The weekend turned out differently than we originally planned due to some really wretched backcountry ski conditions. We originally intended to ski to the Plummer-Pinnacle Saddle (Mount Rainier National Park) Saturday and climb Pinnacle, Deman and Plummer before descending to set up camp near the base of Lane. The avalanche forecast was moderate throughout with a caution for loose wet on all aspects. Not surprising since it was going to be  a balmy 45 degrees! After secreting our overnight permit we started out at the Narvada Falls parking lot which was buzzing with visitors! We skinned up the slope to the closed Stevens Canyon Road and followed it along with the throngs of snowshoers to Reflection Lake. Here we turned off the road and away from the crowds and following a skin track into the forest toward the Tatoosh Range. The trail split with the skin track continuing left to the Pinnacle/Castle Saddle and a snowshoe tracking went right heading (we guessed) to the Pinnacle Plummer Saddle. We turned right. Unfortunately the snowshoe trail was made incorrectly with each footstep being on on top of the other instead of the other which meant we were basically cutting our own trail on skis over when felt like debris.  We followed the ascending track toward the saddle out into open slopes below Pinnacle. Here ran into snow so sticky and heavy that it felt like we were skiing with cinder blocks strapped to our feet! The air was humid which I’m sure contributed to this. We fought on dragging ourselves through the cement-like snow. After traversing over a few bums we saw the drainage below the saddle was below us. This was the route were were really supposed to be on. It looked ike we could still get to the saddle from our high position, but we were on a slab and the “loose wet” warning made us reevaluate. Plus, Damien I I have 10in thick blocks of snow sticking to our skins. We decided to drop 200 feet to the drainage (bootpack) and hope the skin track was better. It was only slightly better. We finally arrived on the Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle at about 2:30 feeling destroyed. We knew at that point that we had to pick a summit to devote our efforts to and get ourselves in a position to climb it the next day. We both really wanted Lane Peak. Thus we opted to descend back down and traverse below the Tatoosh range until we got near the base of Lane. Skiing down was equally as bad a skinning up. It was like skiing through wet sludge; the snow was thick and saturated. We also had to battle through some dense trees in this mess which made things more arduous. We ended up doing to bootpacking along with the “survival” skiing. Once at the bottom we traverse through open forest to the first meadow we came across and gratefully set up camp 1/2 mile from the base of Lane.

We headed toward Lane before sunrise the next morning. We discovered as we crossed our camp meadow that were was a good snowshoe trail heading right toward Lane that we hadn’t noticed the evening before. We followed it through the forest and opening meadows. There are a few good places to cross the Tatoosh Creek. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the base of Lane. We skinned up long switchbacks on the lower snow slopes to a stand of trees just below where the peak gets rocky. Here we put on our harnesses, crampons and dropped off our skis.  We had a rope and protection, but we decided to start out using on two petzel sumtacs each. We had the rope and pro ready if we needed it. From here we followed more switchbacks to the right to the obvious couloir: The Zipper. The Zipper is indeed steep (about 45 degrees or steeper). However, it was just snow with no ice. There was already a boot pack up although the steps were huge! Sometimes I was stepping as high as my hips! This was either due to a very tall team or the soft snow constancy. Luckily it was colder so it wasn’t as cement-like. We climbed the couloir without too much trouble and unroped. However, at the  notch and top of the courloir we and opted to rope up for the steep, exposed climb to the summit ridge on the right. The route climbed up an open and exposed slope to the ridge. I used 2 pickets as protection. There are some mixed moves over exposed rocks, but it was mostly steep snow. I belayed Damien from the ridge with an ice axe anchor. Damien then belayed me along a very airy, fun, knife edge ridge to the summit. It was thrilling and I was once again reminded of how strange it is they i will stand up straight when crossing a snow ice edge, but crawl on a rock knife- edge. Note that unlike other snow knife edges in the cascades where you walk beside the edge, in this one the route goes right over the top.  I used one picket for pro and a white tricam and picket as an anchor. The summit offered spectacular 360 views of the Tatoosh Range and Mount Rainier.

