A week of bluebird had me holed up in my office at the computer. Managed to get out one day and ski off the very small yet striking feature of Mt. Fee’s west face. Now it’s time for some medium high-altitude skiing out East.
Couloirs are probably the most distinctive and celebrated features in backcountry skiing. Obviously a magazine was named after them and people travel all over the world to ski them. I’ve been lucky enough to ski some stunners, and nabbed the first of the Camel Toe, a truly world-class beast. Aesthetically they are king. The reality is they’re a bit over-hyped – a beautiful model with little personality. The skiing is claustrophobic, and you’re usually forced to the sidewalls to avoid the central runnel. The snow is often sluffed-out or filled with avy debris. Regardless of how steep they look from afar, the reality is is that they’re usually very straightforward ski lines with little adventure or surprise . . . (sort of playing the devil’s advocate here – I love couloirs).
In contrast, spines provide a very interesting and opposite ski experience. Almost a sensory overload. They are open and expansive. The irony is that from far away they may not look that steep, but the most subtle roll-over on a spine can turn your world upside down, and can make even a 45degree slope scary. “Does it go?” That’s the million dollar question. ”Am I in the right place?” Suddenly skiing becomes this glorious unfolding adventure. It truly tests your route finding ability and your mental resolve to head into the unknown. So much fun. We’re lucky on the coast to have the copious amounts of sticky snow that creates good skiable spines!
We were in the midst of our latest high pressure. But the night sky was cloudy and the 5am wakeup was not very inspiring. But it was Jimmy’s birthday and we were going to make a go of it. Jon and my brother-in-law Damien also came along. Once in the alpine, the clouds remained thick but their ceiling was high. We climbed up a quick South face and were soon staring into the guts of a pant-shittingly steep couloir peppered with rocks and near vertical spine/ sidewalls. We all had a good chuckle and headed to plan B. An undulating spine/ arête playground I’d spotted on a previous mission.
After dropping in, it was soon apparent that the extremely flat light was going to make things even more spicy. I first traversed an open face and onto a curving arête. The first roll-over had me immediately questioning the feasibility of the line (I was already ignoring rule #1: trust your intuition). After growing some balls I made a few more turns which revealed a nice 50 degree face which lead to the next arête. Jon skied ahead and was soon road-blocked by a heinous roll-over. He inched his way out onto the slope, peering into the soup looking for a ramp to the next spine. Since I was a little taller, we switched places, and I peered into the abyss. Soon decided that a few turns were needed for a better vantage point. Things probably started out at a ripe 55degrees. 3 deliberate turns later, the roll-over continued and I still had no idea whether it went or not. 60degrees was soon passed and turning gave way to delicate side-slipping. I have no idea how steep it got, but 65-70 sounds reasonable. I soon aired a little rock and ice feature and was safe on the next arête. This lead to some other amazingly steep slopes, and finally to the mellow runout. Damien and Jim got to choose their own adventure and headed down a little couloir, with an icy run-out. All in all, an amazing mission with great friends. The Birthday Spines.
After a 2-week work stint, another 2 weeks in the heat of Central America, some sickness, a botched mission to the Tantalus, and some uninspiring avy danger, I finally summoned the motivation for a day trip. As usual the weather forecast was wrong, and I was left scrambling for ideas after sleeping in. The weather was bluebird and the North faces were firing. But the temps were soaring, so it had to happen fast. Finally headed out with Chris Christie, only after almost forgetting my avy gear, and fully forgetting my boots when I was part way up the highway . . . obviously a little rusty. After giving Jason from Washington a ride up the logging road, my karma bank was topped up and I was ready for a balmy alpine mission. Digging a hasty pit contrasted the lowish avy rating and revealed some interesting layers. It certainly inspired my delicate and creative approach on the last slope to the summit. Chris was wise and stayed on a lower ridge to capture the action. After a delicate ballet of ski attaching on the knife-edge summit I skied down and met up with Chris, and we had good North facing pow all the way down. A nice welcome back to Canada, on a rarely skied slope.