Friday, January 3, 2014

Thunder Meadows Trip Report (Dec 29-31)

The original plan for a hut trip at the end of the year was to return to Tunnel Creek, but the hut was already booked. We managed to snag Thunder Meadows Hut instead and planned on going in with a big group of 7 or 8. In the end, there were 6 of us who were going in, 4 from the top of Fernie Resort and 2 from Island Lake Lodge which requires much more touring and route finding. Since we were taking the easy way, we decided to bring in some extra goodies, including steaks for dinner, whiskey, fireball and some fireworks.
Joel with the 4 L of wine and box of fireworks 
The tour into the hut from the ski hill was pretty easy. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day with high winds so we couldn't get lift access all the way to the top of Polar Peak. We skinned up at the top of White Pass and skied up the Polar road. The wind was howling and we couldn't see anything! At the top of Polar Peak, we dropped in off the back into a complete white-out. Joel had skied the route before so he went first, quickly disappearing out of sight. The run down isn't challenging, but skiing blind made it quite exciting. We spread out just far enough to see the person ahead so that we wouldn't get lost in the clouds, yelling back and forth to make sure we didn't lose anyone. We regrouped in some trees and finally got below the clouds for the rest of the ski down to Easy Street. Easy Street was an easy tour, but it was pretty steep. David and Joel were carrying huge packs so it was a relief for them to get to the top. We had good stability, but I wouldn't be too happy about taking that route in high avalanche danger, there are lots of drainages that come down into the route. 
Touring in from the lake above Easy Street to the hut
When we arrived at the Thunder Meadows Hut, the custodians were there fixing a hole in the wall that a squirrel had been using to get in. It was great to show up with a fire already lit! They were just packing up to leave and ski out through Orca Bowl, after having skied in the same way we had. It was very helpful having a skin track to follow to find the hut as we didn't have the exact coordinates of it. It isn't too hard to find, it is right on the edge of a patch of trees below the top of Cabin Bowl, and on a clear day it is easily seen from the ridge. 

Since the other part of our group hadn't arrived yet, we skied up to the ridge to see if we could find them around 3:30 pm. There was no evidence of them, and the visibility was extremely poor and the wind made it hard to hear each other. We phoned and left a message (good cell reception up there!) but couldn't get a hold of them. We skied back down to the hut on a pretty mellow slope in the trees because we couldn't see anything else.

Kyle and I had an amazing dinner and we spent the night playing cards and listening to music, hoping that the others had decided to turn back and weren't out in the dark looking for the hut.
Beef tenderloin steaks with bernaise sauce, garlic mashed potato's and caesar salad
The next morning was more of the same weather with no new snow. We skied up the ridge above Orca Bowl but couldn't see what was below so decided to stick to the trees on the hut side of the ridge. We received a voice-mail from the 2 that didn't make it in the night before and they had decided to turn around and go home when they hadn't reached the hut by 3 pm (they started at 8 am). They had a tough time in the lower bowls with alders, faceted snow and the poor weather. We did manage to find some decent snow that had blown in (dust on very nasty crust), but were not interested in going exploring into other areas for better snow. We skied 2 laps of the trees before lunch and went back for another after lunch, but the wind had changed and the slope was loading more and more. Back to the hut we went to enjoy the wine and whiskey we had carted up there!
Conditions for the entire trip
Ski touring with a pack of skittles
The Thunder Meadows Hut is awesome. It has a wood stove, propane stove, pots, pans, dishes and a big solar panel with a bunch of LED lights that can easily light the whole cabin. It also has a USB charger although we couldn't get it working. There is jenga, and these awful lateral thinking puzzles (riddles) which will just make you mad if you try and do to many. There is also tons of sleeping space, downstairs sleeps 4 and the loft sleeps 6 easily with foamies for everyone. It makes the tour in really nice as you don't have to take very much equipment in with you.
Happy to be at the hut and not out on the ridge in the wind
After dinner, we took our fireworks up the hill and lit them all off in an early new years celebration. It was lots of fun, but the wind made it very difficult to light them! There was very little motivation to ski much in the morning so we packed up and started skiing out. The clouds had lifted enough that we could see what was around the hut. There are some really cool couloirs that we will have to go check out another time. I think that the terrain around the hut would be better later in the season.
Best visibility of the trip! On the way up to Orca Bowl, looking back down at the hut
We traversed the ridge to Orca Bowl where we descended beside the large rock and into the bowl. The snow was not nice! We crossed the bottom of the bowl towards Hilda's run which involved some bushwhacking because we were too high. The run down Hilda's was alright but I was happy to get down to Orca road for the ski out. Orca road was pretty bad too as it was extremely heavy crud. Reaching the car was so nice.
Above Cabin Bowl
Skiing down the top of Orca Bowl
Bushwhacking to get to Hilda's run
Thanks to the early departure, we were back home before noon. That gave us plenty of time to unpack, nap and get ready for new years eve!
Happy new year!

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