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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Black Tusk Ski Day

The Black Tusk area is a great place for early season turns. The smooth heather slopes on the south side of the Black Tusk transform into nice open ski slopes with just a minimal amount of snow. Last year, we skied here with just a 40cm snowpack on those slopes, so I was pretty confident we could find some more good snow here this time. Early November was shaping up nicely, and I had already seen a 60cm snowpack at the Tenquille Lake area, one weekend ago.

Paul and Kristen joined me for the hike up the switchbacks from Rubble Creek on Remembrance Day. I like to think of these early season snow-seeking trips as late-season hikes with skis, rather than early season skiing with lots of hiking. We pulled into the parking lot at 8am. A few other skiers were getting ready too. We strapped the skis to the packs, and then plodded up the well-manicured trail through the misty forest. Snow started before the 4km marker, but it was faster to just continue walking, until the 5km corner. We stashed the shoes, switched into ski boots, and skinned up the trail. There was just enough snow to skin up, not quite enough to ski down beyond the Taylor meadow junction at 6km. We went left, towards Taylor Meadows and the snow depth quickly increased.

We crossed the flat meadows, only slightly inclined. It doesn't seem like it at the time, but the gradient is just enough to glide all the way back from the south slopes below the Tusk back to the Taylor campground. We switchbacked up the south facing slope, catching the view of Garibaldi Lake that never ceases to amaze me.  It's really cool to come up here at this time of the year, when there's snow everywhere in the alpine, but the lake remains un-frozen. Due to the size, it's not frozen until mid-January on most years (the internet tells me it's frozen now).

We skied the soft fluffy powder here (slopes between 1700-2000m) reminding our legs how to ski. And to keep the base side down! I was curious on how the snow on the north side of the Black Tusk would ski today, so we went back up to the top, into the whiteout. The cloud ceiling lingered at 2000m, keeping the Black Tusk hidden. We passed two guys without skis, just booting straight up the skin track. Kristen wasn't keen on traversing over to the north side of the Tusk in the flat light, so she went back down, skiing out to the Taylor shelter to wait for us. Paul and I continued across. The skiing on the northwest side was nothing to write about. There must have been a strong outflow wind. All the north facing slopes were scoured and the snow quality was poor. Boilerplate sastrugi and windswept rocky slopes. But we did find a very cool ice cave which we skied through in both directions.

Back on the other side, the wind was howling. I had issues with my crappy old skins on my rock skis, and had to stop to take them off, and warm them back up inside my jacket before they worked again. Meanwhile, I lost Paul, who also spent those ten minutes underneath the Tusk, curled up and trying to warm himself up. In between clearings in the clouds, we skied off the shoulder, leaving the disorientating whiteroom behind, and back down through the powder. Everybody was gone by now, and the slopes were well farmed from all the enthusiastic skiers trying to get a head start on making up for last seasons lackluster skiing. We found Kristen, and then continued skiing down the Rubble Creek trail. I have rock skis, but I still care about them. There's a cracked edge on one of the skis, and I've been babying them, trying to keep the problem from getting worse. Kristen was on her rock-rock skis, and she blasted down the trail, seemingly oblivious to any of the small rocks covered by the 5-10cm base. Eventually the snow stopped, and we slogged back down the trail, in the company of many other hikers, snowshoers, and skiers out enjoying the freedom of the mountains.


Kristen and Paul smiling, despite the lack of a Pure Bread stop.

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Hiking up through the beautiful forest

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Transition at km 5

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Crossing a bridge

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Mount Price and Clinker Peak

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Ski touring in Taylor Meadows


That view of Garibaldi Lake always amazes me

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Looking across at Sentinel Bay and Mount Price

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Jamie, who I had just met at Tenquille lake the weekend before, was also up here skiing.

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Winter was making its way here

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Transition time

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Ski time

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It's quite the beautiful spot for a ski


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Jamie again

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Garibaldi Lake, spectacular as always.

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Flat light on the way up to the south shoulder

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Ice formation

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The Black Tusk

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Warp speed through the ice cave

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Skiing wind hammered north aspects

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North side of the Tusk

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Back through the tunnel, back to the powder.

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Crossing windy exposed slopes on the shoulder of the Black Tusk

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Skiing the south slopes

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What a fun day!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rainbow Mountain Traverse

We arrived at the Whistler Olympic Park gate, which was closed at 8:30am. Usually I'm working on Mondays, but this was the holidays, and I forgot that the ski area is only open at 9am on weekdays. Oh well, we would drive back down to the Alexander Falls parking lot, and figure out a way to the trailhead from there. Officially, you are suppose to get a "trip form," either printed in advance or from the gate, whether you park inside the ski area, or at Alexander Falls, in addition to paying the $15 parking/access fee.  More information about that on the Whistler Olympic Park website.

We wandered through random snowshoer trails, and across and along the ski trail up to the daylodge. I like to park outside the ski area, so you're not constrained by the early 4:30pm gate closure. I wish there was a more direct way up to the Hanging Lake trailhead, but I didn't find it, and we ended up spending twenty minutes just getting up to where most people park. That's ok though, now we were passing people on the trail through the forest, and we didn't have to stress about getting back to the car.