From the summit I belayed Damien back out the way we had come for several yards and then he downclimbed about 5-6 meters to the belay tree on the right (from the summit). It had two new rap slings on it. He belayed me to the tree once anchored and we rappeled down a short gully with a 50 meter rope. The 50 meter rope was enough to get us past the worst of the gully and the rocks. We still had to downclimb another 25 or so meters on steep snow before we were able to plunge step.  There was a lot of plunge stepping! The descent going around skiers left of Lane Peak down open slopes and some trees back to the front of the mountain and the small stand of trees where we stashed our skis. Meanwhile, the once clear day had clouded over and a brisk wind accompanied us on our descent to our skis. We skinned back to came under a continually greying sky. As we set out back to The Stevens Canyon Road from Camo following a Skin and snowshoe track it began to snow. Once again we made it out of the alpine just as the bad weather hit!

 

Two O’Clock Falls is not located in the high mountains or shady canyons. It’s actually in the grasslands of Kootenay Plains! In the lowlands were is a heavy shadded area in the Hills that harbors a huge waterfall with W2-3 ice offering 4 pitches on a variety of lines.  This is where Damien and I ended up after discovering that Melt Out W3 along the Icefield Parkway in Jasper NP was under a wind slab that looked ready to avalanche. We parked by a gate on the side of Hwy 11 labeled 2 O’Clock Creek. We  were a bit confused by the book directions and just parked near where we could see the falls from the rd. We followed a dirt road beyond the gate into a campground and onto the trail. However, after followed the trail through tree and realizing we were not turning toward the falls we decided to just travel cross country. We were looking for a meadow that we were supposed to walk alongside. The area is sacred to the First Nations and it was important that we stayed on the side of this meadow since it was part of their ceremonial grounds. As we wandered the forest looking for the meadow and heading for the falls we came across lots of trees wrapped in cloth. This had something to do with ceremonies. We eventually stumbled across another road and followed it to the meadow we were looked for complete with First Nation structures. We stayed to the right on the road, but turned into the forest and traveled cross country to the falls hoping to find the trail we were supposed to be on. We eventually found it and followed it to the base of the falls.

The ice was pretty wet even in the cold shade. Damien racked up to take the first lead. Like Lousie Falls, the ice was damaged by heat and insecure. With the swing of an axe 2×2 ft sections of ice would go white. Massive dinner plates shattered from the route and it took up to ten swings to get a descent stick. Damien finished the lead. It was W3 what the ice quality made thing very spicy. I tested several areas to lead up pitch 2, but found the ice to be very questionable, possibly more so than the first pitch. When I put in screwed the surrounding ice turned white causing me to question if they would hold at all. In the end i decided to down climb  the pitch and bail after one to many sections of ice went white with swings or tools. we rapped off of two V threads. Nothing too prove. The conditions were just not good.

We followed the trail out and discovered the gate we should have entered into from Hwy 11 was actually unsigned and 1.5 km down the road from where we parked. We know for our return!

Lousie Falls is located in the last place you’d expected to see dirtbag climbers. The approach requires pass a posh resort : Lake Lousie Chateau. It felt kind of odd after wearing the same clothes for 6 days to walk through the wealthy masses observing ice carving and skating the the lake. Who needs laundry!? In any case, approaching the falls in about a 2.4 Km walk around the shoreline of Lake Lousie. The falls can be see though fro the Chateau. Our Plan was to only climb the bottom 1 or 2 pitches. The rest of the route is W4-5. Beyond our current level and it was late the the day anyway. The trail beside the lake leads to the bottom of an open slope about 50-60 meters below the falls. We left he main trail and followed the boot-pack up to the base. It is important to be cautious and wear a helmet as you approach. Climbers from above drop massive ice chunks down from the upper pitches. Staying to the right is crucial to avoid being hit and obtain protection from overhanging rock.

