Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cal-Cheak Ice Climbing

We arrived in Whistler after 15 hours of bad road conditions, semi trucks in the ditch and slow traffic. Kyle and I were exhausted and opted to take a rest day at my parents house and do some Christmas prep. We had a week and a half ahead of us to ski and spend time with my family and it was nice to have a bit of downtime. By about noon, Kyle was already bored of sitting around and started doing some reading about ice climbing in the area. We had brought all our ice gear in hopes that Shannon Falls would be frozen after all the cold weather that the coast had been getting. Unfortunately it was not in climbing shape. What Kyle did find however, was a flow close to the house that had been successfully climbed in the last few days.

Angela was eager to try ice climbing and was very excited to come along. After driving all of 10 minutes from home to the Cal-Cheak turn-off (7 mins south of Function Junction), we stopped at Whistler Bungee to ask if they knew where the ice was. We could see a route down in the canyon but it looked difficult to access and the staff at the Bungee place seemed skeptical that it was climbable. They also seemed to think that we were a bit nuts to be going ice climbing in the first place. We drove back along the Cal-Cheak road to where we had seen a car parked on our way in. When we arrived, the owners of the vehicle were getting a boost and were able to tell us how to access the climbing. There was a trail entering the forest beside a flat-deck trailer and a mini van that were parked off the side of the road (very buried in snow). The trail made its way up into steeper terrain on the opposite side of the road as the river. We followed the trail for less than 10 minutes before we came across ice. This was the shortest approach ever!
Kyle starts up the Cal-Cheak flow
What we found was a ~20 metre flow of ice with a few different lines in the WI 3-4 range. Kyle lead the most obvious line and set up a top rope. The top out was a bit sketchy so instead of topping out at the trees, we used a v-thread for our anchor backed up with an ice screw. Once the rope was up, Angela got to give ice climbing a try. After a few minutes of working out the technique, she was climbing really well! I was really impressed with how quickly she picked it up. She was ecstatic after her first ice route and eager for more.
The Cal-Cheak ice
Angela is very excited to climb
Angela's first time ice climbing
Angela makes it look easy her first time on ice
Making my way up the first route at dusk
By the time it was my turn to climb, our late start came back to haunt us on one of the shortest days of the year. The sun was setting as I topped out, but Kyle still wanted to climb another pitch. I cleaned the screws and repositioned the top rope so he could head up the WI 3+/WI 4 section of the wall. Once he was down, we convinced Angela to go for another climb and got her set up with a headlamp in the fading light.
Getting ready to start in the dark
The ice was perfect and the temperature was -3. It was a very enjoyable afternoon on our "rest day". Once Angela finished her second pitch, I climbed up to clean the route. It was very dark by the time I was climbing but it was only 5:30. We cleaned up our gear and hiked out 5 mins down the hill to the truck to be back home in time for dinner at 6:15. It was surreal.
Heading up to clean the route in the dark
When I was living in North Van and Whistler, ice climbing wasn't even on my radar. Now that I have been out in Calgary for a few years, it seemed natural to try out some of the coastal ice when we had the opportunity. I loved how short the approach was, being warm and getting to enjoy a great crag all to ourselves. After our ice climbing day, the snow began to fall and our minds turned to powder, but I am very glad that Kyle took the initiative to give ice climbing in Whistler a chance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stupid Deep at Tunnel Creek

