Greg Hill.ca

Argonaut

A few weeks ago I was reading Aiden a book about Jason and the Argonauts, it was a shortened and very well illustrated copy of the story. A huge epic of Grecian grandeur. I had no idea that a few weeks later we would also be having our own epic on Argonaut.

Probably 7 or 8 years ago we were planting trees up the Big mouth forestry road. At around 14 km we rounded a corner and towering way above us was this wild looking mountain. Seven thousand feet above the forest floor the summits looked precipitous and rocky; but cascading down in between the summits was a steep glacial face. A perfect ski line. For years I  would randomly see the line and wonder at its potential, each time promising myself that I would be there soon. Finally last tuesday we drove 100+ km north of Revelstoke and sledded in to 16km and there it was towering above us.

Aaron, Bruno, Chris and I  dropped our camp on the road and went to check out our objective. It was ten in the morning and I hoped that we would get lucky and tag it on our first attempt.  Except it seemed very hard to access, it was very steep on all sides. Aaron figured the west approach was the best but it was so late to start off that I worried the west slopes would be too warm by the time we got there. So we decided to get a good look at the line and then recon the east side.  As we toured under the north face we looked up almost 7000 feet to the summit.It looked pretty amazing, but way too scary to climb up and ski back down the same line. So we continued on the east side and hiked up into an amazing cirque. Our access up the east side was hanging ice seracs over rock cliffs, so impassible..  Instead we enjoyed lunch in the cirque looking around and then skied back to camp.  Although we did not have the energy the line on lookers left seemed pretty wicked. Directly off Jason’s summit and  down.

 We had a nice fire and a great sleep.

At 7:30 am we were off  on our attempt of  the western approach. There are no photos for thousands of feet because it was a serious head down sort of affair. Crazy endless creek skinning, with ski crampons a complete necessity. Many logs crossings,  a long side hill up through trees, a couple of thousand feet up a gully; then finally up a face to a ridge that we had to climb. Little rock steps that required rope work, belays and a rappel. Once off that ridge we booted  up beside the glacier.All day I was driven and making us move as fast as possible but somehow by this point we were 8 hours in and still out of sight of the summit. My mind started wandering and I decided that if we were not successful today I would NEVER attempt this mountain again. We persevered upwards and eventually we managed to summit the West summit. The main summit was a rappel and then a sketchy climb to peak out. So we happily accepted the west peak, clipped into our bindings and skied down to the cornice.Once there I set up a deadman anchor and assessed the entrance. Dropping small bits of cornice into the face I watched as it sloughed down the face. Light and fluffy it didn’t look hazardous, more so it looked playful and fun. Using the anchor I climbed up a bit and ski cut into the face, with no results but small sloughs. I climbed back out and once again ski cut the face. No results. Standing in the line I waited for sun and looked up at the boys. They said they were comfortable with skiing the line, so I unclipped and skied down to a safe spot. Aaron followed in and had some great turns.Give the nature of the line, Aaron and I would ski as a group and then Bruno and Chris would follow. This meant that it would be safest if we trended skiers right the whole time so that the slough from Bruno and Chris could not hit us.   Aaron and I worked our way down, leap frogging to every safe spot and soon enough we were standing safely and watching the boys on their way down.

I think that Bruno had just set up for this photo of Chris skiing.They made their way down to us and we shared in the excitement of being in such a fantastic spot. With thousands of feet to go, we did not stay for long.Many thousands of feet down to the creek, some pretty tight and awkward moments through trees and cliffs, and finally a refreshing creek crossing.We all decided that given the remoteness, effort, snow quality and beauty of this line that it was one of our top runs of our lives. Aaron wondered what had been bumped from his top ten to allow this one in. Another line that I liked that could be quite an adventure would be the line on the climbers left, steep couloir, crazy ice to maneuver through and lots of fun along the way.  Hopefully someone gets inspired by this photo and goes for it….!!

We had plans of climbing and skiing more in the area but we were smashed from the effort so under cloudy skies we headed home.

(Thanks to Bruno Long for his photos, which added to my story. check him out BLONG ) you can also check out the move at Suunto

Swanzy Session

Lately the weather has been not great for sessioning and the stability also questionable. Which is a bummer since April is usually steep skiing time. So I have been home and waiting for the window. In the mean time I have been biking and climbing on my wall at home.  I have a 6.5 hour enduro race in a month and would like to be ready for it.  No matter how much you tour biking is different muscles and you need some time in the seat to get ready for thousands of feet of pedaling. I also hope to start really climbing again this summer so I have built a small wall and have been re-building my strength.

Anyways… finally the weather is stabilizing and getting ready for some shredding. Aaron and I headed up to  Mt-Swanzy today with the intention of skiing  a north facing couloir. I wanted to go for this line because involved a rappel and then some interesting skiing. This year I have been gunning for lines with rope work involved. It adds complexity to the line. Getting to the top and then figuring out how to set a solid anchor to lower in to the line.

For this anchor we rapped a large rock and then backed ourselves up with a piton pounded into a crack. A little redundancy but better safe than sorry. We aren’t super techy in our rappels where we are able to retrieve all our gear but I will climb this route next summer and get my cord back.

Early on in my career I learned to always ski something from the top. Instead of sliding in and having hang fire above. This makes sense because if you take out the footing and there is tension in the snow above it could easily take you out. So I always try to get at things from the top and stabilize them as you go down. This saved our lives today.

Once off rappel Aaron worked over to the ridge so he could stand on top of the slope, I slide down to him with my skis on and pressured the slope. As I got near him I watched the crack split below his feet and under mine. He fell a metre down to the crusts as I slid down with the slab. I was able to step off the slab and get a hold onto the bed surface. It’s a pity it was slightly white out because  we didn’t get too really watch it as it pounded to the valley. The slide was up to a meter tall, 150m (400ft) wide and it ran fast and furious for 500m 1500ft.  The layer it slid on was a suncrust with perhaps some surface hoar.  The roll was 34-38 degrees and slightly unsupported.

Having watched the slope disappear we were not sure where we would go down. Safest would be  the bed surface, which would also be the worst.. Looking down into the north couloir we knew the snow would be different, safer but yet we had also just witnessed a huge slide. So we hung around waiting for more visibility and finally decided we may as well ski down our planned line.

The snow was great but my confidence was a little low so I didn’t really shred it but it was still really fun to finally cruise through this cool piece of terrain.  

Now its time to plan for a little 2-3 day mission into the northern Selkirks….