Monday, April 30, 2012

Snow Pickets: Protection or Peril

I am constantly amazed at how many trip reports I see where folks are placing snow pickets vertically (or slightly off vertical) in winter snowpacks. A snow picket placed vertically in anything other than well settled neve snow is basically useless, unless you think that getting brained on the head by the thing as it flies by with great velocity upon inevitable failure is useful.

About the only thing I can see that saves these folks from inescapable calamity is that they are climbing moderate snow routes in snow that takes good steps. Conditions under which only the truly incompetent could fall or, upon falling, go far.

If that vertically placed picket takes anything less than 10 to 15 over the shoulder strikes with a hammer to place, it is not a piece of protection, it's a potential hazard.

What's most bizarre about this practice is that pickets come with this information printed in big black letters on the side, making these folks both incompetent and illiterate.

Need hard data to accept this premise, take a glance at any of these test results:
  • The original NZ paper here;
  • Scary low force high velocity failures here;
  • These guys didn't even test vertical pickets knowing how useless they are. 
Years ago, on a ski-mountaineering trip in the Waddington Range, a friend of ours swore up and down that his pickets were bomber.  We challenging him to build his best anchor, then proceeded to demolish it, with the characteristic vigor of abrupt picket failure, by taking a simple sliding fall on a 30 degree snow slope.  A bomb maybe, bomber no.

"Blah, blah, blah, vertical pickets are worthless"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Conventional Nutrition is Killing You

After years of suffering through hypoglycemic attacks, poor energy, long recovery times, and, most annoying of all, having to eat every two hours, I am happy to have completely given up conventional nutrition, which I have come to realize is all so much garbage founded, not on science, but on big-Farma.

Although, Rob Wolf's "Paleo Solution" book made the New York Times best-seller list, eating Paleo is still considered out there by most people, and main-stream dietary advice continues to advise people to most of their calories from toxic grains.

Eating Paleo, however, is a lot like Crossfit, most people won't even give the Paleo diet a trial. Which is strange to me, because, unlike Crossfit, eating Paleo isn't really that hard. True, you'll have to give up that junky breakfast cereal you eat and, all those baked goods, but, isn't getting stronger, feeling better, leaning out, improving your performance, and protecting your long term health worth a few sacrifices. Apparently not. 

Bacon and Eggs for breakfast before a day of ski touring

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Opportunity Whispers, Can You Hear It?

Seize every opportunity along the way, for how sad it would be if the road you chose became the road not taken.  Robert Brault.

Some friends of mine did the Wapta Traverse over Easter. They spent six days on the route, had perfect weather and sound stability. When I read their trip report, I felt, half guilty, half incredulous: "That's all?"

They are all ten years younger than me, the weather was perfect, the stability was good, they had excessive amounts of time and they managed to climb two peaks. That's it, two peaks. Both are passed on the traverse route and each require only an extra 300 metres of elevation gain.

Of course, in climbing, skiing and mountaineering, we all choose how hard we want to push ourselves and how much we want to accomplish. It's exactly that freedom that continues to engage us in these pursuits year after year. Presumably, my friends achieved all they wanted to achieve and are happy with their accomplishments.  However, I couldn't help but think of opportunity lost for want of a little more effort. 

Doug on the summit of Mount Goethe in the California Sierras

Friday, April 27, 2012


Since Monday, every day this week has been spent getting our house ready for sale. I haven't been out to the mountains to ski or climb, which, for someone addicted to mountain sports, is mentally challenging. Instead of climbing or skiing, I've been working out hard - which, is easy to do in a relatively short time period if you choose the right work-out. Getting blasted in my work-outs has kept me sane.

Right now I'm doing some hard strength training with Stronglifts. Climbing season, however, is also approaching (or here if you aren't fixated on getting your house on the market) so I'm also climbing on my indoor wall and doing HIT strips. Still gotta get my endorphin buzz, so most days I also do a short Crossfit type WOD - usually an adaptation of the days WOD focusing on power and core work.

As I'm not doing long endurance days in the mountains, I'm also experimenting with intermittent fasting.  Something that is not nearly so difficult as it sounds, and, which sure frees up time that would be spent either preparing or eating food.

