Slalok

Feb 20, 2005

I’ve been wanting to ski on Slalok for several years now so I’m happy to have climbed it this weekend. Unfortunately I wasn’t left completely satisfied and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be heading back. There are three reasons for this: first, I didn’t ski the line I would have liked to, second, we didn’t ski the entire face (bootpacked down some steeper sections) and third, the face was heavily wind affected so the turns weren’t as sweet as I had hoped. It’s always good to have a reason to return.

Though I had wanted to ski Slalok for years, I wasn’t interested in doing it until the conditions were favorable. Avalanche conditions were excellent (whistler was rating the alpine hazard low), the weather fantastic and I was excited to get up slalok. A miscommunication left colin and I without are planned trailbreaker (chris) but we felt up to the job. Colin Cheng picked me up at 5:30 am and we left vancity for the duffey.

We left the Joffre lakes parking lot before 9 am and decided to walk up the trail. Within an hour we were on the upper lake below the face. There was a lot less snow then I would have liked, and our options were quite limited. For starters, the main couloir I wanted to was crowned by what looked like a long crevasse. I both sides of the couloir were rocks below exposed glacial ice. We hadn’t brought a rope and it looked a like an exit onto the upper glacier would be complicated or perhaps beyond my comfort level. To the right of the couloir there was a lot of exposed rock and cliff, and most potential gully routes were discontinuous. I wondered if perhaps the conditions were too dry for our objective.

We gingerly picked our way over a moraine covered by less than a foot of snow and worked our way up to the base of the couloir. After a short climb we decided to head for the discontinuous gullies right of the main couloir. Are main reason for this was because it looked more likely to give us a successful ascent, coupled with the fact that it was considerably less exposed to slopes above. Almost immediately we were forced to strap skis to the pack and begin the long bootpack. Our chosen route ascended a gully with short rock section at which point we moved onto a rib to the left of the gully. I was happy to have my ice axe, as the slope was quite steep and the snow was pretty firm allowing limited foot penetration on each step. Colin and I took turns carefully kicking steps up the rib, aware of the cliffs below us.

After a couple hundred feet we reached easier slopes and eventually hit a comfortable ridge to rest on. We kicked steps up another short gully, this time much less exposed to cliffs below. Finally we reached the upper glacier and began the long slog to the summit. The snowpack was heavily affected by northwest winds, and a slab had formed in areas one to three inches thick. It was breaking free while we ascended, and I was concerned about triggering a slide during our descent. However, the slab never seemed to get much thicker and as we gained elevation I became more comfortable with the stability.

During our ascent I found myself getting pretty tired, and started to think about the weight of my pack. Colin is quite the light weight freak, and as I struggled to keep pace, I promised myself a complete set of lightweight gear for next trip. As a side note, I had found out that morning that one of Colin’s lightweight “tricks” is to leave the avalanche probe at home! I wasn’t impressed.

Eventually we broke into sunlight, and struggled up the final slope to the summit ridge. The day was spectacular, and the views of the cayoosh range were great. I was too tired to haul my skis up the final wind blasted slope, and after dropping them I found I had enough energy to power up the last bit to the rime crusted summit cairn. It was 3:30 pm at the summit; we made a speedy turn around and began our descent.

The snow had seen a lot of wind action, but surprisingly the turns were pretty enjoyable, aside from the occasional dense section. We dropped quickly down the upper glacier to where the slope rolled away to the cliffs below. I zipped out to the top of the main couloir in the face but was unable to see a safe route through the junction of ice and rock. Despite our hesitation, we chose to go down our ascent route. It actually turned out quite well, and we quickly bootpacked down the two gullies. It was disappointing to not ski the entire face, but for us bootpacking was a safe option.

We got a few more turns from the base of the gully picked our way back down to the upper lake. We loaded the skis onto our packs and headed back to the car. Since Colin had left his headlamp at home, he was in quite a rush to make it back to the car. Warm alpine glow bathed Slalok as we crossed lower joffre lake. Tired and smiling, we packed the car and headed home.