Despite a non-guaranteed weather window, my good friend John Mletschnig talked me into abandoning perfect conditions in the Rockies for a big weekend away to try the Grand Teton. My boss gave me an extra day off, allowing a day to approach and rest, a day to climb and ski, and a full day of solo driving to/from canada either side. The gamble paid off, and in between storms, and weathering pm thundershowers and squalls at camp just above snowline, we just managed to pull off a climb and descent, in apparently ‘fat’ conditions. What a classic. so many different stages, none too taxing. with the orange granite and narrow ice gully if the Chevy couloir, it felt remniscient one of the less hardcore Chamonix steep classics. The exposure is real but not immediate, definitely not a head game. Just a great day on a beautiful peak with friends.
Tried the one day Mt Columbia in fresh snow, May 8. Turned around past the trench but just shy of the peak as not everyone was feeling up to it. A pleasant slog though! Amazing views. Lucky with the weather window. Convective PM blizzard as soon as we hit the carpark at the end of the day.
Skiied a few couloirs early spring this year, in the generally low hazard that typified the latter half of this winter. Turned around from one or two as well when things didn’t feel quite right. Here’s a few photos from some memorable ones…
photo Drew Wittstock. dropping in to day 2 comp run, Wrangle, Kicking Horse BC. After a season not even thinking about comps, instead focusing purely on work (as an avalanche technician, so not as bad as it sounds) and touring, it was fantastic to simply rip around the horse for a few days. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having just purely snowboarding, or how much I enjoyed the people and experience of competitions again. This was a super fun run with some of my best comp airs yet, but a huge bum slide on my last landing put me out of contention. I was stoked anyhow…
“A man should have wings to carry him where his dreams go, but sometimes a pair of skis makes a good substitute” – Hans Gmoser, 1961.
“I didn’t even get to sleep until well after midnight. I was just wired … oh yes, the good energy… “ – quiet legend of the Canadian ranges, Neil Baker, of his umpteenth portering trip to Balfour Hut, April 2015.
There are times. There are times, when the brush of dusk across the glaciers, and on the floating clouds, touches the soul. There are times. There are times, when the frigid dawn breath off the summits feels fantastic, and the first light spilling across the ranges ignites the spirit.
Yesterday morning, mid-portering trip I managed a quick jaunt out for a sunrise run, while my companions enjoyed a well-earned sleep-in. In the recent past I would have been headed for the seracs and windslabs of Balfour, looking for the most technical and cutting edge descent available on any given day. This time, I dozed under the stars, in tune with the keening breeze and slow spin of the constellations. Waking up balanced and relaxed, it was a pleasure to head for a beautiful, safe and mellow slope of powder. I passed near Balfour’s looming Northern Aspects and carried on. I felt few of the regrets I expected. Five years ago, two years ago, I would have chosen a dangerous ribbon of hard snow with overhead threats, were it steep, over any flat powder run. This day, moving fast on my boards, cresting the ridge to that immense view, hooning down the bowl in silky snow – I felt an uplifting, overwhelming sense of absolute freedom. I howled my joy into the sky, unrestrained. There was no-one to hear or judge me.
Only now, as I write this (intended to be a sentence only), do I realize that what I felt so connected to out there, on this mellow arm of the mountain, was not only freedom from the shackles of society; but also freedom from myself.
Now would be a good time to ski on the wapta, either multi day or a big day trip. many of the north and east aspect faces looked in good condition, particularly farther west (around vulture col and st nick was a bit wind hammered on the steeps). quite a bit of evidence of old avalanche activity (at least last saturday, if not significantly earlier) on steep NE asp terrain, seems isolated to lee slopes just under ridgetop, mainly unsupported. I was just portering for a couple days,, but the glaciers alone provided pleasant travel and ski conditions. ski crampons were not neccessary. Baker, balfour, olive, collie…all these and more look like pretty nice quality snow. coverage on the faces is a little less than usual, but conversely, the glaciers seem to be well filled in – between st nick and olive there are none of the slots visible that were prominant in the area last year. the balfour high bench is however more broken than last may, while the lower looks quite good.
A pineapple express was fizzling out, leaving us poor vis and heavy snow, with rain at lower elevations, but some really good powder skiing at treeline. Temps were still warm, the storm slab was settling rapidly, and although the interior was full of reports of natural and artifically triggered avys to Sz 4, it was apparent that the snowpack would quickly stabilize with cold temps. Back at work for a week, a cooling/clearing trend was not really helping the rockies out quickly enough to ski anything great, but in Revelstoke it was a different story. As Sophie and I drove through Golden on our friday (monday) night, a phone call from ex-pat Craigieburn skiier CJ Wright confirmed it. He quietly mentioned he’d been on a solo exploration that day and ended up skiing both Goat Peak, and the NW Face of McKenzie. This latter, I’d wager, would be amongst the rowdiest lines that anyone has skiied in North america this season, certainly it’s one of the most dramatic/exposed faces I’ve seen with any proximity to a ski resort.
We’d been planning on day touring, but CJ convinced us to join him for an overnight to Ghost mountain (peak?), a prominent wedge in the RMR backcountry. He had all the necessary camping gear we’d left at home. While others scraped loudly down icy groomers, we skiied settled, sluffing pow on Mac Daddy (McKenzie East Face) Tuesday -this run I’d looked forward to for years – lapped back around to grab our overnight gear, then enjoyed a beautiful sunset en route to Ghost Lake.
The next morning we’d skiied Ghost return to camp, with two separate runs, in 4hours, then ground back along the connecting ridge, before an afternoon clearance had us skiing spines (with heavy packs!) back down towards the resort. A typical couple days in the humble, grounded and exceptional ski life of CJ. Thanks mate!
…“Weekend warrior”… Not too bad, when your weekends are 3 days, midweek. Jan 27-29 was an exceptional weekend. We’d just experienced an extraordinary heat event (well,for January in the Rockies), even for this warm winter, with temps well above freezing in the alpine. Record highs were set in banff and calgary. This was a great test for the snowpack, culminating in a widespread natural avalanche cycle centered around Sunday 25, giving us a busy week and long days on the snow safety team at Sunshine Village. I was, as usual pretty ready for a sleep-in come my Saturday, but although the temperatures were still too warm for the snowpack to set up, I knew I had to make something of my weekend.
How about rockclimbing? What a rare opportunity, in this exceptional chinook. A flurry of texting found me no partner. I slept late, had a lazy breakfast, then at ten, “beep beep”. A visiting crew of kiwi climbers in town might be keen. Eleven a.m. found myself and Fraser Attril in the Yam carpark. A late start even in summer, and this was January-better look for something short and easy! An hours blast up the approach trail (hot enough that I went shirtless) and we were laughing our way up 5 pitchs on Easy street, and home before 5. I climbed in a shirt and T, and didnt put on another layer till back at the car! Exceptional. Didn’t think to pull out the camera; the joy of moving on warm rock was all consuming.
The next day temps had cooled right off, and it looked like overhead hazard on the Beer climbs would be drastically lower than a few days prior. I joined said kiwis for a trip to sunny (actually!) Field. While Ben and Al (great spending time with these guys, and Al is the legend of NZ ice climbing, and an old climbing partner of my dads) raced up Pilsner, myself and Fraser had a blast on Carlsburg. Neither of us have much time logged on water ice, and it was out first lead at the grade; we were both fairly stoked.
Come Thursday, with more cool temps forecast, the snowpack was looking about as good as it ever would in January. The warm temps had encouraged rapid settlement and bonding, strengthening the snow, while testing weak areas, and now things were looking pretty good for the first big line since November at Highwood Pass. Rock and Ice had had their turn, now it was back to my first love.
An early start saw Adam Greenburg, James Walter and I climb and descend the Cleaver (at least, I once heard it called this) on the Monarch, above the North Simpson headwaters, then enjoy a mellow tour back across the Ramparts. The Cleaver looks striking from Sunshine, but as usual, most people are content to talk incessantly about it and never do anything. It turned out it rides even better than it looks, and is one of the more enjoyable couloirs I’ve ever snowboarded (quite a lot). I’ve since concluded that the best couloirs fall into two categories: 1. straight, steep, dramatic and exposed. 2. Wind-ey, playful, off-camber, with multiple chokes and features. This couloir/ramp is amongst the best category 2’s you could hope for.
All in all, a great ski day with great company, and a fitting culmination to my best weekend in quite a while!
Andreas. One of my greatest inspirations, and the greatest thinker of any alpinist of our time. I always wondered how it would go for you. So much time in inherently risky environments, but in the few days spent near you, it was so apparent that you were the uber alpinist, so skilled, fir and fast, so in tune with the mountains and yourself and your experiential based intuition, that I knew it would take alot and more to get you, despite. I cannot remember ever meeting someone so likely to survive and thrive in such wild places. Stoked on how you lived your life bro. Thanks for showing me what is possible, and inspiring me to think, to learn from what we are doing in the mountains…now, like you, I must try to make it at least as much about the inner journey. this is what we remember most , this is your legacy.
