Valentine´s Day (or Rocky Horror Powder Show)

Some girls get a card or flowers, or if they are particularly lucky they get taken out to dinner.  Me?  I got a near death experience.  In Tom´s defence, he didn´t actually realise it was Valentine´s Day.  We were wanting to maximise on our trip to Canada as the snow had finally decided to make an appearance, so Tom had done his research and came up with a fantastic ski tour idea on an area called Rohr Ridge near Whistler, described as good tree skiing for storm days.  We had, for us, been pretty organised in that we got up early, got ourselves moving, and were merrily making our drive up to the parking spot when eventually Tom said “this doesn´t look quite right…” No, it didn´t.  Somehow we had missed the crucial (and very obvious) turning and had driven about half an hour in the wrong direction.  There was nothing for it but to turn around and go back and get on the correct road, but this did mean we were then starting our skin up about an hour and a half later than intended.  Just because things don´t happen how you think they should doesn´t mean it´s all wrong though.  Admittedly this theory was stretched to the limits on this occasion!

Through the forest.
Through the forest.

We started the skin up through woods that looked like a scene out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a very pleasant gradual gradient up which suddenly got extremely steep.  And continued and continued.  Very much the case of “are we there yet?

Yes, we are there yet!  The end of a very long skin.
Yes, we are there yet! The end of a very long skin.

Eventually we got to the top, just as two avalanche forecasters were doing their tests on the snow.  Tom was able to ask intelligent questions following his avalanche training course, which was wonderful but didn´t change the news that came out, which was that the storm slab was pretty tetchy.  Apparently it was not possible to stay in trees all the way down Rocky Horror Picture show so  this led to a discussion about whether to walk back down the skin track (which was treed, but as the snow was about waist deep would have been a nightmare), or ski down – arguably the quicker of the two options.  We elected to ski.  The  upside of skiing down was we could follow the tracks of the forecasters, as they  inevitably would be taking the safest route down.  It turned out the sections with open slopes were minimal which was good given the slabs that were sliding between the trees.

Small slab ripped out turning between the trees.
Small slab ripped out turning between the trees.

Given the forecasters were probably born with skis on their feet the route was… challenging.  It was also not quick.  Previous posts may have mentioned that a head torch is always included in the pack?  It took us two hours to climb up the mountain and six to get back down.  However I can´t complain, as although there was a fair amount of side stepping and very little actual skiing (on my part at least), we both did get down in one piece which I very grateful for.  It may not have been the ideal Valentine´s Day, but it´s probably the most memorable – however I’ll be putting in a bid for a nice restaurant next year.

Vancouver Island

After a cup of tea and a nap to help recover from the drama of the morning, we loaded up Snow White again and drove off to the ferry for a long weekend on Vancouver Island with Fee and Bob, friends of Neil. Tom and Neil were keen to do some more ice climbing, but thankfully there were others along on this trip so I could gate crash on their walk in one of the provincial parks.  The weather was gorgeous – still no snow of course – but the forest was spectacular.

Thankfully the closest we got to a cougar.
Thankfully the closest we got to a cougar.

We got back to the cabins around 4pm, hung around, waited, waited some more and eventually had dinner while still waiting for Tom, Neil and Magalie to get back from their climb. They finally got back around 10:30pm after unsurprisingly having to make their way back to the car in the dark –  this happens a lot, I´ve learnt to always bring a head torch, no matter when we  intend to return…  The next day was gorgeous again, and even though the Mount Cain ski lifts were closed due to lack of snow, we thought we´d see what there was to see so off we trotted up to the slopes and skinned to the top.  At least we got great views, because we were having to ski on ice which is  not particularly pleasant, it sounds a lot like nails on a chalk board going down – and of course hurts a lot when you fall over.  One run was definitely enough!

At Mount Cain Ski Station
At Mount Cain Ski Station
Skinning up a VERY icy hill
Skinning up a VERY icy hill

However, as we got to the bottom the first flakes of snow started to fall.  Hooray!  The promised snow storm had finally arrived, just in time for one more day – so we returned the next day for a completely different experience (falling over, for instance, was much more pleasant).  The chalk board sound is replaced by silence as you float down the hill – it was absolutely wonderful.  Very sad that we had to leave the next day.

Tuesday was still technically a day of holiday, and those of us who were left thought we could squeeze one more morning of turns out of the trip.  The destination of choice was Mount Victoria, which was accessed by a series of logging roads – had I mentioned it had been snowing at last?

