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 turned into 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 most of western North America, but it’s not what we’re used.
Finally, last week the skies cleared and the snow pack stabilized. Unfortunately, this coincided with the formation of a bulletproof crust at lower elevations, and minimal new snow up high. Still, bluebird days have been rare, so it was time to get after it. After a few e-mails, 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 to summit. Not a crazy big day, but given the lack of touring I’ve done this year, it seemed like a big enough 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 at about 1,300 metres elevation. From there, we started skinning. There was about two centimetres of fresh snow on top of the hardest, iciest crust I’ve experienced out west. It was easier to go straight up than to try and side hill. Pretty soon it got too steep and we began to question our decision. Yann and Brad put on their ski crampons while Meghan and I take off our skis and start hiking.
After about 400 metres of hiking, we traversed into NRC Gully – a large, steep bowl that mellows as you go down. Normally you wouldn’t climb up here, but the conditions are prime. As we enter the gully (circa 1,700m) the crust fades and the snow deepens. Our skis go back on our feet where they belong and we head upwards.
The gully got steeper but the snow was supportive and Yann lead the way setting the skin track to the top.
Eventually, we reached the top of NRC Gully and took in the views of the south side of Mount McDonald. Our objective was just out of site to the south. After having some lunch and strapping on our harnesses (safety third) and started up North Avalanche Glacier. 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. Snow depth ranged from nothing to 20 cm, depending on where exactly the wind deposited it.
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 perfect for boot packing.
It didn’t take us long to get to the col between the two peaks, and the view looking south towards Eagle, Uto and the mighty Sir Donald. Avalanche Glacier was below us and Illecillewaet Glacier stretched to the distance in the south. We could see skin tracks going everywhere – we were far from the only ones of taking advantage of the weather and snow pack.
We still had to reach the true summit, and now we had a choice. The west summit looked a bit higher, but the easiest summit looked like a safer and easier climb. We went east and scrambled to the top, because when you’re that close, you have to bag the peak. If anyone asks, the difference between the two peaks is at most a few metres.
After enjoying the view, we hiked back down to our skis, strapped in and started down. I went first because of course I had to set up and take pictures of everyone else skiing down. The first hundred metres was steep and crusty. It was jump-turn terrain – or side-slip if you’re less sure of yourself. Eventually, the couloir widened and the snow softened. For a few beautiful turns, you could open up, and let it fly. However, to get you these next pictures, I took one for the team and stopped halfway down. Meghan was second, followed by Brad and Yann.
The classic route from the summit of Avalanche is all the way down the Vent Shaft, followed by a ski out the west bowl. 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, and exited the couloir onto the glacier to enjoy some mellow cruising.
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 to our car. A dusting of new snow and a bit of wind made for a fun, fast ski to the bottom of the bowl.
Life was good. The smiles were wide and the stoke was high as we enjoyed the easy ski out of the bowl in the afternoon sun. What a day!
Except for the 400 metres of death crust our tired legs had to navigate at the bottom. Let’s try to forget that.