Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Valentines Ski Touring - Seven Summits Trail

Family day long weekend gave us a chance to get a bit farther away from Calgary than a regular weekend. We signed up with the Breakey's for their annual ACC Nelson ski touring trip a few months ago with dreams of powder, but sadly this season just hasn't delivered. Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures and miserable snow conditions, we were just excited to get away with friends. A few people had bailed off the trip at the last minute so we were able to take two vehicles. Kyle and I drove Casey and Kyle D out to Cranbrook on Friday night and met the other 5 at the hotel. We got up very early for some reason and left just after 7 am. Some people hadn't had breakfast so we all descended on a small cafe in Creston. The lone server seemed very overwhelmed to have 9 of us in there. The breakfast ended up being very leisurely as we were not in a big rush to get out of there. Matt had a two course breakfast, Kyle and I had second breakfast, and nobody really wanted to get moving.
We hadn't seen any snow on the ground the whole drive out. Fortunately as we approached Kootenay Pass we started to get up to the snow line, unfortunately it was a complete white out. The group got their gear organized and we started up the skin track towards the Ripple Ridge Hut and Baldy Crag. It was fast skiing along on the bulletproof crust. We stopped in at the hut to check it out and there was a big group from Calgary that was on their way home already. They asked us where we were going skiing and we just laughed. It was more of a walk around day than a ski day.
Colourful group!
The group broke up into Team Walk-About and Team Snow Pit. Charlie, Phil, Christine, Casey and Kyle D went for a fitness walk while I stayed with Kyle, Matt and Kevin to dig pits. We tore the slope apart with snow pits and a rouche-block test to waste time until we had to meet back at the car. Our investigations showed column failure at 5-8 taps from the wrist 70-90 cm down but when Kyle did his rouche-block, it wasn't until level 5 that the slope failed (at the same depth of ~70 cm) so that made us feel better. Once we had sufficiently excavated the slope and filled the holes back in (as Phil likes to ski into pits), we went for a bit of a walk up to a high point for lunch.
Column test - surprising amount of snow still around!
Me and my Valentine enjoying the wonderful view
Lunch time after a hard few minutes of touring
We had a bite to eat and got ready to ski. The terrain is awesome, too bad there was such a brutal crust! I was light enough to stay on top of it (except near the bottom where it wasn't as stiff), but every turn that Kyle and Matt made had them breaking through. It was hard to ski, but my little Volkl Nanuks held up well. Kevin had a crash when his ski caught below the crust and upon standing up, he knew he had done something to his knee. Fortunately, we were not far from the bottom of the slope so he skied out carefully, side slipping most of the way.
Matt working on his survival skiing and trying to stay above the crust
Mechanism of injury - deadly crust
Our group got onto a logging road that we thought would take us back to the car. Luckily, we were informed by the other group who had just tried that road that it was actually a much longer way back. They skin-skied down to us and we all skied back up to the ridge together before descending back to the parking lot.
Charlie and Kyle admiring the beautiful lake in the parking lot
We finished our drive to Nelson and checked in at the Hostel. Kyle and I quickly got changed and ran out the door so that we could make it to Relish (our favourite restaurant in Nelson) before the Valentines rush. Charlie and Christine came along to investigate the awesome food that we had been raving about. After dinner we met up with the guys at the pub and had a few drinks before heading back to the hostel to hang out. There were lots of people from Europe staying at the hostel, mostly from Norway. I felt bad that they traveled so far for such bad conditions while they are having a record year back home. 
Feta and prosciutto wrapped prawns appetizer - Relish is AMAZING
Night on the town in Nelson
Nobody was very inspired by the snow conditions the next day but Matt suggested skiing the Seven Summits Trail, a mountain bike trail that connects Nancy Greene Summit to the Red Mountain Ski Resort over about 24 km. Kyle and I rode the trail in the fall of 2013 (see blog post) and were excited to see what it would look like in the winter! After a bit of faff in the morning trying to figure out where we were supposed to be meeting, we started skiing. The only other people that we saw all day were riding fat bikes, and once we got up higher, there were no tracks to follow. We had the trail all to ourselves.
The snow might be terrible but at least we got some good views!
The beginning of the trail was just as long as I remember it being. It goes up and up through the trees for a long time which can be discouraging. Once we made it up onto the ridge however, the views were stunning and it made the skiing so much more fun. With the hard-packed conditions, it was easy traveling. I was happy to have my small skis for the long day. Kyle, Kyle D and I made up Team Low Core, skipping some of the optional peaks and continuing slowly along the trail with lots of stops for photos. Team Hard Core ran up every single thing that they could find and finished the trail with more than 7 summits!
Looking ahead to Mt. Plewman
The trail markers were still visible above the snow
Following the ridge-lines all the way to Red Mountain (I think I have a summer picture of this same spot!)
Kyle D is stoked to be ahead of the Breakey's
More ridge skiing to come with Mt. Old Glory in the background
Summer trail markings were easy to find
We made it to Red Resort in good time. I was grateful for the ski out down the groomed trails, it was likely the best snow we could have found anywhere in the area! I hadn't taken my skins off yet, all the downhill was done with skins on that day. We met Kevin at the bottom of the hill (he had taken the day off because his knee was very sore) and he drove us back to where we had dropped off the car, thanks Kevin!
Our return to civilization - Red Mountain Resort
Back at the hostel we had a huge pasta dinner and Matt's homemade beer. It was a great way to end the day. A few of us had planned on driving home on Monday (work and school on Tuesday wasn't optional), but since Kevin was hurt and the snow wasn't so good, it ended up being a full van of 6 heading home Monday morning, while the truly hard core (Phil, Christine and Matt) braved another day of crust. We took our time leaving town, stopping at Oso Negro for coffee and muffins and the Patagonia Outlet Store. We also took the long way home, making a detour to the Ainsworth Hot Springs for a soak before taking the Kootenay Ferry across Kootenay Lake. It was a really nice way to break up the drive and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Waiting for Kootenay Ferry, not much snow
It feels like spring in the Kootenays, I am repping my new Patagonia hat
Good day to be on the water! We should have gone sailing

