Late August, it never disappoints! After a bit of a drought, I had been out of the mountains for a while and was itching to get out. I’ve been really fortunate this summer. My first summer skiing, I was just skiing anything, mellow lines and suncups, whatever snow I could find. Last summer, I made a real effort to ski something reasonably steep and interesting each month, and skied lots of bare ice, as the hot summer dictated. It was good fun though, and an excellent builder of skills. This summer, with just September left to go, I think it’s safe to say things are only going to get better from here on out, and I’ve been successful in ski interesting lines, in good snow each month. No suncups or bare ice comprising the entire line but a white carpet of something reasonably fresh for at least the interesting parts.
But you didn’t come here to listen to me stroke my ego, so moving on… I saw a nice cold system moving in and gave Matt the heads-up that it might be go time. The system came, a nice healthy east-sloper that was hitting Jasper area a bit harder. I do love skiing something new on every outing, but it was hard to argue against Athabasca. I wasn’t 100% after taking my longest break from the alpine in the last year, so something that’s more giggles than exploration sounded just fine. It turned out Ian was on a little break from work too, so the three of us left Golden around 3. The forecast for the day was all over depending which you believed, all agreed there would be no significant precip, but amount of cloud cover was a big question. We decided we should climb straight up the Silverhorn, so that we would at least have tracks to follow heading down if vis went to total crap.
Well, vis was total crap all the way up the moraines and onto the glacier. There was perhaps 5cm of snow on the lower glacier, and at least with the heavy cloud there would be negligible effect to the snow from the sun during our time heading up. We more or less followed the tracks of a mountaineering party that was trudging up, we had seen their headlamps near the start of the ice while we were gearing up at the car. Below the ramp route that cuts under Silverhorn, we met up with the group, on their way back down. They said there was a slab on a steeper part of the ramp they didn’t like. We kept on into the muggy whiteness as some token snow started.
We didn’t have much luck routefinding our way onto the Silverhorn, despite both Ian and I having climbing at least to the base of it in previous trips. First we thought we were way too far right to gain the minor col at the base of the Silverhorn, so went left. The cloud lifted just enough to show the icefall above us was not getting any tamer all the way left to a rock wall marking the far side of the glacier. So we went back, and then just started climbing the steep snow and patches of ice, despite feeling steeper than we remembered it should be. Then we climbed right past the real base of the Silverhorn, where the solitary bergschrund is small and easy, and climbed up the left side of the horn up steep stuff. The first schrund was large, yet there was a small, couple cubic meter chunk of ice that got stuck into the hole. It was a pretty awkward move, but I made it, then belayed the guys off an axe. Further up there was another bergschrund none of us remembered that was super-awkward, but doable. Since the snow ontop of the hungry bastard was steep and hard, we decided to leave a probe to mark our crossing spot, as either side of the crossing was really gnarly.
The rest of the ascent was pretty much perfect. Not that getting lost in fog was bad, we got to see a side of the mountain few souls are stupid enough to explore, and if not necessarily efficient, it was fun climbing anyways. The previous snow of August had cooked down to a nice skin of hard snow ontop of the ice, not as hard as full blown neve snow but nearly, and with rime forming ontop from the moist cloud passing over. Certainly better than the bare ice the ridge is from October-April. I forgot since my last time up, but the final part of the ridge was exactly the same as the mid for conditions, yet at least 10* less steep, allowing for a great tutorial to how to ski snow of the rest of the line on the way back down, with much more forgiving exposure.
We made the final ascent to the summit in constant wind, slowly getting weighed down by building rime on everything fabric. Just down from the ice summit, on the rock though, it was great. The cloud looked like it lifted just a bit, and I scrambled back to the top before it closed again. The cloud was pasted just to the Silverhorn and north bowl, I could see down the valley well, and all the way to Woolley. I figured the cloud might soon blow off, and we went down and re-ascended to the Silverhorn sub-summit.
The skiing down Silverhorn was great, I loved every second. It was almost exclusively hard snow, the pow having blown away, but it was absolutely consistent, which is the most important characteristic of snow, to me anyways. Vis was good enough, and it was just turn after turn of perfect skill-building terrain and conditions. I also had the skinniest skis though, so the other guys might’ve had a slightly different experience. The light was decent enough that we soon left our uptrack and followed the right route down, past the probe before we realized just how stupid we were on the way up. The tiny schrund off the horn was already filled in, and the rest of the way down was a great moist 10-15cm of pow, and in good visibility. I wasn’t looking forward to having to handrail the ascent route in the fog, the cloud lifting off the lower part was a perfect end to a technical, tiring day.