three days of skiing

Managed to squeeze in three days of backcountry this month with Ross and Zach.

Our first trip was up Loop Brook at Rogers’ Pass. There was a well-beaten path  to tree line where and a few other parties spread ourselves out on the windblown moraines. From our high point, we could see the route we had followed to the Sapphire Col Hut a few summers back. Once we had stripped the skins, I churned through the windcrust back down to treeline. From there, we took an inobvious and tortuous (for me) route back to Loop Brook, some of it on quite steep ground. But I resolved to ski as much terrain as I could, and, all in all, it was a good day.

Our second trip was up McGill Shoulder. As the GPS track shows, we  followed a line right on the crest of the shoulder. Just short of treeline, we skirted left and deskinned. We continued our traverse to a slide path and started our descent on ice-lensed crust. Parts of it I found difficult, but I managed the descent to the trail which was much easier. Ross and Zach were patient and supportive as always, and provided just the advice I needed. Both days ran about 1100 m vertical.

At one point, Ross pulled his iPhone 4 out to check our position. I’ve never been able to get a signal in the pass (no Rogers in Rogers!) but Ross (who is on Telus) quickly pinpointed our position on Google Maps. Using aerial photos, we could pick out our position and even spot breaks in the the tree cover. This allowed us to pick the most expedient route down.  Now the ability to do all this of course relies on proximity to cell  towers, and this cannot be relied upon in most backcountry locales. But Ross also had an app that allowed to download and store Government of Canada topo sheets for any place he planned to explore.

And it was instantly obvious that the iPhone’s much larger touch screen, higher resolution, and greater sensitivity to touch was far superior to what my Garmin Dakotat 20 offered.

Granted, the iPhone is nowhere near as rugged or waterproof. Nor does it allow the user to replace batteries on multi-day trips. But as I  recognised as soon as the iPhone was released a few years ago, this was the interface that purpose-built GPS receivers should have had.

Finally, last Sunday, Zach, Ross, and I made an attempt of the Cirque Peak traverse. The idea is to set out on the Dolomite Pass up-trail, then cut north near tree line to gain the S ridge of Cirque Peak. the S Ridge is typically wind-scoured, so this forces  one to boot pack and scramble over the summit. The traverse then leads down the N Ridge to a notch  with fixed rappel bolts. A single 25 m rap takes one down to a couloir on the E side of the ridge and a ski descent down the receding glacier. Thence a short climb to the N col and descent  again through trees to Hwy 93 just north of the Bow lake parking lot.

But we never made it that far. As Ross’s post  explains, he and I were ambushed by a bottle of Scotch the night before as we made grandiose plans involving foreign travel and staggering amounts of expertise, time, money, and gear. It was midnight when we finally  fell into bed, and 6 am rolled around very quickly.

So by the time we reached 2800m on the ridge, I had no energy left. The summit was only 160m above us, but  there was lots of work left after that.  A retreat seemed in order. Zach  fulminated (justifiably) about how we were acting like a couple of college kids and that the next time I came down to Canmore he would keep us separated. So we peeled the skins and  snowplowed don the sastrugi until it was possible to hack a launching ramp through  the cornice onto the lee slopes below. the skiing to treeline was easy,  and once there, we gambolled down the creek canyon to the up-trail. And thence home.


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