After having to bail on Cassiope & Saxifrage, Damien and I ventured back out into the wilderness on our quest to summit a Duffy Lake Rd. peak on New Year’s Day. After we returned to the car from our attempt of Cassiope/Saxifrage, we drove 3km down the road and parked at the Joffre Lakes Trailhead. Our plan was to complete the approach for Tszil Mountain. Then we would set up camp and continue as far as we could up the mountain to get a lay of the land and, perhaps, break trail if need be. On New Year Day we would wake early for a summit bid.

Damien and I departed the parking lot at 9:00am. After bushwhacking and battling the day before, having a well-traveled trail to skin on felt like quite the luxury! The sign at the trailhead claims that it is 3km to the edge of Upper Joffre Lake and our book described it as a gentle stroll through the valley. It does not mention that all 1300 feet of gain is done more or less in only 1.5km! In other words, the track was aggressively steep in many sections. Still, it was comparably tame related to the day before, and Damien and I were distracted by the excellent views.

In late morning, Damien and I reached the edge of Upper Joffre Lake in the shadow of massive Joffre Peak and it’s many hanging glaciers. The blue ice of the seracs beckoned and I wished there was a safe way to climb them! Instead, we continued on crossing the frozen lake aiming for the continuation of the valley and Tszil Mountain which could be see at the far end alongside Taylor.

On the other side of the lake, Damien and I touched land again, but found that the track did not continue into the valley to the mountain. We began breaking track through a talus field to a large bench above the lake. We opted to set up camp here using some boulders as shelter. As were we preparing to continue our exploration and telemark skier appeared from behind the boulder. He inquired as to if there was where the track ended which we verified. He said that he was heading for the saddle between Tszil and Taylor and sped off. Damien and I could not believe how swiftly he broke trail!

With lighter packs Damien and I continued down the valley, grateful for the telemark skier’s skin track. Although we were going to a different saddle (between Tszil & Slolak), we were happy to save some energy on the final approach to the base.

The valley gently ascends with rolling bumps to an upper, open bowl. Here the bumps increase in angle. At the end of the valley is the slope leading to the saddle between Tszil and Taylor. We would need to turn left to ascend the glacier on the left side of Tszil. From a distance the slope to the saddle looked violently steep and it seemed that in order to access the summit slope we would need to cross a sketchy, exposed ramp. Damien and I hoped it was an illusion and just the angle we were looked at the mountain from that made it appear intimidating. Indeed, once directly under the saddle at the bottom of the moraine pile, we could see that the slope was a series of gentle humps and not a straight up shot. Damien and I left the telemark track and began to break trail up Tszil. After 48 minutes we reached the toe of the glacier. It was 3:00pm and we opted to call it for the day. In the morning we would only have 900 more feet of track to break.

Damien and I ripped off our skins. The slope was pristine with only our own skin track to mark it. Fresh pow! The ride down to camp was by far the best backcountry ski run we’d ever experienced in our lives. Soft powder that wasn’t too deep over a firm base. The best of both worlds! We were stoked to top out and do the full ski run the next morning!

 

Damien and I started off from camp at 7:00am by headlamp the next morning, the first day of 2018. In two hours we reached our high point at the toe of the glacier from the previous day. Damien and stepped onto the glacier and began to break track once again. White clouds hung low in the sky as we ascended, and we wondered if they would burn off in time for our descent. Skiing in flat light is never fun. Luckily, as we continued up a tiny patch of blue appeared on the horizon and it slowly expanded!

Damien rounded the glacier trending left, away from the steepest of the slopes keeping them track free and also avoiding prolonged exposure to some cornices hanging off of neighboring Slalok Mountain. As we ascended we could see that the sketch ramp that appeared to lead to the summit from the base was worse that it appeared, but also not the way to the top. From the ground you cannot see the true summit, nor can you see the wide-open slopes that lead to the summit dome! It looked fantastic!

