Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lightning Strike Hut - Kootenay Pass

Two weeks ago, we bailed on a trip to Fernie because it was raining to the top of the headwall. As a result, expectations were low for our trip to the Lightning Strike Hut in Kootenay Pass the following weekend. The hut had been booked for the Alberta Family Day weekend over a year ago so we were going regardless of the conditions but as the weekend drew near, snow started to fall. We arrived in Fernie Thursday night and spent the next day skiing the resort. It snowed 20 cm during the day and we skied stayed just ahead of patrol who was slowly closing down the mountain, skiing refill pow laps until we finally had to hit the road for Kootenay Pass. We arrived in the dark and skinned up the mellow logging road 3 km to the hut. There was significantly more snow than last time we skied the pass in awful conditions the same weekend 3 years ago.
Lightning Strike cabin - Photo Phil Tomlinson - click to see Phil's blog mountainwagon.com
No more space for snow in the pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Starting up the skin track in the dark
Snow was falling thick and fast when we awoke. Our group of 8 set out together to punch in a skin track up Baldy Rocks, before dividing into 2 groups of 4. Kyle, Christine, Phil and I spent the day together. It was really windy and snow had drifted across the ridge in deep pockets. We were a bit nervous about wind loading so opted to drop into the windward side of the ridge, cautious of the rain crust from the week before.
Scoping out the up track. Blue and orange were the official colours of the weekend
Woody also got the memo about the colour combo. Howling winds as we approach ridge top couldn't keep us from the pow!
Stoked to drop in on my amazing new/old set-up: Volkl Gotamas + Marker Kingpins
To say that the snow was better than expected would be a massive understatement. Kyle dropped in first. I heard screams of delight and surprise as he disappeared into a puff of snow. The skiing was magical. It was stable, it was deep and I don't really know where that rain crust went. Every turn delivered an over-the-head wave of snow that threatened to drown me. When we regrouped at the bottom of the run, everyone was grinning ear to ear or laughing hysterically. We quickly skinned up to head back up for another, then another, then another.
Getting into the white room off Baldy Rocks. Photo Phil Tomlinson
Kyle coming up for air. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Gasping for breath before another face shot. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Smiles for days. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Christine getting after it as Kyle waits to drop in. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Should have brought a snorkel. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Kyle in full storm mode. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
I don't think we saw anyone else all day. We found out later that avalanche conditions had been high across the board. It had started off pretty stable but the wind continued to blow and it snowed heavily all day. Things were getting touchier near the end of the day and Kyle remote-triggered a 1.5 when we went to drop in off the wind-loaded eastern slopes. Keeping this in mind, we returned to western aspects of Baldy Rocks on Sunday, joined by Woody who skinned in to meet us for a few hot laps. The snow was a bit heavier and a bit deeper. The temperatures plummeted but that couldn't keep us from getting after it, especially since we had a nice warm hut to return to for lunch. It wasn't the same blower conditions we had the day before and we played it safer due to the changing conditions, but we still had amazing turns in waist deep snow all day. 
Windy conditions in the valley below Saturday afternoon. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Surprise pow is the best pow. Pure bliss in Kootenay Pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Kyle and Woody can't believe their luck, more fresh tracks ahead
Looking down at the goods from Baldy Rocks
So stoked!
Heading up for another lap
Back at the hut, we swapped stories of face shots and amazing turns with the rest of the party. Raina and Ed snowshoed in Sunday night to say hi but despite all the dietary restrictions (dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, vegetarian?!?!) of our group, we still had nothing that Raina (vegan?) could eat!
Endless starts at Lightning Strike Hut. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Sunday night crew. Visits from friends always welcome!
Monday morning it was bluebird. Despite the long drive we had ahead of us, we got out for one more sweet lap before packing up and heading home. The snow had been so deep all weekend that you needed to find steep slopes in order to get any speed at all. Tobias, Adrian, Julie and Nicole had found a run down to the powerlines that was still steep enough to ski but was protected from all the wind effect of the weekend. End result: more face shots!
At least 3 bluebirds were seen on Monday
Tobias getting after it
Leaving was bitter-sweet. We could finally see all the terrain that we have yet to explore and the snow was getting more stable. But, we had just had some of the best powder skiing days of my life. I guess we will just have to come back next year to do some more exploration. I arrived with low expectations, and left with the knowledge Kootenay Pass sure can deliver!
Significant overhead hazard at the trailhead
Deep snowbanks in the pass

