It was finally time. It was time for me to give in. After years of temptation, years of friends cajoling and battering me over the issue and years of resistance, it was finally time for me to ski at Roger's Pass in the Selkirk mountain range of British Columbia.
Steven had already fallen in love with the area and has climbed quite a few of the mountains in and around the pass. Last weekend, while we were settling in for the evening in the cozy Peyto Hut the topic came up again. We should do the Youngs Traverse in Rogers Pass next time the weather and avy conditions were good for a high level, exposed alpine ski traverse. I agreed that it sounded fun.
Four days later Ben, Steven and I were planning yet another trip - this time conditions were ripe for a Youngs Traverse. I was finally going to Rogers Pass! Why all the resistance to Rogers Pass on my part over the years? Simple really. I have a family. I already take too much time away from them to scramble, hike, ski and climb loose piles of snow and rock on weekends. Glacier National Park and Rogers Pass is around a 4 hour drive from my house - in perfect road conditions. Doing a day trip there is bordering on silly and taking two full days out of my weekend seemed a bit selfish when my kids were younger. Those are simply the 'balances of life'. You can't do everything, all the time. With my kids getting older and more independent and my wife busy studying, I was ready to give it a shot.
Ironically we decided on a day trip anyway! ;)
The avalanche maps were green at all levels from Jasper to Waterton for the last weekend of February. The weather maps were showing sun and cool temperatures for Saturday, so this is the day we choose to do our traverse. We knew that the skiing wouldn't be classic Rogers Pass knee to waist deep powder, but this was a high alpine traverse and we were doing it for the views. The ski quality was a distant third next to stability and clear skies. Ben and Steven drove to my house and we crashed for 4 hours on Friday night before rising around 03:00 and bombing down a clear and dry Trans Canada highway to Rogers Pass.
The drive was perfect for winter. We pulled into the Illecillewaet / Asulkan parking lot in just under 4 hours from my house and started to gear up. We weren't the only ones leaving the parking lot but soon we were on our own after the initial grunt to the road bed above. The air was cool and fresh as we took in views of Sir Donald already from the road. Soon we were past the bridge to the Wheeler Hut and proceeding up the shared Illecillewaet Glacier / Asulkan Valley trail. The trail was as hard as you can get without the snow being solid ice. We knew it would be super slick on the descent. I started wondering if it was time to get my skis tuned. I didn't realize how fortuitous that thought would be...
[Mount Sir Donald looms over the Wheeler Hut approach road]
We were on the shared trail just before it branches to the Illecillewaet to the left and Asulkan to the right, when I heard a shattering sound from my right ski. When I glanced down I was horrified to see springs, a plastic screw and bits of plastic on the trail! One of my TLT Radical ST Dynafit bindings had blown a post. As I took a closer look, I knew my day was over before it had even begun. 8 hours of driving. A perfect day. And I was about to sit in the truck and wait it out.
Talk about depressing!!
I'm not sure what made me try it, but I wasn't ready to give up just yet. I picked up the springs / screw and re-assembled the post as best as I could. There was clearly a large piece busted off - almost half the sheath was missing from around the metal support post! Using duct tape (!!) I rebound the binding together before tightening the plastic screw. I couldn't believe that it actually held together! I reinforced the contraption using an orange ski strap and we proceeded up trail. Secretly I was expecting the binding to blow apart at any moment, but I figured worst case scenario I would just ski down with my heels loose - tele style. It would be much worse to blow a toe piece than the heel. Just as I finished the final touches of repair, an ACC group passed us. One of the group told me he carries a spare toe piece on ski tours and that got me thinking that I might start doing the same.
