Day 1: December 27th
Took us (Cody, Armarn, Nathan, Robert, Ilya and I) 5.25 hours to hike 10km! Pretty good! Had a 60lb pack with 4L of wine (8lbs!). Had powder mashed potato and sausage. Played cards then went off to bed.
Day 2: December 28th
We woke up at the crack of dawn; 6:45am. Chicken Noodle Soup then skinning up towards the knob between Gandalf and Shadowfax just north of the hut. An hour to the top then a great run down. 45min later we were back at the top and heading down a new, but much more enjoyable route, off the south side of the knob. Was phenomenal! We stopped at the cabin for lunch and dug out a ramp down to the creek for a better spot to get water – was fine handiwork. Had wraps for lunch then skinned back up to hit the same line again. We did a pit at the top because we wanted to see the persistent layer – our observations were of a small well bonded storm layer resting above a well bonded snowpack. We finished down to the hut made a snack and played Secret Hitler with cards till friends arrived at the hut (Martin and Will arrived at this time). For dinner, pasta with a sauce of sundried tomato pesto, vegetables and cream cheese. Then a game of “Oh Hell!”. Before heading off to bed I took measurements of the cabin. Great Day!
Day 3: December 29th
6:45am again. Oatmeal. We had 5ish cm overnight and it was a stormy morning. We headed up Cabin Hill about three-quarters of the way – we were noticing slaby storm snow about size 1 and some size 2 in unsupported higher open bowls. We did a second lap down the pillow fields which was fun but also the snow was a bit heavier (it was near 0C). We came in for lunch and awaited the storms passing. Sadly, Nathan’s journey was at an end with civilization beckoning. We went out again when the snowing stopped (the alpine winds were still high but didn’t really affect us). We had two great runs back on the north side of the cabin before 30 people showed up to the hut. It will definitely be cozy. More pesto pasta (leftover from yesterday), 10-person Secret Hitler, Cribbage with Cody, the smell of grass and the sight of Orion. Clear skies tomorrow!
Day 4: December 30th
6:45am. Armarn’s side of the cabin had an interesting night with 6 people stuffed in 8 feet of space. There were 32 people in the loft. We actually woke at 6:30am to escape the crowd. With clear skies forecasted and the weather looking promising, we started up towards the Frodo West Knob. Martina and Will joined along with us. The winds were blistering and the alpine snow very windblown, however, we observed no wind slabs. My guess was that winds were sufficiently high and the amount of precipitation low enough that the slabs couldn’t develop. From the top of the knob we had some excellent runs to the west. My favourite run was the steep treed run with great pillows to the far west of the knob down the ridge. We continued up the back side of the Peregrine Frodo Col, skied to the upper lake over the windswept hard snow, before heading back up to Return of the King to finish off the day. Thankfully, some people were going into tents this time tonight so it will be a better sleep tonight. Ilya’s turn for dinner and we had wraps with delicious candied salmon.
Day 5: December 31st
The best day of them all – the weather was continuing to clear and the wind had stopped. The now had settled and the conditions were ripe to ski most anything. Our goal for the day was the Shadofax Colouir and our plan was to head out around the east ridge of Shadowfax. The way that the chutes drape off it, some in gentle “S” bends, brings the thought of a horse’s mane to mind: The Great White Mane of Shadowfax. In summer I guess it would be the Great Green Mane of Shadowfax, but no one skis it in summer and who cares unless your skiing it. Skiing > Climbing. #banter. We debated going around the north side of Shadowfax, but ultimately decided with our original route so that we could take pictures and gain beta on our way across the lake. We didn’t really see an advantage to one route over the other otherwise.
