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Tumbling Mountain

After weeks of getting skunked by poor freezes, finally conditions line up perfect and a big line gets skied. Most likely a first descent.

I first noticed this while lounging about at the top of 3/3.5 couloir (commonly called 3/4) at Moraine Lake last year, waiting for the snow to soften up for descent. I didn’t wait long enough and got technical hardpack turns all the way down, but this striking line that I saw from the top stuck in my mind and got tacked onto my to-do list for this year.DSCN5658

Looking fine on May 21/2013

Tumbling Mountain is at the intersection of Tumbling Creek and the main Rockwall trail in KNP. I was able to find plenty of pictures of it from hikers on the Rockwall, but no actual information on anyone skiing (not surprising) or climbing (surprising) the couloir to summit. Which still baffles me, it’s a great looking line of snow and ice direct up from a well-traveled summer trail. Shortly after I first saw the line, the floods happened and wiped out a lot of infrastructure near rivers, the Tumbling Creek trail bridges included. Then Numa Creek burned and I wasn’t about to gamble two viable ski days with unknown damage to the trail and bridges (it’s still officially closed).  Without this, the only option seemed to be the 15k hike from Floe Lake. I had this weekend all planned out to ski the peak, but as the planning got more serious, I noticed a marked trail on the topo maps from the Beaverfoot valley heading up near to where I wanted to go. I was able to get some great beta from Golden Hikes; it looked more and more like after what seemed an eternity of failures things were alining perfectly. Two weeks without a fix is a long time for a junkie! As the date drew closer and the forecast more precise, it looked like there would actually be fresh snow and a clearing trend. Bonus! I had to move on the Saturday (a couple streets over, don’t fret), so the only way to make it happen was to hike up after work on Thursday to the Wolverine warden cabin (a big perk of working at Parks), then bag the line and get back out on Friday.

The access was easy and straightforward, Golden Hikes has some great info on turn mileages on the Beaverfoot FSR, then after that once you find the trailhead you just cross the creek and hike up the valley toward the pass. On the way up, I decided to suffer more than need be to save my skins from the ultra-wet snow at the transition line from summer to spring conditions, so I hiked just past the 5th slidepath. On the way back down though, I was able to ski to the 3rd . I also lost the trail on the way up, it just became too hard to distinguish with the fattening snowpack. I ended up going up a different creek to an avy path clearing at the Washmawapta icefield’s north drainage. Views were pretty stellar though so no complaints. Mt Gray and its outliers have some incredible couloirs, some skiable, some just extremely aesthetic.

Some “granular precipitation” at the start of the hike. Aww yeah!
This path went pretty large this year. Note that the ~600# rock is sitting on snow, carried by power of an avy
Everyone knows it’s Slinky!
650m, in-couloir (two pics of the same one)
Mt. Grey making a strong case against NF Temple as the rockies WTF coolie king
The way up to the Washmawapta icefield
A shorter, but skiable coolie with MASSIVE walls
South chutes on Rockwall Peak

There’s nothing like exploring super rad new terrain to keep the feet working, this has to be some of the gnarliest (mostly) un-photographed ski terrain around. There was sleet coming down the whole way up, and just as I got to the top of the pass at 2200m, the snow started feeling good under the skis. I went a little bit south to get a view of the line, then I went back to the cabin to read some entertaining stories from the log book written by previous parties, only one of which was on skis, but seemingly traversing the Rockwall trail in winter.

Tumbling mountain in a mood
Wolverine Warden Cabin with Mt. Drysdale E. Face behind, a possible but very exposed ski
This is some high alpine luxury

I woke up for 4:30, only to find that the trees just a hundred feet away were badly obscured by a disorienting blurry fog. Navigating unfamiliar moraines in fog is baffling, navigating a glacier deadly. So I got a few more z’s and got out the door at 6. The moraines were still a pain to navigate well, it’s the largest field I’ve ever been through and without good vision from the pass overlooking them, impossible to find an optimal route. At the far side of the moraines, I waited for another half hour for vision to improve before going up the small headwall leading to the bench glacier. I went up much higher than is efficient to avoid one crevasse I had seen from the summer pictures, but I definitely would have been OK with the network of small crevasses on the more direct route up the headwall if I had a partner. I ended up skiing over that route on the way down. After across the top of the larger crevasse, I descended from the fan under a small couloir, which took me right across the bench glacier to the base of the couloir.

I swear, my line was around here somewhere… the view from near the cabin
Bench glacier. Up the left and across to the couloir on the right.
Up and around that larger crevasse
Down toward the couloir

Then it was time to go up. I was hoping to keep on skins till I got up and over the bergshrunds but the snow just wasn’t good for skinning so I booted. The bottom of the couloir splits into the main fall line climbers left, or a little side couloir on the right. The right has much simpler scrunds, it was so small I was barely able to pick out the location of the only visible one.

The scrunds on the main couloir, they look cool but compared to scrund in lower center, why bother?
My route took me right up onto the fan on the upper right then down across the compression zone of the whole glacier
The chute fall line of the couloir thru the bench glacier has an unavoidable ice cliff into some navigable rock bands. It’s got some gravity though, don’t want to eat it bad
Looking up into the coolie

When I got into the couloir, things started to slow down significantly. I didn’t bring enough food, and at this point was down to straight water, 3 gels and half a pack of Fuzzy Peaches. I think that lack of salt killed me almost as much as calories. I also hadn’t had any substantial physical output in the past two weeks as a result of not being able to go skiing, so I wasn’t in great shape either. So I scraped the barrel as hard as I could to find out where the bottom actually was, hike out be damned. I actually lucked out with the weather again, the clouds kept the sun off everything for that crucial daybreak-10am period when it gets into north couloirs with a bit of east bias and starts up a rockfall cycle.