Andreas’ thoughts are more than worthwhile considering for ourselves. http://andreasfransson.se/inner-adventures
In between unfortunate injuries ( a poor run; none for seven years and now three in twelve months…nothing lasting though) I’ve been fortunate to have some great partners this summer, both for enjoying superb days on some of the rock classics of the Rockies and bugaboos, and also for a handful of new routes, from one pitch trad meanderings to aesthetic alpine ridges. Here are the new routes, with the exception of one two-pitch on buffalo crag (horrible unprotected crux, not worthwhile), and also one in an area I’m just beginning to develop (I need someone with a drill… contact me if you’d be in…I will buy the bolts!).
Take Banff gondola, $40, or $20 locals with proof, or take hiking trail to summit of sulphur (1 hr to 1 hr 45m). then walk south along the ridge (very nice walk), passing over the first small rocky hump (good, long sport route potential on friction slabs west side) to the first real peak. drop down scree on west side an duck under west face: immediately you will see these 3 routes and possibly potential for more; (either slightly scrappy, or attractive and stiff but very run-out, possibly with loose flakes). all routes gear, 40-60m, scramble off possible.
Double fracture/Son of 3 roofs (haven’t agreed on a meaning for the name yet …double fracture refers both to the lione taken and the state of my jaw at the time- still healing) P1 is recommended.
The Percussionist 10a R runs up the centre of the slabs in the very centre of the photo. Breaks left at the very top of the slab to gear belay at 60m and scramble off. Certainly some nice moves in places, but somewhat contrived as a trad route, and as the name indicates needs some serious flake cleaning up high (don’t take the tempting looking “C “ crack!
“Adam’s” 5.8 takes the same initial line as T.P , between the trees in the picture, then at the height of top of the right tree, goes left to follow the corner, before breaking through to the STP/DF belay ledge & scramble off.
Ishbel Slabs – Survivor
There have been a few attempts over the years, but this route ‘Survivor’, (5.10-,R, 310m/7p) on 25 or 26 July 14, with Liam Savage, is the first route to be established on the prominent West Slabs of Mt Ishbel. The general lack of serious interest is surprising given the number of aesthetic corners available, many on slab of good rock quality, and all very obvious from the Trans canada highway. The motivation to climb this face came from a a trip to snowboard the couloir in the centre of the face, from where the rock quality of the slab was obvious. Unfortunately it is generally let down the the rock of the walls of each corner(the only gear protectable lines on the slab), which seems almost universally poor.
Difficulty of the line is debateable, as we are not so used to climbing with the weight of double rack, pitons and hammer. We’d say it feels similar to some old Rockies ‘5.9’s we’ve climbed, and also to some other more modern routes up to 10c. So, the cruxes on p6 and 7 may be 10b, but realistically may be less… 10- seems a good summary. Excuses.
We left only one (bent) pin, just near the P3 belay. Bad, and worthless for belay as no other gear around. While beginning to try arrange a belay here my foot slipped or foothold blew, resulting in a fall, a cut hand and a few stitches that night in canmore.
I drew and scanned a topo, but although I can email it I cannot attach here. If wanted I could email it (see ‘contact’ page in blog header), but I would say that if anyone is interested in climbing a route called ‘Survivor’, they bolt belays in more sheltered positions, or at least extend themselves out quite some meters on the rope from each belay in the corner, and belay hanging out on an angle on the slab, or where possible up on/around the corner.
P7a happy survivor. The climbing is good, being truly great on pitch 6…face climbing…and 7, crack and corner; however the cleaning of copius crack vegetation in areas, and in the two spots where we had to break over wall to right into another corner(P5 and 6) generated very generous quantities of plummeting rocks, no matter how much care was taken, making for a sometimes harrowing ascent. Bolted belays out on the slab in some places would be nice, somewhat less in the line of fire.
Note. At a later date, for west ridge access Greg and I ascended on the ridge the entire way from the knoll below treeline (refer to map, eg gemtrek “Banff and Mt Assinaboine” map, including the notch. descent from the lower (camera ) side of the ridge was fine, and we rejoined the traced descent trail for the little section uphill of there to gain the ridge. Either way works but ridge probably more straightforward.
Mt Ishbel West Ridge 06/09/1
(Grand traverse Mt Ishbel)
West Ridge Mt Ishbel 5.8, III+
Accessed via left hand (North) skyline ridge of Ishbel Slabs from Ink Pots, Johnston Canyon. Quite a few km of alpine ridge travel when accessed this way, and descended as we did down Ishbels’ only known route, the South Ridge (one of the longer ridge ascents in the Banff area on its own, more or less an exposed scramble) to Hillsdale Meadows. A long, grand day, albeit with some type two fun in places amongst the pinnacles of the West Ridge. It’s loose and often runout. Greg finished one pitch totally protectionless. A mix of short and a few very long pitchs, simul-climbing, and soloing. Short-roping technique would also be effective in places. Often for a ridge like this, full of jagged ups and downs I like a shorter rope, but a 60m, was probably essential for rapping the first gendarme (exceptional free-hanging 25+m rap… I wouldn’t want to try it with a 50, although you might just get away with it). If I went back I’d take a 70m, so the first rap could be done in one, not two (with a 60m it is possible to do one, and then a short downclimb, but we opted for a second rap. Furthermore, for the long pitchs, an extra 10m would have been nice. Whether 60 or 70m, expect to wear mountaineers coils through many of the small gendarmes.We walked on frozen/snowy scree under the second (smaller) gendarme on the North Side(the only time boots would have been nicer than approach shoes &rock shoes, our combo), then climbed the top of the longest ‘up’ section on the skyline for a full pitch, before continuing essentially on or within 5m of the skyline the whole way. The grade could possibly be lowered a grade or even two with some different variations, such as taking the longest “up” (after 1st 2 large gendarmes) as far climbers left as logical, then up the rib climbers left of that as you approach the ridgetop.
To descend the East Ridge (downclimb and 3 raps) to jog out ranger creek may be faster, but probably lower value, than to descend the south ridge..although the valley does look beautiful and is rarely visited.
One of my dream ski lines (not in this condition!) that I can share with everyone, and probably not expect anyone else to poach it. It’s been on the cards for a while … who’s in?
Mts Rundle and Louis make an appearance.
Greg Cole. Stoked on life as always.
The view of the West Ridge (left skyline) that daily inspired me driving to and from work every day, in full view of the Trans Canada Highway.
Mt Temple SE Face First Descent. Louise Group, Canadian Rockies – RM
June 1, 2014. Unfortunately, I’d been wake for 24hrs at this point due to long day the day before. Co-incidentally 1 year to the day after my first time riding off the summit o temple, which at the time (via SW ridge/bowl) was intended to be the wrap-up of the Mt Temple project.
Sluff during a wee skiff of Westerly snow that would provide the right conditions a couple days later. During a scoping evening/morning at moraine lake.
A quick run up to the base after work to scope from the bottom proved well worthwhile…though perhaps I could’ve saved myself the bother a year earlier if I’d brought my camera up the Tower of Babel. It turns out the direct finish is a no-go. In the right year, the couloir angling up to right from top of fan could be a (very dangerous) goer, however there are rock bands involved in entering it; copius water ice; and most importantly, it is the funnel for any sluff from the whole face. nice water ice line in that left gully though eh? late May…!
Thanks to Ali Hogg of SSV snow safety (currently on an expedition to the Himalaya, kudos & best of luck and health) for keeping me up to date with their snowpack conditions over the preceding weeks. Working as a gardener is not conductive to keeping in touch with the snowpack, though I may say it lends a better idea of the weather’s effect than for those bound to a cubicle. Though who knows, maybe I will be there one day too. It’s a big life.
Snatching a quick look back from near the start of the traverse to safety. I think this is shortly after a blind, dry tooling, toe edge traverse across rotten rock slab covered in 10cm of unconsolidated moist snow. This was to avoid non-navigable runnels. Sadly, deep(head high) slick runnels are an inherent part of being on this face late enough in the season to trust the snowpack. Thus getting the right conditions is an extremely tricky balance…to cross the multitude of runnels in conditions soft enough to get an edge in inside the runnels(the surface of the ice needs to moisten), yet not soft enough to avalanche.
Subsequent descents of this face is NOT Recommended due to unreasonable exposure to objective and subjective dangers above exposure.
I should have actually published this when it was written, but I could not work out how to upload more than one photo at once, and gave up in disgust. here it is:
“To be perfectly honest; I have mainly been working, fishing or rock climbing for April/may 2014. What I have got out on has generally not been particularly noteworthy, but it’s been pleasant and I have been uplifted by spending time in some beautiful places. Here are a few pictures I’d like to share.”
The peak referred to is the most striking looking line and peak in the background of the photo. my first view of it. Wow.
Here I am.
Well, actually, that sounds a little melodramatic. But the facts of my current situation are this.
I was on an overnight mission with Matt Decarufel, to ski an absolutely gorgeous line I had spotted from the summit of Mt Temple less than two weeks prior. Normally, it seems to be that I spot yet another amazing line, and it goes on the backburner, to suddenly resurface as a trip opportunity a year or many later, after I’ve dispensed with a backlog of other lines that crowd my thoughts day and night.