The closest we got to Mount Victoria
The closest we got to Mount Victoria

Both parties had 4×4’s, so figured that the cars could stand a sizeable dump and off we went.  It was all going really well until we got a little stuck and thought that gunning the engine was the way out of the problem…

It was sort of inevitable
It was sort of inevitable

So, that was the end of that weekend.  Or not quite.  Hmmm, there are a few slopes coming up on the return journed, and Snow White has a tow rope – queue one of the more questionable stunts pulled that weekend!  (the video will get added as soon as we manage to figure out how, thankfully both Neil and Bob made it down.)

No Snow, but Lots of Cold

It might not have been snowing much due to the arctic high pressure systems sitting over the west of Canada, but this has meant it has been bloody cold and when its cold things freeze! When I was on my way back from my avalanche safety training course in Whistler I had noticed a waterfall in Squamish that was starting to freeze. It turned out that this was Shannon Falls, which only rarely freezes enough to be climbed.  This was exciting news and the weather was predicted to be cold for the rest of the week. A plan was hatched to go and try to climb it on the Friday before heading to Vancouver Island.

Barbara and I had the opportunity to have a second look at how things were developing on our way to go on a ski tour to Keith’s Hut. We found a couple of guys climbing it in conditions that I thought were a little too thin and wet for my liking! Still it had two more days of cold before our attempt.

So it was off to Keith´s Hut for us.  We had made a bit of a late start so we were certainly going to be looking for the hut in the dark, I hoped it was easy to find! Did I mention it was cold? I`m not sure how cold, but cold enough to make you hands not work if you had a glove off for a couple of minutes. This makes getting skis on and kitted up a slow and painful process.  Just as we headed off two american guys also arrived with the same plan as us and wanted to know if we knew the way….. er no! Fortunately we met some locals coming down the hill and they gave us a few pointers how to find the hut, aside from following the skin track which wended its way up through old growth forest and then followed a creek. It soon got dark, but the moon was bright which helped with navigation once we were out of the forest.  Even though this was not part of the plan, skinning through snow covered forest in the moonlight was a real treat.

The Americans over took us about half way up, but I wasn`t too upset about that as hopefully they would have the fire going by the time we got to the hut…  Once we came out of the forest the cold was intense and balaclavas went on to prevent any chance of frost nip. We kept right as advised and I went on ahead to see if I could find the hut, which was tucked away in the trees. The fire was indeed going by the time we got to the hut but hadn´t made much impact – the American guys´ thermometer had registered -20 Deg. F (-35 Deg. C) outside!  Still, if you huddled really close round the wood stove it was just about bearable. We had some hot food and a chat with the guys before bed, and kept the fire stoked all night by people chucking the odd log on when heading to the out house.

Barbara outside Keith´s Hut
Barbara outside Keith´s Hut
Barbara taking one of several...pauses
Barbara taking one of several…pauses

After a good sleep Barbara and I headed up to Vantage Ridge which was a nice little tour with some good snow. It was dark again by the time we got back to the car.

I got another look at Shannon Falls on the way back which looked big and white in the moonlight, definitely on for the next day.

Bell and I got up early and picket up two other keen recruits to join the ascent. Wwe were pleased to find the car park empty when we arrived at about 7am, we would be the first on the route, always a winner…. Bell and I went for it first and the water was still flowing in the middle of the waterfall pretty strongly, but neither of the right or left lines were fully formed so it would require starting on the left and then crossing  the main flow to finish up the right. The climbing was really fun and not too difficult and I was making steady but good progress. I only had a few more meters to go before having to make the traverse right.

Tom climbing Shannon Falls just before the ice above and to the right collapses.
Tom climbing Shannon Falls just before the ice above and to the right collapses.

Things were looking good then the guys at the bottom started shouting, something was not right. Then there was a thunderously loud gushing sound – I quickly pulled left away from the water flow and looking right could see the center of the icefall collapsing. I held on as I could feel the ropes being tugged by falling ice, expecting to get a big pull which thankfully never came. I looked down at the guys who had run some distance from the bottom of the route to try and establish that Bell was OK and try and find out where the falling ice had come from.  Had something had detached from the top or what? Bell was fine but nobody knew where the collapse had initiated. I did spend some time thinking about whether to continue or lower off, but  lowered off as the only way across the fall would get you very wet (and the chance of something else big coming off seemed quite high.)

At the bottom Bell had been saved because of being under an overhang, but the ropes had been buried and even where the other guys were standing had been somewhat buried. We gathered our gear and got to somewhere safer. We were slightly disappointed we didn`t bag the route, but glad to be alive. Mostly glad to be alive!