Stanley Glacier Fire Guard and Shark Lake adventures, December 6 & 7, 2017
The first Parkland tour of the season (and mid-week at that) saw three retired members of the club in search of snow in the mountains. Linda and I arrived at Ivan’s in Canmore to find almost no snow. Dave had had to bow out so now there were three.
We took the Hwy 93 turnoff for the Banff-Windermere Parkway. Just over the Continental Divide into B.C. was our starting point, the trailhead for Stanley Glacier. Our goal was to ski up the Fire Guard bulldozed in this past summer to protect Sunshine Village from the Verdant Creek Fire burning in Kootenay National Park. As we drove over Vermilion Pass, we did a drive-by inspection of our intended route.
There was a little snow in the parking lot, but not a heck of a lot. We skinned up and proceeded up the hiking trail to cross the Vermilion River on the footbridge. After gaining some elevation, we left the trail to begin our bushwhack north above the river.
What goes up must come down and after some intimate encounters with bushes and young pines we found ourselves adjacent to the river once again. At least we were on the side we
wanted to be to ski up the fire guard. Linda remarked that not all skiers in the club would be enjoying themselves, but Bill thought it was great fun until he attempted to cross a side channel and his ski slipped out from underneath him. He thought that skins would take him anywhere and that they did, right into the Vermilion River! That knee hurt (a new pain) and Bill still needs to look up ACL.
We reached the bottom of the Fire Guard and much to our surprise found that others had crossed the Vermilion River on an ice bridge previously! We had already passed a similar crossing accessed from Hwy 93. Ah, but they wouldn’t have had the challenge of bushwhacking… As we were in the very upper reaches of the Vermilion, the river was not wide and was shallow, although it certainly had gathered more flow by the footbridge at the Stanley Glacier trailhead where we had started from.
Temperatures were mild, hovering just below zero Celsius, with a light breeze from the south-west. The humidity was high, which led to interesting hoar frost higher up and valley fog below. Up, up, up we went. The Fire Guard was wide, with quite a few boulders showing. Snow depth was only about a foot. Snowboarders had been here before, but we were alone this day. There were several steep pitches, and the steepest incline was measured at 35 degrees.
We neared the top of the Fire Guard below the headwall of Storm Mountain and Ivan skied into the pines for a lunch break. The hoar frost was thick and coming off the trees in the light breeze. Ivan pronounced it as rime, not hoar frost, and we had a discussion about surface hoar forming on the snow pack. “What did Felix say about humidity and surface hoar?”
Ivan proceeded to demonstrate that he has the ability to eat his lunch without using his paws!
After our respite, we climbed out of our hollow in the trees to begin the descent. Bill kept his skins on his tele skis, but Ivan and Linda went skinless. The fog in the river valley was beginning to burn off, and we were treated to better views of the surrounding peaks as time went on.
Bill being skinned up, led most of the descent, traversing across the Fire Guard as necessary. Ivan and Linda managed a few turns, as did Bill as his confidence level improved. On the steeper pitches, we took off our skis and walked down along the sides.
Upon reaching the bottom of the valley, we crossed over the ice bridge and climbed the short distance up to the highway. We then skied downstream between the highway and the river. Where it pinched out, Bill decided to climb the guardrail and walk back along the shoulder to the parking lot. Ivan and Linda elected to ski through the snirt (snow and dirt) and then back down along the Vermilion where they were ecstatic to observe several Willow Ptarmigan!
Linda led Bill back along the river to point out one particularly handsome Ptarmigan perched in a shrub who consented to being photographed by all of us. There were Ptarmigan tracks everywhere along that reach of the Vermilion.
Truly a highlight for all of us!
The feast that night was awesome as usual. Ivan’s son Andrew joined us at the table. Linda provided the appetizers of cheeses, sausage, and veggies while the cabbage rolls from Viva-Deli baked in the oven. Ivan had ample liquid painkiller to share, Stella Artois for potassium replenishment and a fine Scotch. Ivan and Andrew had also prepared a yummy soup to replenish our liquids. There was more to eat, including a variety of Christmas cookies baked by Linda and a sampling of cheesecakes provided by Ivan. Nobody left the table hungry!
