Story by Lee Lau. Pictures by Sharon Bader, Chris Kelly and Lee Lau
As the high pressure wore on over southwestern BC, Sharon and I kept wondering whether snow on high alpine north alpine faces were still good. In the Whistler/Blackcomb area, in the Coquihalla and in other places the N faces were still cold and skiing well. We hadn’t been up to the Duffy to check things out for a while. Our good buddy Chris had a crew from Lilloet ready and waiting to explore and when he invited us to come up for a tour, we leapt at the chance.
Conditions turned out to be fine. There’s an assload of large (1.5cm +) SH forming. Ridgelines on bowls close to central Duffy have quite a lot of facets but that’s no big surprise I suppose. Apparently the snow in Downton closer to the Lilloet side where the snowpack is thinner is very faceted. We bootpacked N – facing couloirs and didn’t encounter W/S . They were shaded. Boot pen was always pretty good – 15 – 20cms approx and consistent without need for crampons or axe.
First glimpse of the N facing ridges to ski
Panorama of the N bowls
Anticipation and approach …
Given the stability of the snow and the N facing aspects we wanted to ski we decided to take the direct approach and go straight up the throat of one of the couloirs. I forgot how much bootpacking hurt. I led the first 550 steps – Chris D took care of the remaining 436 steps.
It was quite a different world at the top. The ridgeline turned out to be crenellated and protected by gendarmes and composed of fairly manky rock. So it’s not really possible to work the ridgeline and ski different couloirs. Approaching the ridge from the (southern) back-side would require a bit of rope and a helmet for the loose rock.
Sunny on the other side
Joffre and Matier’s other faces
Because the snow on the glacier was so nice and because the potential run was so appealing we decided to do a quick run and in no time at all, had laid some tracks down the glacier.
Preparing for a run
Chris K not showing the snow any mercy
Chris D and Kevin leaving tracks
Glacier is now all tracked out
But we had come here to ski cold snowy N faces. So we made our way back up to the ridge and dropped in. The main face was a nice 400m shot and all of us could have fit in with room to spare. Kevin called dibs on a couloir to skier’s right. Although I was tempted to drop in after him and get sloppy seconds, the shouts of warning from the others down below persuaded me that there wasn’t enough snow to really make it worthwhile.
Chris K, Chris D and Sharon drop into the open main face
Kevin drops into the couloir. View from the top and the bottom show that there’s really only room for one skier in there
Because we still had some more energy we decided to bag the peak that formed the main feature of the ridge. You can’t really get there from the glacier as the rim of the glacier is heavily corniced. So we had to ski to the N facing side of the peak where we spied another nice steep pitch that was skiable. We had enough time and barely enough energy in the legs to give it one more effort so we bootpacked up the pitch to more stunning views.
Last lap – bootpack to the peak.
Group shot from the peak
From there we skied out from the top of this 2500m peak down all the way back to the valley at approximately 1500m in no time at all. Total elevation gained for the day was about 1700m (much of that bootpacking!)
Sharon waiting impatiently as her toes get progressively colder