[Sidebar - Do I still trust Dynafit ski bindings? Yes. I do. It might seem crazy to some, but I replaced my busted bindings with another set of Dynafits - even lighter than the pair that broke. My old pair were the TLT Radical ST and I replaced them with the TLT Speed Radical - essentially a stripped down ST without brakes. Why? It's simple. I used the hell out of my ST's and they performed for years with no problems. I believe the plastic parts get stressed over time. This was the second time a plastic piece broke - I probably should have replaced them already after skiing Massive, the last time they broke, rather than just repair them. The way Dynafits are designed, you're fine as long as the toe piece is OK. I kept the old toe pieces from my ST's and I'll carry a pair with me on every long ski tour I do. Dynafits have a few huge advantages over other bindings IMHO including their weight, low profile, effecient design for touring as only the toe of the boot lifts and they're easy to repair in the field. YMMV of course.]
We followed the ACC group up rolling, icy snow hillocks in the valley leading to Mount Sir Donald on the left and the Illecillewaet Glacier on the right. Eventually we paused - not 100% sure which track to follow as everything was very tracked out and there were uphill tracks going left and right. Steven had a GPS track but it wasn't obvious which way to go. We ended up choosing the right hand track while the ACC group followed another couple up the left hand one. I'm not sure if the left hand one worked but I do know that we ended up getting far ahead of the other groups by going right.
[Following two groups up the rolling, icy hillocks along the Illecillewaet approach. Lookout Mountain on the right - very foreshortened here!]
The next few hours were spent on an icy ascent track, climbing up, up and MORE up. Everything was foreshortened. We could see Lookout Mountain's NW summit towering above us with ski tracks descending from Lookout Col and steep couloirs from the summit just west of Lookout. It was obvious that people were skiing some pretty intense terrain. The snow was locked up very tight - almost too tight. We had a tough time negotiating some of the terrain simply because it was so rock-hard. We probably could have donned ski crampons but we just didn't need them. If there was more exposure I'm sure we would have taken them out in spots. It took a long time, but eventually we were near the terminus of the Illecillewaet Glacier (aka 'the Illy' by cool people and me from now on since I want to sound cool...;)).
[The camera only sees 'blue' in the cold morning shadows as we start ascending climber's right of the Illy approach valley.]
[This slope was very steep and very packed out / icy]
[As we got higher the terrain became more interesting]
[Nearing the glacier terminus - this almost looks like a crevasse!]
[Looking back at our approach up the moraine on the left and hwy 1 as it gets smaller and smaller far below. ++]
[Finally on the Illecillewaet Glacier! Mount Sir Donald on the left and Lookout Mountain still looming in the distance on the right. ++]
We followed an obvious skin track up the steep roll on the toe of the Illy and marveled at the stunning views that were opening up behind us. Eagle Peak, Avalanche Mountain, Terminal Peak, Sir Donald and Uto were all fairly close by. Across Hwy 1 we could see the hulking mass of Mount Rogers with its impressive and attractive south face / couloir route and Sifton and Grizzly too. We were in for an amazing high line traverse! The temperature was cold on the glacier, -14 with a stiff wind making it feel like at least -20. As we ascended the long draw towards Lookout Mountain there was no sign of anyone behind us. Somehow we had gotten way ahead of the other groups. By some minor miracle, my binding was holding together nicely. I tried using the heel lifts but that was pushing things too far - the heel peice would rotate every time I tried using the lifts and my brakes would engage. This meant taking off the ski and re-torquing the heel piece. I didn't feel comfortable doing this on the steep, icy slopes so I didn't bother using the heel lifts on that binding. I was just happy to be ascending - I didn't want to push it too far.
[Ascending the Illy towards Lookout Mountain]
[Stunning views behind us include Lookout col and Glacier Crest on the left and Eagle Mountain on the right. ++]
[A long, gradual ascent towards Lookout Mountain's south end]
[Ski tracks down from Lookout Col and Glacier Crest]
Lookout Mountain is lower than the Illy. But as we skied along its north ridge to the end, we figured out why it's called what it is. The views were mind blowing - especially to the north and west. I was officially in love with a new range of Canadian mountains! By now we were finally in the warm sunshine and enjoyed a short break with views in every direction. We could even spot Youngs Peak directly to the South. We reluctantly tore away from the pleasant summit of Lookout and continued up the Illy towards Youngs Peak.
