Saturday, 3 September 2016

Youngs Peak NW Face - "The Seven Steps of Paradise"

The toil, the storm, and the payoff

There was a group of five friends from the prairies taking a private AST course. Three of them had moved to Calgary and had been exposed to the mountains, but the other two we worried about. Blisters the size of toonies. Resort boots in the backcountry. Their guide was legendary Canmore mountain man Tom Wolfe. A man of much stoicism and few words.
Apart from that the Wheeler hut was filled with families; there was a lot of noise and it was in one’s best interest to rise early and go to bed as soon as the children finally, gracefully, passed out. Ben and I had skied up the Bonney Moraine on day one of our Roger’s Pass trip. With 2000m freezing levels we had to ascend a long way before finding good snow. The next day we did two laps from Lookout Col in a partial whiteout. The snow had arrived. Our tap tests were confidence-inducing. It’s a unicorn event when one wins the powder lottery but it looked like the right numbers were falling in place for the days to come. Steady flakes fell from the sky and that night we decided to move up the valley to the Asulkan Hut. The guided group from the prairies was heading in the same direction, which was good, because it guaranteed free beta and lively games of “Peanuts” at night.
The whiteout continued when we arrived at the Asulkan the next day. Thank god for the Tree Triangle. We spent the rest of the day slashing glorious powder turns between the big conifers. Besides the AST course, which was busy digging pits, there was only one other inhabitant of the hut: Frank. Or Francois, as he hailed from la belle provence. He asked to accompany us on a lap through the trees. I was skeptical. I had watched him smoke two of BC’s strong ones in about 10 minutes. But what could go wrong? Had he not found the hut all by his lonesome? And had he not already done a tree triangle lap?


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“FRANK!” We were shouting incessantly.
Having stopped our descent just above the Mouse Trap, we headed towards the moraine and the skin track. Frank had stopped a few hundred metres back because of the poor visibility in the open and said he was going to meet us at the edge of the trees, but when we crested the moraine and crossed the basin below the triangle he was nowhere to be found.
“FRANK!”
He responded and said he’d be there in 5 minutes. 10 minutes later we still hadn’t caught a glimpse of him. He sounded far away. We tried to get him to keep shouting so we could pinpoint his location, but the language barrier prevented an understandable exchange. He kept repeating, “I’ll be right there,” even though it was now clear he was getting further away.
We began split-skiing down the slope.
“FRANK!”
“I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!”
Finally Ben, eagle-eyed that he is, spotted him on the far side of a stand of timber, heading in the wrong direction by about 105 degrees.
“YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”
We waited another 30 minutes for him to follow our voices and find us. Then we took off. I was cold and set an unsustainable pace up into the Tree Triangle. The visibility was terrible. The flakes falling from the sky had doubled in size. Frank kept thanking us profusely. He offered us a room in his place should we ever desire a night in Revelstoke. We said “No problem,” and kept heading for the hut, cold and worn out. The snow was getting deep. It had been falling for about 30 hours straight. What would tomorrow bring?


By the second round of Peanuts it was clear that the storm was over. The stars came out and the temperature plummeted. The AST course stated that they had measured new snow depths of 50cm. Tap tests had shown cold unconsolidated spray pow. Yee-haw.
We rose early and started breaking trail towards “The Seven Steps of Paradise” (Youngs’ NW Face). Ben and I were the first ones out the door. No Franks on powder days. We roped up on the glacier and meandered along the high ground towards the face, generally sticking right of the face to start. Below the upper bowls we made a long traverse left then began switchbacking ever onwards. We kept left of a small rock outcrop that cleaved the lower left aspect of the face as the grade began to steepen. There were faint signs of crevasses all around, small sagging depressions in the north-facing shade. Small clouds wove their way in and out of the basin, giving us brief periods of mediocre visibility that would brilliantly give way to unbridled views of the whole valley.
Eventually, the angle (about 40 degrees) became quite steep for kick turns - tunnels of sort had to be excavated from the huge blanket of snow to begin the next switchback. We took this opportunity to perform tap tests of our own. The results? Unconsolidated spray pow. The closest faceted layer was now well over a metre down. Our snow science brains gave us the green light, but still, there was a lot of snow on a steep face.
We took off our splits and began boot-packing directly up the face. It was kind of like vertical crawling through an endless cloud. At one point, one of my kick steps caused a small point-release to cascade down the slope towards Ben. Gulp. We continued, topping out the face onto a flat bench with sagging crevasse lines everywhere. Going to the summit wasn’t even a question; we were there for the descent. I pulled out my phone to take a picture. Dead. Rendered useless by the alpine cold. Transitioning our boards to ride mode gave us something to do to keep warm while we waited for the skies to part. My fingers tingled with cold, my mind, with excitement.
“This is our window.”


Dropping-in felt like I was running to go cliff jumping. I couldn’t see the slope we were about to ride until I was on it, but then it was the absolute most radical line of the trip: slough exploding everywhere at the sharp turns of our boards. Winning the powder lottery really does feel like flying. The sun was out and Ben and I hooted and hollered our way down the seven steps back to the hut. There, we dropped the rope and harnesses, confident in our line, beaming with delight at the sea of twinkling white set against a rich blue sky, and went back for another lap.

 Looking down the face from halfway up

Looking up the face- 150 metres to go



Sunday, 20 March 2016

An Ode to Winter: Snow Boulders

As this ski season of seasons enters spring and snow continues to pile up I, weekend by weekend, am starting to amass a collection of snapshots of elegant piles of snow. Here's to pillow lines and a deep, stable pack: Here's to Snow Boulders!

