Sunday, November 16, 2014

Highwood Pass and Rae Glacier Nov 15/16

-20 in the parking lot. Brr
 Hooray for winter! In what is becoming an annual event, Kyle and I returned to Highwood Pass for some November turns (the highway closes for the winter on December 1st). Kyle's friend Dan came out too and we got to show him some new spots. It was cold on Saturday but there was snow from the parking lot and the trail in wasn't too crazy. There were a few icy off-camber sections through the trees but nothing too bad. I was having some issues with my skins so I ended up boot-packing all the way to the bottom of the ridge that we were going to ski. The skin track was firm and I think that boot-packing was actually a bit easier than trying to ski in.
So much skiing stoke in this photo
 We were able to get my skins working for the steeper climb. We climbed the sunny ridge for our first run. The snow was not very good! It was a strange combination of wind crust and drifts that made it very difficult to ski. There were also lots of rocks just below the surface making it a bit treacherous.
Kyle attempting to stay on his feet in the variable condition
Dan survival skiing on the crust after taking a big chunk out of his ski on some rocks
Spectacular views all day
 After struggling down that slope, we chose a different aspect and were able to do 4 fun but short laps in some better snow. Everyone else noticed that this was where the good snow was so it got tracked out pretty quickly!
Kyle shredding pow like a cow!
Short laps but lots of fun!
 The ski down was decent but it the snow got very heavy and crusty down in the trees. There is definitely less snow than last time this year, but there is enough coverage to get some turns and it wasn't as busy as I was expecting!
Skiing down the ridge on our way out
 We returned to the Highwood area to check out Rae Glacier on Sunday. In the parking lot we met up with some friends and were able to ski with them for most of the day, until they had a binding malfunction and had to head home on foot. The skin track was rocky, especially above the tree-line. We did some boot packing to avoid wrecking our skins and watched a guy that was trying to pick his way down hit a number of number of rocks. It did not look very fun and we chose to walk this section on the way out.
Boot packing up to the glacier
 As we approached the glacier, we saw slide debris on the lookers left side. We were not able to determine if it had been natural or skier triggered but it was a decent size (1.5?). We were pretty careful all day and didn't see any other avalanche activity.
Lots of rock on the way up with evidence of a slide on the left side. 
 I had more skin issues today and ended up having to strap my skins to my skis with voile straps. This only worked for so long and eventually I had no traction whatsoever. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise as the skiing left a lot to be desired. We had one short lap before hiking up higher and skiing all the way out. It was very crusty and there were lots of rocks especially as you got lower down the slope. I guess that's November for you!
Making due with faulty skins
 Despite the conditions, there were lots of people out for a walk. It was fun watching everyone try to get down the glacier, some were more graceful than others.
Another glorious day with lots of people out! (I counted 22)
Deep crust, extra crispy
It was great getting out and enjoying the sunshine this weekend, and even getting a couple of good turns in with unexpected friends! Now all we need is a bit more snow, I think its going to be a wonderful season!

