After several years of improving my skiing, taking courses, doing field exercises and various training, I finally graduated to the big time. Rogers Pass is one of the premier ski mountaineering destinations in the world and I was lucky enough to join the North Face team in a climb/ski expedition.
Day 1, ridiculous am
The six of us assemble at the highway and put on skis and climbing gear, test our avalanche beacons and do a final gear checklist. We go over the weather and avalanche report and assess conditions and strategies for where our route should and shouldn’t go. Our chosen route up Mt Sifton starts by following up a creek before heading straight up in several zig-zags to keep us out of avalanche run out zones and trigger points. above: Mark crosses a creek over a snow covered log.
Perhaps from the first photo, you can see that this area gets snowfall that can hardly be believed. The flatness of the valley floor was short lived and soon enough, we began the arduous ascent through deep snow. Couple these conditions with the altitude and a big pack, and I found my fitness being tested early.
Above: Mark is removing the climbing skins (strips that allow the ski to move forward but not backward) from his skis. I’m tramping snow down so when I remove my skis, I don’t sink up to my waist. Without the floatation of wide skis, you can flounder helplessly as though you were in quicksand. With our climbing gear off and boots and bindings set to descent mode, our Herculean effort was about to be rewarded.
We ski one at a time through small sections then regroup to discuss routefinding. Perhaps it’s obvious but in the wilds there’s no signs telling you where to go so it’s essential to understand where you are and where you’re going so you don’t end up somewhere you can’t get out of. Every chunk is vastly different from wide open snow fields to treed glades to steep cliffs or steep walled gullies.
Above: On steep terrain with trees, turns get planned in advance! Here, Hugo is figuring out his line before committing himself.
Above: I’m getting ejected from a steep glade and picking up speed.Above: A heavily zoomed shot of Randy plowing through some deep powder near the bottom. It’s taken me a while to build my skill level up to ski terrain like this. It’s nearly impossible to describe what its like to move through snow this deep and light though flying comes close. The snow is so light that there appears to be no contact with the ground which is why it feels like you are flying just above the ground. Even this isn’t quite right though as it takes so much leg strength to move.
We eventually hit the valley bottom and struggled to get across a creek and up to the highway. Above: All smiles back at the highway to make the walk to find the cars. I’ve done some tough slogs in my day but this short walk nearly did me in after the day we just had!
That night we stayed at the Glacier Lodge, a small hostel/lodge. The common area was pretty cool as the 4 parties staying there all had topo maps spread out planning the next day’s adventure. Besides us, there was a group from Sweden who flew here just to come to this spot, a party from Spain and one from the US. It was very enjoyable to be around so many map geeks as we shared information on routes and conditions. It also made me realize how lucky we were to be so close to this place which is unique for it’s snowfall and steep terrain. It’s amazing how different it is just 20km east of here though I don’t know enough local weather theory to tell you why.
Day 2 was just as amazing and exhausting with a climb and descent of Mt Cheops. The snow was so deep it had completely buried and cocooned the trees which is actually very dangerous. This is because the branches create an air pocket that forms an empty cylinder around the tree that gets papered over and hidden by snow on top. A skier can easily fall through and discover they are trapped. In conditions like this, we stick close together (just one of the reasons you ski in groups.) But staying close becomes difficult when, as the above picture shows, the world becomes a snowy maze of blobs. In this section we had two encounters with tree wells with one of our party actually hanging upside down from his skis inside the well! In each case help was right there because we evaluated the conditions in this section and determined we should stay closer together.
Above: Yan and I make our way through the snowblob maze.
This trip left me with a level of satisfaction and exhaustion that will be difficult to rival. When I returned home, the planning of the next trip begins! Thankfully, this crown jewel of skiing has many facets to keep us challenged for our lifetimes.
I can’t tell who this is! More pictures in this Picassa album:Rogers Pass