My buddy Ryan and I went yesterday to check out a sick looking face in Fortitude, wow what an adventure. Steep uptracks, cornice tunneling bootpacks, ski traversing a face to get on the line and then by far, the most full-on skiing I’ve ever done.
This is what we saw after we ascended Fortitude Ridge. Uptrack in red, downtracks in green. We purposely got to the far north end on the flat saddle of the ridge so that we could get a good angle on the 2nd descent, on the right of the picture. From there we went south down the saddle and dropped into Fortitude Creek. Then cross the ravine and up around the tree ridge on far left, and up the fan underneath the chute. We were able to skin most of the chute, with a couple dozen boot marks thru a rocky narrow bit, then back on skins again. Across the pocket glacier (the dashed line) and skin up toward the col to gain the main ridge.
|Up thru the chute on the left. The face we skied first is on the right, NE aspect|
|Looking down after the short bootpack|
After we got off skins, it was a lot of smashing and shoveling to make a decent route up. I left my axes at home, and I’m glad I did. The snow was just too powdery for a handle plunge to give any real staying power. Whippet- shovel is my favourite combo for these conditions. Use the pointy end of the whippet if you want to use it on loose rock/dirt or hard snow/ice, or the pole side of the whippet for balance, or also use it across the hill to spread your weight. Then the shovel is super useful when booting >45* pow, instead of treadmilling until there is enough of a trench to support your weight, just pull blocks of snow down onto your legs and smush it into the ground with a hip thrust, then it’s pretty much solid enough to walk on. Or you can also use it in place of an ice axe handle plunge (shovel blade and all), and it will have better hold in loose snow as long as you torque the handle properly. And the shovel is absolutely required for those over 70* bits as you near a bit of cornice where it’s not overhanging to dig and carve until you have a less steep path thru it.
So, enough tech talk, after we got as far up the ridge as we could we got to an impasse, either a very exposed steep rock scramble, or literally making a rabbit hole thru a cornice. The slope underneath was too steep to cross in any reasonable amount of time. Ryan suggested that we were high enough to just put on skis and traverse the slope to the next rib. It was a very steep slope and a very good place for an avalanche, but the sun was off the slope, and I had a good feel on the ridiculous stability we were blessed with so we opted for that option. After crossing another steep start zone, we were ontop of the rib we would be skiing down.
|The technical part of the ascent. Orange= bootpack, the red line between the green we actually sidestepped on skis|
We then skied down literally the scariest run I have ever done in my life. I did most of the trailbreaking so Ryan let me go first, but standing ontop of a blind roll into what I knew were flutes (which are a complete unknown for me), I was fully puckered. I let him go first as he is a better skier, and I knew I wasn’t going to ski it well. After quite a time, he emerged out the bottom, and I knew just from the amount of time it took him that it was going to be the most difficult run I’d ever done. Video at the bottom.
After skiing it, Ryan said he actually had two points where he lost skis, the first he had a ski go into tour mode (he has dynafits and runs the toes locked out) after the first set of flutes, and then later on both heels released, and a toe released as well! Luckily the ski stayed put and he didn’t have to chase it all the way to the ravine. I run the toes unlocked, but am meticulous about cleaning them and have never had a toe pre-release.I guess I’m just more used to the limitations of dynafits and ski them softly to make sure the heels don’t do something funky.
After that we ascended back up our track again to the top to ski a NNW aspect off the same little peak, which brought us down another ravine that leads into Fortitude creek later on. We were tired, but the going was quick on the pre-made track and before long we were ontop of the line. We timed the sun perfect, and descended at 7pm (Golden time; I don’t change time for Rogers Pass as I just end up getting confused). I would love to do that descent in the winter, it is gigantic and in pow conditions to the road would be one of the top descents in the pass, with 1500m of fall-line skiing back to the highway. Alas, there was a ton of avy debris in the ravine from the warm spell a week back, however the face was still top notch and one of my favourites so far.
Here’s the video from the two descents. The pictures of our tracks on the first didn’t really turn out as the light was off.