We racked up on the far right side of the falls. The first pitch to the first set of bolted anchors looked straight forward and doable. However, as Damien began to lead he discovered from ice quality issues. The sun and warm temps had damaged the ice quite a bit. It was insecure no matter how many times he kicked into the wall. Getting an ice axe to stick took about ten swings due in insane dinner-plating. And once the axe did stick it was often almost impossible to remove. Damien got up the first tier to a small ledge. The conditions were too dicy for his comfort, so I lowered him and took over the lead. The ice was as bad as he reported. I was able to ascend just under a meter. I had insecure feet but two good ice axe hooks. I’m not sure how since i was pressed down hard the the hooks, but one of my axes popped and I took a lead fall. By other axe held and the umbilical caught me oddly enough. All in all i fell about a meter back onto the ledge. The only damage came from my hammer hitting me in the mouth and slightly chipping my tooth and bruising my lip. I got lucky.

After that we decided to call it a day and packed tings up. I guess I’m truely a climber no since after 5 years I finally took a lead fall. 🙂

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is just how I remembered it. Spectacular and HUGE! We walked through the canyon before daylight making it feel e3ven more majestic and reached he bottom of the Upper Falls (turn right at the 2nd junction) just as the sun rose. Accessing the ice is a bit tricky. We have to climb over the boardwalk, step down onto on icy boulder and then slide down said boulder to the frozen river. The wall of ice is in great shape thought he pillars have broken in the heat. The ice on the far right is W2 and as you move left the wall steepest and the grade gets more difficult. We opted for a W3 Line in the center. The ice can be climbed in a single pitch and wrapped with a 70 meter rope. But it is easy to use a 60 meter and climb the routes in 2 pitches due to a huge platform about 1/3 of the way up. Damien led the lower pitch which is pretty much W2 for all routes. This was the first pitch of ice I ever led about 3 year ago. I led the second pitch of W3 and set up an anchor from 2 trees. PLEASE always check the cord and webbing left behind by previous parties before using them. There was already an anchor there and I ended up building my own since I could not trust any of the knots.

Damien and I ran some laps on the upper Pitch and the W4/W3+ pitch on the left for the rest of the morning. We rappelled the second pitch with a V thread. Note that this is a big tourist destination so folks will be watching and taking pictures the whole time. I wanted to put out a top jar for the climbers!

 

We were told by two climbers yesterday that Crystal Tears was in and awesome. However, because of the warming trend the climb would probably only be in for one more day. Damien and I headed out from Canmore, Alberta to Grotto Canyon before daylight hoping to get the route first since its narrow in places. We followed the main canyon to His and Hers at the headwall and then took a left turn and continued down the canyon. After about 30 minutes there was a junction on the right. The Climbers from the day before said that they hard marked the turn off on the right with a ribbon. We didn’t see a ribbon and though we ventures a bit further down the canyon we could no find one elsewhere. So we assumed someone had removed the ribbon and turn right. This was obviously a climbers trail. It switchbacked very steeply through the trees  for almost 300 meters before reaching screes. We followed a clear boot path to the left and into a gully were this was a thin melting waterfall.

Damien too the first lead. The ice didn’t look great and when he hit in the sound was hollow. the ice was pretty much detached from the rock and there would be some mixed moves. Damien hooked the top of the ice and ended up taking down about 1 meter of the ice route! We examined mixed climbing options but saw no simple way to gain the upper pitches. We decided to bail. Back at the bottom of the canyon we ended up locating the Ribbon several meters further down the canyon. We followed a set a boot prints we hadn’t noticed in the earlier darkness and discovered that we had climbed the walk down earlier. We also discovered several climbers bailing from the route due to the melted out, ripped off portion. The warm weather definitely has taken this route out, at least for now.