The line consists of a triangular WNW Face, leading to on of the more elegant couloirs (NNW aspect) I have clapped eyes on, on peak 3142 of the Rockwall in Kootenay National Park. I had also heard of it from friends a few weeks prior who referred to it, colloquially I believe, as with Tumbling Peak, after Tumbling Glacier, over which it presides. This is gorgeous hiking country, and the glaciers are very benign, although this one is a slight exception, being small but spectacular, and unstable enough to provide dinnertime ice avalanches for some evening entertainment.
2 A.M., June 7: I speed to Moraine Lake in the usual fug of bad coffee vs heavy eyes, 1 hour later than I would like due to an alarm malfunction. As I deal with my bear paranoia, which is nowhere as manifest as at Moraine, I started questioning my motivation for the line I have planned. Despite a great freeze in the open, the sun will hit the steep East wall looming over the line before I’m clear, I’d really like a quality scope to watch any activity on the face as the day broke, and besides it is inherently a very difficult, and exposed, line. The South-east face of Temple last Sunday has been enough to take the edge off my drive(in several ways!); I feel I’d achieved something satisfying already this spring. In fact, I would definitely prefer to be rock climbing; but having seen the great coverage for June in the area, I feel obligated to give ‘er another rip, or two. I am an addict, it would appear. The rockies are encased in snow for a great proportion of the year, but safe ski conditions on the big lines are fleeting- to get anything done, personal inclination – usually towards warm rock – must often be disregarded.
At peace with my decision, I now angle toward Eiffel, my mellow backup in case of this eventuality. It is an easy enough summer scramble, but proved to be, as Jon Walsh previously noted, a ‘should-be classic’ ski face of the Louise group. The view makes my heart sing, nothing falls down the line I’m watching nearby, and… the view makes my heart sing. I dont bother waiting for a full corn-up as I’m in a hurry to get back to my girlfriends’ campsite…I’d turned down a weekend cragging at silver city… and grab a some shut eye in my tent there.
2pm – Matt drives in, rouses me from my slumber, and we proceed to drive, hike and skin in to a delightful campsite on Tumbling Pass. Despite some late pm isothermal slogging down low, it is a memorable afternoon, and we are estatic to be in great company, just two friends and a serene wall of mountains, new to the eyes, refreshing to the soul.
4am – Despite the sign in the snow last night, no bears have tried to raid our food stash in the larches, and soon but not that soon, we are on our way around the Eastern edge of the Tumbling glacier, staying well away from the ice-fall fall-line. To our surprise, a pair of lone ski tracks is etched in the old snow still visible lower down, under 5-10cm recent fresh. Has someone skied the line recently, and solo? We wonder as we track across the bench to the base of the couloir. It later turns out young Trevor Sexsmith of Golden got it done; perpeptualski.blogspot.ca, good job young fella! The freeze at camp is not as good as hoped, but is very supportive up higher, and the sun struggles vainly to emerge from behind unforecast snow squalls that have turned the Northern sky black.
8am- Sounds a little late to be halfway up any couloir, however with sub-zero temps and spindrift washing lightly down the floor of the chute, potential for thin storm slab development on the mellower slopes above was the only hazard playing much through my mind. We had been slow-ish below, doing everything on the glacier/schrund crossing by the book for Matt’s learning benefit, but were now motoring up the couloir with pace. The downslope wind gusts should have had me thinking more, but my trust in the freeze was steadfast, and despite feeling uneasy I’d seen little to indicate any tangible danger. “ROCK!”
We are well away from the runnel, but nonetheless I trust Matt’s questing eye and plunge my tools deep, flatten myself to the snow, and lean forward, digging my board nose into the snow, creating a barrier between my head/neck and whatever lumps of limestone are hurtling down this alley. I peer between my legs at Matt, he is looking back up the slope, and doesn’t look petrified. I think the rock has passed, but I call down to ask. I can’t remember clearly, but apparently he called “rock” again as the second rock approached, and I appeared to hear and stayed in my protective crouch. What I do remember is, suddenly, a dull yet stunning impact. A rock very slightly smaller than my head has just missed my board, glazed the side of my helmet, hit the side of my face quite hard, and smacked straight into my shoulder, completely expending its considerable momentum. It is now wedged to a stop between my chest and the snow. Instantly, I know I’m hurt but still there, though I am definitely dazed. “Matt, Matt, I’m hurt. I’m hurt, definitely.” Or something like that.
Matt is a hero. He climbs quickly up while I hang my pack and board on one tool plunged into the snow. His head is sharp, unlike the increasing fuzziness of mine, and he immediately directs me to traverse to the partial shelter of a rock buttress on climbers right. I carefully make my way over, tasting blood, my hearing muted. Brief absurd thoughts flit through my mind -can we still go to the top? -and fly again just as quickly, as reality and concussion battle. I tell Matt we will regroup out the bottom and make a descision on activating the SPOT beacon. My arm is not good for anything much. Matt secures his own equipment, then fetchs mine while I hack a platform. He helps me ratchet my board on. Ok, out of here quickly, I need to be out of the couloir so Matt can come down as soon as he’s ready. The wind gusts ease, spindrift eddies and fades. I drop into some of the better steep turns of my season, and despite myself, can’t help enjoying them. however, on chalky steep snow, I like to have my axe ready, and with only one arm working all I can do is drag it behind. When I encounter the short icy bottom section however, I discover I CAN use my arm, because I really wish to. A quick toeside scoot down 30m dragging the pick and I am over the shcrund, way out, away the hell out from under the menacing walls of rock, wimaking sure I don’t stop over a crevasse. I hear Matt before I see him. We’d discussed our comfort with the short slick section at the bottom, found it acceptable, but poor Matt’s edges weren’t up to the task. I have rarely seen a better tele skier, but regardless Matt to a semi-arrested hip slide at the very bottom, tumbling over the schrund, which doesn’t put either of us in a better frame of mind, to put it lightly. Great Scott, this just won’t do. Without wasting words we make a beeline for the tent below as the sky clears, and the wind drops to a breath.
I spent a few hours chilling in the warmth and regathering my thoughts, as the pain throbbed. After a medical survey and whatever softer food I could force into my mouth, the comfort of my bag, and the discovery that I could still make and appreciate jokes, we decided it was safe enough to take true responsibility for ourselves and walk out. I seemed to be improving rather than deteriating. Matt is the real deal, and took the tent, stove, rope and some of my personal gear, as my shoulder was killing me. To get back to the valley we struggled, rather than, really, skied, down through some of the worst isothermal gloop we’d known. I was pretty pathetic, fell once and rolled into Matt, no fun for either of us. Matt’s knee was hurting, a minor meniscus tear he would later discover, yet he wouldn’t give up any of the load, that I didn’t really want anyway. It was a real back-breaker.
It was a real relief to be back on a firm trail, that wound betwix babbling river and burnt out slope. We weren’t looking forward to the five horrible piles of avalanche debris we’d have to negotiate closer to the car though. We were shambling along, grateful for my codeine supply, when Matt stopped dead at a very warm, considerably immense, vividly green, pile of bear crap. Clearly we were flushing it ahead of us on that narrow strip of land, confined by nature. Neither of us are at all fond of cornered grizzlys, at the best of times. This fortunately means we had taken the oft despised (by local mountaineers) prcautions of lugging bear spray and bangers with us, which we readied… I must admit that I also got my ice tool at the ready… and proceeded even slower, with much din. Needless to say we never saw ol’ silvertip, who I am sure was soon miles away and supremely uninterested, but it was quite a way to cap off a horror day.
Canmore Hospital that night told me I had a mild concussion and some bruising, and I strolled home.
The dentist I saw next morning for my loose teeth informed me that a), I will pay $2400 for a root canal/capping required;
b) the reason said tooth hurt so much was a very clear fracture through my lower mandible at that point, and another higher up! Back to the hospital, for more inept handling and paperwork bungles, until finally I was referred to surgery in Calgary 4 days later. Life was odd but sweet; taking a stroll amongst the sweet blossom smells of an early summer evening with my girlfriend was a total pleasure, and I found it relaxing to know mountains were surely off the agenda for a while, and I could take time to savour the small moments, the everday miracles of life around and within us; at the same time as mourning the rock climbing I was going to miss. I definitely havn’t been as reflective as after magnus’ death, and it hasn’t raised so many questions, at least not for long; but I do appreciate an element of poor luck, and also of good luck. In all I am pretty blessed that the rock didn’t hit me midships, if it was curving in and could get under my snowboard.
Life after surgery has not been so sweet; with a jaw held firmly closed by bands, a wholly liquid diet, and more pain than before. That said, it is healing well, and I’m back at work full time after a couple weeks of missed wages. That was ok too though, my young brother was out visiting (coming second at the canmore endure race) , so I had time to enjoy his company and get canoeing, camping, fishing, and even some mellow hiking. A great time. Now I’m just counting down the days till I can eat a steak or get back on rock (another 4 weeks); fretting at missed alpine opportunities while I should be appreciating my new lease on life.