[Summit panorama showing from R to L, Neve Station, Illecillewaet Crag, Terminal Peak, Mount Sir Donald, Uto, Eagle Peak, Avalanche Mountain and Mount Rogers. ++]
[Looking north from Lookout Mountain. ++]
[Mount Sir Donald and Uto Peak]
[Mount Rogers and Hermit Mountain on the right. Mount Sifton, Grizzly and Ursus Minor on the left.]
[Mount Jupiter has three summits from L to R, Leda, Pollux (highest), Castor. The Sappire Col is to the right of Jupiter. The Asulkan Glacier is in front of Jupiter.]
[Looking straight down to the Mousetrap and the Asulkan exit valley.]
[Heading back onto the Illy Glacier. ++]
The glacier rolled and curved its way to Youngs Peak. Other mountains slowly came into full view, tempting us with their apparent routes to the top, including Neve Station and Illecillewaet Crag. It took about an hour but didn't seem long before we were staring across the final elevation drop to the heavily corniced north ridge of Youngs. I was glad for the crampons on my pack as we descended the steep roll just before the ridge and started skinning upwards. Soon the terrain was too steep for reasonable skinning and we traded the skis for crampons and axes. For some reason the warm sun stopped working at this transition and a bitterly cold wind cut through us. We climbed the final 150 vertical meters in all our layers - just trying to thaw out again! Great care was taken to avoid the massive cornice on our left - triggering this feature would not be pleasant as there is an alarming precipice on the east side of Youngs!
[Looking back over Lookout Mountain. ++]
[We finally spot the groups that were ahead of us down in the Illecillewaet Valley!]
[Youngs Peak finally shows up. This was the warmest part of the day on the Illy. Mount Fox on the L with Selwyn, Hasler and Feuz behind.]
[Gorgeous Youngs Peak from the Illy Glacier]
[Grunting up the lower north ridge on Youngs]
[Looking back at the other groups on the Illecillewaet Glacier]
[A steep grunt on firm snow ahead!]
As expected, the views from the summit of Youngs did not disappoint. We were delighted to take photos of many other peaks and glaciers - planning many future trips in the 30 minutes we were on top. I was especially psyched because my binding was still holding together by some miracle. I was feeling so confident in my Red-Green duct tape repair that I was now talking about locking in my heels for the steep ski off of the summit!
[Vern on the summit of Youngs Peak]
[Stunning summit views over the Illy include (R to L) Donkin, Purity, Micheal, Feuz, Hasler, Fox, Witch Tower, Caribou Peak, Mount Macoun, Neve Station, Illecillewaet Crag, Terminal South and North, Sir Donald, Uto, Eagle, Avalanche, Hermit, Rogers, Sir Sanford, Sifton, Grizzly... ++]
[Looking over the Asulkan and west at (L to R), Terminal, Sir Donald, Uto, Eagle, Avalanche, Rogers, Sifton, Gizzly, Ursus, Iconoclast, Sorcerer, Afton, Dome, Jupiter, Bonney. ++]
[The huge Dawson massif with Mount Fox in front. There are multiple summits on Dawson.]
[Mount Macoun sits on the southern end of the Illecillewaet Glacier. The Bugaboo to Rogers Traverse goes right past it from the glacier on the far right. ++]
[Beautiful Mount Sir Donald. ++]
[Slightly zoomed pano of peaks to the north over hwy 1 and Rogers Pass. Includes giants such as Sir Sanford, Iconoclast and Sorcerer. ++]
[Mount Bonney looms over Mount Jupiter]
[Looking over our descent route to Asulkan Col with Mount Bonney looming over Jupiter. ++]
After spending around 30 minutes alone at the summit, we decided it was time to enjoy our long ski back to the truck! Wow. The skiing on the upper mountain did not disappoint! I was a bit tentative at first, fully expecting my left binding to blow apart, resulting in my tumbling down the mountain. As I approached the steep roll I chatted briefly with a couple who were ascending. I asked some questions about the best line to the hut (as I'd never been in this valley before) and they told me that skier's right was steeper but probably better snow too. I mentioned my binding and they smiled and wish me good luck. It was at this point that I mentally decided I would just go for it. What the heck! I pointed the sticks downhill and let 'er fly! The upper roll off Youngs Peak on skier's right isn't too bad - but it is plenty steep. I realize now that it's actually an ice face in the summer and that explains why it reminded all of us of the steep snow / ice slope to the summit of Mount Joffre in Kananaskis Country. Youngs is obviously a shorter slope than Joffre but comparably steep on skier's right.