Grotto Falls was in great form and fat this week even with the warm weather. Damien and I ventured into Grotto Canyon for our first ice cimbing venture in Alberta on Tuesday. The canyon walk definitely requires spikes. Some portion of the frozen river a extremely slushy/water though so be prepared to get wet to wear gaitors! The bottom of the route has several good places to put your packs that are dry. The ice was melting on the sides of the falls pretty fervently, but away from the edges things we dryer (as fall as ice goes). However, as the day wore on the ice began to melt pretty much everywhere and things get very wet indeed. The ice had formed in such a way that the route gets steeper and slightly longer the further left you go. Everything is pretty much a W3 on the first pitch though. There are two bolt anchors (one left and one slightly higher on the right) on top of the second Tier of the falls. The Third and final tier is short. It ranges from W3+ on the left to W2 on the right. On top of the 2nd Pitch there are normally bolt anchors but the ice flow had covered them. There are many trees and Damien and I set up a red rap station/anchor on the big tree to the left.

Damien and I spent the day taking turns leading and running some laps. It was my first W3 lead so I was pretty stoked! Today we ended up returning to climb the route several times again after discovering that Crystal Tears of was out. Grotto is definitely getting a lot of action right now and the route is getting a bit picked out.

Glacier Crest was supposed to be an easier day after completing Video Peak on Sunday. Instead we got a little more than we bargained for! Avalanche Danger was marked as considerable mostly due to a storm that was supposed to come in later in the evening. Therefore, we decided to be a pre-dawn start from the Asulkan TH. There is a great ski track that travels up the Asulkan Valley. After about 1km the forest opens to a big open space and trail junction. Stay right (left goes to Wheeler Hut). The trail continues back into the forest. There are lots of signs marking the turnoffs to different trails. The Turnoff (left) for Glacier Crest Trail  is right after crossing the stone bridge. The skin track begins to ascend from here using many switchbacks and thus endless tight kick turns.  After gain probably about 900ish meters the trees begin to open up on a broad flatter ridge. The hump of Glacier Crest can be seen and the track traverses toward it. Thsi also make the end of the major switchbacks which in celebratory! Views also begin to present themselves on the ridge.

Finally the treeline is reached and the ascent of the final ridge with requires a few switchbacks again. Then a traverse to the summit. There was one steep sections which required us to bootpack our skis, but everything else was doable. Looking down will make you dizzy. Lots of exposure on the ridge, but it is not a knife edge. The summit is broad and big enough to removes skins and set up for a descent. There are few options. We watch some folks ski directly off the summit into the moranie bowl. This option is probably a double black diamond and had lots of rocks to navigate. Another option was to ski through the trees directly back into the Valley. Yet another was to continue several meters along the ridge and drop into the bowl where the angle was ever to slightly less intimidating than the summit direct descent, but featured no rocks. Finally there was an option to backtrack along the ridge and ski off a lower angle slope into the bowl.

We first decided that our best option was to ski down the lower angle slope into the bowl. Two others skiers were also weighing their options. One had dug out a small pit which he let us examine before making a final decision. There seems to be a large slab on top of insecure facets. That didn’t see good on the rolling terrain into the bowl. They decided to descend via the trees which we had no beta for. We opted to backtrack to the summit again and then a bit further on to descend into the bowl. Meanwhile as we were making our decision the weather situation was declining. Temps dropped, some snow flurries fell and the sky filled with clouds. We wanted to get off the the summit!  Instead of skiing the extremely steep initial part of descent we felt it better to boot pack our skis until the angle eased a bit. Damien stamped out a flat spot on the side of the slope and we clipped into our skis for the descent.

Like the previous day on Video Peak the powder was stellar. and we were luckily that flat  light didn’t seem to be an issue this time. The snow stopped, but the cold temps and cloudy skys remained and we made some bouncy turns down the main summit slope and into the rolling bowl. In fact we became joyous turning through the pristine slopes of the upper moraine of the Illecillewaet Glacier. This descent was going to  be a breeze!… just kidding!

