Thursday, 23 May 2013

Sorcerer 2013

Sat Mar 30th - Sat Apr 6th Sorcerer Lodge, Selkirk Mountains, B.C.

Synopsis: 4 1/2 stars out of 5, probably my favourite back country ski lodge with fantastic alpine terrain and a well thought out lodge.

One of the nice things about Sorcerer is that you helicopter in first thing in the morning with a low chance of getting stymied. True to form, the first group was off the ground before 9 am and we were all up by 11.

I was lucky enough to ride shotgun on the first flight in, fantastic views and got in early enough to get some beta from Kelly and Robson who were guiding the previous week. Very spring like conditions and great stability were the order of the day, great to confirm.

We were fortunate enough to have Dave as our custodian, very knowledgeable and generally easy to be around. He gave us a quick brief and then out for some beacon refreshment.

We were keen on getting out so the entire group headed out at 2 pm thinking of White Russian. Once up, Critical Thursday and Black Russian looked good and was closer so we broke into two groups, one on each.

The pow wasn't epic but hero so we ripped one 750 metre run and were back at 5:30 in time for Konrad's appies. The avy hazard was good, good, good and just above zero. Avalanche concerns focused around south facing slopes and cornice failures - quite an improvement from our last visit!

Sorcerer being Sorcerer we were reminded that the last thing you do most days is to climb back up the moraine to the hut! Having said that it isn't anything to complain about, even with tired legs.

After an evening filled with Konrad's culinary delights and a good nights sleep we awoke to another blue sky day. Martin, Andrew, Brenda, Jim, Mike and I decided to attempt Iconoclast. We were out the door at 8 am and heard that the heinous traverse had tracks and just might go.

The short answer is that it didn't, it was crusty hard and after scaring ourselves silly we skied down and took the long way up swiss col. Jim and Mike elected to ski down swiss col while the four of us carried on towards Iconoclast.

We made it around the corner and to the start of the climbing route, however ran out of day and turned around at 2:30. 

The four of us were committed to descending the heinous traverse but wanted enough daylight that we could go around if necessary. It wasn't an issue and we were home at 4, at least with some good turns on corn snow.

Monday dawned sunny again and hit temperatures of +6 C. Strong sunscreen and bandana's were the order of the day. We continued to have quick travel in the morning with little penetration and the whole group headed up Nordic West, a north facing slope that was surprising good.

After a few turns I took Deanna to the top of Escargot and then got some steeper turns down Wedding Bells.

Tuesday much of the same and even warmer. Most of the group opted for runs on perfect glacier however we were a little slack, getting out the door at 9:45 am.

The group was at the top just before noon and we had three runs of perfect snow. It wasn't deep but it was hero.

We called it a day and were back at the lodge at 3 after 1150 metres.

By Wednesday our high pressure system was starting to erode and it was cloudy and windy. Given the heat of the previous day our expectations were pretty low.

We were thinking of a run on the Kumbu icefall as there was a line from the previous week to follow so grabbed harness and rope. In the end the visibility just wasn't there so we skied White Russian.

At the top it was surprisingly good so we stuck around and did four laps working our way skiers left.

After yet another night of bafoonery, we awoke Thursday to overcast, some new snow and above zero temperatures. The group was getting pretty lethargic however Deanna, Paul, Louie, Damon and I headed out about 9:30 am for a trip up Escargot Glacier.

The light started off pretty flat however travel was straight forward. We made our way up to the Ventigo Lake outlook, which offered a little challenge boot packing the final small slope.

Once the wind picked up we headed down, ski quality was good but the light got pretty flat and the terrain isn't really steep enough get right silly.

We were back early enough for appies and a nap, oh the life!

Friday was our last day, always a bit melancholic. The weather still pretty clagged in and after some debate we elected to go back to Perfect. What better way to end a Perfect week?

Everyone came out to play, we were out the door at 9:45 and at the top at noon. The snow was good, the visibility came and went. 

A few of us hung it out and did 5 runs and it was a lot of fun. There were freshies to be had and it was nice to have a 1500 metre day and leave with sore legs. Last run of the day was with David, our intrepid custodian and it was good to rip it up!

That night Konrad pulled out all the stops, steaks for supper with lot's of liquid refreshments and the name game. I can't think of a better way to end a fantastic week.

