Mt Harrison. How I’ve longed and fought for this beast. So begins an epic fantasy tale of failure, elation, perseverance and hardheadedness. Oh, and melted steel, as any good dragon story.
Attempt 1: October 2015
September conditions were relatively fat in the Rockies, and then a big storm was tracking south, so I thought Harrison might be a good objective, having good ice to hold onto the dribs and drabs. Left Golden dark and early and drove down to Canal Flats and then east into the Rockies. After a slick walk with oil-contaminated hiking boots on frosty rock I get my view of the face. Conditions look sketchier than my ski on Aemmer just two weeks prior, and I just don’t have the hunger to go after such a technical descent. Plus the whole lower glacial bed is downsloping rock in big steps, not exactly something I want to grease up, or back down after mentally exhausted from a sketchy ski. Five hours back to Golden in the slow old beast.
Attempt 2: Early March 2016
Finally, a reasonable time of year to try for this line. I picked Harrison for this weekend because the weather wasn’t great and Harrison seems to be one of the driest big peaks with good skiing. So I thought I could avoid the weather and get something big done as well. Trevor D. and I aimed to meet in Invermere the night before, combine gear and drive to the end of the plowed road together. Before Invermere though, an accident on the highway made us backtrack to Radium, cross the Columbia and make our way to Invermere by Westside road. Then I got my sled onto Trevor’s trailer and we headed off to our camp. We sledded off in the morning on a few cm’s of fresh snow toward Harrison and started walking. The weather wasn’t great, but I thought we could still bag it. Once we started booting up the couloir though, small sluffs of graupel started down the couloir. I wasn’t too concerned, as the precipitating graupel wouldn’t have the cohesiveness to form a reasonable size release that could knock us down, so we continued into the cloud. Then a sizeable sluff did come down, and I tried to downplay my concern. Trevor talked me out of it though, we were at the last decent shelter, any higher up and pulling the plug would mean transitioning in the bowling alley, and the vis was so poor there would be no warning of sluff, and there was about to be some real exposure below, higher up there would be much more as a second much larger rocky double-fall-line opened up.
We transitioned and skied down, me right past my skins which I planted at the base of the couloir. The pocket glacier under the north face had amazing steep snow. We went skiers right on the moraines to try to hook up with a bonus couloir we spied from the bottom, found the entrance and skied great snow to the flats at the base of Harrison. Only then did I realize my skins were 700m above me, and I had to accept I couldn’t get them today.
Attempt 3: Late March
Another weekend of mixed weather hard to gauge. On my way down the Columbia Valley my new-to-me truck made very very bad noises. I found a side road to stuff it in and hitched back to Golden, hoping it was out of the way enough not to be seen so my sled wouldn’t get stolen.
Went back down the next day in the old truck to get the sled. I couldn’t sleep and headed out from Golden at 1am. Since I’m down halfway, might as well grab the gear and send Harrison. The storm which before was threatening to creep over the border from Idaho was now forecasted to stay far enough away to give good weather. After picking up the sled and gear from the truck in Radium, I drove nearly to Canal Flats before realizing I forgot my snowpants in the new truck. After going back up to fetch them, I didn’t feel I’d have enough gas to get back out from Harrison without really pushing it, so I had to wait in Invermere until 6 for the gas station to open, as there’s apparently no 24h gas from Golden to Fort Steele.
Well, after all those attempts and failures, I better get this damn mountain now! Continued past Canal Flats up to Whiteswan, then down the East White River. Not far from the turn off was the end of the plowing, and I stopped at signage saying there was active logging and machinery ahead, to walk and check out if it was passable. Yes on the sled, no on the truck. As I was gearing up the first loggers showed up for work, very helpful guys. Before long I was on unplowed road and could open up on the sled. As I crested the pass between the White and Bull Rivers, it became obvious that all the previous failure was to set me up to go for this peak in good weather, a great day of mixed cloud was setting up.
I put my sketchy oversized nylon skins on and started heading up. God nylons feel heavy. There was a supportive crust on the northerly drainage winding up to Harrison, but under it was still unconsolidated snow, we’re definitely still transitioning to spring. Getting up the pocket glacier into the couloir was trying, wind slabs everywhere. I would feel good about what I felt on a little sub-aspect, only for it to become a bit too spooky. Then I’d backtrack and try something else. I found decent enough snow finally climbers left of a faint ridge in the glacier formed by sluff from the couloir exit, and made my way up. Happily, my skins were still jammed in the rock where I left them, so I added the gross nylon skins to the pile and continued up. Really can’t afford to forget the gear stash now!
Conditions in the couloir were perfect. Just enough boot pen to balance climbing ease with skiing quality, no pesky ever-changing windslabs, and a bit of fresh pow ontop of it all. The passing cloud was working wonders, and despite the fresh snow I didn’t see even the smallest of sluffs all day. Near the top, I decided to go for the thin climbers left fork, over some nice looking ice and thin snow on scree which would keep me off any funky layers I thought might start near ridgetop. Then a short walk along the ridge to the summit, where the register was visible. I took my time and read the register, putting in my own entry as the weather improved. Strange as it may sound on such a remote peak, there was cell service on the summit.
I skied down as the cloud cleared and the basin below basked in sun. The upper wine glass section was great, and I skied the guts, trending right around a big convexity. Once in the couloir, I stuck close to the left wall where the fresh snow was deepest, but surprisingly it did not have any slab properties. Then great skiing to the skins. The pocket glacier was a sheet of grey, really flat light, then I again went to the bonus couloir which provided more laughs.