About 1/4 of the way down back to the valley the once soft rolling slopes turned into a moraine minefield. We were faced with navigating through a maze of ice walls, cliffs, protruding rocks, trees, boulders… any kind of terrain trap you could think of basically. This wasn’t going to be a chill as we imagined. I can’t give detailed advice on the best way to descend other than do not go fast or approach the top of the hill expecting that there is a slope down. Often there were cliffs. Usually as ever road bock there was some kind of an exit. However, we did have to drop down a few cliffs about 2 meters high. There’s a first time for everything. The experience was very intense and the moraines seemed to go on forever. But to be honest I relished the challenge even though it was stressful.

Finally we reached the lower creek and we were able to breathe a little easier. We followed an up-track at that point which got wider the more we descended. Here the skiing went back to be fun and not quit as stressful. This track linked up with the main trail with the valley which we followed back to the parking lot.

So, more than what we expected, but no regrets! I like living on the edge!

After spending a frigid night camped inside out CRV at the Rogers Pass Discovery Center Damien and I began our ski tour to Video Peak just as the sun rose over the horizon. We were familiar with the route through the Connaught Drainage from our tour to Balu Pass the previous day so we were able to move pretty quickly. There was a great skin track, but to someone unfamiliar with the territory it can be a bit of a maze. You can take the first major turn right and cross the first bridge to the other side of the creek or take the second right further up to cross a different bridge. And once on the other side there are several different side trails. they weave within the drainage. The general idea is to just stay in the drainage on the right side of the creek using one of the bridges. Ultimately it seemed all trails on the right side eventually ended up traversing the bottom of the slopes going toward Balu Pass.

The key to Video Peak is to find the uptrack the branches off the drainage trail. It is located at the bottom of Ursus Trees on a distinct round roll in the valley as the trees begin to thin in the drainage (best to use a map). The uptrack is pretty steep and travels along side a gully and then left through the trees to Ursus Minor Bowl. From the Bowl you get the first views of Video Peak. At that point I was pretty sure we wouldn’t make it as Video seems impossibly far off in the distance. We took a break here for a bit and decided on a turn around time of 2:30pm (it was 11:00). From there we pressed on following a good track that switch-backed across open slopes to Hospital Bowl and the base of Video Peak. To my surprised the track went fast and as we neared the peak is actually seemed to seem less daunting and very manageable. There was a good track that left under some rock bands on the right side of the summit and switchbacked up to the ridge. The skinning went pretty quick. We wanted though that this is very steep slope and a fall would lead to a ridge to the bottom. We had our whippets ready to self-arrest. The kick turns were tight as well. The skin track ended on the ridge several meters from the summit where the rocks were wind-swept and the terrain steepened. We took off out skis, pout them on our packs and booted the rest of the way to the summit making it to the top at 1:30pm.

We were greeted with some spectacular views of the surrounding Mountains and Glaciers. But the sun did not last and as we prepared for our descent flat light set in. This made things a bit more interesting. We skied down skiers right of the summit. The  snow was superb and each turned was effortless and bouncy. Endless virgin powder that wasn’t too soft or too heavy. Everything was just right and perfectly amazing! I don’t think we’ve ever experienced better turns! The one issue was the flat light since we we experience some unexpected dips in the terrain and fall face first  into the snow. Damien actually managed a full somersault. The powder was so pillowy, however, he barely felt it… but it also made it difficult to get up!

Once back in Ursus Minor Bowl the skiing got a bit more tricky as we entered the gully. At first we stayed to the left were there were less obstacles. As things get steeper we moved right away from the cliffs. However, about 150 meters from the bottom of the gully we were forced to enter a narrow and somewhat sketchy looking final funnel via dropped down a 2 meter cliff. It proved to not be horribly horrendous though we had to be careful of boulders and terrain traps in that final funnel. We made to back down without a hitch though and easily followed the wide skin track back to the parking lot at 4pm. Time for a wonderful freeze dried dinner and another night sleeping in the front seat of the car!