We decided to plan for going up the Smith-Dorrien from Canmore on the second day, to search for skiable snow. The following morning Bill elected to spend the day in town because of a rough night, in part because of his knees. He had felt the other knee on the uptrack, but hadn’t noticed the new injury until he had begun walking along the highway. Must have been having too much fun on the Fire Guard to notice! He had also not listened to Linda’s professional advice of “ice for the first 24 hours”. In the middle of the night he had had to make his way by headlamp to Ivan’s fridge in search of ice. Linda reminded him that morning that as a trained Tour Leader and nurse she carried a ziplock bag that she could have filled with snow in the parking lot. Bill wished he was a better listener!
So they dropped Bill off at the best tea shop in Canmore (Communitea). Bill can vouch for the dark roast coffee and the lemon cream icing that topped the carrot cake muffin still warm out of the oven that he enjoyed before wandering around Canmore with his smartphone taking photos and hanging out at Elevation Place watching the climbers on the climbing walls and enjoying the library.
Ivan and Linda found snow at Shark Lake. The access involved some clambering over fallen trees and so Bill was glad he took the day off. After lunch at the Rose and Crown, Bill was just getting into Bill Clinton’s autobiography “My Life” when he noticed Linda and Ivan pulling into the parking lot to pick him up.
Ivan is a good host and we found snow, so it was a great start to the ski season for Parkland. As we stripped the sheets off the beds in the guest rooms, Ivan remarked that he had 30 hours before the next bunch of house guests arrived to go skiing!
Venturing into the playground along the Continental Divide – Chickadee Boom January 2017
Another cold weekend in the Canadian Rockies, but this did not deter a hardy band of skiers from Parkland Cross Country Ski Club on the first weekend of the New Year. The skiers met up at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre on the Friday night and enjoyed a bit of socializing before retiring. There were eight of us that evening, but two needed to bow out of the back-country tours arranged.
Chickadee Valley was on the agenda Saturday morning. After a good breakfast in the kitchen of the Lake Louise Alpine Centre (LLAC), we fired up the vehicles in the rear parking lot while the CP Rail diesel locomotives idled on the siding beside the mainline. It was -23° Celsius. Another beautiful blue-sky day in the Rockies!
We backtracked along the Trans Canada Highway to the turnoff for Radium and headed south, climbing out of the Bow Valley. Chickadee is the first valley across the Great Divide.
We were led by Ivan D. and assisted by Dion B., with Amanda B., Margo and George C., and Bill F. rounding out the complement. The trail was firm, having been packed down by various users including snowshoers. Eventually Ivan deviated from the hard pack to the left hand side of the valley, leading us on a trail-breaking exercise through the trees. Dion took a turn breaking trail and finding a path, and when it was Bill’s turn he remembered how much work breaking trail through deep soft snow really is. Ivan enriched the sharing of his knowledge of many years of back-country skiing by telling us how guides think and what they do for their clients. A guide will lead his or her clients directly across a frozen creek by sidestepping down the bank (and in so doing preparing an easier surface for climbing back up on the return journey). A guide will bring down snow on the opposite bank if need be with his or her ski poles so the clients have an easier time climbing up. Being a guide is hard work! We eventually found our way out of the trees and joined a main trail along the creek bottom. As the valley opened up with views of the surrounding peaks, we continued upstream until we reached the lunch spot. I think we overshot by about 10 m according to Ivan’s GPS.
Lunch was quick, and eaten standing up, as we were still in the shadow of the mountains. One of the party expressed a desire to look for a sunny spot, but this didn’t happen. Bill amused the group by pulling out his trusty thermometer, which registered – 23.5° Celsius air temperature and – 23 ° C snow temperature. Unfortunately, it was too cold for Bill’s iPhone to capture the image for the trip report. Not soon enough for some folks, Ivan donned his signature poncho and led us back down the valley to catch up to those skiers who had already begun the ski out.