Amazingly my duct taped binding held me as I bashed through the chop on the west face of Youngs Peak. No new snow meant safe conditions on the face, but also previous tracks and many of them frozen pretty hard. About half way down the face the snow instantly softened and I really began to enjoy myself. I whooped and hollered my way down 'til I finally realized I'd be at the hut within 2 minutes if I didn't take a break. After 7+ hours of skiing uphill, I didn't want the fun to end this quickly so I coasted to a stop and sat in the snow, watching Steven and Ben descend. Ben joined me fairly quick and we watched Steven cautiously pick his way down. Considering he doesn't ski much, he did a great job staying safe. Ben and I couldn't resist the great snow to the hut below and once Steven was off the steep west face we turned and blasted our way to the Asulkan Hut on good snow. It was over way too fast!
[Looking back up Youngs Peak. Obviously this slope is much steeper than it appears. I would guess around 40 degrees at the steepest.]
[Looking over the Asulkan Hut down the approach valley and over Pterodactyl]
[Ben waits on the way down to the Asulkan Hut. ++]
[Gorgeous views down the Asulkan Valley over the hut. ++]
[View from the Asulkan Hut looking down the Asulkan Brook Valley. Options are uptrack to the left, Tree Triangle directly ahead or steeper to the right. ++]
The Asulkan Hut was much smaller than I expected - but what a prime location for a hut! Damn! I need to spend more time there in the near future. There are prime ski slopes and couliors all over the place there. Steven joined us and we proceeded down the Asulkan Valley. The skiing got interesting as we descended to the so-called "tree triangle" - a steep treed slope on skier's right of the normal ascent track. There are three options for descending from the Asulkan Hut. On skier's left is the usual ascent track. This is the easiest and least steep terrain. In the center, almost directly below the hut is the "tree triangle". This is steeper terrain but has decent snow. You can skirt the trees as much or little as you'd like. On skier's right is steeper, somewhat rocky terrain. There is also an ascent track through this route.
[The Asulkan Hut with Youngs Peak. ++]
[Steven comes down to the hut]
[One last look up Youngs Peak from just below the hut on exit]
As we passed the tree triangle the snow became very skied out and very icy / hard. The same conditions that made the upper traverse safe and enjoyable now made the descent very icy and somewhat treacherous in spots. As we descended through the 'mouse trap' and into the tight confines of the lower Asulkan Valley the skiing got a bit intense. It was almost impossible to go slow and there were dips and bumps and trees and rocks and the stream to contend with! Some spots were 'no slip' zones with only mm's of grip on the very edges of my dull skis. It was on this section that I decided to get my skis sharpened along with the new bindings... :) Steven took his skis off for a short section and donned crampons. Probably a smart choice.
[Lots of ski tracks to deal with on descent - this is near the tree triangle]
[Steep, choppy skiing near the tree triangle]
[Nearing the top of the Mousetrap. The snow was not as soft as it appears!]
[Steven entering the Mousetrap with Youngs high above now]
[The Mousetrap passes through some serious avy terrain]
Eventually we joined our initial ascent track and blasted down to the parking lot. Ben and I hadn't unclipped our heels from the summit of Youngs Peak all the way to the parking lot! Our round trip time was just under 9.5 hours including two summits and all breaks. I am officially in love with the Rogers Pass area and have many plans forming for more skiing, scrambling and climbing in the area. I highly recommend the Youngs Traverse for competent ski mountaineering groups.
[The "Red Green" duct tape ski binding repair job that held up for the entire Youngs Peak Traverse!! If you look closely you can see that the plastic housing that's supposed to hold the rear binding assembly over a steel post is completely gone on this side...]