No, it certainly wasn’t me getting pumped on a trad lead at back of the lake last Sunday. You must be mistaken.
…the first in a series of blog articles I will try and produce over the next several weeks, covering the beginning of spring upto this event.
a few excellent days with friends, during the best season Engadin-St Moritz has had in half a century. laugh out loud pow slashing run after run after run.
A post actually written several weeks ago… I have to admit procrastination is a vice of mine at times. Some of it isn’t valid; for example my 2 week touring trip at the beginning of May has fallen through, due to partners changing plans. I’m free till May7; if anyone is up for spending some time up high in the hills, please let me know; I’d love to get some fresh air and get out of the valleys for a few days or more. Anyhow here’s the post:
” It seems like I haven’t really ridden since my last time in BC. That was great though. After two days judging Wrangle the Chute at Kicking Horse (one of the only current Canadian Big Mountain comps running, unfortunately), watching everyone else getting amongst it in deep snow, I was frothing. The afterparty was way up there with the best… The band was rocking, the snow was plummeting out of the sky, and I’m sure no-one will ever forget the huge snowball war or the hilarious bus ride to town. Wow.
However, reality bites. I really had to win or podium a tour stop, or two, to have money to do what I wanted this spring. The fact I didn’t means I’ve had to turn down offers of snowboard mountaineering trips to Peru and Mt Logan/Alaska.
So, I arrived back from golden and instantly started working near the bottom of the ski industry social pyramid, in a rental shop. Not exactly living the dream or the high life, as some people assume once you make the FWT; but it will keep me humble, pay the rent(and maybe a climbing trip to norway in June!?) and I’ll learn some good repair skills…invaluable if you like to ride snowboards in NZ or the Rockies. I have managed to get out for a few days filming with Sherpas Cinema for a travel alberta/ski Big3 promo though; which has been really fun; good people and good times all around, while getting to ride ER5 from the very top of the perma-closure; something I’d always wanted to do.
Monday, a lightweight (Metaphorically/spiritually) excursion to ski a mellow couloir at Boom Lake on Tuesday (On a different aspect on adjacent Mt Whymper, an ACMG guide exam remote triggered a size 3.5 deep persistant slab, which has got people talking); and then Wednesday I joined Eion, Kyle and my old friend Matt Decarufel for what turned out to be a super day on Cathedral. One of the most ‘typical’ Rockies tours I’ve done(It’s even featured in ‘Summits and Icefields’, I couldn’t believe the quality of the whole experience. It would be a perfect intro to ski mountaineering for a fit, keen individual, as the case for Kyle. I’m sure the views to Lake O’Hara are amazing, but we were denied by typically inclement and occasionally vehement weather. However the clouds parted around us on the summit ridge, and what a fine, exposed position for such a low-angled tour! I thoroughly enjoyed peering down the maw of the West face. Rapid accumulation and increasing winds were beginning to build some highly reactive soft slab which we would have to navigate on the return down the up-route(lee), and anyway we were keen for some fall-line, so after a quick assessment we ducked under the steep polished glace guarding gully/bowl feature just NE of the spectacular, and utterly distinctive cathedral crags. We arranged a rap from the anchor someone…the other group fro the morning? had left; only to find the water-ice bulge was an inviting 6-foot drop only. Regrouping below, it was time to rip the longest gully bank I’ve ever ridden in the Rockies…wind-blown, woo-hoo-hoo faceshots every searing turn… through an atypical, Narnian boulder garden at treeline, with every concievable pillow combo, and then a gully all the way to the trans canada thsat delivered pillowy joy unto the last turn. I’m calling it, this is the most laugh-out-loud fun run I have found thus far in these hills. woot!
Also, Thursday my girlfriend and myself enjoyed nice snow though a little upside down, in the Chester Lake couloir. A striking feature, not a challenging ski but aesthetic and it sure deliver a nasty ride. We turned around 4/5 of the way up, due to increasing slabbiness, it felt like little energy in the upper snowpack but a rather spooky structure. Localized but repeated CTV SP results under the first crust 60cm down aided our descision!
Anyhow, it’s back to work. Hopefully I can pull off a longer basecamp style trip with old friends for the first two weeks of May, then perhaps see if I feel like getting at all serious in the rockies this Spring. Some others certainally are; good on them, with due caution; and I hope everyone has a productive and safe spring.
above; shot by Dave Cavanagh, McGill trees, Rogers Pass BC. better to be shot by Dave than run over by him skiing, I hereby testify!
You’ve probably heard about it. You’ve read it in the paper. Heard speculation in the lift line. Seen the quiet backcountry gates, the empty carparks at your favourite touring haunts. Avalanches. They’re exacting a heavy toll this season, right across Western Canada and beyond. It’s been a grim time, with too many close calls, and fatalities. The instability persists, and hopefully is acknowledged an countered by caution from all manner of backcountry users. How have I been dealing with it? Skiing pillows. Tree skiing and pillows are two of the finest joys of this sport, and relatively safe if you pick the right ones, areas with no substantial start zones within or overhead. In Alberta, the pillows do tend to crack off at the roots whilst riding them, which can be spicy(be aware!) but at least you don’t have to drive hours from canmore to get there.
In late February, I was home from the FWT for a few weeks, and snow quality was finally on! A persistant slab issue was already causing havoc however, with high accumulations of storm snow failing to bond to the associated sun crusts and persistent weak layers below, the gift of one month of drought during my absence. I was loving it though, splitting my time between kicking horse, and appropriate terrain in rogers pass and the rockies, including a local pillow zone I first visited in 2012, but for some reason have neglected since. The last 4 days I’ve also been exploring the same general area, but here are a few taster shots from one day in Banff National Park during that first period with photographer Dan Evans, http://www.danevansmedia.com/. Dan is a local fixture, skilled behind the lens and a snappy fast ski tourer, what more could you want. Here you are;
a simple instructional video demonstrating how you, too, can dominate the steeps.
All photos by Shane Orchard; http://www.shaneorchardphotography.com , unless mentioned otherwise.
Well, what a big month. gotta say, its been pretty emotional. I’ve high fived more new and old friends covered in powder than I could tell you, consumed the best cheese, bread and wine, watched blood red sunrises over the chamonix aguilles from the aiguille rouge, , enjoyed 9 different ski areas without paying a cent, judged my first comp, and slept, wined and dined in 4 star hotels, and explored icy couloirs by headlamp.
I have also had sleepless nights before comps, been yelled at by angry italians and kicked out while sleeping on a train station bench (to finish my sleep esconsed in my boardbag in a bush), exhausted most of my (very) hard-earned savings for the tour, and crashed riding out the flats to the finish line in two out of three comps. I have been stranded late night in new towns with nowhere to stay, beat myself up repeatedly over my competition results, grown sick of packing and hauling my boardbag somewhere new every two days, considered flying home early, and explored icy couloirs by headlamp.
Overall, a really great trip, and Im truly thankful to have had this opportunity. Plus I escaped the cold and drought in Canada for the same month! But, we all have bad days, bad seasons, and for all us who feel they haven’t lived up to their potential in the tour this year, a bit of a sense of failure shadows all the quieter moments of reflection(but is nowhere to be found on powder days thankfully)!
Being told by judges I would have podiumed or won in Courmayeur or Cham without those stupid falls on the flats is not neccessarily helpful. 11,000 euros and a tour lead would be nice, but a fall on the flats is just that; dumb, poor riding, and punished accordingly. I would really like not to have to return to ski patrolling in -25 C for $12/hr next winter.
I got lost on my only crash free run, leading to a mid pack result, which with my 10th and 11th placing at Courmayeur and Cham means I really need to stick a couple of aggressive runs cleanly in the next two stops to even make verbier, let alone a high result on the FWT. But I have a strategy. I have been offered a green runner lesson by sunshine snowboard school, maybe they can teach me how to stay on my feet through the mellow stuff! 🙂
I’m also stoked to be home, with my girlfriend, amongst the empty, stark, pure Rocky Mountains of Canada, with heaps of fresh at Kicking Horse to ‘train’ with. See you at the bird…
getting restless on an attempted rest day , in courmayeur for the start of the FWT. heeby jeebys to kill! a wee ski mountaineering style descent with Matt Francisty, one of the only other competitors living in canada. Beginning the raps into the 900m couloir right above dolonne gondola base in the village of courmayeur, Italy.
New Years day; foregoing the hungover misery of the masses, we had a superb long powder run at emerald lake, alabeit with cautious terrain choices, keeping out of the guts of the path and avoiding all start zones. The snowpack in the Rockies and Purcells this year is not friendly thus far, not at all. It was my first time in deep pow on the XV split, and it truly came to life! some new scenery was spectacular too.
p>Kicking Horse ; I was just saying to my girlfriend, Sophie, how my recent week at Kicking Horse, after a long spell of little riding, has really re awakened my love of the pursuit. I was generally too busy training, tweaking my setup and slashing pow to take photos, especially on the Saturday, the deepest day of the season , but here are a few from days before and after (Sunday was also superb).
