Sunday, February 26, 2012

The honeymoon is over

My last day out in (almost) perfect snow stability was with a punch of good people on a couple good lines of a good peak in the good ol' Rockies. The day after the Emerald loop we joined forces with more or less the same core group one more time in order to ski one of the lines I had to look at for 17 Winters, but never had the chance, the guts or the partners to even attempt it. There is about a hundred meter stretch on the TransCanada Highway just west of the Great Divide where you get the view of this stunning lines, but specially in the Winter you can't really stop there to take in the view.
The two couloirs of Narao Peak, the first time coming into view after dropping into the bowl below Popes Peak - after bailing on the right one, we succeeded to climb the left one to the summit late in the day.
Andrew Wexler, in the first, right hand couloir. The higher we got, the less we disliked the variable snowpack, and eventually pulled the plug 100m below the top.
The unique feature on the first couloir, nice for climbing and taking pictures, but with huge consequences if one gets caught in a slide above.
The freshly imported strong legs of Alex from Austria trenching out the last few meters to the top of the left hand couloir.
After the 3 of us went through the exit, Wexler almost did not make it through the bottomless facets near the top. Heli shag parties with the Bug's Bunnies might be good for one thing, but not for the other. He somehow reminded me on some of the snow boarders in the Bobbie Burns, having to walk 100 Meters from the lunch spot to the pick up of Rocky Saddle.
Ian Welsted happily arriving on top of Narao peak in the late afternoon sun and strong west winds. What a few we had, from Sir Sandford to the Wapta, all of Yoho and the Goodsirs, Victoria north and south, Lefroy and Popes, Cathedral, Stephen and Hector and, and, and...
The view that really counted though was from the summit down the line we suffered boot packing in deep snow for a long ways, and are just about to drop in.
Wexler in the narrow part one third down.
Most of the couloir had unusual good snow to offer despite it's steepness, and our tired legs certainly appreciated the soft pow. Of course we had to celebrate this perfect day with burgers and beer at the "Paw"- thanks Andrew, Ian, Alex and Danny for taking advantage of the great conditions we've had in the homeland of the Rockies.
Three days later:
The first innocent looking fluff is hiding the suface hoar layer at Campbell Icefield Chalet. I had the pleasure to work there the last week with 73 year old guiding legend Bernie Schiesser from Golden and a nice group from Prince George. Together we managed to stay out of trouble during the worst avalanche conditions of this season so far.
The beautiful Campell Icefield Chalet at sunrise, one of the more comfortable back country lodges in Canada. If you ever get the chance, go up there and enjoy the hut and the surrounding terrain, you will not regret it. In the meantime, play safe out there and tread our new Valentine layer with the respect it deserves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A cool loop around Emerald Peak

The ongoing high pressure in the Rockies continues, but a small wave dropped 5-10 cm of fluff overnight which made the skiing really good again. One has to get a bit inventive though in where to go to avoid old tracks, but the good stability certainly comes in handy when you want to link some unfamiliar terrain together. This loop was the brainchild of Josh Briggs, thanks for taking us (Wex, Ian, Danny, Andrea) there.

Climbing out of the last trees on Emerald Peak, the Vaux group behind.
The first lap of the day on the SE slopes of Emerald Peak
Josh on the first lap skiing down towards Emerald Lake and Emerald Lodge.
Skinning up towards the second lap, with Mt. Carnarvon looming behind.
Regroup on Hamilton Lake after the steep West face of Emerald Peak. This slope was not the steepest, but stability wise certainly the most committing slope of the day.
Andrea patiently waiting her turn on the west face.
And finally she gets to go- in Europe we gentlemen would give a lady first tracks, but with the equal rights movement here in North America they get wait in line like everybody else.
As you can see, Andrew is not just here for the skiing, he also likes to take in the stunning sceneries.
The last run of the day, a 900m shot down the steep NE slopes from the col between Tabletop Mountain and Emerald Peak.
Little skier in big slope, the big south face of the President behind.
The last drop into Emerald Basin is full of fun pillows, if only the light would have been a bit better. About 10 open creek crossing later we finally reached the cross country track of Emerald Lake.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mt. Chephren and the Kum ba jah couloir

As it turned out, the ice/alpine line we were hoping to climb was unformed. We both figured it was good thing, given the objective hazards surrounding the climb. On our drive back on the Icefields Parkway we both saw simultaneously what we really wanted to do. Although ill equipped for steep couloir skiing we decided to go for it first light the next morning, spending the night at Mosquito Creek Hostel.
A beautiful sunrise on Mt. Chephren did little to warm us up crossing the Waterfowl and Chephren lakes at -23. We tried to compensate the lack of Coffee in the Hostel with a Green Tea overdose, which only resulted in a non scheduled but very urgent poop stop at this frigid temps. Our goal for the day lies just below and left of the sunlight NE face, two obvious couloirs -the longer right one hidden in this picture- which both top out along the stunning NE Buttress.
Out of about 100 pictures I took that day of Steve H., this is the only one where his face looks decent. I have to admit, I cheated a bit and used the brand new "make the ugliest face look good - tool" in the latest version of Adobe photo shop.
Surrounded by big real estate in the first couloir, which was the longer and more serious one. In the beginning we found ourselves constantly looking up checking for any signs of falling cornices, snow mushrooms or major spin drifts, but after a while our necks got so stiff that we had to give up. It felt like belaying someone for hours on a way too hard of a project, and I wished I would have brought my belay glasses. Luckily the mountain was calm and nothing significant came upon us.
The 'choke' half way up the first line, certainly the crux on the ski down. After my previously mentioned attempts I politely asked Steve to keep his face hidden from the camera, so it saved me the time consuming touch up work at home. Thanks Steve, you're a real team player.
Steve on the aesthetic top out on the left hand couloir, our tracks from the first run visible in the bottom left hand corner.
The nice fluff in the upper part motivates Steve to attack like a young gun. I like skiing lines like that with Steve in particular, since he can't get lost in there like on regular ski outings.

The rock pillar in the center splits the two lines of the day. Since they are dwarfed by the immense NE face of Mt. Chephren, one might not assume that they are 1000m for the right and 900m for the left hand one, measured from Waterfowl lake.
Although such obvious lines for sure got skied a bunch before us, we took the freedom to name the right one "Kum ba jah couloir", after our first hostel experience with good folks the night before in Mosquito creek.