Emperor Peak’s been on my list for a while. A rockies-like sheet of ice for a north face, but in the west Purcells, so with the bonus of a huge snowpack. After a series of difficult longer trips with little payoff and lots of blood and sweat, this was just what we needed.
Ian and I were getting tired of bashing the poor sleds dirtmobiling everywhere after the inevitable avy path or shady spot with a deep snow drift blocked the remaining dry road. So we decided to sled in one last time, and carry a massive amount of supplies, to get maximum bang for the buck out of an abusive approach in the BC rockies. After banging the sleds up dry roads a few clicks though, and shoveling sled paths across avy debris, the final avy path had washed out the road, yet not brought down any snow which we could use to build a ramp to continue on. There was no possible way to get across. We were pretty bummed, there’s a lot of planning that goes into living nine days in the mountains all to be snatched away so arbitrarily. We started into the whiskey stores and discussed options and came up with just more BC rockies, which we had planned to do a great deal of this spring. But we were sick of the access issues brought on by the big melt. Finally, Ian brought up Emperor. I had nearly forgotten about it, intending to do it earlier in the winter some season. But it was perfect, the road was said to be plowed and it was all just highway driving and a short logging road then up a valley on foot, hardly any more complicated than your standard Parks approach. Finally, we would go ski a beautiful peak where nothing can go wrong, or at least that was the plan.
So we zipped back down, loaded the sleds back up and went to Golden, chucked all the gear into my car and were off to Meadow Creek via Revy. It’s been years since I’ve been skiing further west than Glacier National Park, something I should work to remedy in the future. A very filling Mexican buffet in Revy, then down to the ferry, then after a 10 minute wait we were off across the lake. I’ve never driven hwy 31 before, and in the night it was a beautiful road, any oncoming traffic (of which we met none) well-advertised, pure driving pleasure. We kept going past Meadow Creek and parked to car camp below the nameless creek we’d be heading up the following day.
When we rolled out of bed late morning, we started making our breakfast. But after much trying and swearing, Ian couldn’t get his Whisperlite to pump up, which was bad news for our oatmeal that morning and even worse for the dehydrated meals we had planned for later. So we hopped back in the car, hoping to find something in Meadow Creek. Unfortunately they had camping supplies, but no stoves there. So we went south to Slocan, where the only stoves were big single-burner Coleman stoves with the steel propane cylinders. We made do with that and jetted back, and started the approach in early afternoon.
On the way up we stuck close to the creek, jumping back and forth as needed. The moss was incredibly deep, making for easy work on the knees but deadfall was also plentiful to balance. We chose to run mountaineering boots with gaiters, which was super nice for the occasional posthole through the snow as it slowly built up with elevation. At the start of alpine-ish terrain the valley flattened, the snowpack fattened and we were skinning up. At the end of the valley is a big headwall, which we climbed on the left side, up corny pillows and steep terrain. I didn’t have the usual compliment of sat imagery laid out because of the spontaneous start, but I followed my nose and emerged right on the beautiful tarn I remembered from Google Earth, ringed with trees with a nice flat spot on the north end and a killer view of the Emperor massif. We had camp set right around dark, and made our plans for tomorrow over chow.
We woke in the night to a big friggin serac fall, so big it couldn’t be the ones on the Emperor-Archduke (E-A) glacier, but rather the huge wall of ice at the end of Archduke’s east face. Should we be concerned… nah. Up at 3am Golden time, across the gentle valley bottom and up the moraines. There are three lanes divided by two moraines heading toward the glacier, we chose the middle one which is out of the fall line of the steep snow slopes and seracs of the E-A arena. Nearing the top, we hear another serac fall, this one small but close, the upper serac on the E-A glacier. We decide that instead of sneaking left to the main draw up Emperor’s north face, which is under the watchful eye of the upper serac, we would instead head up a streak of snow which connected us onto the north face, but bypassing the upper serac. The downside was much more exposure below, but we’d have to swallow that pill at some point to bag Emperor regardless. Snow with weeks of weathering is much easier to predict than a serac.