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Daddy Cool and Puff Daddy in Rogers Pass

Does it ever stop snowing in Rogers Pass? I doubt it. I have never been up there on a clear day, its always dumping. With over 100 cm of storm snow on the ground and 70 cm in the forecast through the weekend we somehow managed to sneak in two amazing days with surprisingly stability. We took advantage of our good fortune to bang out a couple of laps in the Puff Daddy area with Heath and Alan. Jordan, you missed out big time buddy!
Stoked on the skin track
Kyle called Alan up an hour before he left for the pass and like a good ski buddy, he dropped everything and came along for the weekend. I was driving down from Red Deer and meeting the guys at the Petro Canada. When I got there I realized I had left the keys for my Thule...uh somewhere else?! Splitting time between three towns makes it difficult to keep track of things. Fortunately, the only thing I needed were my ski poles as Kyle was bringing my skis from home. Who needs poles anyways right?
Kyle surveys the drop in to Daddy Cool
It turns out, I need poles. I am still in the process of getting my new system dialed and as a result, my skins don't really fit my Gotama's. Sliding backwards down skin tracks was the name of the game until Kyle and Alan each loaned me a pole so it all worked out. They managed to tour better than me with one pole. This weekend, I was rocking my new Marker Kingpins for the first time. It was an amazing upgrade from the old Dukes I have used for years. I am so psyched on my new pow touring set-up. Its going to make touring so much more fun.
One pole in deep pow!
We skied Daddy Cool on Saturday with two german guys we met on the skin track. It was a great lap through pillows and tight Christmas Trees, but it looks really scary and committing to drop into as the terrain just keeps rolling over. Once we were into the line it wasn't as bad as it looked. The snow was excellent and we encountered only a small amount of sluff in the steep zones.
Our new german friends and their sprinter van
We camped in the Rogers Pass parking lot, our usual spot. I really hope that when the old hotel is torn down that Parks will continue to have free camping in the pass, or at least a budget option for people to stay up there. It is so nice to ski in/ski out from the trailer and much safer than driving back and forth to Golden or Revelstoke each day on snowy highways which can be more dangerous than the skiing.
Room with a view - perfect for scoping out our next lap
Not a bad way to spend the evening after enjoying the pow
We woke to about 10 cm of fresh snow and it continued to fall all day. The parking lot was empty and we were the first group on the skin track up Grizzly Shoulder towards Puff Daddy. Some very lovely people we had met the day before loaned me a pair of poles which was amazing, thanks guys! It turns out we had a few mutual friends too. Crazy small world.
Winter wonderland in Connaught Creek
We didn't end up seeing any other skiers until we were almost at the top of the skin track. Where was everyone?? Did they know something we didn't know?
Hiking up Grizzly Shoulder
The snowfall is getting heavier
Nope! Alan dug a pit on an east facing slope and found the storm layer to be light and fluffy. There was a layer about 60 cm down but we did not see any avalanche activity in the area and nothing was moving as we skied our run down Puff Daddy. The tracks from the day before were almost completely filled in and we had the place to ourselves. As the forecast had promised, it was a powder smorgasbord.
Alan stomps a sweet cliff on Daddy Cool
One of many pillow lines on Puff Daddy

Hammer offered to drive Heath home

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Escape from Winter - Joshua Tree California

