The Canadian Rockies can provide unexpected pleasures anytime of the year. You just have to be ready and adjust to the discipline at hand. Here is a brief account of my ski descent of the North Face of Mt Stanley on October 17th. - TR by Jonny Simms of WASA Winter.
In my mind, conditions had set up just perfectly for steep ski lines in the Rockies. Decent amounts of last year's epic snowpack still exist on high north facing glaciers. What we call this in the snow world is Firn snow. This layer of old snow nicely insulates and bridges the blue glacier ice found on high faces.
North face of Mt. Stanley, Oct. 17. Looking pretty cherry.
There was a significant precipitation event just prior to the 17th which lasted 2-3 days. The storm came in warm, and then temperatures cooled. The warmth provides the powder to stick to very steep terrain. The cooling sucks the moisture out of the surface snow, making for incredible powder skiing!
Probing our way around the hungry holes on the Stanley Glacier.
These coveted ski descents are usually far and few between, requiring the right snow conditions and snowpack stability to be
All things considered, it is still just a guess when you're down in the valley bottom. My approach to these very early season conditions is this: go at the objective as an alpine climber, carrying all the essential climbing gear to properly fulfill the objective. Two technical ice tools, steel crampons, screws, etc.
This style may require some technical climbing and complex glacier travel. The skiing part is the bonus at the end. On the ascent of the mountain, you are assessing conditions for the descent. The rig you need to carry is an advanced kit.
Climbing gear, plus ski gear. Go light, cause there's lots going on.
Here is a recap of the day mission:
Nigel and I departed the Stanley car park at 6:30 a.m. On the first three hours of the approach, we avoided having to have to wear ski boots until accessing the toe of the glacier, located at the far end of the Stanley valley. We conveniently swapped out our running shoes for ski boots and crampons. Nigel and I roped and climbed as a unit up the toe. Easy tool placements and front pointing on the underlaying surfaces. Very enjoyable. After about 600 feet of elevation gain, the angle eases and benches out.
At this point, crampons and tools were put away. On with the skis and and skins. The depth of the snow pack down to the ice was only 40 cm's. Quite shallow, and just enough to cover those lurking crevasses. The avalanche probe was also brought out to probe for holes and manage the crevasse hazard.
View from the top of Mt. Stanley
The arrival to the base of the North face went smooth. Other ski options along the way are the Waterman couloir and the Y couloir. Unfortunately though, there are overhanging bergschrunds guarding these beauty lines rendering them unskiable for the time being.
The next crux was to negotiate the bergschrund protecting the North Face which is managed on the right side. See photo of the face.
Again the discipline was changed from ski mode to alpine climbing mode. Crampons and tools on, skis on the back.
I used a simple roped technique to manage the hazard of crossing over the bridged shrund. Kicking in with the front points and a few good tool swings and I was over the crux. I built a belay above the shrund and brought Nigel up. From this point we climbed as a unit bootpacking and climbing all the way to the summit. We unroped a third of the way up the face. The snow on the face was just ripe for skiing! Light and fluffy.
After a half hour on top, it was time to go. The first few turns off the summit are a gentle grade of 35 degrees. But after about 100 feet, the committing terrain quickly steepens to a consistent 45 degrees. The snow was perfect. Blower! I experienced my earliest face shots to date!
Looking pretty good for October! Nigel drops into the North Face of Stanley.
Sluff management skills needed to be applied on the face. It was easily managed. The descent of the North face, i'm guessing is around 1500 ft. The Firn snow underneath the powder provided a perfect surface to steep ski on. The Firn reminded me of skiing a nice groomed run at the ski hill. Nigel and I managed to ski the whole face and skirt the shrund at the bottom without having to revert back to alpine climbing descent mode.Such a good run! And very memorable. See photo.
We retraced our path back, roped up in case of a lurking crevasse. Once the saddle was reached. Nigel and I managed to ski all the way to our running shoes on the Firn snow. Sweet deal! I originally thought, I would need to build some v-thread anchors and do some rappelling in this section.
A worthy mission indeed.
It's October 19th and I'm writing this from my home in Golden, BC. We've just received the second substantial bout of precipitation last night. 10-15 millimetres of rain in the valley, 15-20 centimetres of snow up high . This new snow will need time to settle out for steep ski conditions in the Rockies to continue.