Damien and I only had a half day to ski on Christmas since we needed to drive 8 hours pack to The States. We opted for a short tour through the Teddy Bear Trees not too far from the parking lot. Who doesn’t want to ski something with that name?! We did not have a picture of the route or a great description, except for a small line on our map. Luckily, finding the junction off the main track wasn’t difficult. Basically we took a right when we reached the first main gully.

Damien and I followed the track though mostly open slopes with some slide alder for several hundred feet before the trail curved into the forest. The Teddy Bear Trees were supposed to be more left than we were headed, but we assumed the trail would curve back over. It didn’t. Instead, Damien and I ascended aggressive switchbacks through the trees aiming more and more right. Finally we stopped to locate ourselves on the map and discovered we were not in the Teddy Bears Trees, but on the restricted Grizzly Shoulder. With avalanche danger moderate we weren’t too worried about the slopes being bombed. All the same, we did not have a permit to be in the area and we prepared to descend. It was getting late in the morning anyway so we didn’t miss much tour time.

The descent from the shoulder was steep, deep and tight tree skiing. Probably the most difficult I’ve done in my life. But it was my type if fun (type 2)! Damien loved it too and made some impressive turns through the forest. It would have been nice if I didn’t need to be rescued from a tree well, but things happen!

We arrived back down at the main trail and skied back to the visitor center. A great end to a perfect backcountry ski Christmas!

On our third day at Rogers Pass Damien and I decided to leave the well traveled Connaught Drainage and explore the Asulkan. Last year we skied down Glacier Crest via the moraines making for the spiciest ski descent we’ve ever experienced. A mess of cliffs, blue ice, terrain traps and glacial junk to navigate! This time we planned to skin up the moraines and make an attempt to reach Pearly Rock. For some stange reason we just had to visit this maze of a moraine again! Damien and I began our journey in the dark skinning up the well traveled main trail from the Asulkan parking Lot. Temperatures were easily around -11 Fahrenheit,; the coldest it had been on our Rogers Pass trip. My nose hairs frozen instantaneously and I feared my eyeballs might freeze solid if I didn’t blink enough!

Damien and I reached the turnoff for the Great Glacier Trail just as darkness began to fade. We switched off our headlamps and crossed the small bridge. The skin track here hadn’t been used since the last snowfall. We could see the tracks vaguely in the forest enough to follow. However, as the track entered the rocky creek-side marking the beginning of the moraine maze, the track transformed to only a whisper that often vanished at times. The creek-bed was snow/ice covered, but we could hear water flowing beneath it. I did out best to break trail along the side where it was open, but terrain forced us into the trees and first large boulders of the moraines. We found ourselves in a labyrinth of massive rocks, cliffs and voids. High above us we could see the familiar upper moraine field filled with ominous terrain traps. Pearly Rock seemed like and unattainable destination. In addition, Damien observed storm slab issues as be took his turn breaking trail and I observed that iI could no longer feel my fingers and toes!

I experienced my worst bout of frost bite in the moraines. I’ve had ‘frost nip’ before, but the searing pain of frost bite brought me to tears. Damien helped me undo my pack as my fingers were useless. We located my hand warmers and I shoved my hands deep into my mittens. There was nothing I could do for my feet, but with my hands warming up the pain in my lower extremities became more tolerable. Damien and I reconsidered our route choice and decided that in extreme cold, no skin track, sketchy terrain and a possible wind slab issue did not fix into our acceptable risk margin.

Damien and I retraced our steps back to the main skin track and followed it further into the Asulkan Valley. Often this route is called A-slog-in because it is a long and endless approach to reach the towering peaks with epic skiing. It is also mostly flat requiring a skier to put their skins back on after a descent. Most people stay in one of the backcountry huts since the approach is long enough to warrant an overnight stay. We knew we wouldn’t get far with only 4 hours of daylight remaining, but we wanted to see the famous valley for future reference.

The lofty, snow covered peaks, were indeed epic as they reared high above us glowing in the afternoon sun… but only for a moment. Damien and I sat down to bask in the pleasant warmth and in ten minutes the sun dripped behind the mountains casting the valley back into shadows! In the winter this far north the sunshine is short lived indeed!

Damien and I turned around just before entering The Tree Triangle and skinned (or slogged) back to the [parking lot). When we returned to the Roger Pass Discovery Center I finally had the chance to look at me feet. The tips of my toes were purple. Definitely frostbite! I’ll have to be cautious for the rest of the season.

On our second day at Roger Pass in Glacier National Park Canada, Damien and I set our sights on a summit. In January we’d climbed Video Peak in the Ursus area and we’d heard that it was in great shape the day before. However, we also wanted to go for a different summit if possible. Therefore, we decided to go prepared for two options. Our main objective was Ursus Minor, a larger peak with the same approach as Video. However, the ascent would be more in an avalanche prone area and require several meters of class 4 scrambling on the ridge to attain the summit. For this reason we packed crampons and an ice axe. If Ursus Minor conditions looked sketch from Hospital Bowl we could easily change course and climb Video again.

We set our from the Rogers Pass Discovery Center along the main trail, turning right at the first junction to cross the bridge as we had the day before. The route to Hospital Bowl follows the Connaught Drainage. In the open area just before the last band of trees we turned right and followed a side skin track through the forest. There are some steep kick turns on this track, but is is well worn and manageable. In seemed much easier than the skin track we first used to attain Hospital Bowl nearly a year ago. After perhaps 1000 feet of gain the trees begin to open up and the grade becomes gentle gaining the last few hundred feet to the tree line and Hospital Bowl entrance.  Gazing up a Ursus Minor to our right and seeing what appeared to be a gnarly ridge and avalanche debris in the chute next door to the ascent route, we quickly turned our attention to Video Peak.