Damien and I paused for a bit at the saddle to eat and put on some layers as the winds were picking up at this attitude. Then I broke trail up through the gentle, boulder slopes to the ridge of the summit dome on the far right. From here it was a simple, straight ascent up the snow slope to the wide open and flat summit.

Our first 2018 summit! Damien and I felt that we’d started the year off appropriately! After taking some time to admire the 360-degree views, Damien and I ripped off our skins and prepared to descend. This was our first time skiing down an untracked mountain and our first time skiing on the glacier. I hope we do this more often. It was epic with snow conditions just as pristine as the day before! Damien and I didn’t want to journey down to end we and were tempted to skin back to the summit! Unfortunately, it was time to return to camp and then to The States.

The ski down Joffre Lakes Trail resembled skiing down a steep and narrow toboggan. I don’t think I have ever used the “pizza” stop so much in my life! Somehow it was also enjoyable, and we reached the the car with huge smiles and on the massive high from the weekend adventure. Bring on the 2018 escapades!

Last year Damien and I attempted Cassiope and Saxifrage in the Duffy Lake area of British Columbia. We ended up turning back while trying to bushwhack through the forest to the “swamp.” Too many hazards and not enough snow coverage. We knew that this year we could expect more snow on the ground so we decided to try again. Damien and I dug a parking spot out at km 10 on Duffy Lake Road and started out on the old logging road following the beta and staying left at the junction. At the end of the road we cut right into the forest, once again heading for the swamp. The extra snow on the ground this year did not make the terrain any less hazardous. The short section of forest is a maze of blow downs, tree wells, dense thicket and moats. I’m not sure it was any less dangerous than last year. I think our risk tolerance is higher.

It took a a good 2 hours to battle our way through this pathetically short, but tedious section to the flat swamp. I lost count of how many times I fell into moats, voids and wells and had to be dragged out by Damien! Luckily, skiing the swamp was straight forward. We took a quick break in which Damien noted a road on the other side of the swamp. It appeared that it would not require a bushwhack to get to and this logging road led back to our car! Wished we’d noticed that sooner or the beta had suggested that route instead!

Never the less, Damien and I continued following the small river through the swamp until it led us away into a small valley. At this point our beta suggested crossing the river (which wouldn’t have been an issue) and traversing the open slope on the opposite side. From the high point on the slope we could enter the trees and continue on to the basin and camp at the lake. As an alternative, in questionable avalanche danger one could stay on the same side of the river and travel up the forested slope to gain the lake. Since it was considerable avy danger that day, Damien and I opted against the open slope and began to ascend the trees.

At first we were easily able to skin through open forest and small open areas, but once the trees grew denser and the angle steepened everything changed. Suddenly the bushwhack down to the swamp seemed like a mere saunter down the PCT. The icy ground beneath the layer of fresh snow forced us to remove our skis and begin boot-packing up. We found ourselves in another maze of blow-downs and as we ascended the powder grew so deep that at times we swam through waist level snow! To top that off, we encountered waterfall ice that required us to carefully negotiate just along side it without crampons on icy or mixed terrain. We kept going hoping it would ease and spurred on by the fact that we had worked so hard to get this far!

However, at 3:30 and still 1,000 feet away Damien and I conceded to the mountains. We did not want to be bumbling around in the sketchy forest in the dark. Damien and I half plunge stepped, half fell down back to the swamp. Switching on our headlamps we crossed the open expanse hoping the road we’d discovered on the map existed.

Luckily, we arrived on the map promised road without incident and without battling terrain! In the darkness Damien and I began the process of setting up our tent and melting water. Only, darkness is perhaps the incorrect word. The nearly full moon shown so magnificently bright that the wilderness around us looked like a black and white picture! Everything was illuminated in full detail under the astoundingly brilliant moonlight! It was 10:00pm, by the time we turned in; definitely later than normal for us in the winter!

Damien and I were packed up and moving down the road  to the car guided by moonlight at 6:30am. We wanted to return to the TH with plenty of time to begin the approach of our new objective. Tszil!

 

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!

 

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.