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The White Elephant

On the summer solstice, Matt and I geared up for a one-day trip to the Jumbo icefield in the Purcells. Leaving Golden around 11pm, we made the long drive out to Farnham Creek then started down the remarkably well-defined trail from the road, down and across Farnham Creek, then up the outflow from the Commander Glacier and up the ridge of the lateral moraine to the scoured glacial bed. Around here, the sun rose and we scrambled up the last bit of loose scree to the snowy ascent route, pinched between Cleaver’s north ridge and the Commander Glacier. We followed the cruisy snow slopes all the way to the summit of East Guardsmen, a round, glaciated summit and started skiing west, towards Commander Mountain.

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The Commander Glacier sneak
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Commander Mountain’s NE face and Commander Glacier
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Cleaver N face

We had hoped to ski Commander’s NE face, with the fresh snow it could be an incredible ski. Unfortunately, we took too long getting up, and after coming up a chute on the west face of Commander to the summit and pushing some snow around, it was obvious the fresh snow was now way too hot to ski down. So we made a little downclimb off the ridgetop till we hit snow, and skied back down the west chute. After that, Jumbo was the obvious choice, as the ski descent led nicely towards Karnak. The ridge up to Jumbo was an easy skin, then a nice steep-ish descent down the NW face, continuing down and left around a small icefall on the Jumbo Glacier.

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The Guardsmen- Pic 1: West and Center Guardsmen, not often does overhanging rock exist near skiable snow. Pic 2: West Guardsmen, NE face. Pic 3: Center Guardsmen, N face

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All 11 of the 11,000+ ft peaks of the Purcells- Pic 1: Jumbo Group, Commader Mountain west face from the Jumbo Glacier. Pic 2: Jumbo Group, Jumbo and Karnak Mountains from Commander. Pic 3: Farnham Group. L-R: Hammond (3387m), Farnham Tower (3387m), Mt. Farnham (3483m), Mt. Peter (3360m), Mt. Delphine (3406m). Ascent to Jumbo icefield up right moraine, across glacial bed, and up snow next to the rock showing from Cleaver’s N ridge. Pic 4: Eyebrow Peak (3362m). Pic 5: Howser Towers (3412m, 3364m).

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Jumbo Mountain rainbow, Matt on the summit looking down to his familiar stomping ground of Panorama

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Royal Group in dressed in regal white
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Jumbo NW face

Then, skinning again, headed west up the glaciated slopes of Karnak. We had a few ideas on how to get up and down the summit block of Karnak,  but we ended up skinning as high as we could to the SE ridge, then scrambled along that to the summit. With the clouds to the west starting to look a little menacing, we hurried to the summit. Matt’s plan had been to ski down, then make a little huck off one of the smaller cliffs in the band before the fan. I wasn’t so keen on the steeper take-offs than landings, but was willing to follow if it looked alright. However, the sun punched a bit harder than we expected, and the top layer of snow was near wet slide consistency. But, we still felt we needed to get down off the summit faster than downclimbing the ridge would be, so I mashed potatoes down the face, making little steps on the skis so that one ski would always be on something stationary. Then a little zip to traverse a small ledge between cliffs and off. The rest of the way down to the base of Karnak was good skiing.

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Matt scrambling up Karnak
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Cornice stomping never gets old
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Jumbo Glacier, and seven 11’ers
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Epic skiing on Karnak…

We felt content and good and tired with our accomplishment of skiing all the 11’ers on the Jumbo icefield, so we started down, taking a high line across the top of the Commander Glacier to get near Cleaver north ridge again, rather than ski straight down the glacier, as the one sneaky spot through icefalls and crevasses was pretty sniper looking, and with the heat the pivotal bridges might not be as good as they looked from a distance. So we traversed and skinned and sidestepped our way back to Cleaver, then went back down the wide, moderate snow beside Cleaver north ridge.  Hiking boots back on, and down to the truck. 2400m, 20km and four summits in a day, not bad!

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Coming down off the Jumbo-Commander col
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The hanging toe of the glacier under Cleaver

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Matt’s take on things: https://mattruta.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/commander-jumbo-karnak/

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