I’m at the curious stage in my ski-touring skills where I think I’ve got the “hard skills” (skiing and skinning) to get into places where my “soft skills” (mountain-sense, rope work, avvy sense) aren’t quite tuned enough to get me out. So what to do? I got along very well with Jonny, who was working at Valhalla Mountain Touring where I was last on a ski-trip.
After talking to Jonny and finding that his goals were pretty much the same as mine (ie. to have fun safely) we made some plans for a trip. Jonny’s a great guy and had no problems with helping share experience. So the emphasis on this trip would be learning skills with skitouring and peakbagging as very much secondary. After talking over various options we decide on a trip to the Clemenceau Icefields – a remote huge set of icefields between Golden and Valemount in the western Canadian Rockies.
Somehow I managed to talk my Sharon, my wife into this. Let me tell you about my first time draggin Shar out winter – camping. What a screw up on my part; zero degrees – wet, lousy poorly ventilated tent, low-angle skiing that was slow-going with the wet snow; it made for a long-stuffy night with a very pissed off wife. That was almost 7 years ago and she’s never been winter-camping again. This time I vowed to do it right so Jonny and I had an agreement to pamper Sharon.
After driving from Kamloops where we spent a weekend skiing groomers and watching weather systems bounce off the Coquihalla and miss Sun Peaks we’re off to Golden to stay at Jonny’s place. Jonny has quite a nice home and we spend the night there . Then early next morning, we start off at Golden Airport on a nice crisp morning loading our gear on to a Cessna flown by Steve of Alpenglow Aviation. Steve was a Toronto accountant in a past life and has found redemption in the mountains. Look him up for incredible glacier tours if you’re ever in the area.
Golden itself is a butt-ugly town struggling to find a sense of self amongst pulp-mill filth in a glorious alpine setting. Despite the real estate hype surrounding Kicking Horse Resorts the town itself is a dump. Flying north of Golden there’s clearcuts and logging roads giving snowmobile access to incredible skiing along the shores of Kinbasket Lake. To the west are the northern Selkirks and to the east are the western Rockies – big mountains everywhere close to our little plane.
After flying past Bush Arm we fly over areas that don’t see a lot of human traffic being more than 120kms by forest road from Golden – that’s a lot of gas for a sled. Here’s some terrain north of the Chatter Creek snowcat skiing tenure; snowfield and glades that possibly haven’t been skied all year.
Then we’re suddenly past Sullivan Arm and into the Cummins Creek drainage. Steve gives us a nice view of our home-to-be for the next few days. Here is the east face of Tusk Peak (3360m) and the Duplicate Glacier to the south.
Then we’re landing on the Tusk Glacier soft as a feather on a “runway” of snow marked with flags. A ski plane trip is an experience in itself and one that I can’t recommend enough. Mt Clemenceau (3664m) is behind the plane; shrouded in cloud.
To give some perspective – here is an overview map of the general area with our base camp and the Laurence Grassi hut marked. The distance between those two points is roughly 4kms as the crow flies. To the east is the Columbia Icefields and the tourist gong show that is the Icefields Parkway. To the north is Jasper and the old Fortress Lake pack route.
The wind is brisk and blowing a steady 20 knots – gusting to 30 knots as we unload. I can see Sharon’s face and the questions going through her mind as she stares at this barren icefield/glacier while we unload all the gear – there’s a disturbing lack of shelter. Off goes the plane – too late to turn back now!
Sharon’s concerns subside as we start carving up blocks of snow and assemble base camp complete with tent pads, kitchen shelving, wind-blocking walls and toilet conveniantly located downwind. Base camp is 2240m ; (all grid refs are NAD82, 11U – 0433736 5784970)
We have plenty of time for an exploratory ski up to Tusk – Irvine col south east of the camp and to dig a pit and assess snowbridge depth. Snowbridges are over 300 m in depth where we stop 525m above camp. pit results are CTM 17 (dwn 50) (CS); CTH 23 (dwn 50) on windslab. So we ski beautifully light fluffy rocky mountain pow to camp and have a civilized dinner. Sharon seems happy and is not suffering so all is good.