Lately, I’ve developed a thing for condensing perfectly good multi-day objectives into sub 24-hour speed missions. Moving quickly in the mountains is truly addictive, and I am hooked. When Trevor suggested we go after some summer turns in a slightly masochistic take on Mt. Joffre in a day, I was instantly psyched at the opportunity to have a go at the impressive 11000er. After day tripping both the Wapta Traverse and Mt. Columbia this past spring, adding Joffre in the same year felt like completing some kind of trifecta. Ego stroking aside, I’m also powerless to turn down an opportunity for powder skiing any time of year, let alone in July.
We left Golden at the ‘leisurely’ hour of 1 AM. Three and a half hours later, we were setting a quick pace from the parking lot at Upper Kananaskis Lake as dawn was just barely beginning to crack. I’m getting spoiled with all the daylight that’s available for these spring and now summer missions. I suspect that the chilly darkness of winter is going to hit me like a ton of bricks when it rolls around. The sunrise over the lake was a thing of beauty, giving us something to look at as we did our best to make short work of the highway-like trail along the shore.
The storm which had attracted us to the area had brought with it a good amount of precipitation. Up high we hoped it had fallen as snow, but down on the approach trail it had, of course, rained. As the sun rose above the surrounding peaks and the cool twilight began to warm, the humidity went from noticeable to oppressive. It was also around this time that we began working our way around Hidden Lake, via a high traverse through what felt a little like a jungle. With skis on our backs, it was a bit of a thrash, and we resolved not to do it again on the way back. Or ever again, for that matter. From there, a steep, slick bit of trail led us to a traverse of the equally steep scree slopes which surround Fossil Falls. We had a breakfast break here before pushing onwards to Aster Lake, which we reached a respectable four hours after leaving the car.
Beyond Aster Lake lay a long gravel flat, from which we finally got a peek at our objective through a break in its thick bank of summit cloud. It looked perfect. To reach it, we navigated a contouring traverse up the climber’s right side of the valley to the edge of the snow at roughly 2650m. We finally changed out of our hiking boots and began skinning toward the face. There was no rush at this point, as it remained enshrouded with cloud – keeping the sun off of our pow until we could get up there and ski it. As we switchbacked upwards, Trevor decided to sneak in a bonus lap on the steepest pitch, figuring he could catch me before I hit the summit. He is a machine, but there is no world in which I allow him to full on lap me, so I powered up to the top and waited for him there. We signed the register and waited for the clouds to break. When they did, we were treated to a spectacular view of a part of the Rockies I no longer visit very much, as well as a glimpse of the prairies—a vista unique to the front ranges.
After taking a few photos, I dropped in. The snow was great along the ridge, and even better on the face. Ski quality was unbelievable for July; powder at the top and perfect corn the rest of the way. The pitch was steep but not intimidating, allowing for the kind of wide open skiing that I love to do. I arrived at the bottom of the face beyond stoked to be ripping fast GS turns off the summit of a Rockies 11000er.
Trevor skied down and we cruised the mellow glacier to our hiking boots. A quick walk led us to a long snow patch leading almost to the flats, which we milked another few hundred meters of skiing out of. All told it was a 1000m run, with only the tiniest bit of walking between patches.
Not bad at all.
Now was the part of the day we had been dreading, as we paid our dues for such a fine ski. We battled ball bearing gravel, a horde of little bugs so thick we were wishing for a flamethrower and some knee-eating steep downhill hiking, but eventually made it back to Hidden Lake, where we remembered to skip the jungle portion of the trail. Walking along the shore was infinitely easier, and we were back on the Upper Lake highway trail in no time. This section turned out to be much better in the dark, as daylight allowed us to see exactly how far we had left to go. We just barely outran a very wet looking storm, putting an end to the slog after 16.5 hours, ~35 km, 2100+m of elevation gain, one Rockies 11000er, and some memorable July powder.
Check out Trevor’s words and pictures as well, over at: http://perpetualski.ca/2016/07/a-moments-notice/
What a great adventure 🙂