Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Back-country skiing & snow-shoeing to Bow Hut

Having checked in almost four hours early (not by choice - the best shuttle from Canmore got me here that early) for my return flight to Heathrow, I've got a bit of time to sit down & try & remember the blur of activity that was the last two weeks. Wednesday a fortnight ago, we loaded up Mark's small hire SUV with four sets of skis, a pair of snow shoes (for me - still trying to give my shoulder a bit of a rest), avalanche gear & an awful lot of food & wine for an overnight trip. We were off to Bow Lake (we had passed the lake a couple of weeks before on our Icefield Parkway roadtrip) to skin/walk up to Bow Hut to stay the night - this trip was planned for the week before but the avalanche danger was too high. Finally (after almost three weeks) it had got proper cold - it got down to -24ºC on the way there; not the coldest it had been all winter, but about the temperature I had been preparing myself for in London & which was beaten away by a pretty mild January.

Parking at the lake, we were under way & skinning/walking across the lake at about eleven o'clock. I'm not sure I was completely used to walking across a lake for half an hour, it's kind of odd to think about. As the day was so cold & clear the scenery was already spectacular before we'd even begun to climb. Also, I was finally able to experience the sensation of hair on one's face freezing up - mostly nasal hair & eyelashes for me, but James's beard looked pretty cool. Across the lake we slowly begun to climb up a gentle & wide canyon before we turned up in to the trees, coming out in to the open again for a view of Bow Falls & a good lunch stop.Following lunch we skinned/walked up a much narrower & steep-sided canyon for a while. The stream running down it was frozen over in places - but not usually when we were trying to traverse above it, it made for some hairy moments. It was also very beautiful.We left the canyon before it got too steep for us & climbed up to the left (true right really) & through more trees. All this time I was making reasonably good time on the trusty (but boring) snowshoes & had plenty of time to wait & take photos. Being out in the -10 to -15ºC clear day surrounded by magnificent mountains was just fantastic & I was pleased to have the time to take it in as best I could. We were soon out of the trees for good & left traversing across the top of a nice little cliff down to the canyon (it was a little way away) we had just climbed out of. The skin track wasn't really wide enough for snowshoes (who would wear such ungainly things on such terrain?), so provided me with a little bit of trepidation. The hut was spotted with an hour to go perched up on a ridge & it looked big - but nowhere near as big as the bits of the glacier atop the distant cliffs that had just come in to view. Beneath the said glacier, we turned a hard left & had the biggest climb of the day to reach the hut; by now I was sick of trying to stay on the skin track that snaked its way up the climb - it was much easier just to power straight up the steep stuff.

Only four hours after setting out we were at Bow Hut. It turned out to be (relatively) salubrious & rather large with the bunkroom separate from the kitchen & dining area. The kitchen was well stocked with propane cooking & lighting & plenty of firewood to keep us toasty warm. Becca & James headed out shortly after up towards the glacier a bit so they could ski some of the runs down in the lovely powder that we had been walking through all day. By the time they got back it was dark - but only just, as the full moon provided us with a stunningly bright night. Mark, Adele & I had set to preparing some of the masses of food the others had carried out - in deference to my shoulder I was not allowed to carry more than a packet of corn chips in my small backpack, on the proviso that they were not broken. Carrying such a precious cargo I made extra sure not to fall & they came through whole & ready to be devoured with all the ground beef (what they call mince over here) & fresh veges. For once, we were the noisy one in the hut (much to the bemusement of an older German couple; the two young guys up from Lake Louise were too busy taking photos & smoking pot they probably didn't care how much noise we made) - I'm not sure if this was because it was such a great day, the company, the quality & quantity of the food or the fact that Mark & Adele had discovered TetraPak cartons of good wine in the bottleshop. Probably a combination of them all, but weighted towards the end of the list. Just before bed we all popped outside to have a look at the night sky - all wrapped up out there it wasn't too bad, the outside temperature was pretty constant up there at -12ºC. And what a night it was - these photos were taken at nine-thirty (sunset was about five-thirty at that time) without a flash, James has a very distinct shadow in the second picture.

After we all had varied nights' sleep, we were up & refueled with another large meal before heading up above the hut & on to the glacier. Here's James cutting the wood to fuel the fire to melt the snow to provide the water to boil to make our porridge. The others skinned up so they could have some nice powder runs back down, I of course just went for the walk & the vista. Here's Adele & I with our makeshift harnesses, just in case we fell in to a crevasse, on top of the glacier - you can just see my gumby snowshoes (there's not many photos of them thankfully).I think all had a great time skiing on the longest & deeper powder runs of their lives (a not completely substantiated claim, but I'm sure someone said that). James particularly left some nice squiggles behind him in the snow.Becca found my snowshoe tracks just after completing a turn & provided me with much amusement.After two runs down that slope, we were back to the hut to tidy up & have another huge meal - we were determined not to carry any food out (that was quite ambitious as it turned out, but we got there in the end). The steep hill that we climbed up to the hut was pretty sketchy descending on snowshoes & I had my first little fall of the trip. We got down with only a few little falls (Adele had a good faceplant that I missed, after she hit a submerged rock: & I seemed to spend a bit of time pulling Becca out of the snow as she made good acquaintance with some small trees). The last section through the trees was the only bit I really missed not being on skis, it was so twisty & flowly - really I was probably just missing my bike. I stopped & waited after a little rise to take photos of everyone skiing down; James got past in style, Becca went past & I got my photo & then she stopped & fell over, Mark waited just as he came in to shot & then came down & crashed right in front of me, & Adele did a convincing impression of someone scared of a camera & ran right of the trail just before me. Out of the trees it was pretty gentle down to the lake; by the time we reached the lake all Adele's activities of the previous four days were catching up with her & I ended up towing or pushing her across the lake with her poles - snowshoes really aren't all that slow, you just look like a muppet.That's really the end of that adventure - what a great couple of days & beautiful scenery & great friends & food. Thanks James for organising that & James, Becca, Adele & Mark for carrying my food & other stuff.

1 comment:

  1. interesting and humorous reading. Wish I were young again!