Five AM on a Tuesday morning in late May. Joel and I sat on a dusty moraine below the northeast face of Mt. Victoria in our base layers, watching wet slides roll off the cliffs above. It was apparent that an uncooperative spring had no intention of allowing more than a token handful of Rockies alpine days, and we had already used up most of them. With bare ice up high, isothermal garbage down low and hot temps forecast for eternity, I took the hint and bailed to take Eric Carter up on his standing offer of some ski days on the coast. If nothing else, their snowpack would at least be consolidated enough to walk on.
I hope I don’t sound too bitter.
Anyway, after making the most of one last window in the Rockies, I packed the car and rallied, juggling various plans over the phone the whole way there. Unfortunately, we had to rule out an ambitious plan A on Mt. Rainier, but plan B: a classic traverse of The Wedge in Garibaldi Provincial Park sounded great too.
After a quick stop in Whistler, where Stano Faban (owner of skintrack.com) came running, skis on pack out of the forest to meet us we all rumbled up to 1000m on a nicely maintained FSR to the midpoint of a nicely maintained hiking trail. So much for coastal bushwhacking, I thought, not disappointed at all. Or maybe I said it out loud.
Once above treeline we rounded the lake that’s up there and beelined it for the NE arete, which is as classic as easy alpine routes come out here, or so I’m told. I’m not surprised either, because this thing is gorgeous. Snaking along above rugged glaciers with lush forest far below, it’s an extremely pleasant aerial sidewalk. What I was surprised by, was that with such an easy approach, we had the place to ourselves. After making good time to the summit, the guys helped me get my bearings in a sea of unfamiliar peaks.
To finish the day, we traversed the summit ridge and descended the NW couloir, which turned out to be pretty full on. It had ripped to ground sometime in the not so distant past, then never warmed up, so the upper half skied like a 55 degree chalkboard. I’d been doing a lot of that kind of skiing recently, so I felt comfortable opting for the full value entrance from the ridge. Eric and Stano downclimbed in from the side, which was a sensible decision, but left them in a tough spot when it came time to get the skis back on.
While they did that, I played some unwelcome rockfall dodgeball lower down, and got about five turns of great corn skiing in before we regrouped to make our exit. In the end, we all agreed that it had been a nice alpine climb, with a descent that was still vastly more enjoyable than walking.
The following morning, Eric and I met up with Nick Elson for a quick trip to Washington and a look at the north face of Mt. Shuksan. Our plans were nearly scuppered by some kind of adventure race on the road up to Mt. Baker, but we slipped through and set off through the deserted ski area.
Apparently Nick and Eric were, in fact, under the impression that I’d been disappointed by the lack of impenetrable undergrowth the day previous. I most certainly had not, but it didn’t stop us from descending down to what felt like sea level in a humid, alder choked valley for our approach. Maybe I had said the thing about coastal bushwhacking after all.
In a complete departure for any forecast we’d seen, the day was absolutely scorching. By the time we completed an exposed traverse onto the face, we were already starting to wallow in mush. We had the talk and decided that while the snowpack could probably take the heat at this point, we didn’t want slow travel to leave us extra exposed to overhead as it cooked. So we thrashed our way back out and ate ice cream at a gas station in Maple Falls instead.
A few weeks of summer back home kept me occupied, but when temperatures plummeted in mid June, I knew it was time for one last attempt at good skiing. I’m starting to think that there’s nowhere within a day’s drive that skis as well at this time of year as Jumbo, so Ian, Lane and I headed up there to meet with a stoked crew of Lane’s friends from Nelson. After an all too brief nap, we teamed up in search of freshies, and maybe even a big line we’d been eyeing on Commander.
Alas, our ambitious objective would have to wait. Once in the alpine we discovered frigid temperatures and biting winds. With no desire to be piecing together a new route at almost 3400m in such conditions, we revised our mission to simply having fun and skiing pow. Nick from Nelson put together a little video from the outing, so I’ll let you watch and be the judge of our success.
Stoke was high after that and we made tentative plans to return, but once again the weather had other ideas for us. 30+ degree days, good alpine rock conditions and full time work have somewhat limited my appetite for anything more than novelty skiing since.
August rarely disappoints though, and the long range forecast is looking promising.