The thermometer in the truck read -26 C as David, Tyler, Kyle and I left Calgary, heading for Tunnel Creek Hut in Fernie. The boys had arrived from San Francisco late the night before and we had very few hours of sleep before hitting the road. We stopped at the grocery store to let them pick up lunch food then met Kyle Duran to all head up to the hut. The temperature wasn't any warmer as we left the trailhead. It had been cold and clear in Calgary for weeks but there was snow in the forecast. We followed a track up the logging road, moving quickly to stay warm.
Starting up the road to Tunnel Creek
There were a few creeks to cross, but we were able to navigate around them without taking our skis off. We followed the logging road up 2 switchbacks, then turned into the woods, following the creek up to the hut. It is an 5 km ski in with about 800 m of elevation gain. It took us 2.5 hours to reach the hut. As we got close, we ran into another group that were on their way out. It sounded like they had been skiing some great fresh snow and stoke was high.
Crossing the creek
The Tunnel Creek Hut was much different than it was last time Kyle and I were there. An addition has been built, extending the tiny cabin into a bedroom and larger communal cooking area with a wood stove. It was much more luxurious with room to dry gear and hang out. Having 5 people in the hut was not an issue, unlike last time where there was barely space to move.
Almost at the hut!
Made it to the new and improved hut
By the time we arrived at the hut, it was already 3 pm and the light was fading fast. After our late night and early start, combined with frigid temperatures, everyone was perfectly happy to hang out in the hut to chat, eat and make mulled wine. By 7:30 people started to talk about heading to bed. Cold drafts flowed in through big cracks between the two huts so Kyle did some "home improvement" and sealed the cracks with tuck tape. It made a big difference and kept the hut cozy and warm.
Mulled wine
Cheese fondue
Feeling refreshed after a long snooze, we woke up to a windy morning that wasn't particularly inspiring. Eventually we got moving and were able to follow a skin track up to the ridge. The clouds were low so our hope to explore the area was shot. Instead, we dropped into Home Run as Kyle and I remembered the terrain from our prior trips. For some reason, we always end up at Tunnel Creek on foggy days. The snow was great and we had two long fun laps through steep trees where the visibility was better. We returned to the hut for a big curry dinner, then pulled out the headlamps for a night lap on the slope above the hut (Sunnyside).
Night touring in a blizzard
Our up-track from earlier that day had been blown in and the snow was falling hard and fast as we started our climb. We struggled our way up slippery new snow, battling high winds. When we got to the ridge-top, we were in a full on gale and the ski down was less than optimal. The slope had been wind scoured and our headlamps functioned more to blind us than light the way down as snow swirled into our faces.
This picture perfectly sums up how nasty the weather was
Through the night, the wind howled outside the hut and we lay awake as the hut shook and creaked. There was concern about the roof ripping off and blowing away, but when we woke up the next morning everything was still intact. Opening the door, we were greeted with huge snowdrifts and heavy snowfall. It was lucky that we were all able to find our skis!
The view out of the hut on Monday morning after the blizzard. Its going to be a great day!
All our tracks from the night before were completely obliterated. We all gathered around the window to watch anyone brave enough to blaze a trail to the outhouse and laughed when they sunk waist-deep when they stepped off the beaten path that was buried under about 30 cm of fresh. Within minutes those tracks too would disappear thanks to the swirling wind.The wind continued to blast the hut, but eventually the lure of fresh turns was too great and we geared up for a lap.
Treacherous walk to the outhouse
The rainbow crew is ready to roll
Powder excitement!
Breaking trail was tough work and it took much longer than usual to reach the ridge-top. We were worried about wind loading and poor stability, but as Kyle dropped in, everything seemed stable and it was beyond deep! With the new snow and wind deposition we were getting over a metre of ski penetration. We skied steep trees down Home Run getting face shots with every turn. It was hard to breathe with all the snow in my face but I didn't want to stop. The run had perfectly spaced trees and was just steep enough that you could make turns despite snow blowing over your head. It was by far the deepest skiing I have ever had touring.
Kyle and David ready for some sweet turns
Windy ridge-top
Deep Fernie POW!
Kyle got a few face shots
KD getting some
David makes it look easy
Wallowing through the snow. Merry early Christmas!
After having our minds blown, we started traversing under the cliffs back to the creek so we could climb back up to the hut. Kyle had brought a saw to trim the alders on the traverse path which made the skin track much easier. Small sluff slides and spin drifts were coming down the cliffs frequently and as we worked our way back to the hut, we made a call to bail on our last day in the hut. This decision was based on changing avalanche conditions, difficulty breaking trail and the poor visibility that had left us unable to explore or ski anything beyond Home Run. With all the new snow and more falling, we figured it would be a perfect opportunity to take David and Tyler to ski Fernie Resort.
Deep skin track and its still dumping
We had a quick lunch at the hut and packed up. Another party had skied up from the trailhead that day and were starting lap 2 as we left the hut. Our skin track from our first run had already filled in so we followed their very steep and direct ski to the top. Our second run down Home Run was just as deep as the first and our heavy bags only increased the number of face shots. The snow was so light and fluffy! We made a call to try skiing down the alders to the road. We ended up in a very tight run and I got totally caught up by the awful alders. By the bottom of the run I was pretty exhausted and frustrated from my alder run-in. 
Making our way through the alders at the bottom of Home Run
The ski out to the truck was fast down the road, but the creeks we had encountered on the way up were still open and required some navigation to get around them. Back in Fernie, we enjoyed the comforts of showers, comfortable beds and a hot tub and had a fantastic day riding the resort the following day! We made the right call to bail early as we skied untracked, lift accessed powder all day and didn't have to wait in a single lift line.
Sunset from the hot tub after a great day on the hill

Friday, December 9, 2016

Shades of Beauty (WI 4)

As it was recently pointed out, the blog has been pretty quiet recently. I know I have not been out in the mountains nearly enough recently, but sometimes other aspects of life have to come first. The good thing is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a whole bunch of sweet adventures heading our way soon!

I was able to sneak away from a busy schedule for a brief trip up the Icefields Parkway with a group of ACC Trip Leaders, organized by Phil Tomlinson (who provided most of the photos, thanks Phil!). Kyle and I drove out ahead of the crew and arrived at the Rampart Creek Hostel with plenty of time to eat and relax. The Hostel is small and cozy and very basic. It feels a bit like a fancy hut-trip as the electricity is solar, water needs to be pumped into a water tank and there is no indoor plumbing. It sure makes for a social atmosphere and we mingled in the common area as people trickled in. There were a few other groups at the Hostel and even some people that we knew but were not expecting to be there. The climbing world is small, but the ice climbing world is tiny.