Many thanks to Deanna, Martin, Damon, Brenda, Andrew, Jim, Mike, Norman, Paul, Louie, Konrad and Dave for a fantastic week!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Columbia Icefields 2013

Fri/Sat, May 17th/18th - Columbia Icefields

Synopsis: The Columbia Icefields are one of my favourite places to visit, big country and far from crowded.

This was an ACC Edmonton Section trip that David led with the goal of Twin's Tower and Kevin, Rob and myself tagged along. The weather forecast wasn't brilliant and we knew we would likely be working around some weather.

Friday at 8:30 am saw us starting up the road from the climbers parking lot. Not an alpine start however with lots of climbing and heavy packs we figured the daylight would outlast our legs.

It took about an hour to slog up and then down the coach road to the end, rope up and start up the Athabasca glacier. The night hadn't been particular cool, with temperatures in the parking lot of -2 C, and it was warming up quickly.

You gotta love the feeling of space once underway and with mostly sunny skies the views were fantastic! We hurried through the serac fall area on the way to the third icefall.

We were on top of the third icefall at 11:30 and turned the corner to join the Columbia Icefield itself. 500 metres were gained up to this point and a great view back was our award.

Once we turned the corner, headed north and joined the Columbia Icefield proper Mt Columbia came into view.

It was getting very warm, not helped by the elevation or carrying overnight packs so a couple of breaks were had enroute.

We made the call to set up camp just north of the Snowdome shoulder at 4 pm at an elevation of roughly 3200 metres. Great views of the North and South Twin.

After probing the immediate area for crevasses we dug out a couple of tent platforms and a bit of a kitchen. There wasn't much wind but you just don't know when it's going to pick up.

That evening it cleared off spectacularly and we hung out enjoying the view, the sunshine and the joys of melting snow for rehydration. Unfortunately, I went a little light on sunscreen and had a bit of a glow the next day.

Given how west we were there was daylight until 10 pm and when we woke at 5:30 am there was no need for headlamps. Unfortunately in the morning there was definitely a low pressure system from the west moving in.

After some lively discussion the decision was made to head out via the summit of snowdome. It wasn't the call I would have made but it's a team thing and I was happy to have an opportunity to be in such a great place.

We were packed up and out by 7:30 am and two hours later were standing on the hydrological apex of the summit of Mt Snowdome. Apparently this point feeds all the Pacific and Arctic Oceans as well as Hudson Bay.

After that it was a quick ski down to the coach road...

Followed by the usual huff up the moraine.
We were back at the cars just before noon. All in all a spectacular place to be!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mt Brazeau ski attempt 2013

Sat/Sun Apr 20th/21st - Mt Brazeau attempt

Synopsis: A spectacular area that doesn't appear to be frequently visited. A long way in makes for a big first day.

Humbled in the mountains once again. The forecast called for spring conditions with scattered flurries Saturday and partly cloudy on Sunday. Given most of the guidebooks talk of a 3 day trip we knew it was going to be 2 full days, however our thinking was descent would be much quicker on skis.

James and I met at the Rampart Creek Hostel, great digs and not very busy this time of year. Up at 5 and out the door at 6 was the plan. In reality we took the time for a great breakfast - meusli with warmed milk and cafe mocha's - feeling modestly decadent. The drive to the parking spot beside the Sunwapta Warden's station on highway 93 took 45 minutes, along the way we passed Beauty Creek Hostel which would have cut some time off the morning commute.

We geared up in light wet snow and modest visibility and left the car at 7:30 am, my watch showed an elevation of 1555 metres. It had definitely been warm however we were lucky enough to have a mostly supportive crust.

We started off working our way up Poboktan summer trail which follows much of the creek. We were lucky enough to have tracks to follow for the first couple of hours from folks doing the 6 pass route.

After 1 1/2 hours we were starting to look for the turn onto Poligne Creek towards Maligne pass, I had a bit of a laugh when it was obviously signed. Route finding skills not needed quite yet.

Pretty cruisey so far. The tracks continued up towards Maligne Pass and, as Chic Scott mentions, the climbing begins in earnest. We were happy to still have easy travelling conditions and the sun actually started to make an appearance.

