I went up last summer to check out Icefall Brook for ski lines. I noticed some crazy looking banana couloirs all over three aspects of Arras. Looking online, it seemed like they would, indeed go. The north facing ones were the real treat, going direct from the summit onto a steep face before dropping into two ice couloirs nestled in between the rock slabs. And with a logging road taking you almost all the way to the base.
Like usual, Ian and I loaded up the sleds and headed out to some remote corner of the Valley, then punched out even further on our trusty steeds. On our way up a canyon we had to deal with water crossings, rockfall on the road, avy paths choking up the road, the whole bit. A bit of strategic shoveling got us across the giant slug of a wet slide and into the paradise of big, gnarly peaks and temperate, low valleys beyond.
After finding a suitable campsite at 1000m elevation (only ~200 higher than Golden!) near some running water, we dropped the overnight gear to go check out one of the objectives, Mt Arras. The road accessing the hanging valley is cut into the side of some otherwise very difficult treeline terrain and took us up to 1800m. Before we got all the way up though, there was a few hundred meters of road clogged up with avy debris to shovel. Sooner or later, the mountain will sluff the road itself off into the valley…
Content with our work, and with all objectives now open to us, we went down to unpack camp. There wasn’t very much discussion before Arras became the next day’s objective. We woke up for 5am the next morning, got the sleds fired up and headed up our newly-minted trail to the shoulder of Arras, then traversed on skis into the hanging valley under the north face.
We were treated to a briefly gorgeous sunrise before cloud took over, really perfect as the first bits of sun while the sun is in the east can start sluffs without much trying. We climbed straight up the climbers-right couloir, amazed at the conditions inside. After the couloir came the face; but gaining the summit ridge on the left was guarded a bit too fiercely by ice, so we continued right up the face to an ice-free part. The face went on and on forever, at a constant steep pitch. Just 50 steps more, I said to myself seemingly 50 times. There’s no way this altimeter is right! Somewhere in here the cloud disappeared too, just after the sun went far enough south to not affect our face at all, awesome!
When the summit really did look as close as it had so far, just 50m up according to the altimeter, we started to feel something not quite right with the snow. Actually, I started feeling it 50m beforehand, but figured it was just my nerves running out, and not something real. There was some sort of fat, faceted layer down a half-meter. I didn’t need to do a full pit on it to know I didn’t like it, and it didn’t like me. So we pulled the plug a stone’s throw from the top. One part of me is disappointed, but the other is still scared, even now of being on that face with a 100m long slab ready to send me down the fast way.
I sideslipped the first 50m to be extra gentle on the snow, then started skiing down, fast and smooth. Once I got to the part with minor sluff runnels I felt a lot safer, and snow was still good. After the generous choke of the couloir, I found great snow on the left wall and rode it all the way down, generating big power sluffs in the bottom of the couloir to my right. Like all good things, the 1300m run eventually came to an end. We skinned back to the sleds and headed back to camp.
The next day, we were going for another objective on the other side of the valley, and once in the alpine I felt the same layer starting to show itself. It was not the ski-everything-snow that I was expecting to find. Precipitation was starting up, so it would be at least tomorrow that the sun could come out strong and really test the layer for us, and the day after that we could maybe get after the other lines. Both of us already felt we had accomplished a lot in this incredible valley. So we decided to pull the plug and head back into town.