Weekend Warrior

IMG_7285“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.


some random austrian racing up Cascade kronenburg


Fraser on the first steep pitch of Carlsburg.


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.

The monarch. Epitomizing the beauty of the Rockies in winter.

The monarch. Epitomizing the beauty of the Rockies in winter.

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.  IMG_7246


Local-born adventurer Adam Greenburg


If you’ve ever wondered about the bottom cliff band, it hides a sweet little chute within it. Nowhere else in the line had any technical climbing. James topping out a small WI2 step in the approach chute, a feature that would often be filled in already by this time of year, and almost certainly by spring. In the conditions we encountered it, It could be rapped, or downclimbed by an ice climber. Probably preferable options to the unsupported, hanging snowshelf exit to skiiers left.


the cleaver/ monarch couloir. The next week I was in the forest nearby during heavy snowfall, listening to avalanches rumbling off; and just a few days ago I was looking at pockets (some big) of deep persistant slab that had pulled out of many of the hanging snowslopes on the monarch. She’s a dynamic environment in the Rockies, and the snowpack is usually spooky at best. Pick your days carefully (many others prudently waited until this week for their first big lines of the winter); lines like this are rarely a safe bet during winter in the Bow Valley.



the boys enter the final low angle slope. Top right is one of the main overhead hazards of this run; cornices. On our visit they were unusually small, but are usually house sized. Prior to our visit, a small chunk had broken off and pulled a slab that had run the length of the couloir. From where the photo is taken, the top-out options were either dig through a small cornice, or venture right and around on unsupported slopes. When our friends Ali and Meg skiied here in the past, the cornice at the top of the snow slope was much too large to risk digging through.

James Walter, about the surf the fun mid section, with a variety of sluff cone features offering steeper turns to skiiers right

James Walter, about the surf the fun mid section, with a variety of sluff cone features offering steeper turns to skiiers right


Adam enjoying snow of a perfect consistency for couloir booting and skiing.

All in all, a great ski day with great company, and a fitting culmination to my best weekend in quite a while!


The XV split in it’s element…pointed down a steep choke. photo Adam Greenburg/ Snowpatch Media


making it look harder than it was. I did screw up on this day out… that ice axe is still somewhere out there. In the unlikely event anyone found it, please contact me (reward)! 🙂 .      photo Adam Greenburg/ Snowpatch Media


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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