This area is getting very popular, and rightly so. It offers easy access to treeline, with some nice open slopes to ski. I waited at the lake with Hans, looking over at Rainbow Mountain and thinking how nice it looked in the sunshine today. When Lisa Mike and Darek arrived at the lake, we all decided to leave the busy slopes of Gin Peak, and head over to Rainbow Mountain to poke around.

We climbed up the southwest slopes, which were already tracked out by a group of heli-skiers from the day before. Rainbow is a popular place for heli-skiers. It offers long mellow runs and close enough to Whistler to save on some fuel costs. All the customers always seem to be happy bum-wiggling down the 20 degree slopes. As we climbed up towards the glacier on the south side of the mountain, the views of the Callaghan Valley opened up. There was a thin layer of clouds at mid-mountain levels, with the summits of the Tantalus Range and Squamish-Cheakamus divide just poking out above them.

At this point, we started talking about doing a traverse of Rainbow Mountain. There were a few options. Either ski back down the same way (not very interesting), or continue down the North Glacir and then ski out to Alpine Meadows. We were lucky that Lisa's parents were in Whistler, and would must likely pick us up and then shuttle us back to Alexander Falls. It would be reasonable to call Whistler Taxi too!

We skinned up the south glacier, which was also tracked out by the bum-wiggling heli-clients. It was a bluebird day, and the holidays, and the whirlybirds were out in force today. There were heli's flying into the Soo Valley, towards Metal Dome, and at least two or three close to summit. As we crested the sastrugi-plastered col, we chatted with one of the heli-guides. He explained that there was a movie shoot happening on the summit, and that it was a fairly regular occurrence. He asked me where we were skiing, so not to poach our line. It turns out they had already ski the north glacier, and they were on their way down the south glacier. But the East Glacier hadn't been skied yet, and he said it looked filled in.

From the col, we traversed east, and then skied a steep pitch down towards the flat bench above the East Glacier. The snow was wind affected, firm and chalky. Definitely not powdery on this exposed slope. We shuffled across to the top of the East Glacier, enjoying the views across the valley of Whistler and Wedgemount Lake area. This is a long run, dropping a 1000m down into the head of Nineteen Mile Creek. The upper pitch rolls over, with some pronounced convexity's further to skier's left. I've skied it before, so I went first leading the way down. There were still some hazards on the run, some exposed rocks, and chunks of ice. But in between that, the powder was very nice, and the snow improved as we dropped down (more sheltered from the northerly winds). There's a steep headwall below 1800m, and unless you like skiing frozen waterwalls and rocks, you'll need to traverse hard skier's right to ski a broad gully down, with a steep slope lingering above you.

The snow was pretty awesome here, and we all had fun skiing down towards Iceberg Lake. I'm sure the slopes around Gin Peak were fun that day, but it was quite nice to ski a longer line, instead of a few short laps above the lake. We continued gliding the valley, staying on the south side of Nineteen Mile Creek. I didn't bother to put my skins back on, but there's a flat section below 1200m, for about a kilometre before reaching the Flank trail. Snow coverage was thinner here, and there was some tedious shuffling. We followed trail markers, for the summer Skywalk trail.

Coverage on the Nineteen Mile Creek road was thin, with a few open waterbars. I could just barely clear them with some speed, but my tails would still slap the snow as I leaped over them. We made it out to the end of Alpine Way with the last light of the day, and Lisa's dad was already there waiting for us! So awesome, thanks! We all piled into the mini-van, and cruised back to the Callaghan Valley to complete the shuttle. That was a fun day, an accidental traverse of Rainbow Mountain and a nice ski descent to compliment it.

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Unloading skis at the Alexander Falls parking lot

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Rainbow Mountain as seen from Hanging Lake

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Hans above Hanging Lake

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Looking back at the ski slopes above Hanging Lake

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Skiing up the southwest side of Rainbow Mountain

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Some wind effect higher up. It's always wind blasted up here.

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Mike skinning up.

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Lisa with the Callaghan Valley behind her

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Hans breaking trail up to the south glacier

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Lisa and Mike with Tricouni behind them

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Whistler Mountain

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Mike and Hans crossing the south glacier.

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The Black Tusk

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Endless bum-wiggling

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Cool sastrugi formations near the col

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A silhouette of Hans with Weart to his left

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Mike skiing the steep pitch

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All those skinning photos were a lie. We actually just took the helicopter up here. =)

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Exposed ice on the East Glacier

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Lisa skiing down the upper part of the East Glacier

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Whirly-bird heading home

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Mike finds the powder on the East Glacier

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Looking back up the run, about 2/3 down

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Hans goes first, dropping down into Iceberg Lake

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Stoked! We skied from the centre down to the far left side next to the rock buttress

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Crossing the flats at the head of Nineteen Mile creek

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Alpenglow on Wedge Mountain

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The South Face beckons

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Weart and the Armchair Glacier