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!