Early Season Report

Winter has steadily been returning to our valleys. Slowly but surely the snow-line has been  marching lower and lower, sweeping down the slopes to inevitably blanket our world in billions of tiny enchanting snowflakes, each and every one exhibiting singularity and astounding fractal brilliance. I love snow. Bring it on winter.

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Sixfold radial symmetry

I’ve been taking advantage of the accumulating deposits of snowflakes in the mountains this fall, getting out when I can and enjoying the conditions, even when they’re not necessarily ideal. Any day in the mountains is a good day in my books.

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Skinning into the Jumbo Pass Cabin on rain-crust.

After a long warm spell from late October until the second week of November, the weather started cooling off again, which coincided with our annual trip to Jumbo.  We drove in from  Toby Creek on Nov 11 and arrived to a snowless trailhead, and for the first time in the eight years that I’ve trekked into Jumbo in November, I’ve never seen such little snow in the valley bottoms of Jumbo and Toby Creeks. We hiked up for trail for 200 vertical metres before encountering deep enough snow to skin. Travel to the hut was easy on the firm base, no trail breaking required. We left the trucks at 2:30 pm and arrived at the cabin at dusk.

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Snowflakes began descending on the morning of the 12th while we rode some warm/wet snow.

Saturday the 12th was warm and wet, it rained to just above the pass, up to about 2450m, but by the end of the day it started cooling and the rain began turning to snow. First time I’ve ever once encountered rain at Jumbo in November, seems like there certainly is a warming trend in the weather happening as global warming intensifies, a little concerning, our winters are becoming markedly shorter, something that was highlighted in a really interesting video I watched today on our how our mountain snowpacks are being affected by climate change (https://vimeo.com/182392548)

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Cauldron and Truce mountains show off their fresh coats of snow and alpenglow on the sunrise of the 13th.

Sunday the 13th was an improvement, we awoke to about 6-7cms of fresh snow and absolute bluebird conditions, getting everybody stoked for a big ski-mountaineering mission. We decided to set our objective for the day on the Bastille Col, a line we’ve all wanted to ride for many years, but have never felt confident enough in snow stability to try for it. Being as it was only a small amount of fresh snow on a very solid, well bonded base our group decided it would be a good day to attempt this committing line.

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The Bastille Col – the line off the low spot on the ridge, between the 2 summits.

We circumnavigated the entirety of Bastille Mountain, setting off from the cabin under clear skies. We skinned across the pass, and up and around Bastille, encountering some challenging travel conditions on the South side at lower elevations, riding some full on early season gnar and shredding 20cms of isothermal schmoo over rocks and logs.

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Skinning up Bastille’s North Ramp, Mount MacBeth in the background.

It was very cool to see some new terrain at Jumbo and explore a zone none of us had seen before, the terrain on the South side of Bastille was super cool, aesthetic rock faces and nice looking lines abounded.

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The view of Jumbo Pass from the Bastille Col, we arrived just as a large storm system started moving into the area.

We made it to the col just in time, as a large dark mass of cloud threateningly approached from the west. We assessed conditions and dropped in efficiently as we all intuited that it would be precipitating imminently.

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Henry drops a knee while shredding the col, finally getting into a long drooled over line.

By the time we reached the bottom, the storm was upon us and it began snowing moderately, the weather gods had given us our window and we were grateful to receive their blessings. We then headed back to the hut for a massive fondue dinner, followed by food-comas for most everyone.

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Monday the 14th was a powder day! Classic Jumbo conditions.

The storm delivered 20-25 cms to the pass by Monday morning, transforming the entire landscape into a silent winter wonderland in which we travelled with much stoke for the entirety of the day (and a night lap of cabin peak under the full moon). By the end of the day we’d ridden six quality lines in nice boot deep snow on both sides of the pass, fully getting after the awesome riding and ‘having a time’.

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Full Moon, night shot.

On Tuesday morning we rode deep unsettled powder from the cabin down to the trucks, leaving Jumbo on a high note. Another great trip to Jumbo completed. Great friends, a varied experience with the full gamut of weather, snow and cabin life made for one of the most memorable and rich experiences I’ve had at Jumbo in my eight years of visits.

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Until next time Jumbo!

Since the Jumbo trip I’ve been out several times, and the conditions have only been getting better and better at and above treeline. There’s about 120 cm on the ground at 2000m, but less than normal snowpack below 18000m. The avalanche danger has been increasing (as expected) as we receive more snow and wind, so I’ve been taking it a little more conservatively in the mountains and riding simpler terrain while it continues to dump more and more powdery goodness on our favourite slopes.

