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.