Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. Rae, Elbow Lake Couloir

While the face above could provide an awesome line in the right conditions, the couloir is on the left of the photo.
Gloomy, rainy weather and battling a poor freeze on the weekend has me reminiscing about a June day a couple of years back. I was supposed to meet up with some friends who were camping in the parking lot. I think I misinterpreted a text message and thought they were camping up at the lake. I hiked up to Elbow lake and didn't see anyone awake at the campground. But I looked up and saw a line that looked interesting to ski. I transitioned to skis at the base of the fan, a short, easy bushwack from the campground.

The crust was marginal at best, but I was able to work my way up to the top col, which provided a nice view of the Rae Glacier. A quick ski down to my shoes and I was on my way back home.

Rae Glacier from the top of the line.

The window for Highwood is coming up soon enough. Current snow pillow data shows that the snowpack is in the upper historical quartile. While the road is currently snow covered, some good skiing might be remaining by the time the road melts out (for bike access) or when the gate opens on June 15. I've also seen pictures of this line being skied in November before the gate closes.

Total Distance: 4.5km
Total Elevation: 725m
Top Elevation: 2700m
Line Length:  400m
Hillmap Route
Other options in the area: Highwood pass is chock full of good skiing, but only when the road is open between June 15 (or earlier if you want to bike or ski in ~19km) and December 1. Rae Glacier and the north bowl of Mt. Rae are two other lines in the vicinity of the Elbow Lake Couloir.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stanley Mitchell Trip

A couple of weeks back, I was thinking about what I should do during the Easter break. In the back of my mind, I knew that the Little Yoho Valley is a ski touring paradise at this time of year with good coverage on the approach, long days, and better stability. After seeing that there was open space in the Stanley Mitchell Hut, I scrambled to get a crew together to make it happen.

After studying the guidebook, I even hatched an ambitious plan of skiing all of the tours...in a day. And I wrangled up Joel and his buddy Antoine to join me for that day, as well as my girlfriend and her sister/sister's boyfriend to joins us at the hut.

The approach was fast, even four the casual crew I skied the approach with. 3.25hrs to Takakkaw and to the hut in another 4.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the weather/visibility to tackle my ambitious tour, but that's not to say we didn't try. After getting up Isolated Col and to the shoulder of Mt. MacArthur in the whiteout, we decided that the wind tunnel of the President Glacier was too much. Back at the hut, we took a consolation prize, skiing some protected powder on the south slopes of MacArthur on the way to Kiwetenok pass.
A post shared by Peter Knight (@peteyknight5) on

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Bummed that we didn't get up the Presidents, we decided to take advantage of a weather window on Sunday morning before skiing back out to the highway. Joel and I traded turns leading and made it to President pass and back in 2hrs. Great snow near the top!

A great weekend. The approach/exit was not too bad, and I still would like to go back and hopefully nail a weather window!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Some good deals on skimo gear now

Posting this for as much of a reminder for myself for future years and as a heads up for anyone looking to get into the sport or upgrade their current setup. This isn't cross country skiing or running where reps apparently see some sort of return (really?) from giving away free stuff. We all buy our gear, except a select few top guys. The top guys just have to beg their "sponsors" for replacement equipment when things break. It's one of the refreshing things about the sport: we all work to pay for it; you aren't competing against the equivalent of the Russian boxer from Rocky.

Anyways, there are some good deals out there right now on clothing, packs, and equipment that bring prices more in the ballpark of what you would spend on a normal touring setup. You just have to know where to look and what to look for.

If you aren't sure what/where to look (refer to an earlier blog post), you could comment below, but I would suggest waiting for the fall and following the development of a new local skimo shop, skiuphill.ca who will be able to provide expert advice and stock the gear that you can physically touch.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Line of the Week: Eiffel-Pinnacle Couloir

This one is well back there and quite hidden. Unless you've ventured up the Paradise Valley (or have seen pictures, like I have :) ), or have topped out the Mitre Col or Mt. Aberdeen, you might hardly have known this great line existed. Similarly, unless you wait until Moraine Lake road opens for the season (usually late May after the long weekend), the approach to this line requires a long walk up the Paradise Valley.