About a third of the way up the couloir, I notices some icy sections. At first I avoided them, believing it to be actual glacial ice but it is actually just some hard sun-cooked layer. It was definitely pretty serious still, as I couldn’t pierce it with the axe handle. At the worst parts, there were still at minimum ten foot wide sections of fresh snow that tacked on very well. Or perhaps it wasn’t just a crust from hell, but more like some strange shallow, uniform runnel of ice. The snow was just tacked on too well for me to believe that it was sitting on that same crap the sun cooked 3+ days ago. I ended up using the ice to my advantage, as it offered great climbing for 2 tools and crampons.

Yup, she’s firm!
Great looking couloir

After I topped out on the couloir, I was hoping that there would be a skiable west face from the upper glacier to the summit. Any pictures or Google Earth sleuthing couldn’t really tell me, as they were all later in the season or from the wrong angle, and with its good prominence over other features, it could well be wind blasted rock all winter long for all I knew. The cloud level hadn’t raised high enough for me to see it from the cabin as well. As I got further up the gradually mellowing bulge onto the glacier, the west face came in view, and it was good to go, perfect. A short climb later, and I was standing on the snowcapped summit.

The west face and upper glacier
Looking north to Wolverine/ Rockwall pass

Then it was of course, time to ski down. I realized at the base of the line that I had forgotten my boot tongues at the cabin, but decided I’d do without them. I actually prefer skiing them without tongues on firm smooth snow, you can have much better control of where your weight is on the ski I find. In snow that you’re skiing in instead of on though, tongues all the way. That’s a fairly minor thing though, compared to the state of my skis. They seem to only be able to hold wax for one or two tours, something I blame on the kind of base material they use. I had already used them a couple days, then ontop of that they were sitting in my car all week with the skins on so they were picked clean of any wax. This was super sketchy, instead of being able to make a clean, smooth slide portion of the turn, they would rather lock up then run then lock to the snow again, which is very hard to remain balanced through and especially when the margin you have to play in to remain in balance decreases when the slope angle goes up. The couloir was in the low 50’s I’d say, and if it were mid 50’s then I may have ended up downclimbing even, that’s how little confidence I felt in the skis.

I ended up adopting a super-wide stance and sideslipping the parts where the ice runnel things choked in and got down it. There were a few great firm turns and a lot of sketch get-me-down turns. Midway down the couloir, I actually removed my skis and scraped them, it was so icy on one I needed to use the whippet. At the bottom of the couloir the fresh snow started to get sun affected and loose. After getting past the scrunds I was able to traverse, skiing the whole way across the glacier and ski the compression zone all the way to the headwall instead of going around the longitudinal crevasse again. On the headwall, there was a bit of sluff that started moving, so I got off to the side while it ran into a size 2 or so. “Headwall” is generous though, it’s about 35 at its steepest, quickly flattening out to 20 degrees, and very wide after the first couple turns. I knew something would probably move, but I am always surprised how slowly and far wet slides can go.

The west face and upper glacier
Ice dodging
The headwall. I ascended left then above the larger crevasse in upper center
A wicked coolie between Tumbling and Gray. Whether the choke needs a downclimb or skis clean is up for interpretation

After I got off the slippy slidey headwall, it was skins on back to the cabin to pick up my stuff. I wanted to get out sooner than later since the snow lower down would be losing support as the day dragged on, but I was spent, more so than I ever have been skiing. I decided to lie down for a bit, probably an hour or so and downed the last gel. It was all downhill skiing for a while, I wouldn’t be expending much energy, I just needed to get myself in good enough condition to ski well and not hug  a tree and my reserves should come back a bit by the time I needed to walk and expend real energy. I disregarded my uptrack for the first bit, as I knew it went way off to the Washmawapta runoff ravine pointlessly. I already knew the terrain was really nice, not prone to cliffing out or becoming unbearably tight so I just went down. After a while, I got to the ravine that the 2nd bridge crossed and saw my tracks on the north side of the river, which meant I missed the bridge. All the rock crossings were mossy and the larger logs were slick with water, so I figured out some ski stepping over a set of smaller logs.

Mt Gray subpeak overlooks a thermal vent at Wolverine Pass
Howser spire rising over the Beaverfoot range

After that, I skied all the way to about 1.5k from the car with some ski stepping on bare ground, and after the boot support in the deeper snow patches wasn’t near as bad as I had feared. Then I drove back to Golden for some food with some rockin’ views of the Goodsirs and Vaux/Chancellor. Sooner or later…

2 thoughts on “Tumbling Mountain”

  1. Lane Clark, Michael Cattie and Jessie Montadon all of Golden B.C. made an attempt on this line May 28th 2017. Almost 3 years to the day when Trevor skied it. We all made it to the top after 5 hours of ascending. An amazing line, one that will not be forgotten by all involved (for the skiing and the grizzly encounter). Possibly the 2nd descent of this line. Thanks for the inspiration Trevor!

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