It had to come to an end… the best season of powder skiing I have ever had at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Something like 80 of 90 days of the calendar winter with measurable precip. WOW… that just says to me, non-stop blower pow with no weak layers. I have never skied so much deep powder over 35 degrees in my life. So many new lines opened up at the lodge, and so many runs skied in the best conditions ever.
But it had to end, and now I have been home on the coast for a week, and am in the midst of teaching a Ski Mountaineering Guides Course for the American Mountain Guides Association in the Coast Range of BC. Of course, I had to squeeze in a ski tour on my only day off for the next month (take that with a grain of salt, as my 32 work days will all be skiing)!
I tried to rally Jason Kruk and T-Tony Touch… Jason was in with out hesitation as he spent most of the winter in Patagonia suffering, but Tones couldn’t ditch on work… again. Oh well. Jason hatched the plan, a link up of 3 stellar North Faces in the Duffy Lake zone just north of Pemberton. The Duffy is like the Roger’s Pass of the coast range, only just getting REALLY discovered in the last few years. Road side, big glaciated vert easy access is the name of the game.
This Trifecta includes the North Face of Matier, which I had skied once before (and guided in summer too many times to count), the north face of Slalok (#1 on my skiing hit list on the Duffy) and the North Face of Taylor into Heart Strings (which I didn’t really know about). On the map, the stats are pretty sweet, about 9,500′ of total ascent, tons of glaciers, and maybe 12-15km of mountain travel. All in a loop from the car, so no shuttling hassles. We were concerned it might be a long day, and I had to get home not too late, so Jason knocked on my door at 5 a.m. for the 1.5 hour drive from Squamish. In hindsight, we made a big mistake in the morning, as we got to the quality Mt. Currie coffee company about a half hour before they opened, and didn’t want to waste any time, so we opted for the gas stations finest blend and baking. Little did we know how fast we were going to cruise that day.
I wasn’t too worried about the fitness aspect…I have been averaging 6,000′ of vertical a day out touring for 6 of 7 days a week for about 2-3 months now, so I guess you can say my baseline fitness was doing alright. Add to the that the fact that I had just had 3 days off, which I haven’t had since Dec 12th. Energy ready to burn! Jason, I wasn’t to sure about… but I always know he can dig REALLY deep. Two years before we did the 50km, 7,500′ vert Garibaldi Neve traverse in 9.5 hours, so I knew he was good for it.
By 7 a.m. we were off, head phones on for us both, (me with some awesome XX remixes), stripped down to some light clothes, charging ahead in the early dawn light. We opted for the direct and committed approach up from Joffree Lakes just to the climbers right of the icefall, with the confidence of a low avalanche danger and cool temps with no solar effect just yet. As we inched higher and higher the fresh snow got a little deeper, with about 10-15cms of new from the day before laying untouched by the wind on all elevations and aspects. It was going to be a good day!
Before noon, we were on the summit of Matier, taking it all in. We had beat a group staying in the near by Keith’s Hut to the summit, and had about 11 heli-assisted ski tourers dropped in our zone.
Note: I have no problem with heli skiing and heli assisted touring… IN NON-ROAD ACCESSIBLE LOCATIONS! We were on the summit of Matier before noon, without starting in the dark, 5,500′ up from the car. Do you really need to kill our winters anymore than burning the gas to drive up the highway by getting a helicopter to the top of a peak that is accessible easily under your own power from the car? I don’t think so, and to further put my nose up in the air, I think we did double the downhill vertical for the day than the heli-assisted ski tourers did!
Back to our story… we dropped in on Matier in knee deep blower pow with epic big sluffing turns on 48-degree terrain. With gravity on our side, we blitzed down the Matier glacier to the flanks of Slalok.
A quick 1,500′ climb got us to our next summit. It was just after noon. How was that possible? We were worried about getting this done before dark, and now we had 7,000 grand in the bank, with 3,400′ of blower pow at our ski tips! So, nothing to do but drop some more 45-degree pow! Slalok is a skiers line, sustained and sweet for a long time. It’s like an amazing heli-ski line that you don’t need a helicopter for!
We stopped in the low elevation range of 5,000′ or so right by Joffree Lake to take a second period break. With a 2,000’+ climb up Taylor to come, we decided to suck down the H2O and munch back the calories (I was fueled almost entirely by my mother-in-laws ridiculously good organic baked goods!). Feeling good, I just got in front and charged the trail-breaking at a 2,000′ an-hour pace that felt like I could do forever, and in a little over an hour, we were on the summit of Taylor. A beautiful skin across the broad craggy summit ridge had us looking down yet another sweet 45 degree north face. WOW, I didn’t even know about this line before today, and it couldn’t have been sweeter.
Having skied about 100 days this year, I let Jason go first on every run, as I almost always go first as the guide all season long. He was PSYCHED. But his legs started failing him a bit for non stop 40+ degree 1500′ powder shots. So I teased him as any good friend would do about stopping in the middle of the run and we shouldered our skis for the 10-minute boot pack back to the ridge to drop into Heart Strings, another classic run, tucked into the cliffs and trees that would bring us back to our cars no sweat.
We were back at the car before 4 p.m. To be honest, I felt like I could easily do another 3-4 grand of vertical… I was so invigorated from so much great skiing and feeling so fit from a long season in the hills; its great to feel that way, as those days are all too rare. I relished in the after glow of a safe and successful mission in the hills with a good friend, and we blitzed home down the highway to some quality tunes and a great dinner out with some awesome friends to celebrate my birthday (which was the next day!)
Thanks Jason for being a super psyched and motivated partner for big lines on the rock and the snow!