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Spencer slashes some Kootenay Coldsmoke in the Kokanee Range.

Yesterday’s (the 23rd) turns were the deepest of the year thus far, the snow in the alpine is all-time, just perfect low density powder (and fast running sluffs) and today I sit and write this, hardly able to contain how stoked I am to ride tomorrow after the forecasted 25 cms falls today. It’s getting better by the minute!

Thanks for tuning in, have a safe and snowy early season!

D

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Day One, October 18

Winter has come to the mountains early this year. I wasn’t really expecting to be driving up the logging road on October the 18th with the intention of going riding, but all of a sudden the peaks were all white and sparkly, so myself, Tyler and Andrés headed for the alpine to see what was going on.

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We bumped into some other friends who were sledding up to the basin, so we had an easy 4km walk from where we parked to the ridge with a freshly packed snowmobile trail in. We arrived to a 35 cm snowpack at treeline and a 50+ cm snowpack on the ridge, a bit thin, but shreddable.

14706855_10157610306945634_4090120747742885416_oTemps were mild, just below freezing and the air was moist, at treeline the snow was getting wet but on the peak things were still light and fluffy. We had some decent visability coming up the ridge with awesome views down to Slocan Lake and across to the Mulvey Group, but they didn’t last long.

14753436_1107223402686722_6831022576001660361_oBy the time we got to the peak, vis was poor in the alpine, the first turns of the year were blind turns, but pow turns nonetheless.

ty-edit-3We had a great run off the peak, then toured back to the ridge for one more short but fun descent back to the fsr. Really surprised just how decent the riding was, nothing epic, but really fun to be back on the board. It was totally surreal driving back down the snowless valley to New Denver, with all the fall colours, deciduous trees still bearing their blazing leaves, and us, the powder-hounds still salivating from the powder feast we’d jut consumed. Good to be back, let the snow fall heavily this winter.

Thanks for tuning in, -D

note: Thanks to Tyler Austin Bradley and Andrés Dean for taking the pictures, as I forgot my camera. Cheers fellas!

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Twin Lakes, Feb 7

On Sunday I headed up to the pass with Aaron and Tanner to find some lines in the twin lakes zone. We arrived at the bustling summit parking lot to sunshine, low freezing levels and great snow quality.

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The sun didn’t stick around for too long.

The sun was shining on the way up lightning strike ridge, but by the time we were at the bottom of our first line the clouds started rolling in from the west, bringing intermittent little bursts of snowfall.

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Tanner rode the obvious chute behind his left shoulder.

We bagged the summit where the large radio repeater (I’m guessing) lies, a strange sight to see on top of a mountain. Tanner dropped into the first chute, while me and Aaron headed over the ridge to a sketchy little rocky down climb, right as the weather intensified and the snowfall picked up.

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The Chechnyan War Station…As Aaron coined it.

We got to our chute safely, and found that the snow had been packed quite firm by the intense winds that happened on Saturday, not quite ideal conditions, but still fun shredding nonetheless.

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Looking down chute #1

After shredding the chutes we skinned back up to the shoulder of the ‘Muffin’, putting a pretty exposed skin track further up the ridge to find our third line back down to the twin lakes drainage.

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Aaron keeping the vibe high.

The snow was considerably better in the trees than in the chutes, much less wind affected. Our line off the muffin was amazing, super good snow quality and perfect gladed terrain. After that we skinned back up to the ridge on the Muffin, on the way up the last climb the temps were rising and the air felt moist as the warm air and high freezing levels approached. We had just enough light left to shred another nice pillowy line down to the highway and a quick hitch back to the truck.

Thanks for reading,

D

 

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Jumbo Pass, Jan 25-29

Last week was spent getting amongst it in the Jumbo Valley, truly one of the most wild and massive landscapes I’ve had the pleasure of splitboarding in. My seventh trip into Jumbo, I think it just gets better every time, especially with such good food and company it was totally next-level.

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Lucie skinning up to the cabin with the last sunlight we saw on the trip.

Our large group of eleven skiers and one splitboarder (myself) headed out Monday morning with the help of two snowmobiles, Jamie and Kevin charitably offered to haul our massive posse to the end of the unplowed Jumbo FSR to begin the climb up to the cabin where we arrived at last light.

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We had a lot of trail-breaking to do with all the new snow.

Day two was spent exploring the runs on the west side of the pass dropping 800m down to Glacier Creek, we found some epic tree skiing with classic Jumbo pow and lapped it several times. Setting the up-track back up to the pass was a good amount of labour in the deep snow but with eleven people we took turns and put in a nice trail back up to the goods.

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Jamie crushing some Jumbo pow.