Damien and I continued up the skin track, ascending gradually up the rolls and bumps of Hospital Bowl in long, sweeping switchbacks. This is perhaps the most time consuming part of climbing Video: ascending the bowl to finally reach the base of the mountain. It is pleasant going through and the views of MacDonald and Sir Donald are incredible to behold, especially as a clear day like the one we experienced. Of course clear means cold, and I wore a light puffy the entire time. It was easily -5 Fahrenheit.

Finally we reached the rock band that marks the base of the Video Peak. Here we followed switchbacks up the right side of the mountain. The track is  exposed and we had our whippets ready. To gain the ridge near the upper rocks we needed to remove our skis and boot about 10 feet straight up. From here we followed the ridge and traversed under the summit to reach the broad slope open slope the other side. Damien and I tried to skin to the top, but the area was skied out and our edges wouldn’t bite. Instead, we carried our skis the final few meters to the top. Summit # 40 for the year!

After taking in the 360 degree views, Damien and I prepared for the descent. We were very excited since this time we wouldn’t have to contend with flat light as we had during our January tour of this mountain. To top it off, the route was about half as skied our as last time! Indeed, Damien and I enjoyed rad turns in deep pow all the way back down to the treeline. Descending Ursus Trees was a bit tricky with all the bumps and obstacles on the route, but we managed to descend back to the main skin track and avoid the crummy gully we ended up skiing down last time.We arrived back at the parking lot just before headlamps would have become necessary. Another epic pow day at Rogers Pass!

 

Damien and I originally planned to backcountry ski in Duffy Lake Providential Park for the long Christmas weekend. However, on Thursday evening when the latest avalanche forecast was released it seemed that the snow pack was not settling as well as originally predicted. We checked the status of some other regions and, drawn by memories of epic powder, Damien and I decided to commit to the 8 hour drive to Glacier National Park Canada.

Damien and first visited the Rogers Pass area of Glacier National Park in BC about a year ago en route to Canmore, Alberta. The park is riddled with impressively large and rugged peaks, vast glaciers and epic powder. It is a ski mountaineering mecca! Unfortunately, camping is very restricted during the winter months in the park, so we would have to resort to camping in our CRV along side some nice sprinter van build-outs. At least we learned from last season and brought 4x as many blankets!

After picking up our overnight parking permit from the Rogers Pass Discovery Center, Damien and I headed out on the main skin track into the Ursus Area. It snowed 5 inches overnight and avalanche danger was considerable above treeline. This suited us well as we didn’t want to take on anything too significant after driving through the night with minimal sleep. We set our sights on a simple tour up Balu Pass with a side trip up the Balu shoulder.

The powder was as perfect as we remembered. Once again I immediately fell in love with how my climbing skins glided over the track like a hot knife through butter. Rogers Pass spoils me and Cascade concrete just cannot compare on the up-track. The clouds cleared above and the sun illuminated the majestic lofty summits the towering above us as we skinned up the Connaught Drainage. The peaks here look Himalayan and I am spellbound every time I journey into the valley.

The route to Balu Pass is straight forward. After less than a kilometer there is a fork in the main trail. Damien and I turned right and crossed a small bridge over the creek. Then we continued on through the valley staying on the main trail throughout. Turning left at this junction is also applicable as this trail ends up linking back up with the one we followed, but it is better suited for a down track in our experience. In any case, the main trail leads all the way to the drainage’s end and up to Balu Pass which is nearly always visible throughout the journey. The skin track is well worn in and easy switchbacks lead easily to the pass after 2611 feet of gain.

The temperature was notably frigid as we skinned through the valley, the the wind that blasted us as we crested the pass knocked the temperature down further well in to negative degrees! We tried to find some shelter in the spruce trees that dotted the ridge, but they seemed to have  funnel effect on the wind making things feel even more arctic! Fortunately, the views of distant white mountains and expansive glaciers made all the cold worth it. I continued to wear my puffy as we followed the skin track up the shoulder in the direction of Balu Peak!

The gusts settled as we climbed the shoulder. I think the pass has a wind tunnel effect. Damien and I continued on until about 1:45pm. We decided that with sunset being at 3:25 this far North we ought to begin our descent. Damien and I ripped off our skins… so nice to actually be able to rip off the skins. In the PNW the saturated snow makes it so “ripping the skins off”  can better be describe as detaching the 2 inches of the skin that is just barely hanging on for dear life.

Goggles and helmets on, Damien and I began our descent. Instead skiing off the shoulder and into the valley directly, she skied back to the pass and then into the valley. This allowed for a longer tour and more fresh turns. There we no down tracks from the pass yet! The pow was thick and deep under our boards. Such a strange texture compared to concrete I’m used to. I’m still learning to ski in fluffy, rocky mountain powder, so my turns are cautious and slow. I love it though! Nothing compares to touring Rogers Pass. When we reached the main trail we followed it down until we reached a turn off on the right. This leads to the trail we had skipped earlier. After crossing the bridge we released our heels for a flat section and then removed our skis altogether and carried them up a small incline.  There the terrain again heads downwards and we skied swiftly back to the Discovery Center. Perfect warm up for the long weekend!