Of course, all this means my muscles are sore everyday and I have a generalized low level muscular fatigue. But, to quote Nietzshe, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

Bouldering on our home climbing wall

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. Herman Melville.

I am constantly amazed at how many people copy my trips, but would not dream of actually coming on the trip with me. Most recently, I ran a trip for my local club to the summit of Mount Lasca. The trip was officially full at six people, but two of those were Doug and myself, and the four others were close friends. I had no waiting list and no inquiries outside of my friends. Yet, a couple of weeks later, people were asking me for beta and going out and following my exact route.

I can't count how many times over the years this has occurred. Some people have the audacity - at least it seems audacious to me - to do the exact same trip the day after I do it. Or, to say "That trip sounds interesting, I'm going to go out and do it with so and so." Some even sign up for my trip, cancel and then do the trip a day later with their own group.

Should I be flattered that my trips are interesting enough that people want to replicate them? Or annoyed because, despite their interest in the trip, these people wouldn't actually think of coming with me?

Party on the  most recently copied trip

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Go Or Don't Go

Do, or do not. There is no "try". Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

Last weekend we were supposed to start a four day ski trip from Great Northern Mountain to Mount Thompson in the Badshots. We had friends from Vancouver who were finishing the Bonnington Traverse on Thursday, taking Friday as a rest day, and then our plans were to set off on the Great Northern traverse on Saturday and finish on Tuesday.

Our friends had found the Bonnington Traverse harder than expected and had experienced a mixed bag of weather ranging from sleet to snow, with fairly consistent white-outs. Each day was long and tiring for them as they arrived at each cabin and the end of the trip, late in the day.

When Friday rolled around and we checked the weather forecast, it was uniformly bad - two days of periods of rain and two days of showers. Not exactly weather conducive to traveling through the high mountains. The decision to can the traverse and do a couple of day trips around Nelson - where the forecast was much better - was fairly unanimous.

I was disappointed, as I had been looking forward to the traverse, but, after hearing how hard our friends had found the Bonnington, I wondered if it was not a wise decision. While I am sure our friends would have made the trip, I am also sure that Doug and I would have spent quite a bit of time waiting. Philosophically, I don't mind waiting, but I find it easier to do on day trips than overnight trips and good weather trips than bad weather trips. On overnight trips, I just want to keep moving at a smooth steady pace from morning until late afternoon and then take the big backpack off for good. In bad weather, I like to do the same. Standing waiting with a big backpack is uncomfortable and putting it on and off a dozen times a day is more tiring than keeping it on and holding a steady pace.

Turns out, the weather seemed far better than forecast, and, I am still wondering if we made the right decision, although I suspect I am the only one. Our friends were feeling tired after their four day trip and seemed very pleased with the two day trips we did. Doug hates doing trips in bad weather, and, I, well, I second guess most of my decisions so some endless neurotic analyzing should only be expected.

Descending Ymir Mountain on Sunday

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring Finally Comes

In the last few days spring has finally arrived in the West Kootenay. Temperatures are high, the sky is clear, the snow is soft, and creeks are rising.

We spent the last two days doing a couple of popular local ski tours with some friends from Vancouver. On Saturday we skied up Old Glory taking the round about, but safe, south ridge route. We were too late to ski down the east face - as we knew we would be - so descended the south ridge finding a little corn snow along the way.

On Sunday, we traversed Ymir Mountain, skiing up the west ridge and descending the north ridge on the east side until we could drop into the big west facing Ymir bowl on a lower angle ramp. The skiing sucked - wet and heavy the whole way - but the ambiance was good.

It's been a long winter, spring is welcome. 

Robin approaching the summit of Old Glory

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Making It Happen

There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. Jim Lovell

Lately I've been thinking that there are people you meet in life who make things happen, and others who go along with whatever is happening. The former are much rarer than the latter.

On my recent Bonnington Traverse, we skied up a couple of peaks after the days travel between cabins was completed. After skiing to Steed Cabin we skied up Siwash, and after skiing to Copper Cabin we skied up Copper. Usually, I also ski up Grassy on the first day after we have skied into the Grassy Cabin (it takes only about four hours to the cabin), but, on this trip, I had to return to the trail-head to pick up a forgotten jacket and didn't get into Grassy Cabin until late (with sore feet too).

