From January 29th to February 5th, 2011 I was lucky enough to be on a weeklong backcountry ski trip to an ACC (Alpine Club of Canada) hut in the Selkirk mountain range NW of Golden, B.C. After a brief 20 minute helicopter flight, we landed at the foot of a gorgeous glacial valley about 200m from the hut. The heli took five round trips bringing in 20 people and a weeklong-worth of beer and food supplies (yes, in that order) and also flying out the 20 people that have been in the hut before us.
After unloading our supplies and getting sleeping arrangements sorted, it was little too late to get out for first tracks, but one of the many hardcore skiers in our group, Craig (or was it Phil?) went out and shredded the “practice” slopes and verified the snowpack was in nice and stable condition.
The next day, we woke up to bluebird skies and -23C. The masses, all 20 of us, darted towards Friendship Col for first birds eye view of our playground and get the first turns on the blank canvass of snow everywhere. Lucky for us, the prior week was mostly overcast with lots of snow and the group before us didn’t really get up to the Alpine. Virgin powder and clear skies… it was perfect. Once we got to the Friendship Col, it was just too nice and cold to sit around, so a leming line formed to the top of the neighbouring Sentinel Peak. On route to Sentinel there is a hotly debated ridge/peak that some people called Mount Damon while others disagreed. Most of us made that our first run of the day. I was probably the sixth or seventh person down and tried to stay skiers right to make some fresh lines, only to make one too many turns and ending up in the granitic boulder field, ejecting out of both my skis and nicely baptising my brand new BD Kilowatts with a core shot. WTF? If I wanted to destroy my bases I would have gone to Lake Louise. The rock encounter proved not to be the last for me on this trip.
On we went to Sentinel Peak where we skied some more fresh amazing lines. Mike, Felix and Phil thought this wasn’t enough so they decided to ski off the rock slab aka summit. After about half hour of deliberation on the summit and various comments overheard by us at the bottom such as “You coming back up Felix?” “Nope, I’m commited”, they finally skied off and amazingly came out of it with less ski damage then my facking boulder excursion.
That was it for the first day, and we retreated back to the hut for the evening since a few of our freshly tapped friends were calling our name.
Once again we woke up to the crisp crisp -24C at the hut and clear skies, but the hardcore gung ho crowd didn’t let anyone be lazy and most of the group was out before 9am. Alicja, Mike, Mark W, Davin and myself, staying true to our Team “Alpine Start” name, departed shortly before 10am. Like a shotgun blast, everyone went in different directions today, including us. We retraced our tracks to the top of Friendship Col from where we continued past Sentinel Peak and headed for Pioneer Peak. After a gradual climb where Mark W broke trail for most of it, we arrived at the summit ridge. The wind picked up and the windslab on the SW aspect was a solid 15cm deep, so when we got to the summit, the short steep section would be interesting. At the summit though, the panorama was staggering. We could see fresh tracks off Mount Colossal where another group made an assault on. To the west, the giant Adamant Mountain face loomed over us and in the distance Mount Columbia, Mount Forbes? and Alberta dominated the horizon.
It was time to get off the summit since it was past 3pm now and we were getting cold. Mark W took the honours since he broke trail and made a solid “board” cut of the slab a released a size 1 slab slide that didn’t run out very far. Mike was next, set off another small slab and after that it was smooth sailing all the way back to the cabin on some crappy windblown crust. Not the best skiing but one of the best views of the week.
On Tuesday we decided to check out the area where majority of the group went the day before, as the reports of snow and good skiing was overwhelming. Once again, team Alpine Start prevailed and we departed around 10am. Our first objective was Mount Colossal and once we gained the upper glacier, we emerged from the shadow and into beautiful sunshine. We stopped for a lunch break and for the first time on this trip, we didn’t freeze our balls off (sorry Alicja) as the temperature increased to around -10C with no wind. We basked in the sun while enjoying the beautiful views of Mount Colossal, Uni Col and the Granite Glacier we were traveling on. We then decided to forgo Mount Colossal for the time being and headed to the Uni Col for some spectacular views of the Adamants and solid skiing off the shoulder. After Uni Col we went for a peek at the ridge up Colossal but didn’t really feel like drytooling with poles and skis so we just skied off the shoulder into some amazing virgin fall lines. By then, the light was getting sparse and together with other hut occupants we traversed the Granite Glacier back to the hut and one more solid ski run near the hut. This day will probably go down as one of the best backcountry skiing I have ever done.
Ok, now we’re all getting in the groove. Legs are starting to realize what we’re doing here and the cardio is finally waking up. At least for me. Most of the people on this trip are stoopid fit, so I’m feeling like a beached whale. Our small little group decides to give the Houdini Needles another go and access is from the Gothic Glacier side.
So, after a quick hot chocolate since the winds were picking up and we weren’t getting any warmer, we decided to ski the ramp down.
We woke up for the first time on this trip to cloudy skies and everyone was heading for the trees. Mark and Davin, keen to preserve their prior recon intelligence regarding the tree triangle, promptly started saying that we’re going to give Houdini Needles another try. It was quite comical watching the confused faces of our hut mates when they were told this plan. “Whatever dudes” was probably the most accurate internal mental response. It didn’t matter where we all skied, the trees were out of this world. Waist deep pow, fresh lines everywhere, snow mushrooms ready to satisfy any size of “hucking” imaginable. Even though we were lacking in views on this day, it was well compensated by the best snow we’ve had all week. It was another full day and everyone was starting to look like they needed a break but we all knew this was too good to pass up so everyone kept skiing. Another epic day.
Our last day. The skies were still overcast and snowing so we all returned to the trees. More fresh lines were to be found but I was getting a little tired of yoying the same slopes, so I made it a short day and returned to the hut around 4pm. Together with two of my hut mates, they chopped, I carried firewood to replenish the stash for the next group. Scotty then nicely fired up the sauna and with a pint of Grasshopper in hand, I went for the last sauna session of the trip.
Once everyone got back to the hut, dinner was made by Mike and Alicja I believe, and after we got on a mission to finish off the pony kegs. That didn’t take long as Mark took it for the team and chugged a whole pitcher. Excellent effort Mark. We couldn’t have timed the it better. This was followed by Todds brilliant game of table climbing. The game served hours of entertainment complete with bloody knuckles, knees and an occasional goose egg. A great way to finish off the week.
Day 7 Fly out
And the week was up. Everyone got up early, we all made the hut spic and span ready for the next group. We were all sad to leave but also looking forward to some rest. Not Todd though… he flew directly to another BC hut for another week of touring except with full catering. Since 95% of our group was from Banff and Canmore, they graciously allowed us Calgarians on the first chopper out to make the 3.5hour drive back home. Thanks all.
It was a great trip and I actually can’t remember the last time I was a part of a group of 20 where everyone got along. Great stuff and hopefully I’ll get invited on the next Kirwin Invitational.
Also, make sure you check out Brian Merry’s blog writeup on his interpretation of the week. http://brianmerry.wordpress.com/
Here is a video made by the group before us. A few of our group make a cameo appearance during the helicopter take off footage.
Rest of the photos in the gallery below. Click on the first picture and then use your arrow keys for easy scrolling. Enjoy!