After ascending Mount Kitchener in the morning, we casually packed up camp and started heading back out, around the west side of Snow Dome. It was another gorgeous day with warm (almost too warm) sun and very little wind. Last year we had exactly the same conditions around the same time of the year - early May.
We followed the standard tracks and then cut higher on the west side of Snow Dome before dropping the big packs and re-gearing with just the necessary glacier travel gear. It felt good to ski up with virtually no weight and we quickly made our way up to the broad summit area.
[Some pretty big holes as we work our way around the west shoulder of Snow Dome]
[Raf's team is ahead of us as we work our way up and around. This is the only real height gain on the way out - other than bagging the peak of course! :)]
[Another incredible day on the ice fields. JW with the Twins and Stuts behind him.]
[Cutting to climber's left, we leave the exit trail and start going for the summit of Snow Dome]
[A nice view of Clemenceau]
[TJ hugs the summit pole - maybe he wants to be a "summit pole dancer"? ;)]
[Summit pano from Snow Dome. ++]
[JW on Snow Dome. ++]
[JW and Vern on the summit of Snow Dome]
[Anton and TJ on the summit]
[Kitchener is higher!]
[Forbes and the Lyells are pretty high on my "to-do" list]
[Bryce is beckoning... ;)]
[Shackleton and Clemenceau through the Columbia / Edward gap]
The views from Snow Dome were very nice - not a cloud in the sky and a slight breeze to keep us cool. We were cautious around the summit area as there was very little snow cover, just as on Kitchener that morning. Probing only gave us around 1-2 feet of snow at the most.
After enjoying our 3rd 11,000er in two days we had another fantastic ski down to the packs where Ian and Kev were now waiting.
[A delightful ski back down to our packs]
The exit from the ice fields was simple but not completely without complications. I wasn't confident in the snow pack due to the very warm temperatures and virtually no overnight freeze, especially down lower on the ice field. TJ was pretty confident that the snow would probably be fine, especially considering our route down the headwall which would cut under the seracs of Snow Dome and escape through the least crevassed area of the lower glacier. I was remembering several incidents in the past few years from friends who descended in exactly the same conditions we were having and ended up with some pretty serious crevasse issues. TJ agreed with me that there was some cause for concern but he also pointed out that we were taking a different route and we couldn't make all our decisions based on past events in different years.
[Skiing out. You have to be careful that you don't stay too high on Snow Dome's south flank as you work your way around to the exit ramp. Staying too high means crevasse exposure.]
[See what I mean? These are the crevasses you definitely want to avoid!]
I guess we were both right. I was feeling a bit spooked and just didn't want to take any chances or rush anything on the way out. The way I saw it, the day was beautiful and what was the harm in waiting 3 hours or so? Some others in the group didn't see any reason not to enjoy some extra sun and so we settled in as a group, just above the headwall before the glacier rolled out to the ramp and produces more crevasses again. We spent the next few hours swapping stories and laughing at Kev's massively heavy kitchenware... :)
After a few hours of sitting in our own a few groups ski'd down past us. I once again met Josee and Fabrice - the only place I seem to run into them is on the Columbia Icefield! They had been up since 1am and ski'd Kitchener as a day trip. I think this gave us more impetus to get moving again and we ended up following them out. On hindsight this was worse than if we went down right at 3pm because we just ended up waiting for more melt in the end! Oh well. All's well that ends well right? Next time I might listen a bit more to TJ... MIGHT! :)
[We ski'd down to about the halfway point on the ramp before taking off the rope. Skiing down, roped, is a PITA but it's necessary when the conditions are thin or dicey. Note the tracks going right at the bottom? That's the crevasse path. We went left, through the shadow. There's ice fall exposure here but it's short - especially on the way down and the ice fall fills in the crevasses, which is nice.]
[Looking back at Anton skiing under the Snow Dome seracs]
[The Snow Dome seracs with Anton just visible underneath.]
I ended up 'racing' up the SnoCoach road and just managed to catch Josee and Fab leaving in their pickup. I hitched a ride to my truck at the climber's parking lot and surprised everyone else when they came up shortly after and found me casually standing by my parked truck already. :)
[Back at the snow coach staging area. You can barely spot someone skiing beside the snow coach road on the left.]
Overall this was another excellent ice fields trip. Lots of fun and good times with the boys and even though we still have to go back for South Twin, it's a good excuse to experience this fantastically wild place again. The crevasse incident on South Twin was scary, but served to remind all of us that it's not us 'conquering' mountains but rather it's us getting the privilege of enjoying areas that few humans manage to trample and if we're careful and work as a team we can enjoy this experience relatively safely.