Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This House of Sky WI 3 (The Ghost Wilderness Area)

This weekend, we ventured into the Ghost to climb This House of Sky. The road conditions had significantly improved from posts I saw earlier in the week and we were able to get all the way to THOS in the North Ghost without any issues in Kyle's truck. The warm temperatures in the last few days had melted all the drifted snow, but the river in the valley was still frozen solid. It was smooth driving most of the way, but with more melting we may be seeing some ice shelves forming. One spot that might become an issue soon is the bridge at the start of the TA road. There is flooding across the road in that area and some nasty holes in the ice below the flowing water. It didn't cause us any problems but may be getting worse with time.

THOS is such a fun climb. It follows a narrow canyon for many short pitches of WI 2/WI 3 ice up to a large amphitheatre. From there, you can choose to continue upward for a few more pitches of more difficult ice. We were able to solo most of the ice in the canyon, although we put up a rope on some of the longer pitches. There are bolted stations at the top of all the pitches in the canyon, which makes it really easy to move quickly both on the ascent and the rappels. This was my second time on the route and it was even more fun this time around!
Brett on his way up the first ice flow on This House of Sky
 We were climbing as a party of 4, but moved quickly by climbing side by side on some of the wider ice flows. Our efficiency paid off and we reached the top of the canyon quickly, with time to go investigate the upper ampitheatre before heading back to town.
Eric cleaning gear
Double-teaming the ice for alpine efficiency!
Brett belays like a boss
The ice was in surprisingly good shape. After temperatures in the teens in Calgary only days before, we were expecting the route to be quite wet, but that was not the case. There had been some melting, but the route refroze which actually made it seem like the ice was brand new.
Kyle can almost touch the sky 
Climbing up into the great blue yonder
Ice steps on the way up the ampitheatre
Walking up the the WI 4 curtain
  As we approached the curtain at the top of the ampitheatre, it looked scary. The ice did not look very well supported and was pretty fragile. The boys scoped out different options, and Eric ended up leading a line to the far left, which was a bit more supported.
Looks a bit gnarly up there
Icicle views

Kyle was totally enticed by a line up the right side, which started behind the main curtain and worked its way up the side then out onto an ice pillar near the top. He thought about it for a long time before giving it a try.

Kyle scopes out his line
 Not far up, he changed his mind. He asked Eric to put up a top rope above the pitch and gave it another go. He was pretty happy with that decision because the higher he got, the more challenging the line became, not to mention that the ice was brittle and the big pillar was unsupported. It seemed like a wise choice to me!
Climbing the inner pillar
 We hung out at the curtain for a while, eating lunch and top roping. We could have climbed higher up the last few pitches, but needed to be back in town for Brett's dinner plans. You never know how long the drive out of the Ghost will be! We leap-frogged rappels on the way down and celebrated a fun day out with a BBQ at the bottom of the route. It turns out we had plenty of time, but it was nice to be back in town in daylight!
Jenny is cold

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Valley of the Birds

Brett and I have been making plans to go the the Ghost together since we met 2.5 years ago. Finally we actually took some initiative to make it happen! We got off to a slow start. I had forgot the cooler of smokies and beer for after the climb so we had to stop in Cochrane for groceries on the way out of town. Unfortunately, the stores didn't open until 8 and we arrived at 7:45. This made it an obvious choice to stop for cinnamon buns at the Coffee Traders Cafe. Yum!
Fueling up with coffee and cinnamon buns before we head into the Ghost
We quickly picked up our groceries then hit the road. We weren't sure what to expect from the access road because there had been large drifts earlier in the week, which were followed by warm temperatures. It turned out to be the easiest access we have ever had because the river was completely frozen. We only had 2 river crossings near GBU which were a breeze. We parked at the bottom of the Valley of the Birds. Kyle and I had rubber boots for the river crossing but they were not necessary as there was a log down across the water. The 50 metre approach was nice and we were on ice before we knew it. The approach ice appeared thin, but apparently it had healed up significantly from earlier in the week.
Brett puts up a rope for me on some of the Valley of the Birds approach ice
The approach had lots of log climbing
Kyle wanted to climb Seagull, a WI 4 on the climbers left side of the valley. We passed the climbs Dead Bird and Yellow Bird on the way. Dead Bird looked pretty much non-existent. Yellow Bird seemed quite thin at the bottom, but Brent Peters and his clients were up climbing it and it looked like they were having a good time. The next climb up the valley was Seagull and we arrived just as another group was starting up the short pitch below the route. The other climbers were Kevin and Reina, who had been in the Bugaboos at the same time as us last summer! Small world.
Looking up at Seagull and its approach ice from the bottom of the Valley
We took our time to get set up while the others climbed, then Brett led us up the short step and set up a belay on the bolts up to the right. Kyle was excited to lead the Seagull, a 30 m steep pitch. It was his first clean lead of a WI 4! Yay Kyle! Reina was able to capture the moment from above and took some awesome photos of us too.
Kyle leading Seagull WI 4
Photo: Reina Hasumi
There was a bolted station at the top of the route and we set up a top rope so we could try a few different lines up the pitch. We tackled 3 different lines and enjoyed hanging out in the nice weather. The left line was steeper and chandeliered, while the right line was more featured, with better ice, but a bit wet out to the far right. 
Photo: Reina Hasumi
Kyle climbing Seagull with Reina taking photos from above
It was a quick descent back to the truck, mostly down climbing with the occasional rappel. Next time we will have to head up the valley and check out some of the other climbs. The other groups went up and climbed the Eagle and said that it was in good shape too.
Tailgate BBQ after a great day of climbing