Day three we woke up to an incredible sunrise and some decent visibility, so we briskly set off with an early start with an intention to get up on the Horseshoe Glacier and summit Truce Mountain (3262m)

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Sunrise over the Purcells

We skied down to the Glacier Creek FSR, then up to the headwaters of Glacier Creek, a valley surrounded by 3000 meter peaks, moraines, glaciers and seracs, it’s a place that makes you feel very tiny, the scale of terrain is huge.

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Cauldron Glacier

We cautiously began skinning up a large avalanche path under Toad Mountain, continually assessing the changing snow conditions as we headed up higher, through endless pillows in the slide path up onto the toe of the glacier.

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Forecaster Dan assesses the snowpack.

 

The group roped up and headed onto the glacier, where we topped out at the just above 2500m, forced to turn around due to whiteout conditions higher on the glacier.

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Turn-around point.

We did have the opportunity to ski a really nice 800m heli-ski run back down to Glacier Creek, a nice cruisey glacier line dropping into a mega pillow zone. Definitely the highlight of the trip was getting up on the glacier after years of looking at it from across the valley, I can’t wait to get up on those big 3200+ meter summits when conditions permit.

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The upper half of our run.

The snow didn’t really suck at all during the trip, pretty much pow all the way to valley bottom the whole trip, and it snowed on and off, with a large pulse of snow over Thursday we headed out with over half a meter of fresh on the ground.

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Good ski conditions.

The snow stability certainly had some issues, most notably the early Jan. layer down 60-80 producing some sudden collapses and sudden planar results in out pits. We did push into some bigger terrain but did so with a lot of caution, staying clear of windslabs and riding supported terrain. We did have one small skier accidental avalanche when one member of the group misunderstood the line the group chose and skied over a convexity, triggering a small soft-slab and giving us all a good boost of adrenaline, a good reminder to be super clear on communication in the backcountry.

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The pillow stack was covered in pow and ultra-huckable…I had to send it!

Day four we shredded around the pass, digging in the snow and finding safe but fun slopes to ride. The trees on the SE side of the pass have some really nice steep lines and good pillows, so we lapped it a few times after deciding the snow in the East Bowl was too unstable. We ended the day with some of the mini-golf features in the middle of the pass, some steep and deep little chutes with little drops, a fun end to our last full day of riding at Jumbo…although we did do a night lap during the intense storm conditions Thursday night lit by headlamp.

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More Jumbo beauty

Day five we rode out to the sleds and then towed back out to staging. The jerky ride behind the snowmobile still has my arms aching as I write this, and I’m still buzzing from all the fun we had out there. Jumbo delivers, in terms of snow and natural epic beauty, I don’t yet know of a place that compares.

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Bound to give you a zoner.

Thanks for reading, Keep it Wild,

-D

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Changing Conditions

Conditions have been good out there, I spent a day touring at Kootenay Pass on Sunday and two days in the Goat Range this week. The snow has been great, yesterdays lines had some of the deepest and lightest snow I’ve ridden all season.

On Wednesday while skinning up a ridge in the Goat Range me and Eli experienced a bone-chilling whumph as a buried weak-layer in the snowpack collapsed under our feet. The failure initiated a fracture, but thankfully the slope wasn’t steep or unsupported enough to result in an avalanche.

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Eli holding some slab

I always feel lucky to hear the messages the mountains whisper, to hear their warnings of danger and acknowledge them before getting into terrain that may not be safe. This is why  I think it’s important to have all your wits about you in the mountains, I personally want to hear every little noise and crunch the snow makes under my feet, listening for whumphs (failing weak-layers) or distant sloughs or slides to get hints about what the snowpack is doing. We listened to the warnings and dug a thorough snow-pit, doing several compression and extended column tests to probe for weakness. There were moderate results (CTM14) on the recent hoar layer and we actually got full propagation on the early November hoar layer while cutting our extended column (using an unconventional/redneck method of cutting our block with a ski), a bit spooky, so we chose our line conservatively.

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Northern Pygmy Owl watching over us, a good omen.

One of the most exciting aspects of splitboarding for me is that of exploration. It’s been really cool to explore new zones and find new potential and beauty in the mountains. On Wednesdays mission with Eli, it was super rewarding to ride an incredible line that we’d looked at a month ago from the other side of the valley. Of course we had to seriously assess stability after hearing the big whumph on the way up, but the line we chose to ride was very supported and had no convex terrain features.

The sun came out on Thursday and baked a lot of South aspects, but it’s been snowing steadily since Friday afternoon and covering up the crusts. This new snow is sitting on a layer of surface hoar about 30-45cm’s deep and it’s not yet very well bonded.