Ivan offered a couple of coaching tips to Bill, who has only had to pay for one skiing lesson in his life. When skiing out through the trees, remove your hands from the straps of your ski poles to prevent dislocating a shoulder. You might drop a pole once or twice and have to retrieve it, but this is preferable. Bill took Ivan’s advice after catching a basket a couple of times. The second tip has already proved its weight in blueberry tea. Ivan told Bill he was leaning too far forward which affected his balance. His descriptive analogy was to pretend “your ass is over the toilet” or as Bill considered this, “your royal bum is over the throne”. This resonated and Bill is still utilizing the technique even on skinny skis from Great Chief Park to Heritage Ranch. On the last part of the ski out, Ivan led Bill through more soft snow through the trees, which was way more fun than clattering down the hard pack.
Back at the hostel, Bill tucked into the rest of his lunch and poured out some tea from his thermos. Ivan asked, “Would you like some real tea?” And so marked Bill’s introduction to Ivan’s blueberry tea! Bill had a pretty good idea what Ivan was like based on phone calls discussing options for mountain tours, so he was gratified his assumptions proved correct. After the tea party, we “tea-toured” over to Bill Peyto’s Restaurant for our Saturday night feast.
Sunday morning dawned even colder at minus 27 Celsius. At least one of the vehicles registered – 29° C in a cold pocket on the way back to the Continental Divide. This time we parked at the Boom Lake trai lhead on the Alberta side.
It was cold gearing up in the parking lot, but those finished first found a sunny spot by the Parks Canada sign. A group photo was taken and then Bill’s iPhone went into hibernation for the rest of the winter. On the ski in on the hard pack, Ivan entertained us by teaching us more guide logic. You might think a guide is just being chatty, but every time a guide meets someone coming out of the back country they inquire about conditions. An outgoing snowboarder told us that the slopes at the head of Boom Lake had already avalanched. Avalanche conditions were moderate as Bill recalls, but with persistent slabs and deep buried slabs being the main considerations along with terrain features to be cognizant of. Along the way in, Ivan stopped and asked how many avalanche slopes had we already crossed. Turns out we had crossed one already while in the trees. This led to a lively discussion about runout slopes, tree scarring, etcetera. We reached the end of the hiking trail and skied onto Boom Lake which was just gorgeous. Of course no photos could be taken. Ivan shared the 10% angle rule of thumb for judging the extent of the runout zone.
After lunch in the trees to get out of the light breeze on the lake, the skiers headed out. Bill kept his skins on for the duration to maximize control on the ski out, which included crossing some icy patches on the trail where springs were continuing to flow. Ivan amused himself and stayed warm by skiing both ways several times so he could keep an eye on Bill. Bill felt safe knowing the guy with the first aid kit had his backside. Upon reaching the sunshine along Highway 93,
Bill noted “Gandalf” cut quite a figure with helmet, goggles, white beard, and flowing purple poncho. In fact, Parks Canada driving by took a second look at him to make sure it wasn’t Gandalf.
If you are lucky enough to go skiing with Ivan, expect to learn lots about safe touring in the backcountry and how to improve your skiing if you are up for it. If you’re really lucky, you might even enjoy some of his infamous “blueberry tea”!
Nigel Pass and Hilda Peak December 2016
A cold Arctic air mass had blown into the province with temperatures about twenty degrees below seasonal, but that didn’t deter an intrepid groups of skiers from Parkland. There were second thoughts, of course, but there was snow in the mountains and not much on the prairies… The group of five met up at the hostel at Rampart Creek on Friday evening.
Dave A. had come up the day before and took the opportunity to break trail along the old horse trail part way up Nigel Pass. It was cold, he reported! He skied for three hours without a break and by the time he returned to the trail head he was done. Dave had skied the hiking trail before, but not the horse trail, and as Tour Leader felt a certain responsibility to scout out the route. We certainly appreciated his trail-breaking efforts!
