Monday, December 21, 2015

Intro to Misery at Egypt Lake: AKA Dome Tent Trial Run

The official title for this trip was "intro to complete and utter abject misery", but Kyle and I just shortened it to "Phil's stupid trip". The plan was to take the newly acquired, 40 lb dome tent somewhere into the backcountry and use it as a base camp for the weekend. As we all know, Phil loves to suffer, so we were prepared for the worst. It didn't help that the forecast was calling for -17 on Saturday night. However, in the days leading up to the trip, a Christmas miracle occurred. Phil decided that we would ski to Egypt Lake (where there is a conveniently located hut), just in case we couldn't set it up. How to break the news to Phil that we would rather sleep in the hut than a bottomless dome tent? Well unfortunately for Kyle, got sick right before the trip. The silver lining was that this gave us the perfect excuse to book the hut. Maybe this wasn't going to be a completely miserable weekend after all!

We met in the Sunshine parking lot at the crack of 8:30 after a rental gear mix up. Parking lot faff ensued but we were underway without too many issues. Kevin took the first shift dragging the tent. It wasn't so bad initially as the trail was well established (and I wasn't pulling the tent).
Phil helps Kevin get started with the drag bag
It was a 12km ski in and everyone took turns dragging the tent. I took the hardest leg of tent dragging (ok maybe not, but it felt pretty rough). When we reached Healy Pass, Kyle carried the duffle bag on his chest like a backpack for the ski down to Pharaoh Creek, which looked super awkward. We arrived at the Egypt Lake camping area just after 3:30, with about an hour of daylight remaining on one of the shortest days of the year.
View from Healy Pass
Lots of fresh snow at Healy Pass
Kyle is happy to be at the top of the pass
 We got right to work assembling the dome. None of us had ever seen this thing out of the bag before but Phil had read the instructions and had a bit of an idea of how to get it up. We were able to set it up on our first attempt despite a few minutes of panic when everything looked like it was going horribly wrong.
Dome tent set up chaos
 By the time the dome tent was set up, it was almost dark. We got to work building seats and started cooking dinner. It was significantly warmer in the tent than outside and the stereo sound system provided by Phil created a great ambiance for the evening.
Phil and his awesome lounge chair
Dave tries to burn the dome tent to the ground (no tents were harmed on this trip)
Hours flew by as we chatted and drank mulled wine, but eventually everyone made their way to bed. Only Kevin and Phil actually stayed in the dome all night, the rest of us migrated to the warm hut with its wood stove which was conveniently located 20 metres from the tent.
Dome tent with Sphinx in the background
Keeping warm in the dome
 The alarm went off far to early and we sat around quietly eating our breakfast trying to decide whether we actually wanted to go out for a ski. Kyle pulled the plug and got back into bed, but the rest of us slowly got ready and left for a line we had been scoping out on the Sphinx the day before. Not long after we left, Lisa realized she had taken Kyle's skis by accident. Dave and Lisa doubled back for her skis while Phil and I continued on, bushwhacking in the darkness. We arrived at the base of the line around 8 am and it was still pitch black. Luckily the sky was starting to brighten as we broke trail up the wide fan below the couloir we had set our sights on.
Phil contemplates why its still so dark at 8am
Despite an avalanche rating of low on all slopes, we were very cautious with the early season snowpack and the obvious layer 40 cm down. We took it slow on the way up to assess the snowpack and keep everyone safe. We didn't notice any cracking or noises and hadn't seen any natural activity in the area, so were happy to keep going up towards the couloir.
Phil takes a nap to recover from the mulled wine while waiting for our one at a time skin up the slope
Phil lead the charge with a waist deep bootpack up the couloir. About half way up, the snow wasn't looking as stable and he decided to ski from there. The rest of us got ready to ski from the top of the fan as the bootpack just looked miserable. Phil got first tracks as a reward for breaking trail and it was bomber! The snow was amazing, deep and stable and I had such a fun first run of the season!
Couloir turns
Lisa is all smiles after our awesome run
More smiles and evidence of our powder farming
After skiing it was time to head back to the hut to get ready to leave. What had taken us over an hour of bushwhacking in the dark only took about 20 mins with a broken trail and daylight to guide the way. There was a bit of ice that Lisa and Dave had crossed in the dark that looked very thin in the light of day, but we all made it across without breaking through.
The ice looked thicker in the dark!
Taking down the dome was a breeze but the real misery of the trip had only just begun. Towing the duffle back up the the pass was much more challenging than on the way in because the trail was far less established and there were way more twists and turns around trees. Once we got to the pass, it was a mostly downhill trail to the car park. We took turns carrying the tent, which made the luge track experience much more interesting, and the shuffle along the flats absolutely terrible. By the end of the ski out, I was so ready to be done with the whole dome tent experience. Overall, I would call the dome trial a success, but don't relish the thought of dragging it around on long trips!
Hut hog makes his second appearance this year
On our way home
Nasty weather at the top of the pass