The two other fellows on the traverse had, of course, plenty of time to ski up Grassy Mountain without me as I was at least two hours behind them. But, neither of them did. Instead, they hung around the Grassy Cabin all afternoon. Similarly, when we got to Steed and Copper Cabins, I encouraged them to head off to the summits without me, but neither would, although they were more than keen to go along with me.

Before Easter, I was chatting with a friend before she left on the Wapta traverse, I asked if she had plans to ski up some peaks along the way as her group was taking 5 days to do a 3 day trip and would have plenty of time. She replied that she had made no plans as she didn't know how fast her partners would be.

This is completely different to how I approach a ski traverse. Before the trip, I research all the peaks along the route and work out which ones are potential ascents and by what route. Then, when we get near the peak, I am ready to go and getting to the top is simply a matter of making it happen.

Guess that makes me one of the former.

Climbing Wesley on the Hurley Traverse

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Out Of Five: The Bonnington Range Traverse

Each year, for the last eight, either Doug or myself has run the Bonnington Traverse as a four day trip for our local mountaineering club. This year was my fifth, and I fully expect to be my last, trip across the Bonnington Range. After four full traverses and countless single day trips into the area, there is not much new terrain for me in the Bonnington. However, the moderate distance and elevation gain, the lack of glaciers, and the three (or four) cabins along the route make this an ideal traverse for people who have never done a multi-day ski trip before.

The crux of the traverse is the final day which involves traversing the ridge line from Copper Mountain to Empire Peak. In distance, this is only about six kilometres and 520 metres of elevation gain, but the ridge line is narrow in places, steep, corniced, and one section requires step-kicking. In good conditions, the step-kicking portion for experienced skiers, is only about 10 metres long, but in hard, icy conditions, much more step-kicking is required.

Of my five trips, I've only completed the last day twice. On three other trips, including this one, we have been shut down by poor weather and/or avalanche hazard. As an aside, I've actually done the last day three times as winter logging allowed us to do the fourth day as a day trip a few years back.

This year, I had moderate hopes of completing day four, even though the weather forecast called for a system to arrive on Monday. I thought, that, if we were lucky, the system would not arrive until later in the day and we could leave early, travel fast, and still get day four done in reasonable weather.

As it turns out, the system moved in very rapidly. We left the Copper Mountain Cabin at 7.30 am with the most promising looking weather of the trip, but, within 30 minutes, the cloud deck had built all around, 15 minutes more and snow was falling in the surrounding mountains. By 8.15 am, we were in snowfall, and, 8.30 am brought thickly falling snow pushed by a driving wind, and visibility down to 50 metres.

Struggling with icy wind-rolls on the ridge leading to Empire Peak, I wondered to myself, how long we would persevere before someone said "What are we doing?" Groups can be impelled forward into unreasonable conditions and dangerous circumstances simply because everyone in the group has committed to a predetermined plan made when conditions were better. The effort required to rethink the plan seems to be too much for groups to overcome and decision making inertia propels the entire group forward regardless of circumstance.

I realized in a moment that the most reasonable thing for our group to do was turn around. A stronger party, that could move faster (and had ski crampons) could continue on with safety, but, I felt that our group was not particularly strong (it never is on these trips) and our safety margin was shrinking with every step forward we took.

In a huddle we had a brief discussion. I started by laying out my reasons for turning around and describing our escape options. As a group leader, I find it important to state your own opinion first, otherwise, unless you have a strong group, no-one will say anything. Although in name we are a group of peers, in function, there is a leader to whom people are looking for advice.

The decision was quickly, and I think, appropriately made to turn around and use one of two possible escape routes. By the time we had got back to the ridge leading to Copper Mountain, we were all quite wet, and conditions had deteriorated even further. I can be prone to second guessing my decisions but I had no qualms about this one.

We escaped down 49 Creek using the Copper Mountain FSR. This route was not without its own adventures, involving at the start, a very steep traverse across the southeast face of Copper Mountain that was treacherously icy. Traversing at a constant elevation was too difficult due to the icy conditions so we ended up slightly below the road, and were forced to boot-pack up - the conditions being initially too icy and steep to skin up without ski-crampons.

