Ridges that have elevation gains and losses often look much worse than they really are and the one from Belmore Brown Peak to Tiara Peak is no exception. There are actually 2 or 3 high points on the ridge traverse from Belmore to Tiara that are noticeably higher than the summits of Belmore Brown. When you're looking from Belmore towards the traverse you may be discouraged but don't be! First of all, the distance isn't nearly what it looks like (thank goodness) and the height gain isn't too bad either. I'm not gonna lie to you, you will be gaining more height than if you only bagged Tiara, but what did you expect from a two peak day? :-) The best part of the ridge is the unexpected scrambling you get to do on it! There are a few steep cliffs that are the most fun if you simply tackle them straight on, but if you really want you can avoid them by circling underneath.
[Looking back as Wietse comes up the ridge.]
[This is what we had to traverse on to get around the east side of the summit block. At least it was very firm!]
It was obvious right away that we would have to put the crampons back on for a short traverse over very firm snow slopes underneath the east face of the summit block. The gully routes looked like fun, but we didn't want to risk getting into icy terrain without protection so we decided to do the easy route. Considering it was November 24, we were lucky to be bagging peaks in these conditions anyway! We traversed around to the south side of the summit block and I was surprised by the terrain there. For some reason I thought we'd just be able to start scrambling up right away, but first we had to traverse around to the west side, which we did. After taking the crampons off it didn't take long to grunt up the west side and onto the summit of Tiara. I should note, however, that the west slopes are very loose and quite steep. I wouldn't go up there with a large party - you'd be kicking rocks on each other all the way up and down. I nearly took Wietse out with a large rock on the way down, it's a good thing he stopped when I yelled!
[Wietse on the 'solid traverse'. We obviously needed crampons for this short but steep section.]
[The south cliffs of the summit block. I wonder if there's any routes up this side? For some reason I wasn't expecting this section at all. Very cool scenery.]
[Wietse going around to the south west of the summit block.]
[There were good cairns with flagging marking the route up the west side of the summit block.]
[Moose and Prairie Mountain from the summit of Tiara.]
[A very nice summit panorama to the west.]
[Vern on the summit of Tiara Peak.]
[Summit panorama looking west to the Rockies. ++]
Once we got back off the summit block we had a decision to make. We could try the alternate descent route which would be quicker and meant we probably wouldn't need to bother with crampons or we could traverse back around the east side of the summit block and then descend Wietse's ascent route. Since we had to be back in Calgary before 17:00 we both agreed that the alternate descent was the way to go and proceeded down the south east slopes below the two pinnacles (on their east side). Here's where we got a bit dumb...
[Wietse descends from the summit of Tiara with a great view to the west.]
[One last view northwest before we round back to the east.]
[The pinnacles come into view as we round the summit block on the way back.]
The snow was not deep on this slope, but was almost so hard that we needed crampons again. As we worked our way lower we started getting into a steep gully system. I became more and more nervous as the snow became deeper and deeper, but the travel was quick and there were no signs of whoomping or cracking in the snow. In a classic case of getting 'suckered' into a terrain trap, we continued descending quite quickly, rather enjoying the soft snow and speedy pace. When we got to the top of a small bowl we started thinking that maybe it would at least be prudent to separate in case of avalanche or sluffing so Wietse started glissading into the bowl. Since we were on bare rock most of the day, and since the snow pack was so shallow (we could see scree and rocks in various places on the slope) we really didn't expect anything to happen. But of course it did...
As Wietse approached the bottom of the bowl there was a sudden 'whoomp!' and the entire bowl about 10 feet below him sheared off and began sliding down the narrow gully below. As I stood there and watched very calmly, the avalanche gathered speed and more snow as it slithered down the gully and out of sight, leaving only a smaller powder cloud in its wake. Even though the slide seemed very slow, it was all over in about 15-20 seconds or so. Wietse sat frozen on the slope and neither of us said anything for a bit. Then Wietse looked up at me and quickly got off the snow slab he was still on and went up the other side of the bowl, on hard slab, now that the soft stuff was all off of it! I looked near my feet and was astonished to see a large crack in the snow at the top of the bowl. Then I realized how lucky we were that for some unexplainable reason, only half the bowl had let go! Wietse was left sitting on the half that didn't slide - but it was definitely itching to join it's other half way down the gully! We decided that we (obviously) needed to get the heck out of there and after some scary (but really fast) traversing under the ticking time bomb that was the upper bowl we were out of the gully.
Since the avalanche was relatively small and peaceful (no 200km/h powder slide), we kind of convinced ourselves that even if caught we would've been fine. Once we got down the gully further (we descended in the trees on the slope above the gully) we saw where the smaller powder cloud in the slide came from. There was a 20-30 foot cliff in the gully that we would've been carried over - and that was more serious than the size of the slide for sure! I think it was at this point that we realized just how blessed we were that the upper bowl held. The depth and speed of the slide probably would not have harmed us, but the rocks and terrain that we would have gone over had the potential for a much grimmer outcome. We were both glad that this happened early in the year and on a small scale. We will certainly be 'on our toes' for the remainder of the winter season! We also won't (foolishly) leave home without avi gear again when there's snow on the ground, even only a couple of inches.
[Wietse descending the snow slope on the alternate descent. It was here that the snow started getting deeper on top of the slab after being so hard we almost needed crampons...]
[...and it didn't take long for this to happen! Wietse stands on the avalanche debris.]
[Looking back up at the slide. The cliff band in the middle was the biggest hazard if we would have been caught.]
[Close-up view of the cliff that the small avalanche went over. Half the gully didn't slide for some reason, but it was full of deep cracks and very unstable snow.]
On hindsight we were so dumb to be in that gully! There was wind loading, we were in an avalanche path, there was a terrain trap, the wind loaded snow was unstable, the temperature was rising (it was 12:30pm) - it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we were in a place we never should have been! It's very embarrassing but I guess no-one's perfect and hopefully we learned our lesson and anyone reading this may learn from our mistakes.
The rest of the trip went off without a hitch. We descended forested slopes in sugar snow (4-12 inches of it) and walked back down a tributary of the creek we walked in on. Eventually we rejoined our ascent track and enjoyed a nice walk back to the car. I agree with Linda Breton that small mountains are the worst for giving you grief! I think it's because you don't expect much from them. This is a highly recommended trip for a late season outing. Remember that the Powderface Trail is closed on December 01 and watch the conditions!
[Back at the road, a view back towards Tiara and Belmore Brown.]