We didn’t know exactly what to expect when we arrived at Rogers Pass. We originally intended to climb Video Peak on the first day of the trip, but due to our unfamiliarity with the landscape we altered plans and changed our destination to Balu Pass. The track starts at Rogers Pass Discovery Center. We ran into some issues figuring out the junctions and other trails that seemed to branch off the main ski track. After pausing to evaluate every junction we discovered that there are two right hand turns off the main trail that lead to bridges that cross creek. It does not matter which bridge you take. They both lead to the mian track on the right side of the creek which is where you want to me. Once on the other side the trail branches off in several places. But those side trail all seem to lead back to the main skin track (so long as you don’t take a side track the goes directly up a slope out of the drainage). The main track basically makes a bee-line across the Connaught Drainage to Balu Pass which is visible straight ahead in the distance. Gorgeous vista of the Ursus Group and Sir Donald are present throughout the trip and get better as you ascend the switchbacks up to the top of the broad pass. Once at the top of the pass we explored a bit taking in views of the glaciers on the other side and endless wilderness. We also climbed a bit up the right side  of the pass  through sparse trees toward Balu Peak (aka: 8812) before preparing for descent. We wanted to get in some tree skiing. The slopes from the pass offer a mellow ride down. The snow was pretty much stellar being not too soft and not too hard. The Goldie Locks “Just Right” phenomena.

Once reaching the drainage is is pretty easy to ski most of the way back, though we hand to carry out skis in one area. We did release our heals about halfway down as well. A great intro ski to Rogers Pass.

Last year Damien and I did this 27.5 mile xc ski trip in three days. The trails makes a circle around Goat Peak (clockwise). We started late on the first day and ended pretty early on the third day, so we thought it might be fun to do the same trip in 2 days. The first day would be all uphill the 2nd 80% down hill… and this time we would get an early start.

Just as last year the temps were frigid and ranged from about 0-10 degrees. We started at the Goat Creek Snopark at about 8am after grabbing a quick snack from the Mazama Store. The trail is not a dedicated xc trail, but a multi-winter use motorized trail. Thus, snowmobiles also use this route. We have always found these user to be very polite and simply step off to the side whenever were hear them coming up the trail. The only troublesome thing is the exhaust fumes of the sleds as they pass. The snow was in good condition though we didn’t get much glide since the trail was uphill. After 3 miles we turned left at the first junction marked for the Goat Peak OL. A few hours later we passed the overlook that was the site of our camp last year at around 1:30pm and admired views of The Gardiners and Silver Star before moving on. Shortly after the overlook the trail descends for about .7 so we had fun slide downhill before the next push up. The ski to mid-point of Goat Peak Lookout TH parking lot is increasingly steep and requires some herringbone technique and sliding backwards. We made it to the parking lot in the dark and made camp in the forest just off the Lookout Trail a few yards in.

The next frosty morning we did not snap on our skis. Instead we carried them down the next .5 mile section which begins just behind the parking lot bathroom. This section fo trail is too steep for xc skis to handle and resembles a toboggan. It is narrow as basically groomed out every winter as a connector to a lower road forming the loop around Goat Peak. Its narrow and I wouldn’t want to be in there at the same time as the sleds so we were happy to do it first thing. Once down the hill and on the next road we put on our skis and glides on flat ground for the next 3ish miles traversing the side of long ridge before dipping into a ravine and circling around to ski back around the other side of the valley. There are two major overlooks/wide areas. After the second one the trail pretty much angles down for the remainder of the tour with varying steepness. There are several junctions and the general idea is to turn right at each one. Due to the downward angle we completed the loop at 12:30pm even though it had been 14 miles. So this year it took us 1.5 days!