And to cap it off a couple of superb splitboarding / touring days at Rogers Pass; again on their deepest day of the season at that stage (I believe Saturday may have topped it though). My first, longer day with Andy Gallant we sampled the very stout pillow lines and leg burning long pow runs rogers is reknowned for; however the day I brought my camera was just DEEP turns in teddy bear trees. Many hoots and beaming grins by all.
Leaving at the beginning of a long fine spell of weather in the southern alps, I braced myself for the bracing fresh air of the Rockies in late November, and promptly had a few deep days touring amongst the first real snow of the season before spraining my ankle riding. A month of couch time, interspersed with a bit of trade work as it showed up had me pretty fidgety, luckily I was able to get out after a fews weeks for an occasional ski or ice climb, the hard plastic boots holding my ankle sufficiently. Beset by a pleasantly social Christmas season (normally I’m too knackered from ski patrolling to leave the house) I belatedly booked a physiotherapist appointment with Hugh of Active Motion physiotherapy, a full one month after my sprain (dumb eh). I got the green light to ride!
It was quickly obvious I should have gone much earlier, and now I am focusedly exercising and stretching for probably the first time in my entire life, and actually believing in it as I’ve starting seeing real, solid improvements now after a week. About the same time two new Rossi XV’s, and the new XV binding (new to me) arrived, and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort confirmed a partnership, as I had approached them due to Kicking horses’ superb alpine terrain, the most suitable training ground I could think of foe the upcoming FWT. I’m now in Golden with fellow Canmor-ites Dan Leon and Andy Gallant, dialling my new setup and loving it, and revelling in the feeling of going to bed stoked to ride the next day, instead of sitting on the couch or putting down boring solitary laps around Sunshine all day. Feel like I’m on holiday! Conditions are good at The Horse, and the terrain has me frothing much like squaw the first time I ride a chair there. Rogers Pass is only an hour away and we put in a dawn till dusk effort today, reward with two absolutely stellar,deep, loooong powder runs top to bottom,(Dagaba and Avalanche Crest) a bit of bluebird, and more movie quality monster pillows than you can shake a stick at. Once again, I make my case; this region has the best day-in day-out snowboarding in the world. I’m smiling. Bring on the tour.
Words fail Fiordland. I’ve found this several times overseas, my descriptions sounding dry and withered even to my own ears, facing blank or disbelieving of faces of the climbers I am trying to get through to. But who can paint with words these great gulfs of air, the play of cloud and water on the flanks of these proud granite giants? No, this will remain primarily a photo essay.
I first really noticed Mt Pembroke from her much celebrated neighbour, Mitre Peak, Jan 2011. But Pembroke was what really captured my breath, the first powerful bastion of this southern land, rearing her snowy head 2000m from the pounding swells of the Tasman. The photo I took has sat, framed, by my bed ever since.
Pembrokes’ Lippe Couloir has become almost de rigeur for mountaineers hailing from Southland, though ascents are still uncommon. The reputation the bushbashing approach up the Harrison has earned (or from the open coast, Stanley Mulvany!) may be a factor. For a long time I thought it was skiied every few years, however this turns out to be a misunderstanding. On further inquiry we haven’t yet heard of a ski descent (if you have I’d love to hear of it).
This trip was only a few days after I returned from Cook, and immediately before flying to Canada (indeed, I was late back for my own leaving bbq, and flew the next day). Thus, the temptation to stay home and surf on the South Coast was strong, especially when planned partner Penny Gottard could no longer make it. Thank you Penny for the use of your brand new tent (every time I almost tarp bivvy in Fiordland, I am later very thankful we carried a tent); and thank you Shane Orchard for stepping in with enthusiasm, driving through the night from chch.
I used to thrive on climbing mountains by myself; it’s when I have known and developed myself the most. However, this trip really brought home to me the powerful value of a trip in the mountains with an old and trusted friend. Experience shared can be experience magnified, expanded. It’s been an honor and pleasure learning from Shane over the years, sharing so many spectacular lines and landscapes. And I think I would have to say that this trip was perhaps my favorite of the bunch.
Prelude: A few days in Fiordland again, this time with Sophie; a few nice pitchs of immaculate granite slab enjoyed (and on sophies’ part a few nice ski turns with a killer view); before the rain well and truly sets in.
Little did we know this storm, which snowed to low levels throughout the country (and gave Fiordland 600mm of rain, followed by 150cm of snow); was doing two things;
1. It was slowly killing Hiroki Ogawa and partner Nicole Sutton on Taranaki. This tragic event had all of us who had met Hiroki pretty upset, he was one of those super positive people who uplifted all around him. This was mentioned in my earlier post ”home again/remarks”. We wish all the best to their families; this was a real tragedy for everyone.
2. Mt cook was coming into great condition, with snow sticking to the icy crux of the East face, and after a terrible winter too(although I think early springs warm precip events may have been key for initial bonding to the ice at the highest elevations…they were windy, but the East face seems considerably less wind affected than most adjacent faces).
This is not a common occurrence. I’m barely back at work when Nick Begg calls, he’s deduced such an occurrence and is flying in the next day. Wish as I might, I can’t bring myself to quit work at immediate notice (they know I’m finishing within a few days anyhow, but we haven’t confirmed just which day); get home at 9pm, pack for ten days and drive overnight to Cook to fly in at 8am. Instead, I put my trust in the slightly unstable but reasonable weather indicated by the forecast, sustained Southwest flow, and Soph drops me at Blue Lakes two days later. I’m meant to be heading to Arapiles with her, but I’d put this mountain off too long. Especially for someone for someone who , for a time, grew up in it’s shadow.
I have to admit I still haven’t found the boot that is suitable for all of these: approach hikes, sustained frontpointing/technical ice, and snowboarding steep firm lines. So, in the event I take two pairs of boots, and two pairs of crampons! Less than ideal. Along with 9 days food, this ensures a jolly old time stumbling up to Ball Shelter in the rain at night; lurching up the Tasman moraine the next morning, and slowly sliding my skins up the Freshfield glacier that afternoon.
It is a tired young man who arrives at Plateau hut that evening to smiling faces, good times and a confirmation; Nick, with similarly accomplished partner Tyrone Low and visiting Swede super-skiiers Magnus Kastengren and Andreas Fransson, has scored the first ‘complete’ descent of the East Face two days prior, from the summit without taking skis off. In a quick overview of the face’s (now-burgeoning) ski history, my work mates John Mletschnig and Alwin Hieler had climbed and skiied/snowboarded the face from the top of the true open face in 2008; (Aoraki on Edges, NZAJ 2009); the gully leading out the top, 100m was “just under 60 degrees” and “dominated by… grey ice”.
I recall John predicting to me, at Mt Olympus in 2009, that he thought it would be a rare occasion the East face of Cook would be formed to ski. In NZAJ he wrote ; “The slope was uniform however, and I thought that it could be in condition to ski from time to time,with the right storm cycle and exact timing”. The thing about New Zealands‘ high East faces is they are extremely heavily and actively glaciated; like few places on the globe for their altitude and latitude. They change week by week, and year by year…for example , 10m sheared off the top of Mt Cook (NZ’s highest peak at 3754m, perched close above the shining blue Tasman Sea) just days after American Jim Zeller gained the first and only snowboard descent from the summit, via the standard Linda Glacier route, or a combo of Greens gully and Zurbriggans… there is not much info out there on it. He accompanied kiwi mountaineer and skiier extraordinaire Bruce Grant on that occasion. Michael Brown of serac films; “They rode Zurbergins Ridge right from the top – so scary. As I recall they made it nearly out to Plateau Hut after a hop of the bergschrund. It was deep snow all around. You’d have to ask Jim about below the hut as I don’t recall – Heli I think(?).. . They used a heli to at least the Linda Shelf. It was all about the ride down from the summit as amazing as it was” ;
There is video online by Serac Films of Bruce Grant skiing parts of the line, which I woulds assume on the same occassion… but perhaps not, if so it would appear they descended one at a time. He is absolutely ripping Greens Gully with speed and no ice axe in sight! It looks like they were able to ride from shortly below the summit, from around about where the summit is today.
This is just one of a number of storied ski descents Cook has achieved over the years; Geoff Wyatt and John Blennerhasset skiied the first descent of the mountain; Mark Whetu claimed the first free descent. The linda has remained the primary route skiied from time to time, although the Low Peak’s North West couloir has has action from at least two teams; a sponsored group including kiwi Todd Windle, and a quieter descent by Jane Morris and Mark Evans. Zurbriggens, on the far climbers right of the East Face, has also had edges on it at least twice. The central, true, and most beautiful line on the
East Face (and the mountain if you ask almost anyone, including Fransson, who leads this game internationally), appears to have been unattempted until the Mletschnig/Heiler combo seized the bull by the horns. In fact, before the challenge of climbing the Caroline Face was even raised, Cook’s East face was the ‘last great problem’ of Mountaineering on Cook. The fear it inspired was referred to in Mike Gill’s excellent book from the 1950’s ; ‘Mountain Midsummer’.
