Five o’clock. The sun hasn’t dawned on the tip of Cascade yet. On goes the espresso maker with a flick of the switch. It’s another morning meeting Chris for a pre-dawn skin up Sunshine or John for a session of climbing ice.
Chris and I team up each Sunday to take our planks for a walk. Most days we begin with headlamps and hit the meadows amid a raging wind just as the sun starts to rise. The sky is bathed in pastel colours. Or else it’s a white-out and we’re skinning up a white surface in an ocean of white.
At work, I nag John to see if he wants to go ice climbing. Our relationship is mutually beneficial; I can learn a lot from climbing with John, and he needs a partner to go with, so he agrees. A little something in the backyard of Canmore is arranged for working on skills, not so much a backcountry outing.
Copious breakfast is consumed and workplace politics dissected. We rock up to the Junkyards, “thriftstore alpinists” John calls us. We do a couple laps on Scottish Gully then trade ropes with another party and try their steeper pitch. Lunch is conducted as Kananaskis Public Safety bomb the flanks of East End of Rundle, a very “Apocalypse Now”-ian scene as John surveys the damage while I implore my Bialetti to hurry up and boil.
The day is concluded with a rap down Scottish Gully to bring down our rope, followed with practice lead climbing a moderate pitch. We get back to the car in the dark, John having an eight hour night shift ahead of him that evening.
A stunner day riding the lift to the top of North American at Norquay. It feels like the first taste of spring. I have a pass but yesterday I skinned (read: bootpacked) up here from town for shits and giggles. Today I’m just riding bumps. And steep cruddy crap, even though a few days ago this place was pow-city. Oh well, at least the sun feels nice on my face.
It’s the end of the month and Chris and I are ready for something beyond the whole Sunshine thing. I’m used to riding steep terrain in shitty conditions; the skiing might not be pretty but I can make it down the hill. So obviously I’m ready to ski a couloir in the backcountry. Chester Lake is suggested and although I expect/hope for Chris to talk me out of it, he seems enthusiastic. Fuck.
After a few kilometres of easy skinning, we rock up to the huge fan at the base of the couloir and put our skis on our packs. Out come the ice tools and crampons for eight hundred metres of frontpointing. We make good progress up the slope, alternately taking turns to break trail and kick steps for each other, though it’s hard work.
A short distance below the top, the climbing turns to wallowing in unconsolidated powder so we say “fuck it” and put on our skis. Chris goes first, his first few turns unsuccessful. He navigates down a narrow section, then I go. The same. I might be used to riding steep terrain, but not in powder, and most of my turns leave me resignedly lying like a heap in the snow. I laugh, but it’s frustrating.
Eventually we make a few good turns down the gully. Chris skis down the fan and out of sight. Suddenly the powder turns into ice and my skis are skating down the slope. I’m in an uncontrolled glissade and headed directly for some rocks and/or a cliff. I strike with my ice tool and it’s wrenched out of my hand. I desperately plunge my ski pole into the ice and drive it in with more and more pressure until I slowly and painstakingly come to a stop. My skis dangle from my toe pins, ice tool still planted in the slope fifty metres above me. Otherwise I’m unscathed, save for my dignity. Yeah, so ready to ski a couloir…