We would quickly be proven wrong because along the eastern most part of the Mane on the south side, the treed area became very steep and difficult to navigate. We ran into a steep small impassable gully and had to step down to potentially get around it. Armarn was tired from the past three days of skiing and decided that he was going to turn back. Rob, Martin, Ilya and Cody joined him initially, with Will and me eager to continue on. Below the gully Will was returning his skins to his skis (I had kept mine on) when Cody popped out behind us and said he changed his mind saying he would have regretted not joining us if Will and I did find success. With skins on we travelled below the gully and then no more than 30m before encountering a 15m opening in the trees. It consisted of a very steep convex roll with broad steepish benches with 5m cliffs overhead. Below appeared to continue lower in elevation to skirt larger cliffs. We were only 100m as the crow flies and 20m in elevation from a broad mellow bench according to our topo map. We decided to bootpack up about 40m in elevation to gain one of the broad steepish benches. We crossed one at a time with speed and thankfully just beyond this section we reached the mellower and safer slopes we saw on our topo maps. I would not recommend the same route to another party. If I were to do this route again, I would recommend either trying to go lower below the cliff bands or immediately after the first steep gully we encountered, switch backing up about 60m in elevation before traversing across to the mellower slopes. Rounding the eastern edge of the Mane we came into a beautiful bowl on the north side of the Mane. We noticed that the north side of Shadowfax looked relatively flat and clear of trees and without overhead hazard. In hindsight, this probably would have been the better route. The ascent to the top of the colouir was easy and we ate lunch at the top with great views of the surrounding valleys.
The colouir was wide, steep and a glorious 400m run. Unlike Return of the King, every meter of elevation from peak to lake could be skied uninterrupted by traversing or a ski out and it was fabulous. The bottom 200m opened up to a wide fan with gorgeous light powder.
Two others saw us from across the way on Cabin Hill. Back at the cabin we ran into Armarn, Rob and Abbi, Rob’s girlfriend. Rob, Abbi and Armarn has attempted to ski one of the neighboring chutes to the colouir on the Mane that could be accessed from skinning up the slopes north of the hut rather than circling around the back, but they turned around when they encountered some slabiness and signs of cracking. From Cody, Will’s and my own observations, we hadn’t noticed any instabilities and so we were still curious and wanted to check out their skin track and the snow for ourselves and see if we didn’t feel uncomfortable getting to the top of the chutes. Rob was also very keen, particularly after seeing us complete the colouir but Rob had promised Abbi that he would ski with her. He successfully pleaded with Abbi to leave her and join Cody, Will and I. Armarn and Abbi were happy to do a lap off Cabin Hill; Armarn was eager to ski the west ridge. Up at their previous turn around point, Will and I did some quick observations after which our group decided we were all comfortable continuing. The top of the chute immediately west of the colouir had a wide and gentle bowl like entrance. Above the mini-bowl were steep tall cliffs with many birds about their business – I presume they have nests for the winter in the cracks. Along with the wide top section the chute had a wide bottom section sharing the same fan as the colouir. The chute had an interesting section in the middle where you can do a steep 5m straightline at 45 degrees, or cut up to skiiers right into the trees, descend a few turns and then cut back into the chute below the crux. One might also have been able to ski that ridge line down between the chute we were skiing and its west-adjacent chute. At the bottom, Armarn and Abbi met us having successfully skied the west side of Cabin Hill. It was a fun run they claimed but Armarn was now jealous, and I convinced everyone to pull the headlamps so we could do a night run down the last chute. We scurried to the top just as the light was beginning to fade, tossed our headlamps on and began our descent with Armarn and Abbi leading the way. This last chute was much narrower and so for those at the back the chute was a bit skied out for them. Jump turns (like me) or half-pipe style (like Cody) were necessary. Mid way down I lost my ski. I was a bit worried it would be gone forever, but thankfully with 5 steps up the chute I ran into it (phew…). The bottom half opened up into another brilliant fan of powder. And we all crossed the lake fully exhausted by still filled with adrenaline and joy. Skiing is fun. I might have to do it again.
Secret Hitler, Cribbage, Wine, and a naked lap later, the New Year had begun. Welcome 2019!