Squamish, BC - November 18, 2007
and photos by Lee Lau unless otherwise noted
We had a bit of scare starting this season as the hills looked bony coming into the first week of November. Then Whistler got pounded by 80 cms of snow on November 10 - 11th. As the shock of this massive dump wore off we were already debating where to go for the weekend's festivities. I stayed home on Saturday not thinking that freezing levels would drop and give people on Whistler's opening day good turns. The weather was supposed to be good today - game on!
After debating various ways to get high in the alpine we decided to head to Squamish, up the Squamish Valley Road and try to get to Cloudburst Mountain.
Cloudburst Mountain - hand-drawn route. Red is approx uptrack. Blue is approx ski and downtrack.
Branch 100 off the Squamish valley road and the access to Cloudburst is well described in Matt Gunn's Scrambles book and using these directions we were able to drive above snowline all the way to almost 900m. Despite putting on chains, an ice layer on the road made for slippery conditions higher. We elected to skin up the remaining 200m to the trailhead in the trees.
Chaining up at about 890m
Breaking out of the trees into subalpine at about 1400m
We caught another medium-sized group as they broke trail through some really confusing terrain towards Cloudburst. They were an experienced group from the BCMC and I counted ourselves fortunate to follow their skin track as they made efficient (if rather steep) tracks through some tough features. By 11.00 we were breaking into subalpine and clear of the tough lower elevation treed and creeked terrain.
On the approach to the NW ridge of Cloudburst
Joining up with a BCMC group on the Cloudburst approach
Shortly after 12.30, we were on the peak of Cloudburst Mountain (1871m). Magnificent views - not typical of November conditions. The snowpack was pretty variable. At 1100m when we started, snow depth was 70- 80 cms with creeks showing; at 1300m just below treeline it was about 70cms; at 1500-1600m it maxed out at about 180cms. As we travelled higher, I note there was a rain-crust possibly from Friday buried below 10cms of new at elevations below 1400m. There was a bit of windslab that got more pronounced from 1650m to the exposed peak approach ridgeline above 1700m or so.
Coming down, the windslab wasn't all that bad and it wasn't hard to find terrain features that sheltered the snow from the wind - making for really good skiing.
Company at the peak of Cloudburst ~ 2nd photo Pat Mulrooney
View west of Cloudburst
View east of Cloudburst
I couldn't wait so had to grab first tracks ~photo Pat Mulrooney
While the BCMC group worked a feature slightly more to skiers right off a corniced ridge just below the summit, we worked our way over trending a bit more skiers left. It was a bit slabby at the top and bony in some areas where the wind had done its thing but after a few turns, conditions got better and better.
After Jos set track all the way from where the cars were parked I didn't feel right snaking this line
Kendra drops in
Danielle lays waste to the slope ~photo Pat Mulrooney
Scott finds some lines
Scott then Aaron take care of business.
Our first run took us off the peak from 1871m to about 1400m through some pretty amazing conditions (November or otherwise). We dropped down the West Bowl and then cut over back to our uptrack to find more turns. This was the best (and longest) run of the day. The rain crust that had been present in the snowpack on our uptrack on the NW ridge was nowhere to be found! We found out later from the BCMC group that their ski down the NW ridge and NW Bowl had encountered rain crust.
Sharon getting on the groove. Cloudburst's peak is above in the centre of the picture.
Pat laying down railroad tracks
Sharon dropping into a beautiful bowl
Sharon again as we approach trees close to the 1400m mark
Rob likes the absence of windslab or rain - crust. Nothing but pow
This was my first trip touring with Aaron, Scott, Sasha and Jen. They turned out to be a good group - motivated to ski and have fun. Aaron is quite the steam engine who likes to break trail. I was pretty happy to let him cut a skintrack back to our original uptrack and the NW Bowl. We got there just as the BCMC group had finished their run - they had very nicely left us a lot of skiable terrain to track out.
Aaron sets track for run number two
Self-portrait as I wait for people to hit this untouched face
Scott delivers some magnificent powder form ~ photo Pat Mulrooney
Pat on a nice line ~ photo Pat Mulrooney
We liked it so much we went up again for thirds - Rob drops in
Aaron really farmed this slope
Sasha giving the powder what it wants
Back to the barn
Cloudburst moonset ~ photo Pat Mulrooney
Cloudburst from Squamish; from the Eagles Nest Bean and from Highway 99 on N Cheak Canyon
The ski out took us less then 40 minutes from the trees back to the truck - it was, of course, really fast turns down the access road. It's a shame that Cloudburst is so hard to access later in the year when the snow levels get higher and the road gets pretty much impassable to vehicles.
Final stats - 1450m of climbing over about 6.5 hours of skinning and skiing. 6.5 hours of Sun!