One Hard Message


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.

Thank God.

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. 


Valley of the Ten PeaksImageImageImage

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;, 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.ImageImageImageImageImage


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.


About ruari

a lover of the beauty of the mountains, coast and other wild open spaces. An adventurer and high-level snowboard freerider / snowboard mountaineer
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2 Responses to One Hard Message

  1. Trevor Sexsmith says:

    Nice write-up, sorry to hear about your luck. I only saw one piece of rockfall, but the random track it took made me think conventional couloir thinking wouldn’t amount to much to avoid other rocks. Did you go via Beaverfoot/ Wolverine Pass? That is definitely a bear migratory route, I followed a grizz up that. How did you guys breach the lower serac? The black hole fall-line of the couloir looks even less skiable in your pics than I remember, so I assume not that. I did consider it for longer than is good for my health though…

    Get better soon,

  2. Always enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing the good the bad and the ugly. Hope you are healing well!


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