New Year, Same Stoke
Some things don’t go as planned. Such was the case in early December when a friend and I were approaching Mt. Chephren’s N face, eyes set on the Kum Ba Jah Couloir. Our eyes were so set, in fact, that we neglected to realize how thin our margin of safety had become as we approached the line. Spurred on by better than anticipated stability, we rationalized that, despite sloughing on other aspects of the face, our couloir had already emptied itself out. Debris just under a very light coat of fresh seemed to validate our theory. As we started booting up though, a sudden turn in the weather led to a shift in the wind. That let loose a wave of white – the first to come down our line since it came into view. The mountain spoke, letting us know in no uncertain terms that we had miscalculated.
The slough was small enough. Neither of us was buried or particularly injured. Thoroughly humbled, we skied away having suffered only a little bit of lost gear, a good scare, and bruised bodies and egos. For a split second as I was carried downward, throat plugged with snow, fighting for breath and with only inky darkness to look at my mind wandered someplace dark too. In that moment, I feared the price might be much steeper.
After that, it took a while to get back in the groove. As it should.
Despite decent to good stability, I found myself walking a lot, trying to get back into things. With various friends I wandered around on the Wapta, approached the Aemmer, briefly considered returning to Chephren. The list goes on, but our collective efforts amounted to little. Finally though, Kieran and I found ourselves on top of a quality ski line. On Dec 22 we tagged the short but sweet Fist Couloir near Tryst Lake in Kananaskis Country without the need for a rappel or downclimb. Though a small objective – only one of several runs on the day – it was technical and serious enough to serve as a nice early season reminder to both of us that we are indeed capable of skiing the lines we covet. It’s all about the timing.
Monkey now off my back somewhat, on New Year’s Day I turned my attention to my favourite winter playground: Rogers Pass. Joel and Gavin of skiuphill.ca were making their first visit to the backcountry skiing mecca for New Years, so I immediately volunteered myself as tour guide, happy for an excuse to return to an area that feels as much like home as anywhere with strong partners.
We charged up a meandering Balu pass skintrack at a slightly unnerving pace, soon leaving a less than balmy -20 degrees behind in the valley bottom as we ascended into a sunny inversion. Compared to the arctic air we’d been enduring in the Rockies, the day felt pretty tropical up there as we headed towards the ever popular southeast face of Video Peak. Soon we were ripping skins and laying trenches into each of our deepest run of the season so far. I’ve never gotten Video in that kind of shape before!
A quick snack break and we headed back up again. Gavin peeled off at the top of Hospital Bowl to go sample some trees, while Joel and I topped out again, this time with our eyes on the peak’s gorgeous north face. A couple of solid ski cuts yielded no results – which in this case was confidence inspiring – and down we went. First a few turns above the choke, then a pause to let the slough run past. After that we both let the speed build up, ripping long arcs into the bowl below. The snow was perfect. We both agreed that it was of even better quality than the previous run.
The day was far from over though. Now we had sandbagged ourselves into climbing back out to 8812 Bowl at the very least, so we took turns breaking trail as our energy slowly ebbed away. As we plodded along, we ended up talking each other into just a little more vert and so, with the light just beginning to take on its evening warmth, tired legs pushed us up to the summit of 8812 Peak via the north glacier.
Using photos we took over on Video, we dialed in our strategy for linking together the southeast face. Once we were both satisfied we could navigate the steeply rolling line we wasted no time dropping in, linking fun turns through several interesting cruxes and feeling the exposure a little. There was just enough of that to inspire thoughtful movement without being unduly scary. An enjoyable balance. The snow was perfect alpine styrofoam or pow nearly the whole way. A memorable ski. Before long we were exchanging high fives at the bottom.
Of course, the bottom was only the top of another classic in 8812 Bowl, so we told our now reluctant legs to shut up and dove in.
Now satisfied that I had given a good tour, all that was left was a cruise out the luge track to meet Gavin at the car. Although with clear skies and a full moon that night, maybe we should have tacked on another lap. After all, It’s not every day that conditions line up so perfectly.