In the gloom, we even had difficulty following the road initially, and, it was only when we had descended a few kilometres that I started to feel confident that we were going the right way on the right road.

Below 1200 metres, it was raining heavily and we got, if possible, wetter. We did manage to ski - with a few short sections of walking - all the way to the road plowing on Copper Mountain FSR, and then I led the group down my little trail that leads directly to my house. Doug was surprised to see three skiers with big packs and skis on packs walk out of the woods to the house. 

Jonas struggling to hold an edge in icy conditions

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sorry, I Can't Make It ....

'cos I can't get a ride, have a work deadline, can't be ready in time .... Or, if you were actually going to tell the truth, you might say "I don't feel like going anymore. In fact, I'm not sure I was ever really committed to this trip, and, really, I don't give a rats' arse if this puts you out, inconveniences you, causes a lot of trouble, because, basically, it's all about me."

Tomorrow I leave for the Bonnington Traverse which I am running as a four day trip for my local mountaineering club. This will be my fifth time on the traverse. Clearly, I don't need to do it again, but, it is a good local traverse, suitable for people doing their first ski traverse, and, as our club maintains the cabins along the route, using them annually seems like a good idea. After so many years running the traverse, you would think that someone else in the club might take it on, but, that seems unlikely - and the topic for another blog post.

This year I had 10 people cancel. Of those 10, I consider two - one broken leg, the other the spouse of the person with the broken leg - had a real reason to cancel. The others all canceled because they just didn't feel like coming, although the excuses I heard were (ever so slightly) more creative than that. Some people canceled (three) because they organized another trip for the weekend before the Bonnington (which they had previously signed up for). These three didn't even let me know until long after they had organized their second (marginally) conflicting trip that they couldn't make it. In fact, they didn't let me know until I pointedly asked them if they were still coming on the Bonnington.

At least three of the people who canceled I fully expected to cancel as they make a very regular practice of canceling. In fact, these three people have canceled out of more trips than they have attended. I wanted to say to them, "Look, lets just save your time and mine and not go through this farce where you sign up, then cancel."

I always wonder if the chronic cancelers know that I know - not suspect, but know - that as the trip comes closer they will cancel. Do they know that every time they sign up for a trip, I roll my eyes, sigh, and think "here we go again." 
Near Grassy Cabin

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One More Off The Project List

Mount Jordan is a non-descript peak at the far western end of the Goat Range near Nakusp. As such, it falls into the somewhat amorphous list of West Kootenay peaks that I have, for some inexplicable reason, decided to climb. This project - climbing all the peaks of the West Kootenay - has been proceeding in fits and starts for the past ten years. Frequently, I abandon the list to climb or ski in other areas, then, in a burst of enthusiasm, I revisit the list and check off a few more peaks. I was currently in the throes of one of my enthusiastic periods and the previous day Doug and I had skied up Mount Kuskanax, another relatively unknown peak that nonetheless is on the list.

We planned to ski up Mount Jordan via a logging road that switchbacks to 1350 metres on the south side. There were various options for getting to the section of road that actually gained elevation. One option was to start from the Wensley Creek Road near Box Lake, the other was to navigate a confusing series of roads from the Wensley Creek Cross Country Ski Area. We chose the latter option as being shorter (should we manage to navigate the perplexing morass of unmapped roads in the area correctly) and involving slightly less elevation gain.

We had a couple of maps, one a BC Basemap and the other a snippet of the cross-country trail map that eluded to some of the other labyrinthine roads criss-crosssing the area, but neither map showed all the roads correctly. There were two critical junctions where short-cut roads could be taken, and we managed to miss both of them. The first resulted in us skiing a long flat hairpin bend that doubled back on itself and brought us out perhaps 20 metres higher than we had started. The second was similar but on a larger scale. An extra two kilometres of skiing gained us perhaps 100 metres of elevation and left us at a prominent junction with no idea where we actually were.

Doug wanted to go right, I wanted to go left. We went left, trundled back to the west gaining elevation at a slow pace, and finally came to a three way junction where both the map and the altimeter actually agreed and we finally worked out where we were and, more importantly, where we should have been. From this point on, we simply plodded up a few switchbacks to where the road forks for the last time below the south ridge. As we had now been going for a few hours, we stopped for lunch in the sun. The final 500 metres to the top took only an hour, far less time than the previous 600 metres of elevation gain, even with wet, heavy, sticky snow.