Kyle and I briefly investigated the sauna, but decided to save that for after climbing the next day as we had an early start the next morning. 6 am arrived too quickly, but we wanted to get a head start on the other climbers who might have been interested in our climb, Shades of Beauty. The approach is about an hour, and although it isn't difficult, it would really suck to show up and have the route already busy with people. We drove north through about 15 cm of fresh snow on the highway, as the plow hadn't been by yet. The trail starts at the Beauty Creek pullout and follows the river up to a road. After taking a right on the road, the trail rejoins the river shortly and continues up the valley on the left side of the river for about 30 minutes. From the car, we could see the climb Curtain Call (WI6) which looked pretty intimidating. As we made our way up the valley, Shades of Beauty came into view on the right side of the river at the far end of a rock band. 
Sign marking the trail as you leave the road to start following the river
This frozen waterfall was full of running water which was pretty cool to watch
Sunrise over the Icefields Parkway (Phil Photo)
We were the first groups to arrive. Fortunately, only one other party showed up. Nando, Phil and Paul climbed as a party of 3 while Kyle and I followed as a group of 2. The first pitch was pretty mellow, two short steps of WI 3 with a big ledge to build anchors and hang out. It was pretty cold standing around and I got my first screaming barfies of the year at the top of the first pitch.
Approaching Shades of Beauty
Paul starts up Pitch 1 (Phil Photo)
Another view of Paul making his way up Pitch 1
Approaching the belay ledge (Phil Photo)
Kyle about to top out on the first pitch (Phil Photo)
The ice was solid on the first pitch and the climbing was pretty straight forward. The second pitch offered a bit more of a challenge. Although it was short, it was steep and unrelenting. Paul picked a line on the right side and found some parts difficult to protect, especially when he tried to top out and encountered more snow than ice. He stuck with it and pulled off a great lead. Kyle opted for the direct line up the left. It was pretty wet but the ice seemed a bit more solid. This was his first WI 4 lead and he killed it! I found it pretty tough because I had quite a few screws to remove. At the top I was breathing hard and super pumped but totally stoked. There were two bolts with some cordelette (no rap rings) at the top left hand side of this pitch that we used as an anchor.
Paul starting up pitch 2 (Phil Photo) 
Kyle on the crux, Pitch 2 (WI 4) - Phil Photo
Pitch 3 was my favourite. It's a long WI 3 with two main steps and pretty good ice. It was also super wet! I think everyone hit a rock or two on the way up as it started to get pretty thin near the top. The top out didn't have much ice and involved hooking a big boulder with your ice tool and hauling yourself up. That move was more mixed climbing than I have done in a while. The top had an anchor with chains and we used 2 ropes to rappel to the top of pitch 2. From there, we walked off to the climbers left through steep trees which was much faster than rappelling the rest of the way down. Two other parties had arrived as we topped out and were just starting the route as we packed up for the walk out.
Paul leading Pitch 3 (Phil Photo)
Phil makes his way up pitch 3
Nando on Pitch 3 (Phil Photo)
Feeling stoked at the top of Shades of Beauty (Phil Photo)
 After the great day out, we had a monsterous meal of wraps and warmed up in the sauna. I had to be back in Calgary Sunday morning so I left to drive home that night while everyone else stayed to climb Sunday. Fueled with coffee but wondering if I had enough gas to make it to Lake Louise, I drove south through heavy snowfall on a very empty highway. I made it to Lake Louise with 8L of gas to spare. I won't be making that mistake again, there is nowhere to fill up on 93N so gas up in Canmore before you go!
The back of my car got very snowy on the way down from Rampart Creek

Monday, September 26, 2016

Back of the Lake

Climbing at the Back of the Lake crags at Lake Louise is an interesting experience. 

First of all, the approach is brutal, its a 20 minute flat trail along the edge of Lake Louise, which is breathtakingly beautiful and it only becomes more picturesque as you climb higher.  
Really rough approach in the morning
Views of Mt. Victoria over Lake Louise never cease to impress
Second, the rock is really solid quartzite, which is a nice change from the chossy limestone typical of the rockies. Its also a great mix of trad and sport routes with a big range of grades
Jenny loves quartzite! 
Kyle leading some trad
Jenny looking for little crimps
Finally, the best part is that you are climbing right above the walking trail along the lake, so all the tourists who manage to pull their eyes off the lake and look up at the rocks are suddenly shocked and amazed by all the climbers. You get to be a climbing model and end up in everyone's photos. Its pretty awesome and great for the ego. I highly recommend it.
Early morning reflections
Can't beat this belay stance