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Surprise, Powder!

The Rockies are known for surprises. Ski a scree slope mid-winter that you’ve been on all season, and you are surprised by the slab that pops from the depth hoar that developed. But spring, summer, fall, those surprises are usually a good thing. It’s been snowing -as I’m sure everyone knows- in Calgary. Well it snowed even more in the Rockies. Of particular note was a large storm I kept an eye on, that came in warm (snow level ~2800m), and kept getting colder till it was snowing down to valley bottom. So, what does this mean? Good times on glaciers that you wouldn’t normally have. How, you ask? Well, the sopping rain coats the ice and whatever snow is on it, till rain turns to slush. Slush sticks really well to ice. Then it gets colder some more and turns to snow. Now, snow usually doesn’t want to stick to well to ice, but with some transition layer of wet soggy snow, it will stick just fine. Then more snow sticks to the existing snow and all of a sudden, you’ve got banger conditions where there usually isn’t.

 

Case in point, here is what Collier Peak looked like in late April last year, after relentless spring snowfalls.

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Sorry for the poor quality, excessive cropping needed

Note the blue ice on the tongue still showing. Snow just doesn’t really want to stick to semi-steep ice in the Rockies.

As per usual, the day started at a ridiculous hour. I picked up Ryan and we got to O’hara parking at 4:30am. So why the ridiculous hour, when the sun has little punch compared to a few months ago? Well, it is 8.5k, 1650 vertical meters to the top and I was not feeling anywhere near 100%. I just can’t be bothered to keep in shape for the sake of it, there’s gotta be something rad motivating me. So I let it go a little bit since my last ski, at Olive Hut. I figured about 6 hours to the top, but really just needed to get there before noon heat I figured. So a healthy margin.

We bumbled down the road and I attempted to take some long exposure shots using the brilliant moonlight, but with no tripod you can assume how that turned out. Then I was pretty sure we found the right ravine and we started the bushwhack upward. We emerged on the rest of the little valley, which was just scree slopes and cruxes of chossy rock every now and then. It got bright enough to take decent pictures:

Daybreak. Meadows at Cataract brook below is where we left the road
Daybreak. Meadows at Cataract brook below is where we left the road

 

The icy reality of September (?!)
The icy reality of September (?!)

 

Morning broke into a perfect day.  Approach boots were doffed, ski boots and crampons  donned. Up and away to 3200m

Holy crap I took a legitimately good picture!!
Holy crap I took a legitimately good picture!!

 

Ryan with Victoria North Peak- north face behind
Ryan with Victoria North Peak- north face behind

 

Wallow to the top
Wallow to the top

 

After battle with some rock after the glacier ended, we reached the top of the north face. I wanted to get ontop of the true summit, watch the video for that. Did I mention, weather was perfect? Views were staggering.

 

Collier north face
Collier north face

 

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Victoria ENE face… One of these days

 

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The Chateau obscured by clouds

 

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These guys prodded a few places but couldn’t find a safe passage further onto the Victoria Glacier

 

On the way down, the top was a bit sporty with some not-so-supportive powder on rock. Then there was some wind slab that caught me off guard on the face. After that though, it turned into that perfect snow to get porpoise tuns in. This is as a result of, you guessed it, the storm that hit just right, laying heavy snow at the bottom and progressively lighter snow overtop. And oh, it was good. After the crevasse there was chunder buried in the snow and ski pen started dropping, till we got to the ice bulge at the bottom with a few cm of refrozen crud stuck on. Way better than bare ice though.

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This makes for 24 consecutive months of skiing. October-onward gets pretty easy to get turns, but believe it or not I actually like winter better than summer. Shocking, no? So expect the stoke to continue all year round.

 

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