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Tanner and Jeremy skinning up some big slopes

It’s maybe a good time to start scaling back the terrain choices, as there appears to be a lot more snow coming throughout next week, snow that will be sitting on a very weak layer of crystals that could produce some high consequence slides. Time to do some tree-skiing, and we’ve got lots of that here in the Koots.

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Some more lines to come back for once stability improves.

Have an epic week in the backcountry and play it safe out there in these changing conditions. Thanks for reading,

D

 

 

 

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Bonnington Traverse

I spent five days last week on the Bonnington Traverse, a nice walk through the local mountains, it’s a great way to see some of the terrain close to Nelson; that is if you have visibility, we didn’t.

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Visibility was limited

Winter logging up the Bombi allowed us to skip a few kms of walking, so we were at the Grassy Hut in time for a nice run off the summit. The snow quality was great on all aspects and the recent solar crusts buried by the new snow.

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Ian enjoying the snow quality

Route finding wasn’t an issue, thanks to technological gadgets and faintly discernible skin tracks, all cabins were located at or before dark, although a late start on the way to Steed lead to a day of no riding and straight traversing.

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Sophia looks stoked

As this was my second time on the traverse, I’ve definitely learned that if you want to do a lot of riding on the traverse, it’s important to be up super early and move efficiently. The days we were on our early morning game meant we had way more time shred lines, which in turn led to higher morale and and better experience.

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Megan taking care of hut life

Although the visibility was poor, the snow and stability was great. There were some small isolated pockets of windslab forming above treeline in places, but no major snowpack problems to write home about.

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Ian sending the short bootpack up to Empire Mtn.

I picked up some new boots before the trip from the Ripping Giraffe Boardshop in Nelson, the Deeluxe Spark XV. So far I’m pumped on them, a little rough to break in, but I’m impressed with a lot of things about the boots, I’ll write a full review soon. It was definitely nice to have the extra stiffness and support on the traverse for sidehilling, as there was a lot of that to be done.

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Our Group at the Huckleberry Hut

The Bonnington Traverse is a great trip to get used to navigating in the backcountry, it’s fairly straightforwards, the terrain isn’t super complex, and the peaks aren’t very high. That being said it has some extremely high quality terrain, which is why it is so attractive to all of the heli-skiiers and sledders who come to enjoy the slopes here as well, which makes this one busy little mountain range. It’s not uncommon here to be hearing the sounds of several snowmobiles and a helicopter buzzing around for the majority of the day, not a bad thing, but not exactly peaceful in the way I like to think of my time in the mountains…but hey, we’ve got many mountain ranges to explore around town here, one of the many reasons we’re so lucky. At the end of the trip I just felt grateful to have such nice cabins for shelter and such a dialled mountain community to live in. An awesome trip.

Thanks for reading,

D

 

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High Pressure in Kokanee Park

“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”
― Mikhail Lermontov

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Magic in the air.

Usually in winter, the powder-hounds howl and pray for snow, but after this snowy early season ones thoughts seem to turn to the sun after a time.

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Taking it all in.

The high pressure ridge is here for now, and as I write this my face glows pink from yesterdays sunburn.

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Kootenay Spines

Tanner and I sledded in and were skinning above Gibson Lake by just after 10am, a bit of a late start but thankfully we had cool temps and minimal warming of the snowpack. A few tiny wet slides coming off the rocky ridges but nothing was running very far.

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Greys Peak

The snow was dry and deep until we were above 2600m, where there was a little bit of wind effect, but it was minimal and only in isolated spots. It looked like the other side of the drainage on the North aspects of Mt. Outlook had seen way more wind.

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Greys Peak SW Couloir, just got bumped to the top of my to-ride list.

It was pretty cool to top out on the ridge just below Kokanee Peak and look over the North side, down to the Kokanee Glacier and out to hundreds of peaks.

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Looking across the Kokanee Glacier

We spent a bit of time enjoying the views from the top and soaking up the last rays of 2015 sunshine, waiting for the sunset to illuminate our descent with the final colourful rays of alpenglow.

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The 4000 ft descent was unreal, perfect light, low density powder and so much alpine, so much freedom to shred high speed turns, we were down in about five minutes flat. A short stumble back to the sled brought us down to the truck for beers in no time, an awesome day, probably the coolest line I’ve ridden yet this season. Such a rad way to end 2015, so stoked for more good times on mountains in 2016.

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Waiting for the sunset colours to get crankin’

I hope everybody had a great holiday season and got to enjoy a little bit of snow and sunshine!

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Alpenglow pow turns.

Thanks for reading,

D

 

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