Then Italian guide Freddie Varengo stepped things up, skiing Cook from on or near to the summit, then down the East Face with a 10m downclimb near the top. (the very next day he skiied Mt Tasman from the summit, via the East face, on the spur of a moment; a burlier, greater and more dangerous accomplishment than Cook’s East Face, if less appealing). A few more attempts in 2012, by the likes of kiwi troopers Stevie E and Tai?, Tubs and Gordy, and Alwin, were all thwarted by poor conditions. Then November 2013 happened.
I’ll leave it to faceless, trashy internet forums to argue the relative worthiness of Freddies East Face descent, versus Mletschnig and Heiler’s ; versus Fransson, Begg, Kasytengren and Low; it is splitting hairs; they all had a superb run, they are all worthy of a large doses of respect; and although each was more thorough than the last, they all built psychologically on eachothers’ success’s. Each group descended the utmost that conditions allowed on their visit, which was progressively more each time. Maybe this trend will continue? is the crux evolving, perhaps leaning back somewhat? A trade off for Green Gully’s deteriation from a beautiful ski crux to a hammered slab of ice. I assume the East Face of Cook is about to become rather a common ski descent, if still a great run. I am fairly sure it is not as dangerous a route to climb as the Linda(though I say this without the qualification of ever having climbed Cook before), and in good snow conditions very easy technically. The ski is a little demanding at the top in good conditions, but not too dramatic if the ice is decently covered; and eases back into an easy ski run, if you ski large faces regularly.
I’d enjoy my second full day on the plateau on the open portions of the Jones route. I arrive back at the hut early afternoon to find Andreas and Magnus, to my astonishment. They had skiied out only 24 hours earlier, but the grim forecasts are continually amending themselves the closer each day gets, weather windows popping up all over the place. Today, day Nick and Tyrone also left; as I’ve just gotten here, and also know the Sou-West flow will only need variations of a few degrees to provide ample opportunitys to climb; I’ve stayed on. It’s great to have them back; the evening I arrived at the hut had been exceedingly pleasant, enjoying laughter, food, drink and cards together. This time was no different. Here were two people who lived, who were real, wholesome, generous and electric company. They were also heading up the East Ridge next day, as Carl and Kieran had done that very morning. I worried a little for my friends who did not reply to the radio sched, with increased winds in the late afternoon I’d been thinking about them all day. Later it turns out soft snow conditions and weather had forced them around and back to the village.
I am tired, with 3 days on the go already, but the Swedes assure me that tomorrow is THE day. “I think it is your day tomorrow. You will have a beautiful run from the summit”. The boys are kind enough to wake me 1 30 the next morning, with a high five. “It is cold and clear”. Good energy is running through their veins, rubbing off on me, as they swish out the door and down the glacier into the inky black. The stars pierce the frigid atmosphere, transcribing their interminable spin around the south pole. The silence is profound, the cold is a thing of beauty . Once again, as I strap my snowboard to my pack, I have the psychological benefit of seeing compatriots on The East Ridge. As I too step toward Cook.
Above; Very happy to stand atop my country, atop a glistening citadel of ice rising from the ocean, snowboard or no. One minute later, I spy a helicopter buzzing around the upper empress shelf… landing under Hicks…god, Keiran and Carl plan to be on there today. No, it’s just letting two climbers out…must be heading to Empress Hut. Ok. it’s off again…wait, here it comes over the empress shelf…landing… there is one ski track leading out to this knoll. One. Instantly I reach the shattering truth. I feel myself reeling inside, hollowed out. Maybe nauseous. Thinking back now, I only remember the feeling that everything was so horribly, chokingly wrong. Surreal on this perfect day not a breath of air whispering anything. Who? Why? I need to get off this mountain.
The snow in the steep Entrance Tongue has some North to it’s East. It hasn’t warmed to the point it might sluff…or, should I say, to the point it will sluff as I’d feared, but it balls up on the top and base of my board like nothing ever encountered before, making extremely violent jump turns both necessary; and fraught with peril. This goop weighs heavy atop my board, though not as heavily as the fresh weight on my heart. To a degree, I think I am insulated by not knowing who is dead. I struggle to focus 100% on the moment, on the snow beneath my feet. I need to.
Similar to Andreas, Magnus, Tyrone and Nick several days before, although I keep my board on, I use my ice axe on a short section, downward traversing into the top of the entrance tongue, doing some choppy little hops facing inward, before the snow gets deep enough to trust somewhat over the grey ice.
above photo… In a heap of sweat and with churning stomach, I momentarily face the face after the deed. (I have a classic portrait of the whole face and tracks from a distance, but being RAW format it won’t go on wordpress) The morning’s route cut through the seracs left to right, then doubled back under the maw of a big one to the safety of the gully on left, to avoid further crevasse crossings. For the descent, I should have cut out to the base of zurbriggans, but instead opted fall line to the icefall, then back out to photo left, following the mornings tracks on known if very tenuous ground. It was just about as frightening as on the way up. The heat of the day continues to soar ,exponentially above the forecast freezing levels (new arrival Robert records 10degress at plateau later that pm), and a few hours later stuff was falling down everywhere, including over the similarly delicate maze of tumbled ice guarding the base of the Jones route I’d been on previous day. I’ve never seen seracs so responsive to diurnal temperature fluctuations. But, before then, I have continued to flat, safe ground, far out over the plateau, away from Cook’s sweltering clutchs I sit down in the snow and stay there, an empty husk. This should have been a joyous moment. I cry.
The news is out already by the time I drag my skins back to plateau hut. Magnus is dead.
I only had the pleasure of knowing Magnus for two or three days. Despite this I regarded him as a friend. It was a pleasure, and it was an honour. Magnus was one of those people who instantly radiate true warmth. Shining through his words and actions were friendship and genuine care for others, without pretence or ego. He was open, he did not hide himself. His laughter was frequent, genuine, and he was hilariously funny to boot. His generosity touched me. Not only did he force me to accept their extra food…and wouldn’t hear of taking it back once they returned…but upon learning I’d forgotten a toothbrush, he insisted I keep his, and wouldn’t hear my refusals. In the mountains, that struck me as no minor thing, and I was oddly touched by it. I consider myself truly lucky to have spent time with him, the last days precious of his life. He was shining so brightly.
I am so glad his last morning was so beautiful, the coming of light and colour to the earth that day was ethereal, and I saw two specks on the most beautiful ridge of a beautiful mountain, pushing on up into glorious sunlight. Two great friends in a sublime setting, moving on with ease and pleasure, pausing a moment in a notch to soak up the gathering space , the expanding view. That morning moved me deeply with it’s beauty, and solidified 100% in my mind the worth of this, the pure beauty of being part of such a place and moment. For me it drove out all my earlier doubts and fears from the bottom of the mountain in the dark, and really solidifed the worth of this, why this environment and experience is worth risking for… a reward like that sunrise is as real as life gets, I do believe. Magnus, you already knew this, Magnus, you LIVED your life, and cared, inspired were loved by and loved others too. Nothing much higher can be said of people, I don’t think; what are we here for?
–I feel so deeply for Magnus’ friends and family,and hope that they can see this too. I can’t explain why the death of a mountaineer I’d barely met has moved me so; except that it didn’t feel that way. I can’t really articulate anymore, can’t write how Magnus’ life was worth living, though it led to being taken early. Best is to read the moving account by Andreas, which is frank, stark, but pays true honour to his true friend, Magnus Kastengren. http://andreasfransson.se/
I share a little with Robert. The new guided arrivals are great people, but I can’t truly connefct with anyone, and at first hide in my bunkroom, the window shored up with a matress, dark and cool. and I know Tony and Tim somewhat. I know they understand to some degree, but only some. I leave the next morning, skinning a lonely yet caressing, soothing wind and shifting cloud. These are my mountains, my lifeblood, treat us, treat me, as they may. I follow Magnus’s ski tracks, still arcing graceful, powerful turns under inerama col. The walk out is therapuetic. I run into Lucy in the village, I run into her somewhere in the hills every spring. She also understands. There is a strong kinship in this world. Keiran and Carl are there. I am glad to see them. I should be going back into the snowy realms tomorrow, the forecast storm vapourised to nothing much. I can’t won;t, no will to push me up again. We get drunk.
We trundle out to a beautiful valley behind benign Lake Ohau late next afternoon, tussock hills, rocky ramparts, gentle valleys. We smell woodsmoke before we reach the hut, splasch across the river. The next day we we climb superb alpine rock for 500m up Bruce Peak, no stress, easy moves in a beautiful place. No ice, goden sunset glissades in corn snow. I’m enjoying myself with my good friends in the mountains. I’m sure Magnus, Hiroki, would have enjoyed this. But I am not tormented, or saddened, at this time. up here I rejoice in life.
Back to my heartland.
Fiordland remains my favourite place on earth. Conor, Naomi (siblings) and myself spent a disproportionate amount of our childhood playing amongst the mossy boulders and lush alpine beech forest of Homer Hut. 4 days after the Mt Fraser trip and once again, 4 more free days stretched ahead of me. The surf was clean and hollow… and I went for a wave that day as I tried to regain equlibrium after nightshift… but the mountains were under my skin, more than ever before.