The seed was planted with a photo just like this one

On this particular day, we first skied the south face of Eiffel Peak (in great powder conditions), then entered the Paradise valley by skiing over Wastach Pass. Accessed via the summer trail to Eiffel Lakes. Wrapping around Eiffel Peak left us at the base of the line. I assume it is also possible to access the line by skiing over Sentinel Pass and wrapping around the base of Pinnacle Peak. Being late in the season, crusty snow, runnels, and debris were all part of the experience.

The couloir for me topped up against a rock band. More adventurous might make it even higher, but this would necessitate taking off the skis or rappeling on the way down. Of course, it might go higher in fatter snow years.

Once over Wastach pass on the way out, It can be fun skiing down the drainage to Moraine Lake rather than backtracking the summer trail, as long as the snow is still supportive.

Line Length: 400m
Top Elevation: 2750m
Total Elevation: 1330m (1200m via Paradise valley)
Round Trip Distance: 13km (23km via Paradise valley)
Other options in the area: You are in a ski mountaineering hotspot that really comes into its own late in the spring when the road opens. Aemmer Couloir, 3/4 Couloir, S face of Mt. Aberdeen, SW Ridge of Mt. Temple are in the area. The previously mentioned south face of Eiffel peak. The passes (Sentinel, Wastach, and Wenkchemna) offer tamer skiing if conditions or skillset warrant.

Hillmap route

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Line of the Week: Narao Left-hand Couloir

The Twin couloirs coming off of Narao Peak's summit always grab my attention as I drive by heading west over Kicking Horse Pass. The line on climbers right is the more committing of the two with a chockstone wedged in the couloir that requires ascending and descending through the small tunnel under the stone. Obviously not the place to fall or get taken away by slough, cornices, or avalanches, lets you get funneled through the toilet bowl! The left hand couloir is less committing, but no walk in the park. When I skied the line, there was a small cliff in the chute that required climbing/skiing around. Let this choke fill in. Still not a great place to fall.

Approach the line as you would for the Popes Peak tour described in Summits and Icefields, going over the Narao shoulder from the Lake O'hara parking lot. But instead of going right to the base of the hanging valley to continue up to the Popes col, follow a bench leading to the moraines at the base of the couloirs. But not so high you are on the steep slopes coming off of Narao Peak

A view down the line where you can see the route from Narao Shoulder. Cornices were coming down at this point!

The cornice at the top combined with the North East exposure makes managing the cornice hazard with early morning sun difficult. We elected not to top out the upper slopes as they opened up, instead transitioning at the base of a rock where the chute diverges near the top.

Line Length: 450m
Top Elevation: 2973m
Total vertical: 1400m
Round Trip Distance: 9.5km
Other options: The previously mentioned Popes Col tour is a classic described in Summits and Icefields. The Narao Shoulder offers some skiing as well. The Lake O'Hara parking lot is the starting point for numerous tours: Cathedral Peak, Collier, and Mt. Nibloc to name a few.

Hillmap route

This particular line was the scene of probably the most significant close call with a cornice fall that I have witnessed. I have stepped away or at least limited attempting lines like this since.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Line of the Week: SE Face of Mt. Smuts

"You'll want to be at the top by 8"

Those were the words in my head as I left the car at 5 in the morning. Making quick work of the Commonwealth valley as well as the lower part of the massive slidepath coming off the mountain, we looked up and thought we are almost done. Then I looked at my GPS. It said I still had 600 more meters to climb. That can't be right, it only looks like 200 or so. Anyways, we switched to crampons and began up the slope. The slope steepened, the snow got firmer. The summit did not appear to be getting any closer. I would count steps, sometimes one hundred at a time, look up, and I would be in the same place. Eventually, I topped out. There was 600m left to climb from where I questioned my GPS.

