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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Marriott Basin

A few of us haven't given up on winter yet. A rare January storm was forecasted for the weekend and there was the usual Friday afternoon problem of figuring where to go. Somewhere that was high enough, with good coverage, and suitable terrain.

The freezing levels were looking high, so Greg Lisa and I went up to the Duffey in search of powder, not slush, or sideway rain. We should be right of the edge of the storm. Saturday was going to be a dry day, with the storm passing through in the late evening and early morning hours on Sunday.



High clouds and sunny breaks greeted us as we broke out of the thin but barely sufficient snowpack in the forest, and glided along the flatter ground in the meadows. The creek was open, a sign of this year's weak and warm winter. But as far as the approach goes, it's in good enough shape.

I sat outside the Wendy Thompson Hut in the sunshine, enjoying the unexpected sunshine, while watching the clouds roll over the ridges from the southwest. That was our last glimpse of sunshine for the weekend, and the light turned flat with high overcast conditions.



The closest skiing to the hut are the south facing glades north of the hut. We toured up through the glades and then open meadows, wondering about the ski quality. Thursdays storm brought new snow to the Duffey covering up a wide-spread melt-freeze crust formed during the inversion and warm temperatures from the past week.

The skiing was so-so, with 10-15cm of new snow, overlying a solid crust that could be felt on most turns. Next, we wandered over to the run known as Honey Bronzed and Very Desired, west of the hut. I was hoping that with the lower angle slope, I could ski overtop of the crust without feeling it. Greg took over the trailbreaking as we approached the col, noting cornice debris that had fallen off during the warm weather in the past week. A few metres below the col, Greg stepped onto a windslab, something that was on our mind the whole time. I was far behind, and watched as he slowly backed off the slope, with a faint crack visible for a few metres to his right.

I watched as the valley stratus rolled up, covering up our last window of visibility. Following the sacrificial method, we alternated the ski down, turning blinding down the white slope. I just hoped to avoid any remnant cornice debris, icy bowling balls in the grey room. The turns were surprisingly good, and best on the low angle stuff as predicted.








The Wendy Thompson Hut has been booked up for every weekend this winter. It's not surprsingly, given the easy access and good ski terrain nearby. I have trouble planning a weekend so far in advance, so we were here with a tent, ready to winter camp. Greg bought a new tent, a Bearpaw Luna 4, and was eager to test it out in winter conditions. This pyramid tent is similar to the popular Black Diamond Megamid, but made with lighter and stronger cuben fiber instead of sil-nylon. The whole tent wall weighs 560grams,  excluding the central pole, which can be substituted with two extended ski poles strapped together with voile straps. A featherweight winter shelter, but would it hold up to the testing conditions of a warm overnight storm with heavy snow?

I sat inside the tenting, looking up at the two ski poles strapped together and wondered how the night would go. We listened to the snow flakes falling outside, and then cascading down the sides of the tent as the snow accumulate around the top. Greg and Lisa shared one side of the tent. I was on the other side, but part of the floor space was dug out to use as a kitchen and place to put our boots during the night. Through the night, the tent walls sagged onto my sleeping bag under the load of heavy snow. What was once a spacious bed, turned into a narrow bivouac between the wet cuben wall and the hollow pit below. I looked up, blurry-eyed, and the once straight pole-setup was flexing over like a crescent moon. Lesson learnt. Bring the dedicated pole for winter camping when the forecast calls for snow. And the reality is that tents will always need digging out in a storm.





We woke up to 25cm of medium-density snow. The morning was slow. Boiling water, slurping down oatmeal, and sipping on coffee while curled up in my sleeping bag, soaked on the outside.

The afternoon's routine was simple, skin up, ski powder, repeat.  We skied hot laps, finding great skiing on the treed ridge to the west of the hut. The runs were short, but the skiing fantastic, deep powder and pillow fluffing conditions. Good enough for what has been a lacklustre winter. It continued to snow all day long, with strong winds.