Early the next day I was driving West, with several objectives in mind. The snow had retreated a long way, and one by one they were ruled out, until the road started penetrating into the tangled heart of fiordland. There it was, the south Face of Ngatamamoe. I’d glanced it in the rearview mirror years ago, and ever since this magical, spiney face had refused to leave my head, hovering on the edge of my mind.
It was late afternoon buy the time I hit the Earl Mountains track, and I made exactly the same routefinding error myself and mum had made starting the ‘U Pass’ tramp 7 years earlier. Not to worry, and as I waded through a slightly swollen Mistake Creek, Ngatamamoe began to reveal herself. The true story:
I’d expected the exposure from the map; but the face was looking fairly rinsed and icy from recent rains, and the route up and across into the bottom of the face from the climbers left looked dicey. (**in early October, the Darrans are usually stacked with snow…and often very dangerous from an avalanche perspective, even throughout the valley floors… but this was the warmest year on record, with a correspondingly sparse snowpack**)
Early the next morning, it sure was. The first rock step was ok, but I was feeling incredibly daunted but this peak, this whole increible, towering cirque(by the way,’ flat top’ peak sports an amazing, very difficult route of steep ice. Someone should do it – someone else). The snow remained very hard between Ngati’s rock steps, and steeper than it had appeared. access to Ngatamamoe’s South Face is via the splotches of snow through the rocks on extreme right of photo, then an unknown, invisible traverse.
Doubts about the snow conditions, the possibility of traversing into the face, and primal fear, turned me around at this point, whilst there was still time to make it back to biv, and tramp over U pass to try the other striking looking peak of the Area; Triangle. I would snowboard into hut creek from U pass, and check out the hidden crux under Triangle’s beautiful sharp face. Triangle, striking on the left. Ngatamamoe is the next, bulkier pyramid to the right.Christina in background.
The morning drizzle stopped, clouds cleared, and a large weight was lifted from my shoulders. Rock wrens chirruped; now here, now there. Green fronds waved in the wind, sunlight fell across my face. I was, I am, happy with my choice. You are welcome to Ngatamamoe. Maybe I will go back. Someday. Definitely not this year. Not until I feel ready. At the time I said never…but these feelings fade with time, and objectives look more reasonable with every year of experience under the belt.
-face and ramp out to climbers right are obvious. route then came down from col on photo right. down snowgrass and rock shortly to right of caves, then a traverse back to photo leftacross the ribbons of snow back to ascent route(foreground ridge is part of normal ascent route).
6 PM, I’d thoroughly enjoyed my tramp and a wee ride too. Waterfalls to circumnavigate, more wrens, chamois fooling around, oblivious to the visitor… I was excited to see triangle…Then there it was, the view you see above. Triangle’s South Face. I swore savagely to myself. It clearly didn’t go, and after thismorning I wasn’t feeling the love for icy, exposed solo climbs or snowboard descents. The water ice crux was just out of view from the highway. If I had a couple of 60m half ropes… but instead I had just my 30, it would take an age to abolokov my way down that thing in 15m raps. I almost stormed back out the 3 hours to the car and home. In the end though, I’m glad I stayed. spread out my bivvy bag in a clump of beech forest, ate a huge dinner, listened to the keas cry resounding far above. This trip was becoming very contemplative, very special.
The climb was entertaining, a very steep section of near-verticle tussock and soaking grass overcome with crampons and axe. I was able to climb over and behind the ridge you see on climbers left, and followed the normal route (not that it sees too much traffic) on the SW face; gentle cramponing on frozen snowslopes. I smiled; I was stoked it was so solid. I would never be able to ride the hanging line; and instead could just cruise this mellow stuff once it corned up. I went as slow as I could, to minimise time freezing on the summit; the afternoon sun was what I’d need. It was a beautiful dawn. My heart was happy to be alive.
Atop the line…zounds! it appeared to be 10cm of well-settled powder on the South face. I trundled rocks, threw smaller ones, even rapped in and performed some tests. They all confirmed the last thing I wanted…a face in safe condition. I eloped to the summit and enjoyed one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever beheld. The Darrans are another place in October.
Then it was game on. I would love to have gone direct and rapped the ice. it would make a good climb too, if exposed overhead. however, I instead took the ramp heading out to climbers right, on a downward traverse. This thing had none of theat settled pow and was rock solid. this section saw very few turns, and alot of ice axe use. an awkward 10m rap off the side of a small bluff at the far end and through a wee ice gully, board still on, and then I was free to inch off the ramp, and down a steep snow wall to the col East of the peak.
Beautiful corn turns followed. I’d realized getting back over to the ascent route…the only line of weakness through the bluffs…would be difficult. no obvious route existed. I downclimbed one easy angled rock spur, then a bit more slushy riding. To my delight, a route down the steep snowgrass through the main bluff cutting off this side of the basin looked easier from up close up. A scramble down this, across slabs and streams, and then a rising crampon up and over snow gullys , back across far below the ramp I’d ridden. I was happy to rejoin the ascenty route, but tired, and took alot of care on the descent, several raps down the narrow, exposed rock/grass spur at the bottom. No time for a brew, failing light and less than flash battery life in my torch. Slammed my camp into my pack and bolted downriver. Happily I made the end of the flats in the last dregs of light, 8pm ish I believe, and stopped for a delicious brew-up. Then on, a couple hours ecstatic trudge back down valley to the car, enjoying the track, the forest, feeling very much at peace with myself and the world. Made the car at 11pm or so. 18 hour climb; two-three hour walk out. The drive back was hell without coffee or music., I had to keep pulling over to nap, which sometimes stretched to 2 hours until the piercing cold woke me. AS if in a dream, I got home at 6 30am, just enough time to grab breakfast before it was off to a 12 hour shift of manual factory labour amongst the furnaces. Urgh. I got what I wanted though. Contentment. Beauty. Challenge. Peace.
Finally, I was done with my avalanche two. I’d been doing alot of research on a beautiful peak I’d spotted in the Rakia headwaters two springs ago, from the Garden of Eden neve, and Shane Orchard was as usual, very interested. However, on the last few days of course I’d watched the forecast models mutate from 20cm of fresh to 300mm of rain; which is exactly what happened. I got a day or two at BR, having a blast riding again nonetheless, and headed back south for work. Taqlk with Shane continued though, and finally, we headed for The North Huxley river. We’d both been wondering about the Hopkins area for years…classic tramping country, appealing after a diet of Canterbury Alps river-bed bashing… and , not for the first time, based out final objective off another of thoise spectacular FMC bulletin cover photos. Mt Cook lillys, ranunculus lyalli, waved before a sea of tussock, which abruptly reared into steep, straightforward snow, cresting amongst jagged teeth.
What we found was exactly that. The classic NZ ski trip of course, begins with a walk in during the rain, and a cup of tea at every hut encountered. After setting the fire at Brodrick Hut that evening, I startkled six red deer in the gully below the hut. Next morning, we discovered a ‘superbowl’ of perfect spines, almost unheard of in NZ, however with the freezing level riding and early sun on cold new snow, the only window for us would have been about the moment we saw it. earmarked for a return! Bill McCleod’s peak ‘clink’ looked rinsed by the rain, and Mt Trent proved slow going later, and none to safe, so that plan was scrapped. However, Mt Fraser was looking BOSS. So, up we went, and down we came. A first descent of a classic, classic ski line; it also seems to be the first ascent of the route, an obvious ramp rearing up gradually from 40 degrees at the schrund to maybe 50 at top. Geoff Gabites and Bill did a more involved climb aroundf the corner though, back in the day. spotted a beaut ice line too. We would be back! In fact, shane sat out two days of old man Nor-Wester in the hut; to score a nice descent of Mt Strauchon; I instead allowed the gathering NW to blow me back down the valley, with clouds of dust from the riverbed, and back to work. huxley forks hut.Broderick Hut.
shane-o. all photos copyright Ruari Macfarlane I feeljustified in calling this 600m line ‘classic’. well worth a wee walk. alot of potential very close too. Go take a look… a good mid-late winter destination I reckon, although the avy paths into the valleys ARE big…there’s alot of verticle relief, though the peaks be moderate.
