Monday, March 24, 2014

"Mini" Chickaboom Traverse

I hadn't been out ski touring in months so it was great to get the call from Liam that they were heading out on Sunday to go check out the Chickaboom Traverse. I was worried about the avalanche conditions but it seemed like everyone else was in the same boat so I agreed to go for a bit of a walk and check out a new area.
Chickadee Valley
 The Chickadee Valley is beautiful, surrounded on both sides by large mountains. There were some pretty serious slide paths but the valley was wide enough that we could avoid the run-out zones. We didn't see much evidence of recent slides, but it was hard to tell with the dusting of snow we had received overnight. There was some old debris on most of the slopes so we were careful to avoid any overhead hazard. We toured most of the way up the valley to investigate the climb up to Chimney Col, before turning back and skinning up in the trees beside a slide path to cross the Boom Col. 
The end of the valley
Impressive peak with some ice on the right
 It was tricky going in the trees as there was a nasty sun crust under some of the new snow. We dug a pit on the way up and found a few crust layers. On the other side of the col however, the snow was much less crusty. We stuck to a wide low angle slope for the first part of the descent.
Eddie looking down at our line
 Lower down, we navigated through a bit of a chute and into some awesome glades. The snow was surprisingly good! We got some powder turns in before the trees got a bit dense and popped out at Boom Lake after some christmas tree niggling.
Looking up at our line
 We toured back down the Boom Valley by following the lake and then a creek that we were hoping would take us back to the Boom Lake parking lot. On the way, we saw a big cornice break off the top of Boom Mountain and a big slide ripped down a gully towards the lake. We were well out of the way so it was very exciting to watch. It was a long, flat walk back to the parking lot. We hooked up with a snowshoe trail that eventually got us there, but realized that there had been a skin track to our left somewhere that would have been much nicer to follow.
Skiing across Boom Lake
 Since the car was parked at the continental divide parking lot (3 or more km down the road), we tried unsuccessfully to hitch-hike for a few minutes before strapping on the skis again and touring down the snowbank at the side of the highway. We got a lot of strange stares from drivers. We got back to the truck at 5:15, after doing a complete loop around Boom Mountain (hence the "mini chickaboom traverse"). According to google earth, the whole loop was about 17.5 km (including our out and back to the end of the valley).
Skiing back to the car along the highway

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Coire Dubh/Integral WI3/5.7

 Kyle, Liam and I took advantage of the Chinook that we were having  (6 degrees in Canmore!) to go out and climb one of the easier mixed multi-pitch routes in the area, Coire-Dubh/Integral. The Coire-Dubh part is 3 pitches of ice and snow and the Integral is two pitches of rock with lots of snow in between. The whole route was about 700m of elevation gain. We were told to get an early start, unfortunately for us it was also the night of the time change. 5am came too quickly (since it was actually 4am), but we were the only ones in the parking lot when we arrived.
Alpine start (which felt way worse with the time change)
The approach was really easy and flat for the first bit, followed by a climb up to the first ice pitch. As the sun was coming up, we were able to get our first look at what we had ahead of us. The walk up to the bottom of the route was steep so we put our crampons on and scrambled up the ice and snow to the bottom of the WI3 pitch.
Our first good look at where we have to go, approaching the first pitch as the sun came up
Disaster almost struck at the first belay when Liam dropped his belay device on the steep snow. Luckily it stopped before picking up too much speed! Liam lead the first pitch without issue and Kyle followed and cleaned. I took the more direct route up the right side and was surprised how sustained the steepness was. By the time I reached the top, I was already feeling a bit pumped!
Liam leading the WI 3 pitch
Kyle following
 After the first pitch, we roped up and short-roped the rest of the way until we reached the bottom of the rock. There were a few sections that had some easy ice but Liam just protected them with a screw and we climbed up without a belay. It was all fairly easy going, just steep and at times the snow got quite deep. It was cool working our way through the narrow canyon that we are about to enter in the picture below.
Short roping up the snow (aka Liam and Kyle pulling me up the mountain)
 We got to the first rock pitch without any issues and Kyle took the lead. This was the part of the route that I was most apprehensive about as I was quite concerned about climbing in crampons. None of us had ever done any mixed climbing before and it was a steep learning curve!
Rope management at its finest
Kyle all excited about leading the 5.7 pitch
A few metres into the pitch, Kyle had a bit of excitement moving through a section that he couldn't protect and definitely gave me a scare. He managed to muscle his way through and get some cams in the wall and I was able to stop holding my breath. It was a hard route to protect and Kyle mentioned that some bigger gear would have been very useful. Kyle eventually moved up and out of sight. A few minutes later, his ice tool came whizzing down, bouncing off the rock and landing in the snow way below us. Luckily it stopped there. I retrieved it while Liam belayed so that Kyle wouldn't have to finish the climb with only one tool.
Kyle contemplating life and wondering why on earth he wanted to lead this pitch
 I insisted on going next because I really did not want to be the only one at the bottom, worrying about how to get up. Mixed climbing is terrifying! I had a very hard time trusting my crampon points for balance and when they slipped, it smelled like I had struck a match and left big white scratches on the rock. It felt like anything-goes climbing and I wedged my body and pack into cracks to get stability, used my knees and elbows to keep myself secure and somehow got to the top. It did not look pretty! Kyle was still recovering from his lead when I reached the top. I ignored the urge to flop down in the snow and belayed Liam up, giving Kyle a well deserved rest. At this point my feet (which were in ski boots) were in agony. I had to take my boots off once Liam had got to the top so I could regain some feeling in them.
You can't tell by the smile but my feet feel like they are falling off
 The next bit of the climb did not involve any photos because my feet hurt to much to think about stuff like that. We short roped up and left from the tree belay, crossing a snowy patch then scrambling up some rock (which I was not too happy about). The route then wrapped right around a rock and continued right up a snowy ramp. We took a break in a big rock well where we had a bit of lunch. At this point it was still quite early, maybe only 12 or 1 in the afternoon? The next section was a bit of mellow ice that we short roped up onto a ramp. We the had to go down a bit onto a lower ramp that took us up to an overhanging boulder that we got to walk under. A short rock scramble up to the left got us to a very narrow chimney with some ice and rock. Liam climbed it all on short rope but set up a belay for us at the top. This was probably the 5.4 pitch, although at the time, it felt way harder. It was short though which was a relief. After that, we had a short scramble across some loose rock and snow and summited moments later!
Victory! We made it to the top
 It felt so good to have made it to the top! It felt even better to take off my boots and put on my approach shoes. It was so windy at the top, but lucky for us, the temperature was still warm so it wasn't so bad. Some weather that had been threatening to come in on us was hanging over Yamnuska but we never got any of it. We pretty much got to do the whole climb in the sun (with a bit of snow in the middle). We started down around 3pm, with a quick scramble up Loder to "bag a summit" on the way.
Loder peak with the Integral on Liam's right
 I was tired on the way down so the going was slow. Liam and Kyle were awesome and waited for me as I half stumbled, have slid down the mountain. I was happy that we were scrambling though. Rappelling and down climbing the route would not have been very much fun. The snow was quite steep in places and I felt a lot better about walking down rock, despite the scramble being seemingly endless! 
It was really windy up there! But not cold, so we had that going for us
Scrambling down the mountain - I soon learned that going down is way worse than going up
We got to the road at about 6pm but the car was in a parking lot about 2km away. We tried to hitch-hike but for some reason nobody wanted to pick up three desperate looking people with ice axes. I can't imagine why. We celebrated at the car with beer and wine gums. Despite all the discomfort and difficulty with the descent, I had a fantastic day and can't wait to get back out in the mountains again!