We left the hut after 3:30pm, and made it back to the car without needing a headlamp. The coverage in the forest is thin, but skiable. That was a satisfying dose of winter. Thanks Ullr!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cayoosh Area

I got home from Manning Park, and emptied my pack onto my floor. It seemed like a pointless exercise to me. Unpack everything, dry wet gloves, skins, and boot liners, re-pack, and go to bed. I was home, only to leave again early the next morning to ski into the Cayoosh hut with Greg. A few other friends had left Vancouver on New Years day, and the plan was to catch up to them the next morning.

The coverage on the Duffey is getting better, at least on the western side. Most of the approaches, like Cerise Creek, Marriott Basin and Chief Pascall are in. The below treeline skiing is still marginal, but the snow pack up high is slowly approaching normal levels. The graph below is from the snow pillow at Tenquille Lake. The dark blue line is the current years snowpack, slightly below average, but well above last years mediocre snow pack (green line).
After a very short skin along the road, we reached the Cayoosh Hut, where we found the rest of the crew getting ready. Stories were traded of epic crust and extensive yo-yoing of the one patch of nice snow.

Coverage was still thin above the hut. I took my time skinning up the icy track through the cutblock and the boulder field, zig-zaging up between exposed rocks. Another metre of snow would help to cover up the rest of the trees and boulders. I was expecting worse conditions though. We wandered up the valley south of Cayoosh, heading west along open slopes. The visibility was poor, but we broke out of a low-lying stratus layer as we reached a highpoint just north of the col between Cayoosh S2 and Cayoosh.

Waiting for the visibility to get better. Dave, Lisa, John, Rich, Greg, Ari, Tif and Colby.


At this elevation and aspect, the snow had changed to a solid crust, scoured by the wind and affected by the temperature inversion. Light winds kept the clouds stationary in the valley below, and the high peaks of the Duffey poked out of the grey backdrop.

The skiing was better than expected. The surface crust was supportive, and we leapfrogged down the valley, alternating between going first while leading blindy, or following behind with tracks ahead for guidance.








Back at the hut, rather early, I enjoyed a post-ski hop session, the non-exercising type. If you are planning to visit the hut in the near future, there is little firewood left up here as of early January. Fortunately, another group arrived later that evening, with firewood, and the cozy hut morphed into a dry sauna.


Light snowfall continued through the night, and I woke up to 15cm-20cm of snow outside my tarp-snowcave combo. For my setup, I use a sil-nylon tarp, which I used to cover up a trench dug in the snow, sometimes with snow walls stacked around. The corners are secured with my skis and poles, and the entrance is covered with snowblocks or a pack. Another pole is used to prop up the centre of the tarp to deflect snow to the sides. With careful construction, and minimal movement inside, I can stay comfortable, warm, and dry in non-stormy conditions.


The rest of the group headed out that morning, some having to make their way back to Portland. Greg John and I decided to look for some skiing at treeline, and worked our way up the valley towards one of the avalanche paths below the Armchair Glacier. Travel was straightforward in the forest, but the slide alder in the paths were not covered. Everything had been tracked out from the week before, and the low density snow fall was not bonding well to the slope. Soft slabs up to 10cm thick were breaking off while turning up a switchback. Our highpoint was 1820m.

We skied back down to the hut, content with our one lap today. While skiing out from the hut, I noticed that every convex roll in the cutblock had naturally slid, with the 10-15cm of low-density snow propagating in a soft slab. Greg was able to trigger a slide on a road-slide slope, by simply throwing a snowball at it. In another instance, I walked up to the slope, whacked it with my pole, and the entire surface fractured.







By leaving the hut early and skipping another lap, I was expecting to be back in Vancouver very early. Unfortunately, after a quick stop in Whistler, we reached the Sea to Sky parking lot just south of Function Junction. I heard reports of friends taking three hours to travel from Whistler to Squamish. The roads were snowy, and there were cars with summer tires struggling to climb the hills out of Cheakamus canyon. We turned around, headed back to Whistler, and spent the night at a friends instead. The next morning at 6am, we shoveled the car out of the driveway and drove back through slush and rain to the city for a two-day drive home from the Duffey to Vancouver.

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