Bow Hut - Remembrance Day Weekend

Four day weekend! We had to make the most of all our free time. Lots of ideas were thrown around but nothing seemed like it was going to be as amazing as we wanted it to be. A few days before the weekend, we saw a post on facebook about the skiing up at the Bow Hut. We immediately made reservations for the hut and started getting stoked! Saturday morning we got up bright and early to pick up Alex (and meet him for the first time).
Early morning light on the way to the Ice Fields Parkway
Gearing up for the hike into the hut
The hike up to the Bow hut is about 400m of elevation over 8km. We took the summer trail like Alex had the weekend before because there wasn't very much snow and the creek wasn't frozen yet. A few of us brought boots to hike in and strapped our boots to our skis, while Brendan and David decided to just hike in ski boots. It was a bit challenging for them going up some of the terrain, the stairs were very icy and some of the rocks were pretty slick, but we all made it up without any issues.
Some very icy stairs
There are some pretty cool parts to the trail on the way in, including a big boulder over the creek that we had to scramble up. 
A bit of bouldering on the way in, not so easy for those in ski boots!
Some snow on the ground! It is starting to look like winter
It took us about 4 hours to get into the hut. As we gained elevation, the snow started to get a bit deeper but it was not enough to ski at any point during the hike. There were still lots of rocks around. Getting to the hut was a relief after a long morning of hiking. We settled into the hut, claiming beds in the spacious dorm room before heating up some lunch in the dining area which was nice and warm thanks to the wood stove. 
Brendan and Alex going up the last push before the hut
The Bow Hut is awesome. It sleeps 30 people in a separate room than the lounge/dining area, allowing people who want to go stay up late do so without disturbing the other hut users. There are also 2 washrooms that are attached to the main building. No midnight dashes through the snow to use the outhouse! It also is fully stocked with stoves, propane, dishes and cookware, which meant that we were able to leave that stuff at home and bring up some really good food to make up for all that saved weight. The dining area is hooked up for propane lamps too, so it was nice and bright after the sun went down far too early.
Relaxing in the nice warm hut
Four of us ventured out onto the glacier after lunch for a few short laps. A bunch of the other people that were visiting the hut were already out there having a good time. The short run above the hut had been well skied, but we were still able to find some decent snow. It was much better than I was expecting for the second weekend of November! When we got back to the hut, a large guided group had arrived and taken over. It was a full hut on Saturday night. We had a great dinner (chicken fajitas) before heading off to bed. There was lots of snoring that night. 6:30 came way too early, but we dragged ourselves out of bed to make some bacon and eggs for breakfast (yum)! We had a big day ahead and were hoping to venture further up the glacier and hopefully bag some summits.
Taking a break on our way up the glacier
Unfortunately, the weather had moved in and we spent the day skiing in a terrible white out. We used Alex's memory of the area from the weekend before (with help from Brendan who had also been up in the area in the past) and the GPS to make our way up to Mt. Gordon, a 12 km round trip from the hut with 850 m of elevation gain.
Approaching the top of the boot pack in the whiteout
The ski seemed endless and there were no reference points to figure out how far we had gone or where we had to go next. The only good thing was that the terrain was fairly mellow and it wasn't too strenuous. We got to one steep spot that we had to boot pack up and gain a ridge and finally we were able to visualize the summit about 150 m above us. 
Boot packing
We had a very short-lived stay at the top, just enough time to have a bit to eat and take a couple of pictures. The wind was howling and despite the temperature being only -7, we got pretty cold with the windchill. The ski off the top was very rocky and everyone ended up with a few nasty scratches. Below the summit we decended onto the glacier, skiing close together so we didn't lose each other in the whiteout and checking the GPS to make sure we were following the trail we had made on the way up. Our original plan for the day was to also summit Mt. Rhondda, but we were all very cold and the weather wasn't getting any better so we made our way slowly down towards the hut. I could feel the vertigo set in every time we stopped to regroup.
Not that you can tell but this is the summit! It was -7 but felt WAY colder with the windchill
We roped up for the last bit of the ski before the final slope before the hut. Skiing roped up is... interesting. Brendan went first down the slope after we untied and Kyle and I followed him. I wasn't convinced we were in the right place and felt like we had gone in a big circle and were heading for some other drainage. I think Kyle was also confused because the run that we were skiing seemed to go on forever. Suddenly the rock band above the hut came into view and I regained my bearings. The skiing down was fantastic because of all the new snow we had received and we whooped and hollered about our first pow turns of the season!
Getting some awesome turns on the way back to the hut
 After a bite to eat at the hut, we went back out to do some more skiing on the lower slopes and managed to track the whole run out before the guided group returned!
Warming up and drying out
Sunday night was spent eating good food, drinking the last of the whiskey, playing cards and making new friends. We were tired from such an awesome day out in the mountains. We slept in until 7:30 on Monday, but went out for a few more laps before the hike out. Our weekend total was 10 runs down the glacier slope above the hut, some longer than others. Not bad for our first few days of ski touring this season. The sun finally appeared and we were able to get a better look at what was around. The terrain near the hut is spectacular and definitely worth a return visit.
The sun came out! St. Nicholas towers over us in the background as we work our way up the glacier
Powder farming with the hut far below (on the right)
Getting our shred on
We started hiking down after lunch. The temperature was dropping quickly, a cold front was moving in. There was a lot more snow on the trail and David was able to ski quite a ways down before putting his skis on his pack (but he wasn't too worried about scratching his skis). 
It was much snowier on the hike out than it had been on the way in
The snow and the views made the walk out quite enjoyable and we were able to make it to the car in about 3 hours, mostly following the same route that we had taken in. Instead of crossing the boulder, we opted to cross a the creek higher up and take the Bow Falls trail down to the lake.
View down the valley on our descent
Frozen creeks!
By the time we got to the lake, it was REALLY cold! The lake wasn't frozen yet but we could see small crystals starting to form, so I don't think it will be too long before we will be able to ski across. When we got to the truck it was -18 and the tailgate was frozen shut. It took a bit of messing around to finally get it open and it was a relief to get in the warm truck for the drive home. Winter is here. 
Bow Lake isn't frozen yet!
The temperature dropped very quickly and ice was rapidly appearing on the lake

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Heart Mountain Scramble

 It's hard to figure out what to do during the off-season without subjecting yourself to some serious discomfort. It is too cold to climb, too wet to bike, and not snowy enough to ski. To get our mountain fix this week, we settled for some good old-fashioned hiking near Canmore. The forecast was bleak, so we slept in a bit longer than we had planned before loading up the car and heading out. The theme of the day (for me at least) was disorganization. I realized at the trail-head that my mountaineering boot insoles were still in my hiking boots from the summer, and I had forgotten a few pieces of gear (like my ice ax). It would have been easy to just get back in the car and head home, but we were there already and the mountains were calling!
Sign at the bottom of the trail for Heart Mountain
Neither Kyle nor I had done this scramble before, and the book wasn't very specific on where the trail was, so after one wrong turn, we were on our way up the mountain. We were alone the whole time, which was quite nice, and although it was overcast, we had pretty decent view for the first part of the hike. As we ascended, the clouds got thicker and the temperature dropped. We kept looking for what was supposed to be a well marked step up onto the ridge for the final bit of the scramble, but managed to miss it. Instead, we continued up below the ridge, looking for somewhere else we could climb up to the summit.
Kyle looking for a way up to the ridge, no snow yet!
We thought that we found a way up but the rock was wet and a fall would have been pretty bad because of the steep scree below us. We almost turned back but decided to do some exploring farther up the slope since it was still pretty early in the day. Kyle found a rocky gully and we scrambled up that and were able to easily top out near the summit!
Snowy at the top
At this point, it had started to snow and was accumulating quickly. We wandered around up on top looking for the true summit, which was hard to find due to the white out we found ourselves in. I am still not quite sure if we actually were on the summit, but according to Google Earth, it looked like we were there! We had a quick bite to eat and decided to return down the way we had come up instead of trying to find the trail in the snow that was falling fast.
I think we found the actual summit
The descent was quick and we found the step that we had missed on the way up. It actually was well marked but much smaller than expected. The whole hike took us about 5 hours, including all our messing around. It was a great way to spend a day and check out a new spot, especially since we found our own way up.
The GPS track of our hike starting at the top
Descending the drainage in the snow
Looking up the gully
Snow in the valley as we made our way back to the car