I rarely reach the actual summits, but my partner was a climber, so we signed the register at the top. The clouds never really cleared up and we were nervous standing on top of a huge, steep slope, reportedly 55 degrees at the top. So we made careful turns down the firm snow up high, and looked for the cleanest lines through the avalanche debris and runnels down low.
At the bottom
This is a great corn run saved for the spring when the face is filled in, and the snow is firm, but south east exposure means it gets the sun early on, so wake up early (skiing by 8:30!)! The face is a steep, long, and committing line (definitely don't fall), so best make sure your skiing is up to the task with a couple of tests of the steeper runs at the ski hill. The long bootpack and firm snow requires fitness and technique.

Line Length: 950m
Total elevation gain: 1100m
Round Trip Distance: 10km
Top Elevation: 2938m
Other options in the area: Not feeling up for it? The Commonwealth valley has a wealth of skiing: Commonwealth Ridge Circuit, Commonwealth-Pig's Tail Col, Superslope, Smuts Pass and Tryst Lake.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ken Jones Classic

After a bit of rest coming off of Worlds, and getting back into training, it was time to finish off the season with the Ken Jones Classic race at Lake Louise. New for 2017 was the sprint race, providing

The sprint race took place in the Sunset Gully, and if it weren't for clouds moving in and out, the course was visible from the Top of the World chair. Racers and spectators, when there were breaks between races, also got to enjoy spectating some spectacular double ejections courteous of skiers attempting to tackle the bowl.

Race times were similar length to the course we raced in Europe, which provided a great analogue for what someone can expect from a sprint race course at World Championships. I've always found that once the courses are more than 3 minutes, there's a pacing and strategy aspect that comes into play, of course I had to throw that out the window and find another gear in the fast final round that saw Joel take the win, and Travis beating me out of the bootpack to skin transition to take silver.

The recent avalanche cycle has been described as "epic". Even ski areas were getting huge results on terrain that had been skied all season. Still, the team at Lake Louise and the organisers managed to deliver another quality course, and keep the finishing times roughly similar to years previous.

Highlights included the usual drag race up to the top of the Summit platter followed by not one, but two Whitehorn 2 laps with a long bootpack to bring racers back up for the second of the laps. The course then headed over for 2 laps of the Brownshirt gullies before going over to the Larch area.

It was exciting, but nervous to see lots of new faces, skin suits and skinny skis at the start line. But once the gun went off and I got to the front to set the pace, it was just the usual suspects left. Trail breaking kept the group of 4 (Joel, Me, Travis, and Rob) together through the climbs and the stage was set for the drag race up to the top of Larch (no elevator shaft this year). Unfortunately, Rob started the final climb at a bit of a disadvantage after descending down a route marked by some confusing flags on the previous descent (the ski out from the lake transition the recreational course who only did 1 brownshirt lap?). Joel strung the group out, I managed to stay just behind, it was going to come down to the descent and the "ski out". I lacked the "killer instinct" and Joel got me on the fast groomer skiing, and the tuck and skate ski out for the win. 2nd place. As usual, I finished the day lapping the lifts. Lake Louise in spring is almost as good as it gets.

Hats off to the organizers and patrol staff for whipping together a worthy course. Obviously the pile of skiers who missed the 4th climb shows the importance of really paying attention during the pre-race meeting instead of fiddling with gear or chatting, not blindly following other racers, and skiing/climbing at an intensity and speed that still allows you to sight course flags and transition areas. Some previous race and skiing experience with this venue certainly helped. While the top finishers in the Mens and Womens categories have raced Louise before, none of them missed the climb. My brother was working a transition area and reported that some people were completely out of it: they were unable to listen to simple instructions. Meanwhile, 3rd place finisher Travis always has a nice chat with the checkpoint volunteers while still rocking lightning fast transitions.  Take your headphones out. Do we need bigger flags? Keep in mind that volunteers have to carry them around, snowboarders and kids steal them, and groomers chew them up.