Dave, John and Linda D., Barb C., and Bill F. left the hostel shortly after nine on Saturday morning. We all piled into the big Suburban and headed up the Icefields Parkway. The temperature was minus 22 Celsius. The weather forecast from Parks Canada had mentioned an upper level inversion with warmer temperatures, but there was no sign of this on our drive!
Bill was trying out a new pair of tele skis (new to him) that he had bought from Todd. He also had brought his new hiking poles with the powder baskets. But because of the cold weather and a certain laziness, he had not tried out the combination in town before the tour. So he was working harder than he should have had to as the poles seemed too short! Bill had woken up with a sore throat which he was hoping to attribute to the super-heated air in his upper bunk and ice-cold floor of the cabin. I think Bill was the first to skin up after expending much of his energy side-stepping and herringboning up the steeper pitches of the trail.
Past the Warden’s cabin and hitching posts we climbed, warmed up by our exertions. Dave and Barb led the way, with Linda as the assistant TL acting as sweep. What a pleasant surprise it was to round a corner and find Dave and Barb enjoying the warmth, sunshine and a snack in a little sun pocket! Bill pulled out his thermometer and it read minus 5! In the snow it read minus 2. Just a beautiful little spot with a long south facing approach, backdropped by large conifers and no wind.
Dave had skied a long way the day before, but eventually we ran out of track and started to break trail again. The snow was dry and deep, with skis settling a foot or so. It was easy enough to follow the old horse trail through openings in the trees. Eventually we reached the upper headwaters of the creek and had a good view to the pass ahead. It had become a beautiful blue sky day, with a light breeze. Mindful of the shortness of the December day, we decided to stop short of the pass and return back to the trailhead. All told, we were out about six hours on the skis and had skied about 12 km return. Bill thought skiing at 7000 feet was still hard work, even with just a light day pack. We returned to the hostel about 4:30 p.m.
The Saturday evening feast included various cheeses (Brie, Goat with wild blueberries, Goat with fig, and Blue) accompanied by artisan crackers and a bottle of ten year old Spanish wine. This was followed by a home-made soup, Caesar salad, and lasagna. Dessert was Tiramisu. Our TL retired to the sauna after dinner, while Bill took to his bunk.
The second night was even hotter in the top bunk, while the floor remained freezing cold. Bill’s boots were frozen in place the morning after. He definitely had a cold now but didn’t know it, and all night long he said to himself, “I’m not skiing tomorrow. Maybe I can just hang out at the hostel?”
After a good breakfast to start the day, all packed up and headed up the Parkway to Hilda Creek. We skinned up at the road side and Bill kept his skins on for the duration. As we climbed up past the hostel, the guests came out to cheer us on. One astute observer remarked on the “tele reunion” and asked “Are those Chili bindings?” Back at the Ramparts, Ken the hostel guy had noticed the toes of Bill’s boots sticking out from his overboots and asked “Three pins! How are they working for you?”
It was cold with light flurries, but as we climbed up above the hostel we warmed up. Snow was quite deep at times and it was a pleasure to be up high. Dave did ask Bill if he was feeling all right, and Bill said something about old age. We traversed the slope and noted some old lumpy bumpy snow from a previous slide. Avalanche conditions were moderate in the alpine and had been forecast to drop to low, but this did not occur. We skied down the glade where the Hilda YoYo skiers play and onto the moraine. John demonstrated that if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough. It wasn’t just John, of course, who was trying hard enough. The ski out along the creek was pleasurable and we were out about noon.
Back to the Ramparts to retrieve the two remaining vehicles and Dave had a surprise waiting for him. The back window of his minivan was smashed and there was glass everywhere! But nothing was stolen and so we blamed the snow plow we had met earlier. It must have thrown up a stone or a chunk of ice at the minivan which was parked in the nearest spot. We said our goodbyes and Dave headed down the road with the heat on full blast, no doubt. Barb followed and then John and Linda and Bill. We never saw Dave again and figured he must have been going as fast as he could on his way back to Stony Plain.
