A trip up Avalanche Mountain


This is an old trip report I wrote in February 2015.

This has been a weird winter in Revelstoke. We’ve had lots of snow, including a couple of epic days, but for the most part the big storms have come with rapidly warming weather and snow has turned to schmoo and schmoo has turned into rain and rain has frozen into a hard crust. Every time the snow pack felt like it was stabilizing, another Pineapple Express would come in and screw everything up. It’s better here than in most of western North America, but it’s not what we’re used to.

Finally, last week, the skies cleared and the stability we hoped for crystallized. Unfortunately, this coincided with the formation of a bulletproof crust up 1,600 or so metres elevation, and minimal new snow up high. Still, bluebird days have been rare so it was time to get after it. After a few texts, it was decided to attempt Avalanche Mountain in Rogers Pass. It’s a 2,861 metre summit that requires about 1,500 metres of elevation gain and a steep boot pack to reach summit. Not a crazy big day, but given the lack of touring I’ve done this year, it seemed like enough of an objective.

Our group – Yann, Meghan and myself from Revelstoke, and Brad from Calgary – met at the Rogers Pass Centre at 8 a.m. and drove just down the highway to the NRC Gully parking lot. We started skinning, with two centimetres of snow covering the hardest, iciest crust I’ve experienced out west. It was easier to hike straight up than try and skin along the hill. Pretty soon it got too steep and we questioned our decision. Yann and Brad put on their ski crampons while Meghan and I took off our skis and started hiking.

After about 400 metres of hiking, we traversed into NRC Gully – a huge bowl that starts off mellow and gets steeper as you ascend. Normally you wouldn’t set a skin track here, but the stability was prime. As we entered the gully (circa 1,700m), the crust faded and the snow deepened. Our skis went back on our feet where they belong and we headed upwards, with Yann breaking trail to the ridge top.

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Eventually, we reached the top of NRC Gully and took in the views of the steep back side of Mount McDonald. Our objective was just out of sight to the south. After having some lunch and strapping on our harnesses, we started up North Avalanche Glacier. maneuvering around the sagging crevasses. Soon enough, the double summit of Avalanche Mountain was in our sights, along with the Vent Shaft – the steep couloir that splits the summit in two and that would be our way to the top. Snow depth ranged from nothing to 20 cm, depending on how the wind blew.

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We entered the Vent Shaft and started booting up. It was steep – I’d estimate 45 degrees at the bottom and 50 or more at the top. Fortunately, the snow was nice and supportive, and perfect for boot packing.

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It didn’t take us long to get to the col between the twin summits. The summits of Eagle, Uto and the mighty Sir Donald cast shadows on Avalanche Glacier, and the Illecillewaet Glacier stretched to the horizon further south. Looking through the mountains, we could see skin tracks going everywhere – we were far from the only ones of taking advantage of the conditions to check off some big lines.

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We still had to reach the true summit, and now we had a choice. The west summit looked slightly higher, but the east summit looked like a safer climb. We went east and scrambled to the top because when you’re that close, you have to bag the peak.

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After enjoying the view, we hiked back down to our skis, strapped in and slid in. I went first because of course I had to take pictures of everyone else skiing down. The first hundred metres was steep and crusty – true jump-turn terrain for me, or side-slip if you’re less sure of yourself. Soon, the couloir widened and the snow softened. For a few beautiful turns, I could open up, and let it go, arcing wild turns in some hard powder. It was tempting to keep going, but I had to get the shot, so I stopped partway down and waited for my three companions. First I would see their sluff, then they would emerge one by one.

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The classic route from the summit of Avalanche is all the way down the Vent Shaft, followed by a ski out the west bowl to Avalanche Crest and the Asulkan parking lot. That actually gives you an extra 100 metres of skiing but considering how horrible the conditions were down low, we decided to take the shorter route straight to our car and exited the couloir onto the glacier we’d skinned up to enjoy some mellow cruising.

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A fast cruise on the glacier and a quick boot pack brought us back to the top of NRC Gully. From there, it was another 1,000 metres downhill to our car. A dusting of new snow and a bit of wind made for a fun, fast ski around the snow ghosts to the bottom of the bowl.

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Life was good. The smiles were wide and the stoke was high as we enjoyed the easy ski in the afternoon sun. What a day! This was my second big summit in Rogers Pass, and I was stoked.

Except for the 400 metres of death crust our tired legs had to navigate at the bottom. Let’s try to forget that. That might have been my worst ski experience ever.

Categories: Skiing, UncategorizedTags: , , , , , , , ,

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