By dint of moving here and there, we managed to get reasonable views from the top. The inevitable spring squalls were moving over the bigger mountains to our east and west, and Upper Arrow Lake was looking stormy. Skiing down was easy, except for the cement like quality of the new snow in the sun, as the trees were open and angle modest. The road provided almost perfect conditions, fast sliding on a firm surface. At three way junction, we took the correct option - a narrow road disappearing through a dense cedar forest, and were back at the parking area within an hour of leaving the top, and a good 15 minutes before a rain squall hit.

In deference to Doug, I should point out that all navigation errors were mine, and he had correctly picked out the roads we should have followed. I bought him a big Easter Bunny to make up for all the extra skiing

Mount Jordan view

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Season Starter

Yesterday we had our first day outside climbing on real rock for the 2012 season. This winter I climbed regularly on my home climbing wall - doing intervals and HIT strips 2 to 3 times a week, plus lots of pull-ups, finger curls, and heavy strength training. After reading a bunch of training books, I tried, as much as one can on a small home climbing wall, to focus on my weaknesses not my strengths. Out of all this, I had hopes of noticing some difference when finally outdoor climbing season came.

A few years ago, I joined a women's climbing club at the local climbing gym (now closed) and spent three hours twice a week being (supposedly) coached and climbing at the gym. My goal was to push my lead level up. Come spring, I noticed zero improvement in my overall ability and my lead level had not budged.

While disappointed, I wasn't surprised. As each week of the coaching/training passed, I came increasingly to realize that the coaching was haphazard, lackadaisical, and completely unrelated to our individual strengths and weaknesses. There was poor motivation among the group - all of whom, including the instructor, appeared to be there for the social and coolness aspects and not the climbing. As the sessions wore on, the entire group required more and more pushing by me to actually start the training sessions and stop gossiping - something which made me increasingly an outsider. By the end of the season, I was pretty sure the entire effort had been a waste of time and money. Tellingly, a few years later, I am the only one still climbing except for one woman who gets out perhaps two or three times per year.

To say the entire season was wasted is perhaps too strong. I learnt to train alone, so I could focus on my own goals and strategies for reaching those goals without being distracted by someone else or finding myself in the invidious position of trying to motivate another person. Training alone, I have been able to focus all my energy on working my weaknesses, which is surely one of the best ways of improving performance. After all, it's not our strengths that hold us back, it's our weaknesses.

But, the truth as the old saw runs, is in the telling, and, the only way to gauge the success of my winter season training programme is to measure it against how I was climbing at the end of last season. That measurement is likely completely subjective, but I felt I was climbing stronger and leading more confidently my first day out compared to my last day out the previous season. Instead of neurotically focusing on getting to the anchor and having the climb over, I was focused on the moves and working out the sequences. It felt, to a completely biased observer (myself) like my best first day of the season ever.

Doug on Muglugs Goes Climbing

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kuskanax Mountain On Skis

After a wet, cool March and early April, Easter has featured surprisingly good weather.  Almost, perfect for a short ski traverse, if there weren't lots of convective activity in the mountains, a snowpack that is getting its first dose of heat after a long winter season, and, 50 cm of fresh snow in the past few days.  With all these things in mind, we settled on a couple of days peak bagging around Nakusp instead of heading out on one of our planned spring traverses. 

On Friday, we drove up Hot Springs Road from Nakusp and found a fallen down trail-sign indicating we were at the now (presumably) defunct Arrow Lakes Cross Country Trails.  Our plan was to ski up Kuskanax Mountain via an old mining road (Dinner Creek FSR) that climbs a south facing spur ridge to the east.  We had with us a BC Basemap showing some of the roads in the area, and, the first of the three accesses to Dinner Creek FSR seemed to offer the shortest alternative. 

We crossed Dinner Creek on a small wooden bridge, and soon found a shortcut spur road that climbed steeply meeting the main Dinner Creek FSR at 1050 metres.  We plodded up the road, the trail-breaking getting heavier and heavier as the new snow got deeper and deeper, until we reached 1400 metres, where the road winds through a lovely hemlock forest.  The road continues relatively steeply up right along the ridge crest through open timber until it disappears somewhere near the ridge crest. 