We skinned and skinned, up a side glacier where I could never hit either ice or air with my 320cm probe (so this is a real interior snowpack!) until we got to the start of the bootpack. A short climb with a couple thin rocky spots got us onto Emperor’s north face proper, at a level just above the upper serac. Then we climbed lookers left at first, then traversed over a rib to the right and up a broad chute on the right side of the face, with less overhead cornice than the diagonal trending face we intended to ski. I counted 30 steps, then 30 more many times over. The snow started getting enough heat to ball on the plates, and soon it was step, tap the boot to clear snow, step, tap. Once I was certain we were nearly at the top, I just climbed, until I was at 400 steps since I last stopped and still not there. We kept going and I was blown away at the alpine lines around, I really need to give the area more consideration.
Then ski time, and starting with the most anticipated descent of the trip. I dropped first, carving huge pow turns without care, as the snow felt great all the way up and the diagonal nature of the face took care of sluff all on its own. Upon reaching the top of the upper serac it was time to go straight down, so I found a little glacial rib to play on so my sluff would continue self-clearing. Then a little traverse below the serac and out of harm’s way. Ian came down and looked to have just as much fun as I did.
Then we were off again, skinning up toward Archduke’s north face which was substantially more northerly than Emperor. We deeked out left on the skins onto Archduke’s NE face so we could skin more instead of more bootpacking. Then we came back on where the rock ridge was again overcome and covered by ice to the north face, and bootpacked the rest past the beautiful stable serac in the middle of the face. The summit of Archduke is rock, so we just skied back down from the plateau below the peak.
Skiing was again awesome, huge sluffs that gained momentum and took air off the ramp shape of the bergshrund down below made it super memorable. It wasn’t no-cares-skiing like Emperor but the snow was excellent. I deeked out skiers left onto the side of the upper serac and skied some freeridey bits since I never get to ski glacial features like that in the rockies without serious reservations about crevasse bridging. It had taken a lick of sun though, and I was carving off wet slides so I exited and continued down the great dry pow on the north face. On the lower serac I again deeked onto the serac, to a beautiful rib feature I’d seen on the way up, and then we skied down, traversing back onto the skiers left of the three highways between the moraines since the fall line on the right side ramp was too easterly for the time of day. Then down schmoo to the tent and well-earned whiskey to watch the solar aspects fall apart all afternoon.
I got up early the next day with the intention of skiing the beautiful east face of B-Flat, and then the B-Flat couloir after. Up at 2 then heading out, Ian couldn’t find the motivation after such a great day, especially after witnessing the movement we saw off the east face. So I skinned up, then bootpacked up a mix of soft ice and really terrible snow where yesterday’s avalanches had congregated. Getting higher on the face, I went off to the side out of the sluff channel to see how the snow I actually wanted to ski was feeling. It felt isothermal, like if I skied it even now before sunrise it would be wet sluffing deeply. So I downclimbed back and skied back to camp. We decided to break camp that day, as we had got the plum lines and the rest was too solar to give quality anything near what we’d already had. So we skied down, then walked the rest back to the car.
It seems I forgot to get an actual picture of B-Flat’s couloir. It is quite pretty, tops out at ridgetop and at least in current conditions has an icy choke in the fall line. Beside it though there is a nice tight, short snow couloir. Highly recommended, at least earlier in the season.
I had to drive briskly to make the ferry, nothing crazy but enough. I ended up getting a flat just a couple clicks from the end of the gravel, and we changed to the spare. Unfortunately on a Subaru that really limits the speed you can do, lest you want to blow out a differential, so we had to get the next ferry. Then we were arriving in Revy just as things were closing, luckily I was able to squeak in just in time to a tire shop which concluded the tire had been run near flat too long and the structure of the tire was compromised,and was un-repairable. With no used tires in the right size, I had to limp it all the way back to Golden.