After talking to Steven and Wietse about their recent trips up Powderface Ridge (Steven 'shoed and Wietse skied) I decided that with avalanche danger too high again, I had to so something - even if it was just another easy objective.
I've been getting some smack talk lately from friends on my "lowly objectives" this winter. I know it's all in good nature, but trust me - I'd rather be off bagging some more serious stuff. I made a pact with my wife a few years ago when she started catching on to the fact that a lot of people were dying each year doing exactly what I do - backcountry skiing. The pact was simple. I would not intentionally go into the backcountry if avalanche ratings were 'considerable' or higher for that area. Period. No exceptions, unless I'm out for a few days and the danger spikes while I'm out there. Ironically this year I even bought an avalanche air pack to make things even safer, but the ratings have been too high almost every weekend.
I'm not an idiot. I know that avalanche ratings are only part of the ALP TRUTH mantra, but in my mind people (including myself) are dumb. We tend to think we're making good decisions but then we make stupid, illogical ones anyway - all the time! I've found that it's best to set standards right away and make decisions based on those pre-conditions rather than try to convince myself why I should break them "this one time". It's that "one time" that kills. I'm far from perfect but this is what keeps me low during thunderstorms and off snow slopes in unsafe conditions. It makes for some mighty boring weekends but I'm still alive, blogging about them - so there's that! :)
Back to the mighty Powderface Ridge. I needed Wietse to convince me that this was worth skiing. He did a good job and by 09:00 I was walking past people at the winter gate near Elbow Falls with my skis slung on my shoulder. They were giving me weird looks and a few of them shouted over that I wasn't going to find enough snow. I bravely ignored them and put the ski's on right by the gate - in the dirt-covered snow in the ditch.
Conditions were very, very fast. Basically I could hardly feel the skins since the packed trail was so icy! I nervously hoped that it would start melting while I was higher up. After the first hour or so the trail steepened. I was the first one up on this day, which was nice. The birds were chirping and the pine scent was wonderful in the warm air. I managed to hit the pass in 2 hours - about an hour quicker than I was expecting! I decided to take Wietse's advice and try to skin about the bump to my left in the trees to the col between the bump and the summit of Powderface Ridge. This kind of sucked. The trees were thick and the snow was crap. I managed it, but after looking back at the bump from the col I decided on the way back I'd just go up and over it.
[You can see from the sn'ice on the road that it's going to be fast...]
[The trail starts steep from the parking lot - and then you lose most of that height to the creek. Really fun on the way back.]
[Looking at the hill back down to the creek. It was so icy on the way back that I managed to get halfway back up this hill and pole almost to the top before taking off the skis.]
[It's a lovely, lovely morning. Not a lot of snow, but the packed sn'ice on the trail will last for a few more warm cycles before giving up.]
[There's much more snow higher up - especially when the trees get thicker. This was not easy skiing back down! The snow is icy with a rock hard crust that's almost impenetrable. Survival skiing at best - but fast.]
[As the trail approached the pass it got steeper. This is looking back at Prairie Mountain.]
[At the pass, the 'bump' on the left.]
[Going around the bump sucked.]
[Around the bump, looking ahead to Powderface Ridge. I managed to find enough snow on climber's left to ski almost to the top.]
I skied almost to the summit of Powderface, which surprised me a bit. The views were great from the top and the wind was reasonable, allowing me the time to enjoy my solitude. I did see one person summit the 'bump' but s/he never continued to Powderface Ridge.
[Looking back at 'the bump' with a person on it.]
[Zoomed out view from the same location as the previous shot.]
[Vern on the summit of Powderface Ridge]
[Pano looking south and west includes Cornwall, Glasgow, Remus, Romulus and Nihahi Ridge. ++]
[Pano looking west over Nihahi Ridge. ++]
[Pano looking north. ++]
[Pano looking east over the prairie. ++]
[Remus and Romulus - seems like a LONG time ago that I did these two!]
[Fisher Peak and Fullerton]
[Cougar Peak was a favorite from this area]
[Sorry 'bout the weird color cast - this is zoomed in all the way to Yamnuska!]
[And this is Blackrock and Devil's Head]
[Calgary is clearly visible.]
I went over the bump on return, carrying my skies up the last little bit. This was the only section steep enough to slide but it was locked up pretty tight. This was actually not good, because I was moving too quickly and the trail would still be icy! Sure enough! My ride back down the trail was very fast - I scared the daylights out of a few hiking groups as they could hear the scraping of my skis only moments before I passed them at mach 1! ;)
[Pano from the 'bump' with Nihahi Ridge and the pass at the lower right. ++]
My round trip time of 4.5 hours was only possible because of the perfectly fast, bobsled trail conditions. Not for the faint of heart - but definitely worth doing on skis!!