometimes a day or two of reflection is required before deciding one way or the other. In this case we had already decided on the way out that this was a trip we'd do again.

A couple of things worth noting, for ourselves as much as for anyone reading this blog who is considering making the trip. As mentioned we aren't particularly fast but we did manage to get to the hut in one push and on one of the shortest days of the year. However we didn't have to break any trail. That could easily have added a couple of hours to the journey. Another point which struck us was how challenging it would be to follow the final six or seven kilometers of trail after a snowfall, especially if one wasn't familiar with the route. A GPS would be a massive help. Finally, for those considering an overnight stay at the picnic shelter, I don't think it would be as dire as some sources have made it out to be. It didn't appear to be overrun with pack rats and there was a small supply of wood available inside the shelter -- but I can't say if there was more available nearby. Even the outhouse was operational. Nevertheless we would still go from car to hut in one day.

Happy new year.

Monday, January 03, 2011

8812 and Video Peak

Falling behind on the blog! Here's a quick recap of a trip to Rogers Pass a few weeks ago.

On Saturday we joined an ACC group for a trip up to 8812 bowl. It was clear and cold with lots of other skiers up in the Connaught drainage; we certainly weren't going to get first tracks. This is Gerald contemplating a scratchy drop from Bruins Ridge into 8812.

We took a line more to skiers right than usual, found some good snow, and enjoyed the long mellow decent.

Not without incident of course; I found some crust and provided a crowd pleasing face plant for the peanut gallery above us on the ridge. Thankfully not on film.

The highlight of the weekend was running into Val and James. I know James from a trip to the Bugs several years ago. And Val from...I have no idea, through Brian somehow. It was Val's 50th and she was celebrating in style with friends from all over.

On Sunday a diminished group headed back up the valley again. Here's Val enjoying her first day of life at 50.

The day before we had a good view of this line on Video Peak shining in the sun and couldn't resist.

The day had begun clear and sunny but by the time we scrambled to the top of Video the clouds had come in and the visibility wasn't great.

We skied down the front face on Video instead of the one we had originally been interested in. It's a good ski right off the summit but...meh...after the tromp up the valley and the roly-poly decent back down it seems like a long way to go for a few hundred meters of good steep skiing.

Aren't we getting spoiled?