Friday, 29 March 2013

French/Haig/Robertson 2013

Saturday March 16th, 2013 French/Haig/Robertson Circuit

Synopsis: 3.5 stars out of 5, a great day out traversing 3 glaciers with the potential for a great ski out.

David was good enough to make room in an Edmonton ACC section trip for me and we all met at Beamer's in Canmore early on. Having said that the avalanche hazard was upside down with high, considerable, considerable something I hadn't seen before. The high below treeline and notes talking about isothermic slides didn't seem to jive with a weather forecast calling for -8 early morning however sunny and a high of +3 did cause concern. I was pretty convinced we weren't going anywhere and didn't even bring a camera, thanks to David and Paul for the photo's.

After some discussion at Beamer's in Canmore  we agreed to head to the parking lot up spray lakes road for a look, given the options in the area. En route the snow banks grew larger as we approached and the temperature stayed just below zero with heavy overcast.

All 8 of us left the cars at 9:15 am and gingerly made our way towards the French glacier. Everything was stuck together pretty solid with a hard overnight freeze which made for fast travel. The sun made a few brief appearances however it looked like we weren't going to get the solar effect that was called for and we all gradually got more comfortable with the snow pack. The group stopped for a brief snack at 11 am and as we gained elevation one could start to feel the layers of sun crust and the faceted snow beneath but things stayed stuck together. 

We took a moment to don our harnesses before gaining the French glacier itself however given the hard shell didn't bother with a rope. Frank and Marc chose to descend the French col rather than continue on which brought our group down to a more manageable half dozen. The climb up to the col was aided by the tracks from the party in front and as it neared the clouds parted and it made for a neat moment.

We reached the French col at 1:15 pm having gained roughly 800 metres of pretty easy going. However the fun was about to start. We could see the group of 5 ahead of us and caught up as we contoured around on the Haig glacier.

We caught up to the party ahead and passed them as we headed up to the col. Unfortunately about then the visibility was drastically reduced with strong wind and snow. The snow pack got pretty thin around the rocks and we decided to put the skis on the packs and kick steps upwards.

Kevin, David and Paul did most of the trail blazing and eventually the clouds parted enough for us to see we were actually a little to the climbers left and above the col. We all managed to make our way to the Robertson col at 2:15 pm and had a quick snack to celebrate.  The wind was strong enough hanging out wasn't any fun so we went over and down.

The ski quality was a lot better than I expected with the blowing snow.  No real slabs, just a little heavy in spots but nothing at all to complain about.  All 6 of us had great runs down and finally ended up in the flats.

My now it was snowing pretty heavily although still below freezing. From there we basically put our heads down and plowed through for 1 1/2 hours to the parking lot.

All in all a great day out, especially given the low expectations.  It was just over 9 hours and 1150 metres of elevation gain by my watch. Thanks to David, Paul, Kevin, Katharine, Kristina, Marc and Frank for a great day out! Needless to say we convened at the Rose and Crown to celebrate.

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