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ice Climbing - Rogan's Gully and Junkyards

David and Tyler came to visit me in Calgary! We had a really fun weekend, although we did none of the activities that we had planned for. High avalanche danger and very unseasonably warm temperatures prevented us from getting out backcountry skiing so Kyle and I took them out ice climbing for their first time. We picked Rogan's Gully because Kyle and I had done the route before and the overhead hazard isn't as bad as some of the other climbs in the area. We were pretty cautious though, and turned around when we encountered avalanche debris in the gully about 3/4 of the way up the route.
It felt like spring on the approach
 It was a warm sunny day, which was perfect for learning how to climb. The ice was almost like snow and it was easy to get good foot and tool placements. We had great views of Rundle and the valley below.
Tyler figuring out how to use the ice tools
David's first pitch of ice
David and Tyler simul-climbing
David makes his way up the ice
 We turned back before reaching the top because of avalanche concerns and were able to get down easily using the bolted anchors for rappels. When we got to the bottom of the route and were walking back to the car, we saw that a large chunk of the Cascade Falls route had fallen down in the hot sun, leaving bare rock. I am glad that our route didn't have any issues like that!
Tyler with Rundle in the background at the top of the last rappel
Very little snow to be had and there isn't much left to Cascade either
 Since it was so early and David and Tyler were keen to do more climbing, we stopped at Junkyards on our way home to get a bit more time on the ice. The ice was awesome and we set up two top ropes so that they could practice. We climbed until the sun went down and walked out in the dark. It was lots of fun to be out doing something despite the crazy weather this winter!
David on the main flow at Junkyards
Tyler climbing at Junkyards