 Ryan Fehr wearing a satisfied "Boss Face" en route to the Brew Hut

 Same Ryan displaying an inquisitive demeanor topped by a nice spring baseball cap

Bobby Edwards with a nice layer cake near Coquihalla Pass

Ben Doubroff working his way up the Bonny Moraine (Roger's Pass)

Descending from Lookout Col (Roger's Pass) I find myself in a sea of Snow Boulders

Monday, 4 January 2016

Early Season Ski Tours in the Coast Range

When the misty mountain clouds of autumn met the frigid winter winds of the north the result was a favourable love-child. Snow returned to the Pacific Northwest and winter enthusiasts like myself have been taking to the alpine with vigour. Below are a series of shots from some of these early adventures on the skin-track.

Atwell Peak coming into view on Paul Ridge 

 First Snowman of the year at the Watersprite Lake Trailhead

 Skiers heading for home after a day near Hanging Lake (Callaghan)

The jagged Hozameen massif from Gibson Pass Ski Area (Manning)

 Re-organizing before a descent off Columnar Peak

Laura emerging from the trees near the Elfin Lakes Hut

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Meet Misty

We all name our vehicles. Betty Lou is the affectionate title of a friend's inexhaustible pick-up. Dusty Rose was the Honda Accord my roommates and I punished up and down the Sea to Sky highway in the early-to-mid 2000s. Baska was the moniker of Laura and I's VW Golf - named after a horse guide we had in Mongolia who, like the car, could push onward to infinity. And now...Misty.

When the decision was made that we needed a new vehicle - one that better matched our lifestyle of mountain exploration, logging roads and camping trips - we wrote down a list of desired features. Diesel, 4X4, 4 cylinder engine, 4 doors, with enough room to comfortably sleep in the back. Plug all of that into the craigslist search function and presto! Japanoid automobiles dominate the results. We settled on the 1995 Nissan Mistral because she was full of character and her motor rumbled with strength. The name Misty had been given to her by her previous owner. We felt no need to change it. Misty are the mountain sides when the clouds roll off the roiling Pacific; Misty are the valley bottoms when standing atop those remote summits. Misty has become a part of our adventure family, and to explain the motivations of this blog I felt the need to share.

The sun shines in the Pacific Northwest in unpredictable spurts. The rest of the time we find beauty in the rugged, wet, and bold scenes of misty clouds clinging to proud conifers on the mountainside.







Sunday, 20 September 2015

Reversing Awesome at Rohr Lake

I'll admit to it myself. The media I've posted over the course of my internet career has almost always been self-aggrandizing. Bluebird days, powder lines, alpine lakes in the background. In the social media age of marketing we're either showing off our best moments or trying to put an upwards spin on the less-than-hero material. But what about our great failures?! Ask any card player and they'll tell ya: Few remember the great hands won, but all remember the great hands lost. It is the trying moments then, the grit and discomfort, that builds our sense of resilience and gives us the courage we need to continue when the wind gets sharp.

So here's one for the survivor in you: a weekend backpacking trip into the eye of the storm. The droplets of water didn't fall from the sky, they pummeled us. We had thought we could outrun the forecast, we had said, "How bad can it actually be?" Well, we found out. Rain can last for 24 straight hours, wet wood will burn, old diesel motors will eventually turn over, and with equal parts time and water an entire alpine bowl can turn to mud. Enjoy the dreary photos below, they're the best we took. 




Sunday, 13 September 2015

The "Bugs"

Two days after returning from Bella Coola I set off with my best mate Ben Doubroff for Bugaboo Provincial Park. Deep within the Purcell Mountains, this alpine mecca attracts climbers like pins to a magnet. We reached the trailhead in the late dusky hours of Monday, August 3rd, and it immediately began raining. Hard. Water from the skies and sweat from my inner depths dripped to the rocky ground as we grunted ever uphill into increasing darkness, packs loaded with food for four (4) days, tent, stove, sleeping roll and climbing equipment. We reached the Conrad Kain hut sometime around 11pm and were invited inside for tea and warmth, which promptly turned into a full-blown campaign led by an enthusiastic Russian alpinist attempting to convince us to sleep on the hut floor, rather than continue on. But we could not be swayed from our plan to reach the high Applebee Dome campground. Revitalized from the moment's warmth, we continued up the steep moraine, pitched our tent, and crawled into what would be our home for the rest of the week.

Over the course of the following four days Ben and I climbed Pigeon Spire's West Ridge (PD, 5.4), Crescent Towers' "Lion's Way" (PD+, 5.6), and Bugaboo Spire's "Kain Route" (AD, 5.6+), with a mid-week rain day spent playing cards in the aforementioned hut. Pressed by a time constraint, to be at a wedding in Whitefish Montana the following day, we left The Bugs on Friday night, already planning our routes and tactics for when we return next summer.








The following video is of Pigeon Spire's West Ridge, the first route we climbed, and our intro to Bugaboo hail, thunder, and exposure. 



Saturday, 12 September 2015

Road Trip to Bella Coola

The late July weather in Vancouver was hot enough to boil lettuce so after work one evening Laura and I packed up the rig and headed north. Our destination was the steep & wild Bella Coola valley. We had heard legends of a land untouched and wanted to pull back the curtains and see for ourselves. From the moment we reached "The Hill," the steep dirt track that takes you from the high Chilcotin plateau to the lush river valley 1500m below, the adventure needle spiked high. As the following photos can attest, we found the points in time we had been seeking. The air was cool and dense and buckets of cold rain fell from the sky; but still, nothing could diminish the beauty of such a rugged landscape. The native land of the Nu-Halk people slowly revealed her spine of jagged peaks as over the course of our 9 days the clouds blew off the Pacific and deep into the folds of the Coast Range. When our time was up, we drove home with expanded imaginations and a keen sense of content.