A couple days back, Trevor D. and I headed up Bush River with the intent of skiing Mt Bryce’s south couloir/east face. Mt Bryce is mostly known by skiers for Chris Brazeau’s awesome bold descent of its north face, but the standard mountaineering route is also a worthy goal.
I was a little bit unsure whether or not we needed to get up early the first day. On paper, it seemed like it should be an easy day to crush out, we only needed to get to the bottom of the south glacier and set up a camp, only 7km and 1000m. But I had suspicions that it could be much harder than anticipated. So we left Golden around 7. The road before the causeway to Chatter Creek has improved substantially since the last time I was up, making for great driving. I was confident the snowline would be sufficiently advanced this year to drive nearly into Rice Brook Canyon, where I expected the steep rocky north face above the road to choke it out with debris of rockfall and snow. However, the first obstacle was at a bright, sunny cutbank, which was littered with fallen rocks and even a few trees that slid down, roots and all. We rolled the rocks off the other side and continued on.
The next obstacle would eventually prove to be too great, at a cutblock there was some large blown down trees. We started by tying a strap to the first big tree and giving a pull with the truck, which only snapped the strap. After quadrupling it up with another strap, we had enough strength to pull off a shattered chunk of the tree after undermining it with my snow saw. The remainder still stuck out too far though, and the base was interlocked in other trees so it could not rotate out of the way. We started to saw through the tree in a chunk small enough to pull, and even found a new use for the adze on ice axes, but in the end it was going to be too much work with the rudimentary tools at our disposal, plus there was another log, equally as massive just down the way. So we decided to just walk from there, it was 7km and 400m of gain from where I expected to stop, but there was no other way without a chainsaw.
So, we hoisted heavy pack with skis, boots, overnight, and technical gear and started plodding up. As I suspected, the snow only started at the canyon. Even once it does melt, the rockfall on the road will be quite a task to clear, as the frequent rains this winter have allowed more to fall off than usual I suspect, and then be transported onto the road efficiently by avalanche debris. We decided to make our crossing of the river at a swift section further downstream than the site of the removed bridge, thinking there would be ample opportunities in the rocks and driftwood. The crossing ended up being quite hard to find, and pretty sketchy, but we made it without loss of gear or man. Then we continued up the river bank to the old road crossing, where there is a good size downed tree crossing the river, just a hundred meters downstream of the removed bridge. Noting it for later, we walked up the remnant of a logging road on more bare ground.
I was pretty sure that the avalanche paths fall line from the south glacier was too rugged of terrain to bother utilizing for the access, and for once today I was right. 300m of cliffs with the occasional ice fall separated us from sufficiently easy ground above. So we continued on upstream on the road, until after 12km of relatively expedient travel on roads, we punched upward into another set of slidepaths. Getting the skis and boots off the back was by far the highlight of the day, and we skinned up 500m before cutting back in the direction of the cliffy slidepaths and the south glacier after we had reached good terrain for traversing above the treeline. Due to it being quite late in the day, the snow was sketchy, so we had to make some less than efficient scrambly moves on rock above some fatter chutes of snow we felt were too hot to touch. But we made er, finally finding a suitable campsite at 8pm.
We woke up at 4am and started up the glacier toward the south couloir. It is a gorgeous couloir, with a relatively mellow angle and lots of width, and very cool pinnacles choking it in at the top. After we crossed the bergshrund at the base of the couloir, I dumped the rope among other gear, as the upper scrund on the east face was completely avoided when going up from the couloir, the fall line is sufficiently uninterrupted that the glacier doesn’t break up. So we went up, and up, and up. The previous day had taken more out of us both than either recognized, and it took us until noon to reach the summit, only 1200m above camp. But the weather was perfect, with cool temperatures and brilliant bluebird skies, so we stayed at the summit quite some time to soak it all in. I could see south all the way to the distinctive form of Mt Sir Donald, to the SW the silhouette of the Goodsirs was unmistakable to me, and then west through north was domimated by the 11’ers and occasionally 12,000 foot peaks of the great icefields of the rockies. The Bryce massif is so abrupt, with a relief of 2000-2500m over the drainages of the north, west and south that it gives a commanding view not only of the faraway peaks, but also a seemingly birds-eye view of the closer peaks around, which I found perhaps even more impressive than the big peaks dozens of clicks away. Ridiculous features of rock slabs and steep, broken ice, covered in fluted snow; the mountaineer in me can’t silence the skier.
Speaking of skiing, it was time. The snow was OK, the crust from the freeze was still holding on but not enough to support, so pretty much every turn required a hop to get the edges to disengage. Trevor on his snowboard, however, had no such issues though I’m sure it was still not a cruisy descent for him either. The face was super cool, with a slight right traverse needed to avoid the scrund and get sucked into the couloir. I found a good bit of fresh mid-way down which yielded great turns. Skiing through the gates into the couloir gave way to corn in the guts and pow on the side, and after some of that I went out left to play on a little rib. I cut out many shallow windslabs on the way down, but played the terrain as best I could to allow me to ski it as clean as possible, then over the scrund and out. Oh wait, the rope… I went back up the skintrack to grab the rope while Trevor went to camp to start tearing things down.
Then back down the way we came; despite the travers-ey down then up again nature of the way back to the slidepaths, Trevor made great time on his split. Then down the slidepaths and ski a good distance down the road until it became bare on the southern aspect. After a bit of walking we got to the old bridge crossing. Instead of using the tree or the crappy swiftwater crossing we took on the way up, we decided just to wade in bare feet, a welcome chill on the feet. Then after a touch of skinning on the snowy northerly facing road, we were able to ski with only a few breaks in snow to the end of the canyon. Then, groveling all the while at not having bikes, we walked one of the longer 7km bits of road I’ve done back to the truck, then two hours later we were back in Golden, with Trevor still having some road to go before he got home.