Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:08 am Posts: 128 Location: Melbourne, Australia
As part of my "Endless Winter" program, It's always been a goal of mine to do some sustained northern american touring. I've done a bit of hut touring in NZ (http://splitboard.com/talk/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=13837) and I've always wanted to do more and maybe somewhere with a little more consistent powder!
Western Canada seemed to me to have a great range of guided, catered huts and I settled on staying a week at Durrand Glacier chalet in the Selkirks, BC - almost spitting distance from Revelstoke.
Access is a short drive north from Revelstoke along Lake Revelstoke, then a 10 minute extremely scenic heli ride.
Conditions were good and not so good.
I've finally understood (and accepted ) that when we go into the mountains, they accept us on THEIR terms, not ours, and you have to deal with the cards you're dealt and there's many aspects to this (snow quality, avalanche danger, wind, visibility etc).
The weather was great. The entire week was bluebird with very little wind and comfortable temps.
The snow was also fantastic dry powder
The not-so-good was the avalanche danger . It was HIGH (scale: low, moderate, considerable, high and extreme) the entire week. The early part of the season in BC (and probably a lot of north america) had been very dry, I heard the word "June-uary" mentioned quite a bit! Then early Feb it snowed somewhere from 1-2 metres. Unfortunately, this snow fell on hoar frost and the resulting snowpack had a very "heavy bricks on thin potato chips" feeling to it. I had hoped the hoar frost may have "burned" off on sunnier, lower aspects but it affected all aspects and elevations that we toured. I'd never heard "whumpfing" before, but heard it many times on this trip.
Being buried 2 metres deep in some places, it seemed unlikely that a portly Aussie snowboarder would trigger an avalanche, but if you did then the consequences would likely have been not survivable without even factoring something like a terrain trap.
In almost every photo I took you can see multiple, natural avalanches. The middle of this photo is a great example. With some sun (this is roughly a south aspect) the slab has released naturally - poor anchoring with some rocks and sparse trees to the lookers right of the slab. It doesn't look like it's run into the thick trees below it on the fall line, but imagine if you were in it and it did. No beacon or airbag is going to protect you from the trauma of being sifted through those trees.
The terrain is absolutely insane.
There's something for every day here. High alpine glaciers, chutes, bowls, couloirs, tree runs for when the weather's bad. It's got it all. Unfortunately for me, most of it was off-limits .
Tree Runs also
Spot the cornice fall below and also the multiple slab avalanches on the second ridge.
The touring was fairly mellow (probably had climbing heels up only 1/3 of the time), but as a consequence of the avalanche danger the riding was, well, rather flat.
The flatter nature of the riding meant I didn't put in a heap of turns that week and there was a frustrating amount of split-skiing. I didn't even get ANY riding photos ... In this photo I count about 5 turns for me and 23 for one of the skiers in the middle part of this run!
This is the same run from a slightly different angle.
Despite the large snowfall prior to my arrival, the leaner early season meant crevasses on the glaciers weren't necessarily well filled in as you can see in this photo.
It was really difficult to look at all the fantastic terrain options and not be able to hit them, so I just tried to enjoy the touring as best I could, which wasn't hard given the absolutely stunning surroundings.
One of the most juicy little peaks (as it towered in your view out the back of the hut) was the south facing Goat Peak. I would've loved to do a run down here!
Mt Tumbledown was another that teased you directly in view from the hut.
Topping out on some of the peaks gave us some amazing views.
We certainly didn't bag any major peaks, but the few small ones we did were cause for a celebration.
My favourite peak was Allalin Peak (more dry slab avalanches on the second sunny ridge)
I found I probably wasn't as fit as I wanted to be (I'd broken my shoulder in the southern hemisphere winter and couldn't do any fitness for about 3 months ) and I also developed a really bad cough early in the week so the others in my group had to put up with me coughing and wheezing my way to the summits .
My favourite run was called "Morning Glory", you can see the upper half of it starting centre right of the photo with the tracks disappearing on the bottom centre. The run extended well below the treeline and was nice and long. It's so great to get some rhythm up on a long run - it sucks on an uneven fall line when you might have to split ski part way or when it's really flat and you're struggling just to keep moving, so I loved this. It was a fairly flat skin to get there, then do the run and skin out - which I find mentally a lot harder. I like to do the hard work first and then reap the rewards. I think the skin out took about 2 hours.
The weather meant the light for taking photos was generally superb. I snapped this (cropped) abstract photo of "powdery sastrugi" one morning.
"Look mum, I brought a skier with me to cut a track for me across the flat part of the glacier"
I don't think words can do some of the terrain justice.
I certainly went through some sun cream that week and got a nice goggle tan going.
Most days we did about 1500m/5000ft of vertical (the hardcore group did way more - maybe 2000m) although I did one day with the 'slower' group (maybe 1000m). I had one day off in the middle to try and beat my cough into submission.
You're welcome for the advertising Jeremy!
The sunsets were amazing when you were back at the hut.
A cold beverage was also a welcome part of the day
I'd never seen a pine marten before, although they're a serial pest at the hut - they even nibbled the rubber ends of my ski poles.
I'm pretty sure after I left the cook pulled out his 9 and popped a cap in it's ass.
More of Mt Tumbledown...
The guy who runs the lodge, Ruedi Beglinger, is a well-known IFMGA guide. The company is called 'Selkirk Mountain Experience' although some call it the 'Selkirk Military Experience'. I found Ruedi's guiding style a little condescending and abrasive, but personally I really don't care what guides are like as long as they're safe - which he is, save for being infamous for the "Craig Kelly" avalanche incident. The hut/operation has been going since '85 so for me that's a pretty good safety record. The 'military' culture pervades down through the other guides a little, I found the newer ones were the most personable and I was able to learn from them. One example of this was when we were at the top of Mt Tumbledown I asked Ruedi what our descent route would be and whether we would be following other existing tracks and he snapped, "You will be following MY track" and skied off. Most other guides would be happy to spend a minute explaining something like this to a client. We were also never really briefed on the days plan other than to be ready at 8am and follow your guide, I'd certainly have appreciated sitting over a map for 5 minutes getting an overview of what was planned.
The hut is fantastic and really well run. The best part is the food - yummy and heaps of it. Dinner is a 4 course meal, lunch is make your own sandwiches to take with you and breakfast is also hearty. There's always snacks when you get back from touring late arvo before dinner. The variety was great too, never had the same thing twice. It's also home-cooked, nothing processed which is a fantastic effort considering the logistics.
There's another satellite hut (Moloch Hut) about a days touring away. Half of the group did an overnight trip there, although split boarders were advised not to go on this occasion as the route they had to take was uber-flat with a LOT of traversing (due to avalanche danger). Apparently there's plans to build another satellite hut too.
The hut sits nicely at the treeline and the touring is all extremely close.
The amenities are outstanding, especially considering it's not connected to any kind of electrical, water or sewer grid. Power is via hydro and propane generators. Toilets are the outhouse pit variety (well cleaned though) and there's also a 'pee only' toilet in the hut. There's a sauna and a blissful waterfall-like shower too. There's also a clothes only drying room and an (unheated) ski room - which made it important to either leave your board in the sun to clear the snow from the bindings or blow/scrape all the snow out. For those who can't possibly stay out of touch with Fakebook, it even has satellite internet (slow).
All in all, it's a fantastic hut and touring operation. Don't hesitate to go. It's about 2200 canuck pesos for the week, everything included.