Winter Climbing 2008

Thanksgiving rolls around again which means its time for the 2nd annual Dave& Jim mountain expedition. This year we started at Spray Lake, 30 km south of Canmore. We shouldered our packs Saturday morning and headed up towards Buller pass with a healthy dose of snow under foot.

Pausing to drink in the view in the valley, Buller Mt in background.

With the heavy snowfall, we had to do quite a bit of route finding through rough terrain. Walking through boulder-strewn avalanche run-outs covered in snow is very difficult if you don’t want to break your legs. At left we’re pausing to discuss our bearing.

At left Jim nears the summit.

At the top of Buller, 8200 feet and perfect blue sky. In the distance at left is Mt Engadine and at right on the horizon is Mt Assiniboine. It was so nice we spent nearly a half hour on top, much longer than the weather usually permits.
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looking up at Jim negotiating the couloir.

looking down with lumps of snow falling towards oblivion.

Down the other side we descended a series of rock bands until we reached a precipice that looked too technical so we traversed to the couloir pictured above. The camera takes some of the steepness out of this picture but it was really a controlled fall of about a thousand feet- sounds fun but hidden in the snow are rocks waiting to tear you to pieces.

After descending the elevator shaft we waded through knee deep snow through the next valley. Getting slightly off-course we ended up dropping down a half-frozen waterfall, not the best scenario when you’re tired cold and hungry but we were too tired to backtrack uphill. By our less than perfect route, we found Ribbon Lake where we pitched the tent, made a fire and ate re-hydrated stew.

The next day I awoke and wondered if we would be able to get out of the tent as there was a heavy layer of ice on everything including the zipper. The temperature had gone down to -10 freezing my boots so solidly I could barely get my feet into them. We quickly got a fire going and thawed out enough to make the long trek back.

We climbed the opposite side of the valley to better plan a route back and after much discussion, we chose a rock ramp that was difficult to get to but showed promise as an easier ascent to our destination. A geologist would have been fascinated with the glacial formations we traversed but a blizzard settled in and we mostly concentrated on our footing.

At left Jim picks his footing up the “ramp”

The sense of scale is lost quickly in these conditions. With only rocks and snow in the visual field, it is easy to misjudge a good route from bad. At left, I’m picking my way up near the line we abandoned the day before. With the top so close, I recall being relieved. Earlier in the day I wasn’t sure if we would make it past this obstacle before dark!

Once past, we merely had to keep our feet moving all the way down the valley, no small task when you are exhausted but the snow turned to rain as we lost elevation and finally the sun peeked out when we reached bottom. This trip was a fantastic adventure with breathtaking sights and a sense of accomplishment that will be a while in eclipsing.

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