Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. Rae, Elbow Lake Couloir

While the face above could provide an awesome line in the right conditions, the couloir is on the left of the photo.
Gloomy, rainy weather and battling a poor freeze on the weekend has me reminiscing about a June day a couple of years back. I was supposed to meet up with some friends who were camping in the parking lot. I think I misinterpreted a text message and thought they were camping up at the lake. I hiked up to Elbow lake and didn't see anyone awake at the campground. But I looked up and saw a line that looked interesting to ski. The Campground Couloir. I transitioned to skis at the base of the fan, a short, easy bushwack from the campground.

The crust was marginal at best, but I was able to work my way up to the top col, which provided a nice view of the Rae Glacier. A quick ski down to my shoes and I was on my way back home.

Rae Glacier from the top of the line.

The window for Highwood is coming up soon enough. Current snow pillow data shows that the snowpack is in the upper historical quartile. While the road is currently snow covered, some good skiing might be remaining by the time the road melts out (for bike access) or when the gate opens on June 15. I've also seen pictures of this line being skied in November before the gate closes.

Total Distance: 4.5km
Total Elevation: 725m
Top Elevation: 2700m
Line Length:  400m
Hillmap Route
Other options in the area: Highwood pass is chock full of good skiing, but only when the road is open between June 15 (or earlier if you want to bike or ski in ~19km) and December 1. Rae Glacier and the north bowl of Mt. Rae are two other lines in the vicinity of the Elbow Lake Couloir.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stanley Mitchell Trip

A couple of weeks back, I was thinking about what I should do during the Easter break. In the back of my mind, I knew that the Little Yoho Valley is a ski touring paradise at this time of year with good coverage on the approach, long days, and better stability. After seeing that there was open space in the Stanley Mitchell Hut, I scrambled to get a crew together to make it happen.

After studying the guidebook, I even hatched an ambitious plan of skiing all of the tours...in a day. And I wrangled up Joel and his buddy Antoine to join me for that day, as well as my girlfriend and her sister/sister's boyfriend to joins us at the hut.

The approach was fast, even four the casual crew I skied the approach with. 3.25hrs to Takakkaw and to the hut in another 4.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the weather/visibility to tackle my ambitious tour, but that's not to say we didn't try. After getting up Isolated Col and to the shoulder of Mt. MacArthur in the whiteout, we decided that the wind tunnel of the President Glacier was too much. Back at the hut, we took a consolation prize, skiing some protected powder on the south slopes of MacArthur on the way to Kiwetenok pass.
A post shared by Peter Knight (@peteyknight5) on

A post shared by Peter Knight (@peteyknight5) on

Bummed that we didn't get up the Presidents, we decided to take advantage of a weather window on Sunday morning before skiing back out to the highway. Joel and I traded turns leading and made it to President pass and back in 2hrs. Great snow near the top!

A great weekend. The approach/exit was not too bad, and I still would like to go back and hopefully nail a weather window!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Some good deals on skimo gear now

Posting this for as much of a reminder for myself for future years and as a heads up for anyone looking to get into the sport or upgrade their current setup. This isn't cross country skiing or running where reps apparently see some sort of return (really?) from giving away free stuff. We all buy our gear, except a select few top guys. The top guys just have to beg their "sponsors" for replacement equipment when things break. It's one of the refreshing things about the sport: we all work to pay for it; you aren't competing against the equivalent of the Russian boxer from Rocky.

Anyways, there are some good deals out there right now on clothing, packs, and equipment that bring prices more in the ballpark of what you would spend on a normal touring setup. You just have to know where to look and what to look for.

If you aren't sure what/where to look (refer to an earlier blog post), you could comment below, but I would suggest waiting for the fall and following the development of a new local skimo shop, skiuphill.ca who will be able to provide expert advice and stock the gear that you can physically touch.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Line of the Week: Eiffel-Pinnacle Couloir

This one is well back there and quite hidden. Unless you've ventured up the Paradise Valley (or have seen pictures, like I have :) ), or have topped out the Mitre Col or Mt. Aberdeen, you might hardly have known this great line existed. Similarly, unless you wait until Moraine Lake road opens for the season (usually late May after the long weekend), the approach to this line requires a long walk up the Paradise Valley.

The seed was planted with a photo just like this one

On this particular day, we first skied the south face of Eiffel Peak (in great powder conditions), then entered the Paradise valley by skiing over Wastach Pass. Accessed via the summer trail to Eiffel Lakes. Wrapping around Eiffel Peak left us at the base of the line. I assume it is also possible to access the line by skiing over Sentinel Pass and wrapping around the base of Pinnacle Peak. Being late in the season, crusty snow, runnels, and debris were all part of the experience.

The couloir for me topped up against a rock band. More adventurous might make it even higher, but this would necessitate taking off the skis or rappeling on the way down. Of course, it might go higher in fatter snow years.

Once over Wastach pass on the way out, It can be fun skiing down the drainage to Moraine Lake rather than backtracking the summer trail, as long as the snow is still supportive.

Line Length: 400m
Top Elevation: 2750m
Total Elevation: 1330m (1200m via Paradise valley)
Round Trip Distance: 13km (23km via Paradise valley)
Other options in the area: You are in a ski mountaineering hotspot that really comes into its own late in the spring when the road opens. Aemmer Couloir, 3/4 Couloir, S face of Mt. Aberdeen, SW Ridge of Mt. Temple are in the area. The previously mentioned south face of Eiffel peak. The passes (Sentinel, Wastach, and Wenkchemna) offer tamer skiing if conditions or skillset warrant.

Hillmap route

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Line of the Week: Narao Left-hand Couloir

The Twin couloirs coming off of Narao Peak's summit always grab my attention as I drive by heading west over Kicking Horse Pass. The line on climbers right is the more committing of the two with a chockstone wedged in the couloir that requires ascending and descending through the small tunnel under the stone. Obviously not the place to fall or get taken away by slough, cornices, or avalanches, lets you get funneled through the toilet bowl! The left hand couloir is less committing, but no walk in the park. When I skied the line, there was a small cliff in the chute that required climbing/skiing around. Let this choke fill in. Still not a great place to fall.

Approach the line as you would for the Popes Peak tour described in Summits and Icefields, going over the Narao shoulder from the Lake O'hara parking lot. But instead of going right to the base of the hanging valley to continue up to the Popes col, follow a bench leading to the moraines at the base of the couloirs. But not so high you are on the steep slopes coming off of Narao Peak

A view down the line where you can see the route from Narao Shoulder. Cornices were coming down at this point!

The cornice at the top combined with the North East exposure makes managing the cornice hazard with early morning sun difficult. We elected not to top out the upper slopes as they opened up, instead transitioning at the base of a rock where the chute diverges near the top.

Line Length: 450m
Top Elevation: 2973m
Total vertical: 1400m
Round Trip Distance: 9.5km
Other options: The previously mentioned Popes Col tour is a classic described in Summits and Icefields. The Narao Shoulder offers some skiing as well. The Lake O'Hara parking lot is the starting point for numerous tours: Cathedral Peak, Collier, and Mt. Nibloc to name a few.

Hillmap route

This particular line was the scene of probably the most significant close call with a cornice fall that I have witnessed. I have stepped away or at least limited attempting lines like this since.