It’s easy to overlook the Purcells. Driving east to west along the 1, it takes hours to drive through both the Rockies and Selkirks, but you just kind of avoid the Purcells altogether. What you do see from the Columbia Valley doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of their loveliness. Once you peer beyond the front ranges, which are featureless foothills by comparison, there are formidable walls of granite, icefields that rival those on the rockies divide, some of the most diverse rock I’ve seen and almost a dozen 11’ers.
The day started early. This weekend, due to some work stuff, I only had one day off and thus had to go the day after work, which finished at 11pm. After two hours of tossing and two of sleep, it was time to get up and start the drive to Radium. The road up is some of the slowest going I’ve endured, the fill they have available for the road makes for near constant bumps and course correction, taking two hours to go the 50-odd km from Radium. Which is a different story altogether from the 50km warp drive cruise up the B-road gravel highway to Bush Harbour enroute to the gems of the BC rockies I’ve become so used to. Once you get up to Farnham Creek though, it’s some of the wildest country you can see from a road, all but the largest peaks of the Jumbo massif are visible, not to mention its impressive glacier. Four 11000 foot peaks (Farnham Hammond, Commander, Peter), tower above you in all directions, with a further three (Jumbo, Karnak and Delphine) becoming visible after a bit of elevation gain above the road. Indeed, all but three of the Purcells 11’ers are within as many kilometers, it’s not hard to understand why the nearby proposed Jumbo ski resort came under such stiff resistance.
Moving on from the majesty of the Purcells though, there was steep bush to crush. A thousand meters of steep bush and scree to the ice. There is a trail in there, but I found it easy to lose, and not brushed out wide enough to accommodate my ski boot outriggers, so of little use. I followed my nose up, to the end of a short cut block that climbs beside the ravine a little ways then thrashing for a while in the timber before now-dry seasonal ravines made easier going. The other half of the elevation to the glacier is on scree. At least the views are stunning. McCoubrey’s north face is stunning in its own right, four tongues of ice extending from the upper icefield to the moraines below. I wanted to ski a line going down the glaciated upper north face, and extrends along a ice tongue which occupies a continuation of the same rock weakness which makes up the upper north face. Unfortunately, it isn’t occupying it as strongly as it used to, steep dirty ice terminating in burly steep choss. It was at this point I wished I had brought that second axe and rope (extra climbing power and the means to escape the situation it likely gets you into).
Alas, I had the equipment I had and a gorgeous mountain before me, so I went up the way I felt comfortable with. On the far left side of the glacier I found a slight gully that held more firn snow than blue-grey ice and headed up it to a bench on the glacier I could skin on. After that was another steep roll to the upper glacier, being at a high enough elevation to gain some of the last two weeks precipitation as a reasonable coating of snow. After some super fun skinning, I got to the upper bench on the glacier, below the final part of the north face. Unfortunately, it seemed the snow the upper north face had picked up mostly just sluffed into debris piles, intermixed with lots of rockfall from the bare walls above. Pity. I marched up, thinking it might be better where it’s flatter above the roll midway up, but above that there was just less snow and more rock. After the balance tipped sufficiently far away from good skiing to good mountaineering, I left the skis and went to the ridge on the right to access a short scramble to the summit.
The views were of course, stunning, the weather perfect and little in the way of smoke for this time of year. McCoubrey is on the Purcell divide, so there was great views to the east of some of the bigger southern rockies, highlighted by the fresh coat of snow. The even larger peaks just to the west occluded views to the Selkirks, but seeing Jumbo close up was enough to make up for it. I took my time basking in the sun, hoping to allow the upper face to soften a bit. By the time I went down, it was still not perfect, but being all sluff piles I did not expect it to be. The steep roll to the lower bench provided a few great turns, the smooth surface producing great corn. I was able to ski most of the little gully, almost all the way back to my soft boots. Then the walk all the way back to the truck and the long drive back home.