Note on the b+w photos. It was a bluebird day, but when you’re soloing and have no subject in your shot, your tracks become the subjects. Best way to show them is by taking out the color and jacking the contrast 100%.
Another day of being spoiled on the coast!
After making calls to 4 of my closest ski partners, and all were working, I headed up to Whistler with me myself and I, at 5am. Headed to the Wedge parking lot for the second time in as many weeks. Definitely didn’t feel spoiled when I hit the snow filled boulder fields below the lake. One of the benefits of soloing is that you can swear to your heart’s content, when you smack your shins endlessly on rocks, and there’s no idiot telling you to calm down Regardless, made it to the top of the trail with only minor damage to my skis.
The objective was the Rethel North couloir, which sees probably a few descents each year, is 40-45 degrees, and I knew was still totally filled in with snow from last year. A classic couloir that probably gets ignored because Wedge is so close by (myself included). You also have to deal with the varying conditions of the uber-steep Wedge trail, whereas most people probably ski Wedge from Blackcomb.
Initially the crux of the day was to get the guts to cross the recently frozen Wedge Lake, thus saving considerable time. Enduring some tense moments and scary groaning noises I got across.
After skinning up about ½ of the couloir I soon realized the massive cornice on top was going to be the real crux. There seemed to be a small ramp out climber’s right. I wanted to top out, and after a quick internal debate as to the stability of the cornice I made a mad dash into it’s underbelly. Ptor has been using a lot of surfing analogies in his ski writing lately, and being fully barreled by this cornice certainly got me thinking similar. Totally surreal, and one of those unique mountain moments I won’t soon forget. Another mission that I’ve cursed myself for not bringing a GoPro!!
Huddled in this room, with skis scratching the ceiling above, I inched my way towards the ramp. The slope’s 65+ degrees certainly got me focused. The best feeling in the mountains is making that last step over a cornice on a steep North Face, and having your own face suddenly blasted by sun.
For the second time this year I found myself holstering my ice axe in my backpack hip belt. With skis on, I delicately retraced my accent tracks. Once again, such a treat to be doing stuff this technical this early in the season.
The ski down was incredible. Sluff management was key. Boot deep turns were alternated with knee deep and even waist deep turns. No exaggerating here! But I was on my skinny steep skiing set-up (could start a debate here about certain situations where thin skis are actually more fun than fat skis, but I digress) which allowed me to get full value from the deep pow. Arced blissful turns down to the bottom until I finally smacked a rock and face-planted about 100feet above the lake. Since lasts years snow didn’t reach this low, I knew hitting a boulder was going to happen at some point, so I had to laugh.
Got to love getting spoiled on the coast. All it takes is a couple of dumps in October and you get days like these.
Yesterday I had a great technical ski mission with my longtime friend Jim Martinello. A quick-laid plan the night before resulted in a 7am start at the Wedge trailhead, with skis on our backs. Our plan was to ski the West facing Wedge Couloir (some call it the North-West Couloir) and take some photos of Arcteryx product. I don’t mind being the model, wearing the clothes, and acting out heroic poses with a distant stare, but time was of the essence and maybe our photo taking slowed us down a little too much.
We gained the couloir and were soon climbing up some soft yet very climbable snow. Beautiful rock walls surrounded us and made for some stunning wide-angle shots. The couloir itself looked very mid-season. I think this was a result of a huge slide last spring creating a 2m crown-line at just over halfway. It smoothed out the runnel, but also exposed some blue ice that probably hadn’t seen the light of day in years. The crown had been filled in with fresh and was about 4feet high where we quickly scampered past to the relatively safer slopes above. A significant cornice was still hanging over the route though. And although the temps in the couloir were still cold, we knew anything in the sun could reach the forecasted 19Celcius. At the crux the picture taking stopped and we hammered our way to the top.
Extremely mushy snow on the mellow upper slopes forced us to exit the notoriously steep slopes directly above the couloir, climber’s left of the cornice. These upper slopes can usually be bypassed, but if you choose to climb/ski them, they are some of the steepest turns you can make in the Whistler area.
After gaining the safety of the South Face, we promptly turned around and skied to the entrance climber’s right of the cornice. An awesome steep entrance, which unfortunately had some hard neve ice exposed for the first ten feet or so. A previous rappel anchor had already been set up in some bomber rocks, so we threw on the harnesses and made a quick rappel. So stoked to be initiating turns this steep this early in October! With ice axe holstered in my harness, turns were made until we met the icy choke. 20 feet of aggressively sinking in the axe and skidding the skis down lead to the soft powder below the choke. The rest of the turns were money, on a consistent fall-line slope.
After skiing this several times in the past 15years, the early season steepness and technical nature of the descent made for a totally different experience.
14hours later we ended back at the car. Probably took a couple hours less the last time I did it but that was without taking photos.