It was -27 degrees when as we drove down Highway 2 heading for the USA border at Sweetgrass Montana. This terrible temperature confirmed that we were making the right choice, bailing out of winter for two weeks of rock climbing in the desert. The highway was empty, it was Christmas Day and nobody was on the road. There was a line up at the border crossing however. We waited for almost an hour without moving before turning around and heading west to the next closest crossing, Del Bonita. The internet and phones were down at Sweetgrass and there was no estimate on how long we could have been waiting. Our detour added another 45 minutes, then we crossed into Montana. Soon, the pavement turned to gravel and we were driving down range roads with deep snow drifts. Needless to say, it was not a very efficient detour. Even when we finally reconnected with the I15, the main interstate that we would follow all the way to California, it was slippery and snowy. We drove through the blizzard for hours and into the darkness.
Butte Montana at 7 pm on Christmas Day - not a soul in sight, or an open restaurant!
Traveling on Christmas is great as there is no traffic, until you want something to eat. The only thing open was gas stations (fortunately), so we munched on chips, Christmas chocolates and chicken wraps - the only thing that looked mildly appetizing. We drove straight through the night, stopping for gas and trading off frequently so we could get a bit of sleep. We arrived in Las Vegas at 8 am and collected supplies before the completing final 3 hours of the drive through the Mojave Desert to our destination: Joshua Tree, California.
Made it to Joshua Tree!
It was such a relief to have made it to our destination after 30 hours of travel. Our next challenge was to get our travel weary and sleep deprived brains to make a decision on where to stay, all the campgrounds in the park were full! We drove around aimlessly before leaving the park and camped out on BLM land just outside of the town of Joshua Tree. The next morning, we got up early and went to check out the campgrounds again. Lucky for us, we found a campsite at Jumbo Rocks, right before a line of vehicles arrived also trying to find spots. Most were unsuccessful. We had been hoping to stay at the Hidden Valley Campground, the dirtbag climbers hangout next to many of the popular climbs, but there was no way we were getting a spot there. Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year in Joshua Tree. We just had to accept that Jumbo Rocks was going to be our home for the trip, and that was just fine by us.
Yucca Trees and piles of rocks near the Jumbo Rocks campground
Every day followed the same approximate pattern; get up at 6:30 as the sun was just coming up, have breakfast then drive out to whichever climbing area we had picked from the book the night before. We would climb until mid-afternoon/dusk, then return to camp for a beer and a beautiful desert sunset before making dinner in the dark. It was dark around 5 pm and the temperature would drop rapidly. After checking the guidebook to plan the next day's adventure and a bit of reading we were both happy with an early bedtime of about 8:30 pm.
All smiles tying in on our second day in J-Tree
 Kyle has a book called the "Trad Guide to Joshua Tree," which has 60 select routes 5.5-5.9. We had ticked off a few of the lower grade routes on our last trip in 2014, but there were plenty of routes left to check out. We also had the new Miramontes Joshua Tree book which helped us figure out where everything was. Kyle suggested that we try to complete all 60 of the select routes in the Trad Guide book and I got pretty competitive about it. Every day we would try and climb a few of the classics, which meant that we were often climbing at more than one area each day. It gave us a goal to work towards and was a great way to climb some highly recommended routes at a variety of crags.
Kyle leads "Becks Bet" in the Rock Garden Area
Sunset beers after a good day of climbing
Kyle leading Mr. Misty Kiss, a splitter 5.8 at Dairy Queen Wall
We managed to climb almost everything in the book! By the end of the trip, we only had a few of the 5.8+ and 5.9 routes left. We are much stronger climbers than our last trip to J-Tree and were able to get on some really fun routes in the 5.8/5.9 range. I still find Joshua Tree to be quite sandbagged, but in the 9 days of climbing, I felt my confidence with crack climbing as well as leading improved immensely.
Evening highliner
Joshua Trees and unique rock formations around the Lost Horse Area
Climbers Access trail marker show the way to the crags
Headstone Rock - Southwest Corner
Wonderland of Rocks
Sandy desert approaches
Down-climbing the patina, a typical "walk off" in Joshua Tree
Leading the classic "Double Cross" 
Another amazing desert sunrise at Jumbo Rocks
Joshua Tree
Kyle leads "Pope's Crack" 5.9+ in Echo Rocks
Fun in the sun. Can't complain about 22 degrees in January
Colourful evening skies
Kyle on the crux pitch of "Dappled Mare," a three pitch 5.8
Top of "The Swift" in Lost Horse Valley
Many more areas to explore
Awesome holiday with Kyle
Sunset tourist
Last sunrise of the trip
Jenny's Top 10
1. Mental Physics 5.7 +
2. Funny Bone 5.8
3. The Swift 5.7 (3 pitch)
4. Double Cross 5.7+
5. Frosty Cone 5.7
6. Diagnostics 5.6
7. Life's a Bitch, then you Marry One 5.7
8. Gem 5.8
9. Rainy Day Woman 5.7
10. Granny Goose 5.7

Kyle's Top 10
1. Bambi Meets Godzilla 5.8
2. Pope's Crack 5.9+
3. Touch and Go 5.9
4. Southwest Corner 5.6
5. Feltoneon Physics 5.8
6. Colorado Crack 5.9
7. Dinkey Doinks 5.8
8. White Lightning 5.7 
9. Dappled Mare 5.8 (3 pitch)
10. Sail Away 5.8