Last year I purchased some used alpine touring ski gear, but with the terrible winter I didn't use it. This winter, however, has been kind to us. Lovers of winter sports rejoice! Everyone is dusting off their far-too-seldom-used gear to head into the backcountry.
John and Chris examining the route down
I planned an easy tour around Helen Mackenzie for Saturday, January 16th, intending to test out my gear. My boots needed some breaking in, and I needed to practice movement in walk mode with my skis. There would be plenty of practice, but we found more adventure than we originally intended.
Prepping at Raven Lodge
John and I traveled together and met Rod at Raven Lodge; he had bivyed overnight in Paradise Meadows. The sky was dark and the snow fell with the wind, blasting us in the face and pushing its way into the car when we opened the hatch. We gathered our gear and changed in the protection of Raven Lodge. As we dressed, we met up with a group of three more skiers from the ACCVI. Our groups had different agendas, but we were planning on travelling the same route. John, Rod, and I joined their trip up to the glades, the col between Mount Allan-Brooks and the Bump on the northwest ridge.
Total Distance: 6.8 km Starting Elevation: 1060 m Maximum Elevation: 1161 m Elevation Gain: 178 m Total Time: 4 h 39 min
We generally dawdled, departing the lodge around 10:00 am, as the weather didn't have any siren calls for the day. We headed out on an off-track route through Paradise Meadows. Once in the meadow, among the trees, the conditions improved. We were protected from the wind, but snow continued to fall from the dark sky until we stopped for lunch. After crossing the bridge, we traversed west along the hill until passing a watercourse on our right and cresting the small hill which leads to Lake Helen Mackenzie.
Rod, amongst the trees
From the watercourse, we started watching for the col high above. The misty conditions prevented us from getting a clear view, so we were forced to navigate by map and GPS. We found our way with no issue; a few sections were steep, but nothing with exposure. As we climbed, I was thankful for the width of my skis. On the steeper sections, the snow collapsed more than six inches beneath my weight. We switchbacked and traversed our way up the slope to the glade. As we approached the glade, the mists lifted and we were treated to few moments of sunshine as it peeked through the rising clouds, providing a view for us as we ate our lunch!
working our way up the steep slope to the glade
After lunch, we stripped the skins from our skis and set out for home. It became clear that I need a lot more experience skiing in trees, and I also need to get my skis waxed. I bought them used, and obviously they needed to be tuned. I pointed my skis downhill and didn't move. Their condition makes getting up any speed challenging, and I think this also accounts for a small portion of my control issues. From a stopped position, snow was gathering on the bottom of my skis; when I lifted each ski, I found as much as four inches sticking along the length.... a real problem.
Martin checking the binding
I wasn't the only one having problems. John wore touring skis, narrower than the wider AT skis. He had no issues going up the hill, but on the way down he couldn't stay on the surface of the snow. He was forced to walk down the hill, in the same fashion he went up. Rod's issue was one created by the rental company: when they sized his bindings, they used the same boot. As it turns out, they had given him two different-sized mondos. Fortunately, one of the other more experienced skiers was able to adjust the binding to accommodate the boot.
Chris jumping the water course
back to the lodge
We arrived back at the lodge before 4:00 pm. We prepped to leave, and stopped for a quick coffee in the lodge. I was happy for a fun day, and grateful for the advice offered to me by the more experienced skiers. My primary takeaway from the day: I need to get my boots punched out, because my feet ached all night!