I am normally chuffed to be back in NZ, but this time was pining for the summer and adventure left behind in Canada. I had no job sorted when I arrived, and realized I needed to make something productive of having to return. At the same time as starting shift work down in my southland homelands, I signed up for my NZMSC Avalanche Stage 2 (CAA level 2 equivalent). This was very interesting and I really enjoyed being stimulated intellectually, after too long going through the motions of ski patrolling; plus I was glad to refine my practical knowledge and technical skills. However cramming the theory modules (terrain and snowpack was my favourite), the field training and the 8 day final pratical Assessment into 3 months (most people do so over 1-2 years) meant I lived and breathed avalanches day and night for those months. A huge thanks to Doug McCabe of Broken River/Yellowstone Club, Jono Gillan of The Remarkables ski patrol (and all the good guys and lasses there) and all my other mentors who helped out, taught me alot and dedicated their own time to help me obtain my logbook signoffs. During this time, this ski season, I got only about 5 days of riding for fun. About 3 on the tows at BR, plus two days backcountry at Remarks;a wee climb and ride of single and double cones, and a superb day on Remark’s West face above the lake. This was a much needed break from training, and a suitable amount of exposure and steeps blew some of the stress away during the 4 lines I yo-yo’ed between during a day on the face…which all came back when I spent 3.5 hours trying to smash my way through the last 300m of scrub to gain the fields out the bottom, en route to the highway and home. I remeber hanging, at one stage, upside down over top of scrub, my ankle caught in a vine, and thinking how desperate this was. My second bad experience of Wakatipu scrub…petite couloir visible on double cone at sunset. nice n’ rime iceyhardly time to surf- not much of a winter for it thoughsophie norton, BR b.c.double conepartway down petite couloirpetite. was able to do from top without rope…just.avy2first time ski touring with mum! awesome. a highlightw face remarks. three of my runs were in the region of the two couloirs on the right.this we spotted in canada. natural?
these last three photos are from the day Jamie Vinton-Boot perished on the other side of these peaks in a small avalanche. This was a truly sad event, Jamie wass much loved and respected as one of the hardest technical climbers to come out of NZ. Tragically, it was really just the beginning of a really bad run for mountaineering in NZ, one that would brush us all with loss. I hope and pray it doesn’t continue on through the summer.time for keeping it real during my work days with a little floundering and fishing with ‘ol mate Ewen Rodway. Nothing like fresh southern kaimoana, except harvesting it on a glassy, crisp winters day at Oreti beach.rapping in to check stabthe last run……dragged on. Work the next morning. keep going. The 2nd snowboard is one I found that had been dropped down West face! southland is not a bad place to commute up or down through every 4 days. In NZ, says Will Gadd, winter is “optional”.
plans to spend summer in the Rockies fell through along with our hoped-for work permits. So it was back to NZ with regrets and no plan. Trying to maximise my rock time, I tred the SE ridge of grotto solo but chickened out of the super exposed, rotten crux; kiernan lyons rushed me to the airport and it was back to ”those windswept isles where polynesia and antarctica collide” – an approximate quote from ‘Beyond the Snowline’ by Aat Vervoorn, my favourite book.
The next month was spent looking for a job, getting in the odd surf etc… and a first kayak descent of a beautiful local stream no-one had thought copuld hold enough water, disclosing a beaut 5m waterfall and some killer long rockslides. The Lora gorge is an instant flood run classic, many miles from the nearest whitewater. However, there was 10cm of snow on the ground when we ran it; upping the commitment, so it was quite a relief to float out the bottom in daylight.
alta ego, remarksice climbing with benefits
Big thanks going out to Penny Gottard. Ona tour near Ben nevis, south end of The Remarkables, I got a badf attack of food poisoning and virtually crawled out, vomiting and dry retching. Would’ve been out the night in a NW storm were it not for Penny’s ceaseless encouragement and physical help carrying my gear. Made it out in time for me to spend 4 hours sleep sprawled in the boot of my car, then drive to my new job for a medical screening!gettin’ the sickness. literal.
Al Walker and Jaz Morris were kind enough to invite me to the Darrans, and Jaz and I pulled off an ascent of a new mixed route (Home Turf, darrans grade 4/II , 4 pitch in ice so thin as to be almost totally absent, but good turf and granite. I was very, very happy to be back on my spiritual home turf. The darrans remain my favourite place in the world, in all their moods (so long as I have access to some form of bombproof shelter of course!).bridging above the cavehomer hut. paradise.grotto SE ridgelast hours in canadajaz, Pitch 2 Home Turf,
I also was lucky enough to climb with the late Hiroki Ogawa, and share a couple of pitches of ice at the remarkables with him. I still remember his glowing face and infectious grin piercing the cold as he bridged and squeezed his way up out the top of alta ego, a beaut thin gully, with some dry-tooling and an awesomely awkward squeeze out the top. Climbing and staying with Hiroki was a true pleasure, as were our long discussions about his scientific work and his advice regarding scientific careers. IExtremely tragically, Hiroki and his girlfriend sadly died in a horrendously cold storm which swept the nation from the south and trapped them on Taranaki. Hiroki, we are all going to miss you, and Nicole also I am sure. You were a beam of light on the coldest day.
-ground is Tower of Babel, a fun 5.8 adventure, especially when the heavens opened and poured on Dan Leon and myself halfway up. Good, hard, colourful quartzite..in one orange friction chimney down low I felt more like I was in Utah, despite the extreme difference in rock character. Mt babel rises behind, a much more beautiful and serious proposition, for the real alpinist.
In May last year I was relieved to finally finish my Mt Temple North Face project. It was a drawn on saga and weighed on my mind; this face is not a friendly place. I have been busy all winter in NZ with my Avalanche 2 qualifiication and my own trips, but finally am back on the blog, back in Canada, and relieved that I don’t have to visit this face again! article to be published in upcoming NZ Alpine Journal. All up; 7 major lines ridden, including aemmers, sphinx (from 50m below very top), dolphin, cobra, sphinx access chute and two unnamed lines. plus 2 smaller tributarys of the main couloirs, a descent of ‘little temple’, and Mt temple from the summit via SW face. solo except aemmers, more by circumstance than choice.
See ‘aemmers’ and ‘the mt temple project’ posts for all earlier stories that were part of this project.
Ian shevalier and myself were rock climbing in heart canyon, and I commented on the pitch of easy ice still hanging by one crag. The next day we were planning to ski miners, then crag; and he challenged me to do the trimviate; ski, ice, rock, in a day. Miner’s didn’t happen, but the next time we received a marginal re-freeze I headed up miner’s gully…an area visible from my home in canmore. I waited to hear back from a potential partner for a bit, but they didn’t eventuate, so I set off a bit late, at 7am. Miners gets alot of solar first thing so I booked it up, and was dropping in circa 0840, goopy snow but just in time. In relief I gained the bottom of S gully, and after deliberating a wee while went for it, dodging small rocks and minor wet sluffs off the small solar aspect wall, mainly by staying up on the high left bank.
The shady wall offered, surprisingly, settled pow, and big corn carves on the lower apron were great.
A walk down mountain bike tracks had me wishing for more equipment, with a bike and kayak I could make a real day of it!
I hitched back to the car and had a swim in the dam, which was super refreshing. I love jumping in cold water, often it is the least inviting thing; always worth it. You feel more alive than ever afterwards; 100%; thoroughly invigorated. The car was almost boxed in; there’d been no on else around and I’d left it sideways. The place was teeming with calgarians
Again, I had a partner bail on me, this time for climbing. not to worry, I simply shot over home, fired up the barby, and invited my old farming neighbour for saskatchewan over for a beer. Full an sleepy, I then relaxed with a book, baking in the sun, every now and then looking up to gaze at my tracks. The rest of day proceeded between relaxation and industry…cleaned the house, changed the tyres(it sure didnt feel like we’d need winter rubber again), and watched avalanches pour off the peaks innthe afternoon sun. It wasn’t till seven that soph got home, and nicely agreed to belay me, so we shot off at 1930 hours and I still got myi ce and rock pitch in! Luckily they were very easy because it was getting dark.
A good day, though would have been good to kayak and bike, to somewhat match the more extreme chamonix classic(ski, ice, rock, bike, paraglide- in one day).
I do think my favourite was back home on the edge of Fiordland though…dawn surf, driv to borland saddle, hike, snowboard a couloir and back in time to bike down the road…and with time enough for another surf ( didn’t …should have!)
The day before our current 20 degree C + warmup,I was lucky to accompany friends on their way to aemmers, then split and work a project currently motivating me to get out of bed at stupid o’clock… to ride every reasonably ride-able line on Mt Temple, or at least the north face, a vast, shady cathedral of steep skiing that oddly doesn’t see a huge amount of traffic, despite staring lake louise ski area square in the face, and towering high (like 1500 vertical metres high) over anyone heading to aemmers couloir… the only (and very) popular line.
This time, I was lucky enough, as on every other occasion, to get primarily good snow (in some places excellent), and rode The Dolphin (you can easily figure which line it is yourself!NB this is not a safe line due to serious serac fall hazard, and one wants to move fast with no stops, plus a quick transition at top. climb the lookers R hand couloir to join dlphin under head, somewhat reducing serac exposure time); and one other line immediately lookers right, plus a small subsidary of that. A fairly full day. I was definitely tired, but also wrapped in a satisfied glow, as I stumbled out and hitch hiked home!
Does anyone know the history, if any, of people skiing the line beginning immediately lookers right of the dolphin’s head(marked on topo)? I seem to remember it looking ridiculous last year, unsure if my perceptions have changed; or if it often just doesn’t form quite right, for whatever reason..? Love to hear from anyone on this….
Thank goodness, I don’t think I could spend another season chasing FWQ points!
Rossi asked for a wee video summary of how my Rossignol ‘The Experience’ snowboard was treating me; so… https://vimeo.com/64534248
this is inspiring; http://www.biglines.com/articles/who-fk-trevor-hunt