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

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