It was a great weekend, enjoyed by all. Thanks to Dave and Linda for their leadership! Great snow, better weather than expected, and of course fine food, wine and beer, and comradery!
Paradise Valley Tour
Submitted by Dianne Rasmussen
On March 12-13, 2016 four intrepid women (Judy, Dianne, Assistant Linda and Leader Marilyn) set off in search of Paradise—Valley that is. Warm weather had us doubting if we could find snow but we forged ahead never-the-less. We arrived at Castle Mountain hostel in good time and were greeted by an incredible ruckus made by 16 women aged (like a fine wine and rather full of it by then) in their 40’s to 60’s. They apparently were former girl guides who get together annually at Castle Mountain to revive their camp days of singing around the campfire. And sing and dance they did with abandon. Made me wish I’d been a girl guide too all those years ago. They obviously had also earned their cooking badges given the feasts they took turns preparing for all. Beware, they have already booked the hostel the same weekend next year.
We arrived at the Ribbon Creek hostel at 9am on January 23rd, 2016 to meet up with the rest of the Parkland Ski Club. As we live in Cochrane, it was only a 50 minute drive for us. So we decided not spend the nights at the hostel.
The temperature was a pleasant – 5 Celsius, with no wind. There was three centimeters of new snow from the previous night, so near perfect trail conditions.After introductions and breakfast clean-up, we packed up from the hostel and arrived at the Elk Pass parking lot at 10:15am. There, we set out on the trail with the group after waxing up our skis. It was a blue wax day, which worked for the entire day.
The initial climb from the parking lot was challenging, as this is the first time I have been out on skiis in the past 2 years. But after a number of breaks, we arrived at the summit of Blueberry Hill around 1:00pm. Once at the top, we took a lunch break with the group. The views of the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes and surrounding mountains where spectacular. Everyone enjoyed the surroundings and I’m sure the Whiskey Jacks enjoyed our company also.
There was a group of Japanese skiers ahead of us, and we kept crossing paths on the trails during the day. When coming down from the Hydro Line, some of the Japanese skiers elected to take off their skis and walk down the steep hill. This made it challenging to follow them down, as they walked down the middle of the hill, and did not keep to the side. Lisa came down the hill with lightning speed, after maneuvering around some of those Japanese skiers. Luckily, once at the bottom of the hill, Ivan taught them the proper way to descend down the hill, so that they do not become hazards to other skiers coming down the hill.
We decided to take the Fox Creek Trail back to the parking lot, and it presented new challenges during the day. While on the trail, we found that the snow was hard packed and icy. We had to ski with caution through this area, as to avoid the hazards of trees and slipping.
Once we got back to the parking lot, we added up the distance we traveled. We skied 18.5 km for the day and it was good to get back to the car and back to the hostel. Being the first time I was on skis in 2 years, it was a great day and workout.
On the way back to the hostel, we stopped at the Kananaskis Visitors’ Center for a quick visit, as Marilyn wanted to pick up some maps and brochures of the area, for future reference.
Back at the hostel, we were all treated to Ivan’s “Blueberry tea”, followed by appetizers and good conversation by the fireplace.
This was also the first time, in about 15 years, that I was able to enjoy a fondue meal. The whole group and I (approximately 14 people) sat at the table to enjoy cheese and chicken broth fondues, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, and bread. This was then followed by dessert fondues of chocolate and bumble berry.
Shortly after the meal and washing dishes, my father and I said goodnight to the group around 10:30pm, and drove back home to Cochrane. I was very impressed with the camaraderie of everyone and how they all contributed to both the meal and the dishwashing. You have a great group of people and a great community in the club.
I would like to thank Marilyn for organizing this trip and Ivan for taking time to teach me new skills and techniques in back country skiing.