Following the ridge crest, we cut across the head of Dinner Creek to gain a col on the northeast ridge of Kuskanax Mountain.  On the south side, in the sun, the snow was heavy and wet.  Once on the ridge, travel improved and we quickly skied up and down the wind-rolls to the summit.  Our views were somewhat marred by all the convective activity in the surrounding mountains, but the squalls all missed us. 

Descending was very quick, and took less than a quarter of the time it had taken us to get up, although the snow was wet and heavy. 

Back down at the truck, it only made sense to go up to the Nakusp Hot Springs for a soak as we were close by. The only observation I have to make about the Hot Springs is that Canadians appear to be rapidly catching Americans for status as some of the worlds fattest people.   At least two thirds of the people there would be better off taking a run at Kuskanax Mountain than lying about in a hot tub.

Doug arriving at the summit of Kuskanax Mountain

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Are You Mad?

This year, I've given up paying much attention to the Canadian Avalanche Association's (CAA) avalanche bulletins, and weather forecasts. Despite numerous "improvements" (changes) to graphics, methods of delivery, and their overall web-site, their core product, the avalanche bulletin has continued to deteriorate over the last few years. The reason for this deterioration is not clear. At times, I think it is because they have so many different forecasters, many of whom appear to be getting trained "on the job" - with questionable success. At other times, I think it is because even the trained forecasters are attempting to do something they are not trained for - issuing a long term weather outlook. In my most skeptical moments, I just wonder if any of the forecasters know what the heck they are talking about.

On Monday, April 2, 2012, the forecast for the South Columbia included this little gem: "High and dry conditions for the foreseeable future should make for excellent ski traversing weather." The region had just come through - in fact, was still in the midst of - one of the wettest March through early April periods on record, with operations reporting upwards of 4 metres of new snow. Breaks in the constant series of Pacific storms lasted, at most, 24 hours, and frequently much less. Temperatures had been, and (by more reputable weather forecasters) were forecast to remain cool for this time of year. In fact, in the few days following this audacious pronouncement, the region picked up another 50 to 70 cm of snow.

By Easter weekend, the weather pattern had, in fact, settled into a "relatively" drier period and temperatures were on the rise. Snowfall amounts decreased and were mostly in the form of convective showers, while temperatures increased. Trail-breaking was onerous as all that new snow warmed for the first time, and stability deteriorated. All completely predictable phenomena, but, some how not predicted by the people who are supposed to be experts in the field.

Over Easter weekend, we went out and did a couple of ski ascents of local peaks, opting for day trips over a longer three day traverse we had planned, as, contrary to the CAA assertion, there was no high and dry weather system, nor were conditions conducive to covering long distances and ascending/descending steep slopes as is required on a ski traverse.

In fact, had you heeded this little gem of - dubious - wisdom, you might have found yourself high and dry.

Plenty of convective activity over Easter weekend

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ditch What You Don't Need

Some friends of mine are off on the Wapta Traverse over Easter. I'm amazed at the amount of excess gear they plan on bringing along. Most people aren't used to carrying anything more than a day pack, so skiing with an overnight pack, turns out to be far more fatiguing than they had imagined. What makes sense is to carry what you need, and only what you need.

There are lots of things you don't need on a standard easy traverse like the Wapta. Ice axes, crampons and snow protection (such as flukes and pickets) can all be left behind. Almost every peak that is readily ascended on the Wapta Traverse (especially the common ones) is easily climbed without any of that equipment. One rope will do, even for a party of five or six. This year there is a very healthy snowpack and, in general, crevasses are narrow - this isn't Alaskan terrain - carrying two ropes is simply foolish.

Other things that can be safely ditched are bivouac bags (a garbage bag will do in a pinch), spare clothes, big jackets, and hut booties.

So, if you are out on a big trip this Easter weekend, do yourself a favor, dump the excess weight for a more enjoyable trip. 

Day 1 of 8 Days on the Hurley River Horseshoe

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The West Kootenay Project List

When I first moved to the West Kootenay about 10 years ago, I became enamored of the idea of climbing all the officially named peaks of the region.

