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Big Bush

This whole week, I’ve been hemming and hawing about going for a Purcells 11’er or heading north to a couple sweet couloirs in the Bush River. Waiting to see what the weather did, snow accumulations, stability. Eventually, the wind convinced me I should go north. So I headed out after work, got stuff packed for an overnight or two and headed to the end of the plowed road in the Bush, then further on the sled.  With the way the weather was looking, I was worried about the heat chasing me off what I wanted to ski, so I decided to head up Lyell Creek first to get to a line I’d have to bootpack all the way up. Overheads are easier to swallow with less sun. But the road heading up Lyell was super deep, untravelled and once you broke through the fresh pow the sled just submarined into the facets. After many stucks and much reefing on the sled and my back, I decided to can it, I wasn’t even at the first of the slidepaths that most likely had run to the road and they would be a huge time sink on shoveling on their own.  So I turned around, and went back to set camp at the Bush River.

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The next morning I wasn’t really feeling it, the sledding the night prior was just too much on the old bones. I decided I’d just explore on the sled for the day. Once I was just a few hundred meters from camp though, I got a good view of the beautiful couloir that was my second objective, and the motivation came right back. I’ve decided to call it the “Big Bush” because as far as I know, it needs a name and it makes me chuckle. I’m usually content with naming lines based on the mountain it’s a part of and the aspect, but the closest connected summit to the Big Bush is Icefall peak, over 6km away. If it already has a name, I’d love to know.

The bottom of the Big Bush comes down really low, to 820m. From there, I sledded 300m of gain up the logging road away from the couloir, to the start of a nice, un-exposed skintrack up steep forest. The facets were a real doozy on the skintrack, every now and then a decent looking pillow would pull out and swallow me up past my waist, and this is on skins! It was more work than anticipated, but it sure was nice to climb a rowdy line at my own pace, instead of a fevered pitch fueled by the knowledge of how much is above me.

After 850m of skinning, I was nearing the top of the treed section, with only gnarly choss and rock above. This was the time to get off the ridge and into the couloir. I peeked over the ridge, over dirty, huge walls of pillows and cliffs a couple times before I saw the reasonable descent into the couloir I had spied from the bottom.  Mindful of the recent wind, I eased into the couloir and dropped a little wind slab down. Then a little ski before a transition to the coming 500m bootpack. Even though I was only around the mid-section of the couloir, the walls on it were already super impressive, down below me and even moreso above. For quite a while, the bootpacking was quite easy, the couloir having good support and a moderate angle. Then it kinked and got steep, and the facets came out to play. I lost count of how many kinks there were in it, but they did a great job of keeping the top from seeming unbearably far away. A couple 100cm wide chokes surrounded by choss, a couple shoulder deep facet holes. The very top has a super sweet looking flake of rock peeling off the wall, a razor waiting to run down the whole Big Bush. Finally, just at the top was the avy problem I’d been fearing the whole time, a little windslab sitting on facets. The little bugger ran without me, hope it’s not disappointed.

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The ridge top was pretty killer, there was good high cloud all day, but it was high enough to give good views to the 11000 ft peaks around. But I had seen them all day on the way up, and paid them plenty of attention over the years. The real cool stuff was up Lyell Creek, I’ve mostly just glossed over it all because I haven’t had any vantage into it yet. But like everything else in the BC rockies, it’s super worthy looking ski mountaineering country. But it was getting late, and at 5:30pm, right around when Environment Canada says it gets dark, I was finally dropping in. The aspect and elevation of the Big Bush was conducive to such a late drop though, and light was near as good as it was all day in the couloir.

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The Lyells
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Speedfly chutes? Behind, Forbes looks completely different this year to last for February

Great, great skiing, just enough pow to make it good, not so much you had to pay much mind to sluff, and steep as you like. The first 20-odd turns were especially steep, but such great quality I could ski it in a fun way, even for my dead legs. Cruising down, past kink after kink, I got to the first choke. I was intending to do a little straightline, but I don’t really like doing that, you only need to catch an edge on some weird snow and just like that, you’re eating it. Most of the time it’s fine, but it just seems like more of a gamble than a proper decision. I saw a sprinkling of snow between choss after a little traverse, so I decided to give it a go instead. The traverse was a bit of dry skiing, skipping off rocks, to be expected. But the bit of snow for the descent part was perfectly supportive, no facets, super steep, and way more fun than a little straightline. I continued down, big walls flying past, kink, kink, steep snow on choss ledge, kink, and then I got into the main, mostly straight part of the couloir, near where I initially dropped off the ridge into it. The snow was good, the angle reasonable, the width generous and the meters flew by.

At the lower third of the couloir, I got into avy debris, but it wasn’t too bad, as it was buried by the latest storm. At the very end of the couloir was a big waterfall cliff, there were plenty of ways around it, but I wasn’t sure what the best was when I looked from the bottom. Once ontop though, I saw an old climax avalanche branch that was regrowing, which bypassed the cliff in semi-open bushes with pillowed terrain. Good fun in there, then back to the main path which slowly closed in with trees until before long, yep, that’s my sled track. Then skin back up to the sled, run back down to camp to pack up as I had decided though the day I didn’t want be tempted by such serious lines with the sun being such a big player for the following day. Pack up in full dark, sled to the truck, drive back to Golden, giggling all the way.

4 thoughts on “Big Bush”

  1. Man…that’s really gnarly, great achievement. You’ve got some great insights in these posts about your risk assessment process, definitely helping me to think about other factors when skiing steep terrain. I’m curious, whats really going through your head on this stuff? I mean, you are on your own, and it sounds like a fall would be pretty disastrous in most sections, not to mention avalanche risks. I’m not “judging” at all, just curious about the thought process. And finally, shouldn’t some ski company being paying you?!

    1. Thanks guys. Good to hear that I’m getting a bit of what I’m worried about in a given snowpack and line across.

      There’s a lot of kinds of falls. If I were trying to ski it like you see in ski porn then yeah, I’d be in for big trouble in a fall. But I usually ski quite slowly and carefully, especially in snow I haven’t climbed up. The likelyhood of catching a little fall is much greater (as seen in this one where the little sluff washed my skis). A whippet is a great tool, though I’ve never (knock on wood) had to arrest with it yet. Arresting any fall immediately is really your only chance. This line wasn’t bad at all, snow was perfect, soft enough a fall wouldn’t go on forever.

      Regarding mind games, I am OK with being fully responsible for my actions. I thrive on it. Big lines, solo, it’s absolute freedom. In all the positive and negative outcomes.

  2. Thats awesome! I was sure you would have to down climb yet you skied with a degree of technicality that allowed you to ski down!

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