By Kieran Crimeen
A high pressure system poked its nose in on the tail end of some snow so the weekend looked like a great time to head up to the Columbia Icefields area and have another go at the Skyladder.
After agreeing to leave Canmore at some stupid hour (1.45 for those interested) I went to sleep fidgeting nervously because a) it’s an intimidating route and b) the Backcountry Alpha aka Peter Knight would be in attendance. We howled up the Parkway, nearly losing a wheel that wasn’t bolted on properly and got underway at 4.30. I crushed the approach, dropping Joel and Peter for at least 20 seconds before they caught up and had me puffing to keep them in sight.
We were able to keep our shoes on for a good long way which definitely decreased our approach time from a couple of weekends ago. Despite what you may think, walking with skis on the back is faster and more energy efficient than lifting a ski, boot, binding and ski crampon with every step.
The glacier crossing was uneventful however the ‘shrund seemed to have opened up a little more in the past few weeks so it was something to keep in mind for the descent. Once on the route proper Joel and I untied the StairMaster and sent him on ahead. Climbing the route was trivial once the ISMF approved bootpack was in, except for my general lack of fitness and poor performance at (any) altitude.
Joel’s face when Peter says “I’ll set the bootpack.”
Rounding the shoulder things got shaded and icy, not boding well for the ski down. Stepping from the shelter of the shoulder to the summit ridge was like walking into the jetstream, with high winds and grains of ice scouring my face. Just absolute misery. We probably spent about two minutes on the summit before booking it down the ridge to the top of the ladder.
This is where the boys dropped me. Apparently these skimo guys are pretty fit.
Pitch one was icy misery, with little frozen wind patterns rattling my teeth and jarring my ligaments. We met a party that followed us up who ended up skiing the N Face. Right on guys! Once we’d descended into the sun the snow was soft and the skiing wild. Some sensible slough management was required but there weren’t any major ice patches to avoid. I found a couple of photogenic spots and the boys floated on down. We hopped the ‘shrund and put the rope back on for the short glacier crossing, riding the stoke and dropping shaka brah’s all the way down to the moraine.
Loud skiing on the top pitch. The stunning setting made up for it.
The Backcountry Alpha executing a bold turn for this sort of terrain.
Joel up to his usual tricks.
Getting to our shoes we noticed a plethora of wands had been laid out, marking the way up to the AA col. Confused and making jokes about whichever major local guiding agency we meandered down to the carpark for a well earned beer and a chance to chat with all the other skiers in the lot. Busy day out there, with the Silverhorn and West Shoulder of Athabasca getting skied too. It looked so nice that we decided it might be worth checking out tomorrow...
Leaving my place the following morning I was treated to a spectacular aurora show. Unfortunately I’d committed to skiing so I couldn’t take the night off to shoot the pretty lights.
Another 4.30 departure saw us slogging up the moraine towards Athabasca’s north glacier. We passed a party on foot who were bailing due to a breakable crust, which didn’t bother this buffalo none because he had skis on. A quick run up the glacier and then onto the Ramp, which in hindsight was a bit of a dumb decision due to overnight wind loading.
This guy is a perpetual motion blur.
We gingerly skinned up onto the plateau below the Silverhorn and stopped in confusion, wondering when we’d taken a wrong turn and ended up on Everest. The wand mystery had been solved.
Summit push from High Camp.
Luckily the mountaineers had established the bootpack, and sooner rather than later Peter and Joel had topped out on the Silverhorn. I arrived later, probably because I was taking some photos and not due to exhaustion.
Waiting for the summit to clear.
Joel and Peter headed on up to the summit after a brief rest whilst I hung around and took some pictures as we waited for corn o’clock. After an hour we decided it was too chilly to hang around, it was time to click in.
P-dogg and J-bomb slashing spines and sending lines.
I had a great time skiing the top pitch, I’m a fan of big faces and steep rolls that make it feel like you’re skiing into nothingness. Ski quality was average to great, with pockets of soft snow hidden among the old ski tracks.
It’s Joel’s photogenic clothing choices that make him a pleasure to ski with.
My favourite kind of skiing.
We got down to the glacier and chilled for a little while longer, because we’d outpaced corn o’clock on our descent. A quick rip to the shoes and short walk had us back at the car by 10ish, meaning it was too early for congratulatory beer in polite company. I’m still riding the high from the past weekend, I guess joining the ranks of the weekend warriors isn’t such a bad thing.