Saturday, December 5, 2015

This House of Sky

We left Calgary at 6am headed for the Ghost. Because the days are so short, that meant that we spent most of the off-roading in the dark. Luckily, there was a really good road already broken through the snow, which made route finding a breeze. We stopped to check out some of the open water, but Kyle's truck had no issues with any of the creek crossings.
Scoping out the river crossing in the dark
 We left the truck at 8:20 to start up This House of Sky, a 750m WI III ice climb. The approach from took us about 10 minutes before we hit our first bit of ice. Since there were 5 of us, Matt and Kathrine went ahead as a party of two, while Alan, Kyle and I climbed together as a party of 3. Kyle had brought his 70m non-dry treated rope in hopes that dragging it around in the snow would clean it (it used to be white and green, but it is currently black), but more on that later. We were able to solo much of the ice at the beginning of the route, which allowed us to move pretty quick. It was pretty wet in places, with water running down the route, but the ice felt really solid. There has been some traffic on the route already this season, some of the lower steps had been well picked out.
Alan soloing one of the short ice steps
 We kept moving, to keep warm and stay close to Matt and Kathrine who were zooming ahead. As we moved farther up the route, we got into more of the steep ice that Kyle lead for me and Alan. It was chilly as the route is in the shade all day, but the ice was getting better and better as we ascended.
Kathrine making her way up one of the longer ice pitches
Alan actually really likes ice climbing
 We pitched out 6 of the ice pitches and soloed the rest. Most of the steep pitches had bolted anchors with brand new neon yellow webbing that was nice and easy to spot.
Matt leading one of the upper pitches
 As we got higher and higher, the rope got wetter and heavier, eventually freezing almost solid. This made belaying extremely difficult, both for a lead belay and top belay. Nobody wanted to belay, so we all had to take turns, cursing the rope the whole time.
Frozen ropes and belay devices add an extra level of difficulty to climbing - trying to take up slack for Alan
 We reached the top of This House of Sky just before noon. We had a break for lunch and looked at the ice in the bowl above. There was an awesome pitch way up there, but we weren't sure if we would be able to get to it. We started up the valley and more ice came into view. It looked like it would go! Unfortunately Kathrine's ankle had started acting up so she opted to wait. Luckily she had come prepared with lots of jackets!
Matt's rope turned into an icicle
Alan attempts to tame the froze rope
On our way up to the ice, we were able to get a great view of the Devil's Head, a scramble that we had attempted earlier this year. It was cool to see it from such a different perspective, and trace our route we had taken along the ridge.
Great view of the Devil's Head - we made it to the lower notch on the left when we attempted it in the fall
 We had two short pitches of ice to climb before we could get to the main flow that we had spotted from below. Matt lead the first and Kyle took the second one. These pitches were the steepest ice we had been on all day and it was really fun. Matt had to improvise on his pitch because the main route was too thin. He led us up a fragile ice pillar with a bit of mixed climbing in a rocky corner, and belayed off a questionable rock that was "frozen" into the scree. It was a great lead and a really fun bit of climbing. Kyle's pitch was another exciting one, and really beautiful.
Kyle leads a crux pitch in the upper bowl
Me following Kyle up the steep ice
 Finally we arrived at the money pitch. It was long, steep and sustained. The ice was a bit more brittle up top so there were lots of projectiles. Matt sprung a leak in the ice with an ice screw, and tried to plug it back up. The screw held for a few minutes but before long water started spouting out and running down the route. As the last one on the route, all I saw was a flood of water running down the ice! I was the last one to climb this final pitch and really enjoyed how long it was. What I didn't realize was that our rope had become so frozen that all three guys had to help belay me. Matt had me on a munter while Kyle and Alan worked to feed and pull the rope. They were so happy when I topped out!
Kyle leading the final pitch
We quickly rappelled back to Kathrine, who had been waiting patiently for three hours. One rappel took us over a hollow tube of ice with water running through the centre, which Alan thought was the coolest thing ever. Despite countless rappels, we made good time on the way down, but didn't quite make it out before dark. Kyle had brought a BBQ so we had hotdogs and beers to celebrate our awesome day, before making the drive back out of the Ghost in the dark (as usual).