It’s pretty neat to leave my house on my bike and start heading towards the objective of the day. Rolling across the bridge looking up at the summit I am heading to. Nice calm morning, birds chirping and just pedalling to the trail head.
I took me an hour of biking to get to Mt-Begbie’s trailhead, here I am as dorky as ever.
My set up is pretty simple and rolls pretty well. A one wheeled Bob trailer for all my gear, boots, axe and such. Then I strap my skis on my bike. As I set up this shot Joey, Garrett and Bruno drove by with their little truck and trailer towing a snowmobile. They headed up to some logging roads and sledded up 6 km and 2000 ft, I started touring and finally caught up to them 5000 ft later. We headed directly up to the col and followed the yellow line to the summit, its pretty exposed and had a hairy but well worth the challenge.
We had some great turns down the Hanging Judge, so named because Begbie was an infamous judge in revelstoke who hung lots of people. Pretty fun line but we cut it short so that we could head back up and ski the PBD.
Soon enough we were on the summit and scoping out this direct line down to the polar bear. The previous time on the summit Joey had belayed me while I cut away at the cornice and prepared the entrance. The previous night I had sent out the next photo as a teaser, which was great since we could check it out again on our smart phones.
Bruno and Garrett worked there way down the normal entrance to the Polar Bear, and took some photos from the col. Joey and I opted for the direct line, PBD, which was a little thin at the top but worked out really well. No mandatory airs.. Then we shredded some great powder down the glacier.
A tiny boot pack back up some sledders tracks and we parted ways. I skied thousands of feet of powdery tree skiing with the final thousand being not so great. Got to my bike loaded up and 30 minutes later I rolled in to my driveway.
This was by far one of the more eerie moments of the winter. We were touring up Mt-Mackenzie; the main summit above our ski hill. The weather had been poor for days and not many people had visited the summit. We were skinning up, enjoy the day. As always I was avoiding the cornice while skinning up the ridge. My primary concern is always to not go too close to the cornice, doing whatever I can to ensure we are on the safe side, probing, walking on rocks,.. Basically always worried and playing it safe by staying in what I know is safe terrain. This day I was winding up when I stumbled upon these skis.
Very eerie, no fresh tracks, nothing but two skis slightly blown in by wind. Who leaves a pair of skis almost on the top of the summit? I looked around, no fresh activity.Looking two feet past the skis it looked like the cornice had fallen off. Alarm bells ringing I skinned to the summit and used Joey’s radio to call the ski hill. No one missing, but a week previous at 2 am a skier had hiked back into bounds with a broken ankle and no skis. The store was vague but he was OK.
So I grabbed the skis and skied Thumbs Up with them attached to my backpack.
So he had scoped the line out from the other peak and knew the cornice was not too big at this point. His friends had left him and he was all alone. He almost made it to the summit and decided to look into the line. Crawling on his stomach he worked his way out onto the cornice, hitting it with his pole he figured he was OK. Then the whole world tilted and he fell down the cliffs….around 700 ft of them. Hitting snow slopes along the way and cliffs, of course. He finally stopped tumbling and assessed his body. Luckily he had been wearing a helmet and body armour but he was really hurting and had a broken ankle. He started hiking climbers left and working his way back up to the ridge…. then he triggered an avalanche and was carried a thousand back down the mountain. Managing to stay on top he was sort of OK. then he began climbing back up the bed surface and worked his way back to the ridge, and crawled back to the lift shack… 8 hours after having fallen off the summit….
Lots of luck on his part… but the main thing he did was go into the unknown without backup. I am always so scared of cornices because you never know how far back they will pull. I have never fallen off one but I am always super cautious, making sure I am standing on rock.. or slightly snow covered but never more than a metre of snow.
OK I lied…. I have fallen off one or two before but with proper backups. Anchors and people belaying me. Whenever I venture into the unknown I try and get as much information from maps, photos, google earth, other people. If there is absolutely no way to know how to get into your line and it is cornice rimmed, then we put on ropes. Once tied to the other side of the mountain, it is far easier to probe out, and shovel until the cornice falls and you can get a nice safe look into the line. I can distinctly remember the first time I did this properly and needed the backup. We were working into this 2500 hanging iceline on Mt-Bonney and I was tied in and walking towards the edge, then moments later I was falling through space following a bus sized cornice. An instant later I was hanging with the entire line below me, safe and psyched by how great the line looked. Especially since we had just dropped the biggest slope test ever!!
The long of the short is, always know where you are going, get as much information about the line, then if there is still some unknown back yourself up.
Although I have had some great adventures over the season, not a lot of them were new to me. I realized after my two million year, that I was a little burnt out over lapping the same runs, or going back to the same places. Not that I didn’t explore a lot that year but there were some weeks where I repeated very similar days. I recognize that my real energy comes from exploring new areas and summitting new mountains. The thrill of discovering a new line, studying it for days or years and then finally figuring out how to summit it and hopefully ski the best looking line.
Hughes Peak has been on my list of things to do for years…years. Its a small peak amongst a bunch of massive wild mountains but it is a crazy little brother to them. I have always wondered how we would get up her.
So a few weeks ago we sledded into this remote area of the Monashees and set up base camp in a super secret trailer. On the first day we adventured around scoping the zone out and then the next day we snowmobiled towards Hughes. I thought it would be an aggressive up and then an aggressive down. But as we stood looking up the ascent route we were all scared, it looked like three hours of cornice exposed terrain. So we chose to skin around the mountain and search for another weakness.
Our next animal encounter was two bald eagles who circled around us as we a skinned up a couloir and approached the summit. After some minor scrambling we finally reached the top. I put on a rope and scoped out the summit line but it felt like the crew was more psyched on the couloir . So we skied down 50 feet and again set up a quick anchor off a rock. I probed and shovelled my way past the cornice and into the couloir.
It felt so great to finally visit Hughes and enjoy some of its fine features. A longish tour back to the sleds and then back to base. The next day we woke up with some great expectations and headed up Mt-Thor.
I had attempted Thor years ago and was turned around by the burly nature of the mountain. This time we had a little more beta and were heading to ski this wicked couloir. Our friends had skied it in Feb and we felt it deserved another visit.
It took hours to approach and finally we were underneath it. The day was remaining cool with a thin overcast, it didn’t feel like the heat was penetrating down to us. This lack of heat was refreshing since the couloir has a few big overhanging cornices, and if they were warming up we wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the couloir. But they were remaining cool so we saddled up and boot-packed up the couloir, it was steep and unrelenting, seemingly over 45 degrees for its entire 1500ft with some bit steeper than 50. Crazy, but finally we broke through and reached the ridge. The 150 vertical to the summit was well beyond our technical desire, so we turned tips and shredded down. My legs became seized from the steepness and I had to rest in the fan so I could enjoy the finish.
I also knew the day was not done, we could have easily headed down but I knew that with another 1500 ft of touring we could access another incredible run that would feed us closer to our camp. So we skinned for another hour and found ourselves dropping into a fantastic finishing run.
That is what ski touring is all about for me, adventure, discovery, wild places with great friends.
And a video from Joey Vosburgh..thanks Joey