Friday, February 10, 2017

Roger's Pass

I got some time off! Amidst a whirlwind trip back and forth across Canada, I had four days home and took advantage by heading up to Roger's Pass with Kyle and the trailer. There hadn't been any snow in a few weeks and conditions were pretty stable, which allowed us to go and do some exploring beyond the typical runs on Grizzly Shoulder and Teddy Bear Trees.
Greetings from Roger's Pass - the ultimate ski bum playground
 Day one was a bit of a wake up call for me. I hadn't been skiing in a few weeks and the legs were out of shape. I had also foolishly decided to bring my big heavy "slack country" skis in hopes of amazing powder on the way down, completely forgetting that I would be spending 95% of my time lugging them up the hill. This combined with a steep, icy skin track and not very grippy skins led to much sliding backwards and frustration. It got so bad that Kyle would pull me up every switchback just so he wouldn't have to watch me struggle to use my poles to prevent myself from losing all my forward progress. It was exhausting.
This fat Stellar's Jay followed us for over an hour hoping for a snack
 We made our way up to the top of Grizzly Shoulder and dropped into Roger's Run. Up until about 200m below the top, we hadn't seen any other skiers all day. It was nice to be out on a weekday. We managed to find the run, staying skiers right of the big rock gully and avoiding dense trees farther to the right. The snow was old but better than we had expected. It was nice to ski a new run, but I much preferred Puff Daddy which we skied last year. I struggled a bit because I was so tired from the tour up, so it was a good thing that we dropped right back down to the visitor centre where the trailer was parked. Some people get sucked skiers right and end up in the creek, but we picked our way through some dense trees to access the highway and were a short walk away from our home away from home after our day out.
The exit from Roger's Run was less than desirable
 The next morning, Matt and Charlie got an early start from Calgary and met us in the parking lot as we were finishing breakfast. We set out with a goal to ski Video Peak via Connaught Creek. The avi hazard had dropped again and people were getting after it. Over on Cheops a number of snowboarders were making there way down a sweet couloir. Others were making questionable choices by setting skin tracks straight up couloirs with significant overhead hazard, which actually got called out on avalanche.ca and by a few of the other skiers. Like I said, people were getting adventurous, for better or worse.
Pillow line that I was dying to hit. I must return
 The clouds moved in as the day went on. As we climbed up towards Video Peak on the ridge between 8812 Bowl and Hospital Bowl, we realized that we weren't going to be able to gain the peak without dropping down the back from Bruin's Pass and crossing a glacier. Next time we will have to approach from the climbers right if we want to ski the line straight from the top, or be more prepared with glacier gear. We made it to Bruin's Pass as it totally socked in. The aspect we had been hoping to ski down Hospital Bowl was wind-loaded so we opted to ski the lower angle 8812 Bowl instead. We dropped in and were soon below the clouds cleared with 1000 metres of mellow, untracked, boot-top pow to enjoy all the way down.
Stopping for lunch on the way up to Bruin's Pass
Matt ripping by
Kyle checks out our tracks as we drop back down to Connaught Creek
We celebrated a good day out with a beer in the parking lot before Matt and Charlie left for Golden, where they had the hostel booked. Kyle and I stayed in the pass and enjoyed the propane and generator heated trailer good life.
Matt's teddy bear sampling a refreshing brew after a hard day on the slopes
And the cutest couple award goes too...
 Our crew grew by two more on Thursday morning as Ken and Tyler joined Matt, Charlie, me and Kyle for a ski up Flat Creek to check out Fortitude Ridge. It involved a long, flat (shocking!) ski up the creek, before heading into the woods to gain the ridge. I was lagging, thanks to the bricks I was using on my feet. I wasn't too impressed with the snow at the lower elevations, but as we gained altitude, the snow got lighter, deeper and much more enticing. 
Flat creek access involves ducking under the railway and a lot of creek crossings!
 At the top of the ridge, I thought we were done. Boy, was I wrong. The first good line you reach actually tapers down to a narrow creek and ends up being more of a bushwhack than a fun ski lower down. Matt recommended continuing up the ridge for another few hundred metres to the second slide path. 
Matt and Charlie contemplate slide paths on the other side of the valley
The team making their way up Fortitude Ridge
It was worth the extra effort because it was a fantastic run 1200 m back to the valley, with well spaced trees. Because of the long approach, nobody else had made it out that way, and we got fresh tracks despite the last snowfall being over a week prior. Also, we never hit the crusty snow we had encountered on the way up and had light, fluffy snow all the way down!
Kyle gets stoked to drop in
Fresh pow and fresh tracks
A typical day in the life of Kyle - Brandon Epp
Back in the valley, it was a LONG ski back to the highway. It was just enough of a downhill that we didn't have to throw our skins on, but it was hard to carry any speed and we had to push along the flats with our poles. The skin track up zig-zagged back and forth over the creek crossing snow bridges. We saw an animal track that looked like it had been slip-sliding its way down the snow and creek and Kyle later identified the track as an otter! As our gaggle of skiers made our way down, many of the snow bridges started collapsing, leaving us with options like jumping over the creek, looking for creative alternative ways around, crossing logs, or falling in the creek (Kyle). It was best to be at the front of the group because by the time 4 people had crossed a snow bridge, there wasn't much snow left! 
Ken, our token telemarker. Free the heel, free the mind, man.
Charlie and I hit the road back to Calgary, leaving the boys to spend the weekend in the trailer and continue the exploration of Roger's Pass for 4 more days - lucky guys!

In the end, over my three days in Roger's, Kyle and I traveled about 40 km and 3500 m of elevation and I was dragging on my heavy setup the whole way up. After 6 seasons of touring on a frame style binding, I finally bit the bullet and bought a pin binding immediately upon returning home. I am seriously looking forward to a more enjoyable uptrack for those long days out.