Exactly what comprises the West Kootenay is open to debate. As a starting point, I used this list, to which I've made some additions and deletions over the years. Geographically, a rough boundary with Arrow and Christina Lakes to the south and west, and Kootenay and Trout Lakes to the north and east makes some kind of geographical sense, but a more clear-cut boundary may omit the Rossland and Christina Ranges and run along the Columbia River to the US border.

In any case, last time I checked my list there were 284 peaks, of which I had climbed 202. Those with respectable math skills will quickly recognize that I still have 82 peaks remaining. Some of the remaining 82 are remote and require multiple days to approach, climb and return from. Others are merely tedious tree covered bumps that are not all that distant and certainly not difficult but lack much in the way of interest.

I suspect, had I been more focused (?diligent) I could have climbed all 284 peaks by now. After all, that is only 28.4 peaks per year. But, I frequently get side-tracked, and go climbing in other areas, or climb different routes on peaks I've climbed before. With our impending, although exactly how impending remains to be seen, move from the area, I've become more interested in chewing away at the project list again.

A number of peaks look suitable for spring ski trips. If I tag those summits, I'll report it here. 

Overlooking Cooper and South Cooper Creeks:
A Failed Attempt to Climb Mount Cooper

Monday, April 2, 2012

Still More Winter

Finally, a day without precipitation. The local ski hill has recorded 136 cm in the past 7 days, almost 40 cm of that in the past two days. Overnight, the sky cleared and the temperature fell, all positive signs for a good day ski touring.

Normally, we would allow 24 hours following a big storm system before pushing into more serious terrain to allow the snow to settle and stability to improve. But, when you only have 24 hours - the next storm is forecast for tomorrow - and the weather has been very poor for a solid week, and only slightly less poor for the preceding three, you sometimes break some of your own rules.

Our destination was one of our favorites, the upper basin of Kutetl Creek, which, with long runs from alpine to tree-line, evocatively burnt timber, and great fall lines rarely delivers a substandard day. There are multiple routes into Kutetl, but none are exempt from avalanche hazard, although some are less exposed than others. We immediately ruled out the "death traverse" which takes a high line through the guts of avalanche terrain, and also the ridge route, which, while avoiding most of the avalanche exposure involves boot-packing up a steep, corniced and wind-rolled ridge, and opted for the low route climbing up from the bottom of Five Mile Creek valley. The low route is also a good option when you expect the ski down to be good, which we did.

We had a phenomenal day. Our first run down a NE aspect, ranks as one of the best of the season on deep, dry powder. While none of the others were quite as spectacular as our first run, we racked up runs on NE, E, NW and SW aspects, covered 12 km of ground, built four up-tracks, none of which we reused, and gained 1800 metres over the day.

Another great day to be out in the BC backcountry. 

Building a trail in upper Five Mile

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Out And About

When I got up at 6.15 am this morning, it was the first day for what seemed weeks, but was actually just one week, that it was not raining - currently. A quick telephone call to a friend, and we were on for a ski day. By the time we picked our friend up one hour later, it was raining. Rain became snow as we drove up the Whitewater Ski Hill Road, but it still felt awfully wet parking at 1500 metres.

We broke trail - middling on the trail-breaking scale - to 2180 m at the top of White Queen where unusual wind patterns had created unusual wind features. Skiing down was good, really, really, really good. Deep and dry until we hit about 1800 m, where the snow got a bit damp, then 1700 m where it felt frankly wet, and finally, 1650 m, where we stopped. Our next run, we skied only down to 1750 m, quality over quantity winning the day.

Back up, skiing in a blizzard, we topped out on White Queen again and descended the west face back to the cross-country trails. The skiing was very good with awesome coverage, although a bit wet for the last 100 or so metres.

Skiing back across the bridge, we encountered a group of two who had dug huge holes in the ski track and had two ropes stretched across the bridge so they could practice crevasse rescue. I don't know whose asinine idea this is, but it has become increasingly popular in recent years. If you are ever tempted to do this, don't. It's stupid, inconveniences everyone who has to ski past, and, yes, we will ski over your rope with our metal edges. 

April Felt Like January Today