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Critical Christmas

What an incredible December it’s been. Ian came back from work a week ago and over my weekend we quickly skied some classic lines, Frequent Flyer, Greg Hill’s “Chromosome Right” couloir, and STS, all without crossing another person’s track. Things were good, and we were wondering how to push ourselves.

With the dribs and drabs of snow and cold temps, things have stayed stable, and there was pow on all aspects. So I thought of the Rogers NW couloir, a big circumnavigating tour that requires good snow on north, and stable snow everywhere else. In order to spice up the long exit, I thought it would be good to summit Sifton and ski the south face chute in moonlight. Doing so would also push the day over 3000m of gain, though with moraine up-and-down touring the Rogers-Sifton col exit might be right around that mark.

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We started casually on Christmas morning, touring up the well-established skintrack up the Hermit after leaving the car at 9. Once on the meadows, we started punching our own skintrack toward the Rogers-Sifton col, and left the last sign of others we would see for the next twelve hours. We toured up moraines below the impressive SW wall of Rogers up to the headwall at the end of the valley. Then we skinned up the shoulder, just to the left of the two impressive south couloirs of Mt Rogers that are visible from Hermit Meadows until we were standing ontop of the West face of Rogers. The fickle wind, strong sun between passing clouds and ever present cold made thermal management hard. Midway up the main climb, we stopped and added the hard layers, extra long underwear and base layers. I expected to be fully assaulted by the wind on the exposed, nearly always windswept-looking shoulder, but upon actually getting there there was no wind to our surprise.

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We changed over to ski mode to do the dreaded traverse over the top of the west face. However, the west face was not nearly as steep as expected, I could see clean down the whole thing, I’m not sure the main chute even hits 45*. The upper part of the face actually half-drains into the NW, and it was great creamy windswept pow. I was expecting a sketchy traverse over the west face. At the ridge that divides the W and NW, the view down the couloir rolled away even further, so we skied to the next point to see down the thing. That perch didn’t show what we wanted either, so we skied down to the next roll-over point where we could finally see down most of it.

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Rogers NW ridge splits the W and NW faces
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Rogers NW

The snow was honestly not that great. It reminded me of mid-winter rockies snow, nice pow that takes a wind event and then just gets too cold for too long and gains that special consistency. This place obviously takes some savage winds, the upper part of the chute was blasted down to rock. Not just the high points, but low points as well were wind scoured to nothing; that’s the first time I’ve seen that in the Selkirks.

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We skied the thing by leapfrogging our way down, safe spot to safe spot. The couloir is basically three sections, the upper, mid and lower section. Between there are horizontal snow fields you can change chutes on. For the upper, we took the skiers right chute, and we mistakenly continued on the skiers right for the mid. From my photo, I knew the middle chute of the middle section fills in best, but the (skiers) right looked nearly as good last year so I didn’t worry about it. This year was actually less filled, and there were a couple narrow chokes to deal with among ice. I have a feeling the middle chute might’ve been better snow as well, bigger walls to keep the wind out. Once on the lower, I knew we had to traverse off the little hanging face to use one of the ribbons of snow leading to the lower chute. It was easier than expected to find it, and we went down to skiers left into the lower chute. The upper sections may well hold bits of leftover glacial ice, but the lower chute is its own pocket glacier still. I heard the unmistakable sound of Ian scrape over exposed ice buried under the first unaffected pow for the whole chute, another strange experience for Selkirks where the ice is generally buried under meters of snow. even in December. Then we stopped in the cauldron of a moraine and looked up to reflect on a wild run and celebrate with handshakes and whiskey. The couloir proper was around 800m of vert, the top to moraine including the upper west face traverse was over 1000m. Very rockies-like from all angles.

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Bryce on fire

With over half of the vertical over and the sun rapidly setting, the day was still not even half-way over. We still had to climb over the long NW ridge of Rogers, then climb the thousand meters to the summit of Sifton. Ian led the charge over the ridge, which was great pow on a supportive crust, great for touring then bootpacking when it got too tight and steep. We toured up the ridge from there in full dark so the downward traverse to the bottom of Rogers west face would go more cleanly. There’s a long elevation band of tree-less terrain I wanted to exploit for the traverse, hoping to find windpacked snow for an efficient traverse. However it was all pow which wasn’t too great for our purposes. We still made it all the way to the west face avalanche path, then replaced our remaining ice with water and started skinning up again.

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Nearing the Sifton glacier

By the time we got skiing up toward Sifton it was 9pm,  so four hours left to summit, and ski down to the car before permits closed (at midnight PST, 1am MST. I stay on Golden time at the pass). The moonlight was intoxicating and the cold punishing as we made our final climb. The long NW ridge of Sifton was a great climb, perfect broad terrain for a skintrack, steep enough to be direct but not difficult at all. This brought us to the Sifton glacier, where we saw the standard slope for getting to the N summit ridge, finally back in terrain we knew. The summit ridge was otherworldly in moonlight, incredible experience.

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Looking into Sifton S

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We were too tired and cold to do much more than prepare to ski once at the top. The top portion of the chute was much rockier than expected, and I didn’t have the strength left to make use of the possibilities such obstacles presented, so I sideslipped most of the hard bits. Once in the chute proper though, the snow was perfect and the turns came easy. Great ski. We also timed the moonlight nearly perfectly, we skied down about a half hour before its apogee, at due south and 56* altitude. So nearly perpendicular to the ~45-50* SE chute. From there we skied down the moraines and meadows into the slidepath and back to the car, arriving right around midnight PST as permits closed. On the way home I got pulled over by the police and asked if I’d had anything to drink today. I replied I had some whiskey around 1.. Didn’t quite occur to my mushy brain at the time to add “PM” onto that. They sent me on my way after realizing I was just a tired idiot.

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