Andrew’s birthday was a great excuse for a gathering of Rossland ski-bums (10 people and 2 dogs) on Old Glory. An independent minded bunch, we ascended the peak via 5 seperate routes, but came together for some fine Spring powder skiing in the Goat Chutes.
These shots epitomize the ski-traverse experience to me. We’d spent most of the day, day 9, climbing 6,000 ft out of Bigmouth creek and over the top of a couple of high alpine passes close to the summit of Northeast Mountain. The descent of a broad gentle icefield on it’s north-west flank, with views across the Columbia Reach to Mt Robson, led to a short steep headwall, which we boot-packed up to a small pass cradled between two un-named peaks, revealing this concealed un-named valley below us. We’d been moving for close to 12 hours, were all tired, hungry and looking forward to making camp. But the snow was light and consistent, the late afternoon light preternaturally vivid, the setting so remote I was struck with the realization of how very few people might ever have set eyes upon this special place. My spirit soaring, there was nothing to do but drop in and ski out the last light of the day.
On so many of these trips through the mountains I find myself hauling around gear that doesn’t get used: crampons, ice-axe, harness, rope, avalanche transceiver, probe, goggles, and I’m all for leaving them behind in the interests of light and fast travel (we actually decided to leave the climbing gear with a friend when we reached the Fairy Meadows Cabin- thanks Pete). We did get to use our crampons on this fairly technical log crossing at the confluence of Ursus and Mountain creeks. That’s Andrew demonstrating a slow and precise technique. Trevor, revealing an easy familiarity with crampons, casually walked across, while Dan, a little shook-up from an impromptue dip in Ursus creek, teetered across under our rivited attention.
Further up Mountain creek (and on several other occasions during the trip) we had opportunity to work on our creek jumping technique. Here’s Dan showing fine form, eyes focused on the landing, arms and leading leg extended, although he probably should have remembered to throw his backpack over before jumping.
It took me a long time to become convinced of the merits of Dynafit bindings. They might be ok for weight weenies puttering about on easy angled terrain, guides or intermediates, but how could such an insubstantial device withstand the hard use of backcountry skiing in the Kootenays. I finally bought a pair of Dynafit Comforts during last winter, and I’ve put about 100 days of powder skiing and traversing on them since. I appreciate their lightness, and love the touring action. It was on the advice of websites such as http://www.wildsnow.com and my previous experience (I’d used them on the Bugaboo to Rogers pass traverse last year) that I accepted their improbable durability (though I had broken the crampon attachments, which were replaced on warranty), and headed off on the Northern Selkirks traverse without any spare parts. I broke off one of the plastic heel-risers (a screw broke) on day two, not a critical issue, but an inconvenience on the multiple long steep climbs. I would have carried a spare but that they were not readily available locally. On day seven, part way through a long climb, I noticed that one of my heel-pieces had an unusual amount of play. and on closer inspection I discovered that the heel-post had seperated completely from it’s metal base-plate. The only thing holding it the whole heel unit together was a very tenous purchase that the post still had on the boot length adjustment screw.
I was still able to utilize the middle heel rise position for climbing, and could click in to skiing mode, though the binding would release at the slightest forward leverage. I locked my toe piece on the descents and modified my technique so that I could still ski in a delicate and precise fashion for the last three days. On finishing the trip I checked out the other heel piece, and found it was cracking at the same location, and would surely have broken in short time.
I freely admit to being an aggressive skier, ripping hard in all conditions but always in control (I don’t fall).These bindings were not used for any lift serviced skiing and I’m not into big air or hard impacts. I had them set on a DIN of 10, the heel spacing was set using the gauge, and I only rarely locked the toe-piece for skiiing. The bindings come with a two year warranty, so it’ll be interesting to see how Salewa North America respond when I return them. Until I know more, I’m saying that the practical life of these bindings is approximately 100 days of hard skiing.
Though secondary to completing the full Northern Selkirks traverse, the possibility of skiing Mt Sir Sandford had become an important objective. The day before, with perfect weather and snow conditions, we pushed all the way from Bachelor Pass to Great Cairn cabin, skiing well past sunset, in order to set up for a realistic chance at the summit. Unfortunately a close visual inspection of the route revealed it wind scoured, with bare glacial ice and some very technical climbing; certainly not the ultimate ski run we were anticipating (Greg Hill http://greghill.squarespace.com/journal/ and friends had skied the route days previously and encountered challenging climbing, skiing and descending). Trevor and Dan took the opportunity to rest, and enjoy the sunshine and the comforts of the cabin, while I picked out the best ski run and conditions we could see, a direct line down the Guardsman Glacier off the Footstool, and Andrew and I headed up.
We followed Greg Hill’s skin track for a while, then branched off through an ice-fall to get a closer look at our descent route. Some boot-packing up a spectacular nose feature led to the summit of the Footstool (10400′), and a spectacular top of the world panorama.
I was a little tense dropping into the top of the line, as the slope rolled over into increasingly steep and complicated ground, but the consistent boot deep powder inspired confidence, and an obvious line through the seracs and crevasses opened up. The next pitch was a classic steep and open powder line, followed by a long section of open moderate angled ripping, and finished down a steep bowled out chute in creamy spring corn snow. A magnificant 4800′ descent. It’s difficult to quantify what makes a truly great ski run, but I know that at that moment, while Andrew I stood admiring our tracks in the hot afternoon sun, it occured to me that I may just have had the run of my life.
This view from the Adamants shows the upper half of our ascent (red), descent, and the classic route to the summit of Sir Sandford (black). As if to confirm the wisdom of our decision, as we were skinning back to the Great Cairn cabin after our ski descent, a chunk of the middle hanging glacier calved off and thundered down in an ice avalanche across the lower section of classic route. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the vicinity.
So now it’s done, the Northern Selkirks Traverse. Andrew, Trevor, Dan and I pushed through every challenge for 10 days, 200km, and over 12,000 meters of vertical, through rugged and remote glaciated mountains, to ski from Roger’s Pass to Mica Creek. Every day was an epic adventure, and I’ll be trying to convey something of the experience in entrys over the coming weeks, but for now I’m drinking tea and resting this very worn and weary body.