Words by Lee Lau. Pictures by Lee Lau and Brian Earle. All rights reserved
It started with grand plans to summit and ski three peaks in one day but ended with a whited-out whimper. The weekend’s weather forecast looked like it might give Brian and I a one-day window of good weather so we made a plan to ski into Cerise Creek, overnight at Keith’s Hut then summit and ski Joffre, Matier and Slalok and exit via the Stonecrop Glacier and Joffre Lakes.
The trip started well as we set out from the Cerise Lot at 10:45. In 1.5 hours we were at the hut and snoring.
Headlamps to start
The next morning we were up before our hutmates and out the door at about 7.30am.
Early morning fog burnt away and views became inspiring. The Joffre – Matier col is at 2300m approx and we were there at about 9.15. From there Joffre’s Australian Couloir (technically the SW face) is a short ski down rolling slopes. Aussie Couloir is a tedious slog but the standard route. On the theory that its best to get the biggest climb out the way first , we started up Joffre beginning our climb at about 10am.
Up the Anniversary Glacier
Approaching Joffre-Matier col
Because we were relatively early, it was a nice climb to start. Aussie Couloir is in the neighbourhood of between 40 to 45 degrees. We put on crampons at about 2300m and summitted at about 11:45 at 2715m. It started getting seriously hot only at the top of the final pitch but that’s where the pace slowed down as we dealt with overheating bodies.
Booting up Aussie Couloir – top picture has Spetch, Hartzell and Slalok from L to R in the background
Time out on the Aussie
Summit and sunny! The last time I had been here it had been in a whiteout so I never got a chance to look around. I had entertained grand schemes about descending via the Twisting Couloir or the Joffre Couloir but cloud was building in the valley below. Still we were optimistic as clouds had been swirling all around the whole morning and we were hopeful for the rest of the day. We took a look at the Central Couloir, noted the “you fall you die” nature of the 65 degree entry ramp theoretically skiable from Joffre Peak, looked at the size of the cornices and quickly backed away.
Central Couloir does not look very inviting and we gave the cornices a wide berth. Peak is lit in the sun – the theoretical entry ramp is just to its right and feeds into a 60 degree slope
We didn’t actually spend that much time on the peak just grabbing a bite to eat then wandering over to the summit and taking some pictures. In the 20 minutes or so that we did that clouds started building and building. Oh no! Deja vu all over again. In no time, temperatures dropped, the winds picked up and we were surrounded by clouds. What a bitter disappointment. I had hoped to wander around the peak a bit more and take a look at the upper ramps of the Twisting and Joffre Couloirs but that will have to wait for another day.
Brian approaching the summit of Joffre. Matier pokes out of the clouds
Matier in the clouds. The NW face is the open face to lookers right of the summit.
We gear up for the descent as if a blanket had been draped over us. A half – hour of waiting for a hoped-for visibility window doesn’t help our body temps or mood and visibility remains shite
Top picture - peak in the clouds. Bottom picture – waiting for a weather window
It’s the mountains and you have to make the best of it. It would have been worse to have been pinned on an open glacier with this white-out; at least we have the luxury of rock walls for some perspective. When we were ascending I had noted some channels of good snow to hit to make the ski-down nice if we had to ski out via the Aussie. Unfortunately with the vis so poor we couldn’t really see our descent all that well and skied some mighty variable snow. A quick note on conditions. The Anniversary glacier snow was very stable with ski pen of about 10cms and about 5 – 10 of new snow. . HS was 4m + on the Matier Glacier itself. There were sluff runnels on the Aussie with supportive boot pen and isolated pockets of the normal melf-freeze you would expect of early spring SW slopes. We might have been ok without crampons and axe but they are nice to have in any event. Sluff management skiing down the Aussie was pretty easy and we took turns going for safe spot to safe spot insofar as we could see and hear each other.
Clouds break a bit at the bottom
- just enough to taunt us and make me think wild-thoughts about skiing Matier
and Stonecrop in windows of blue sky sucker-holes. In retrospect, I’m glad Brian
remained sane and talked me out of it.
Bottom part of Aussie Couloir
Brian – Stonecrop is the hazy glacier and Slalok the peak in the backdrop
We did manage to eke out some decent turns retreating off the Matier and Anniversary Glaciers and ran into some mutual friends of friends as we exited via the slopes NW of Keith’s hut dropping back down to Circus Creek. The parking lot was full of cars when we got back but a lot of visitors were day-trippers.
Brian and Lee skipping down the Anniversary Glacier back to the valley
Lee not quite guessing correctly how far the cornice dropped. Skis, hat and goggles were all retrieved successfully
Brian getting some on the slopes NW of the hut
Brian was frustrated in his goal of being the first person to put in a 10,000 foot day in the Joffre Group in alpine boots.
Our route to Joffre and out
Day’s elevation profile