We blew by the turnoff up to Coronet Glacier, however James's mountain sense (and handy GPS) kicked it and we quickly backtracked and started breaking trail to the north. At this stage we were just under 4 hours of travel and 345 metres of elevation gained. Likely we could have turned earlier but we followed a pretty obvious drainage (photo taken on the way out).

Even though we didn't have the benefit of tracks, a supportive crust and very little ski penetration kept travel pretty easy and we quickly found ourselves in a small box canyon which we climbed out of on climbers right. The sound of water rushing under the snow kept us focused (once again photo taken on descent).

From the top of the box canyon I lead us on a bit of a wandering route through the trees to climbers right. On descent we found the route much more straight forward to just get back on or beside the creek. In fairly quick order we broke through the forest so see the route up to Coronet Glacier. Lunch was at 1 pm and 2055m taking refuge from the wind behind a large rock that wasn't being particularly effective.

While eating there were a couple of waves of wind and blowing snow, funny enough the closest experience I've had to it was sandstorms in the desert. At this point we were at the 6 hour mark and I had steeled myself for a 10 hour day so after a quick bite we shouldered the pigs and carried on, James seemed to be doing fine.

As is often the case this time of day, things seemed to slow down a bit. It was definitely longer to the turn east onto  Coronet Glacier than it appeared.  We took a line to climbers right attempting not to drop into the valley.  It worked but I wouldn't want to be up there if avy hazard was high.

We finally rounded the corner and wound our way through some moraines before dropping down and gaining the glacier proper. The wind did start to pick up and cloud cover increased.

We put the rope on at the glacier toe at 3:30 pm and by then had made our way up to 2340m.  At that point it looked like an hour to the top, however Coronet Glacier was a gift that just kept giving.

James lead the vast majority of the way up the glacier and it was a slow grind, taking a full 3 hours to get to the top. Lot's of false summits and elevation gain. To add to it the weather started to close in and the wind, although mostly at our back, became a factor.

Shortly after this photo, the weather closed in and got a little ugly. I was under the incorrect assumption that we needed to descend and then turn north to gain the Brazeau Glacier. We ended up pretty much exhausted (speaking for only myself of course) with viz coming and going on terrain that was steepening and just didn't feel right. We backed off and could just catch the rocks from Mt Henry Macleod above us so backtracked directly into the wind up to a somewhat sheltered spot close by. 

By the time we picked the spot we both had some frostbite going and were pretty knackered, it ended up being a 1500 metre 11 hour day. A quick platform got dug out, the tent erected and gear sorted, slowly. I knew I wasn't doing well when it took me 15 solid minutes to get my harness off! With the tent up and sleeping bags installed we both jumped in and shivered pretty violently as the tent bounced around in the wind. Funny thing, we both fell asleep and woke up at 10 pm wondering why it was dark!

After some quick rehydration and nosh we tucked back in and got up at 8 am, just 10 minutes before the sun hit the tent. We later heard that it was -16 at big bend 700 metres lower so it was definitely a cool night. I thanked my lucky stars I left the -3 bag in the car and took the warm one! 

Given where we were at it was a pretty simple decision to bail. We originally were thinking of going down to the lunch spot for breakfast however in the sun it was warm enough to cook while breaking camp. With the blue sky and valley cloud the views were fantastic! 

Fortunately the wind was minimal. Looking back the view of Brazeau, in the middle with the sun, was staggering. There was much discussion of coming back for a 4 day trip and doing the Macleod, Valad, Brazeau traverse one day and running around to Warren, on the left, the next. 

Making it back to the lunch spot only took two hours, including skinning back up after the glacier snout. 

The remainder of the trip out was quicker than expected. There was a fair amount of up and down, especially after we hit the Poigne Creek trail, however we made it without putting the skins back on. There were what looked like lynx tracks following our old ski tracks for several kilometers on the way out.

We were fortunate that it did freeze well as the track was still crusty with no real isothermal snow. The one grass patch at the end grew a bit however.

In the end it was just under 5 hours out and we celebrated with beer and chips in the parking lot. Tingly fingers for a couple of days and a funny looking toe were the only casualties. 

As I said humbled in the mountains again, but I'll be back! Beautiful area and my sense is it is a bit easier doing it on skis.