December 27-29, 2013
Assiniboine Area, AB/BC
Towards the end of this incredible year 2013, Ben and I were looking at a long multi-day slog on skis. Our original plan was skiing to Berg Lake in the Mount Robson’s core area, but due to a bunch of cancellations, the miserable weather forecast and the avalanche bulletin rating at “High”, the plan got cancelled. The forecast was slightly better down south, so at the last minute we decided to check out Assiniboine’s core area via Bryant Creek. Even though I’d already climbed the Mighty ‘A’, I’d never done this standard approach, nor seeing Assiniboine from Lake Magog area. This approach is similar in characteristic with Berg Lake, but longer (25 km one way to Assiniboine Pass). There’re a bunch of easy peaks near this pass and they all look doable in winter (in the right conditions), so we’d pack 5 days’ supplies. Knowing we’d camp in the trees, I packed my 1-person tent instead of the bivy sack to make the trip more enjoyable. Well, that was the plan, but the weather always have other plans.
So why we finished the trip in 3 days?? Not because we were speed demons but because the condition/weather didn’t give us the freedom to move around… Alright, this was still in December which meant we only had a bit more than 8 hours’ daylight time. To make sure we could get to the Pass before dark, we decided to start early (7 ish in the morning). The first section of this lengthy approach was following a fire road for about 6 km. Near the end the road descended steeply for about 60 vertical meters, then crossed Spray River. Then the trail curved around the southwest end of Spray Lake before crossing the raging Bryant Creek on another bridge. I was surprised to see a raging torrent in this creek at this time of the year. After this the trail started to get tedious since there wouldn’t be any views until Bryant Creek Shelter (14 km from trail-head).
We took a break in the shelter before continuing up the trail. It was surprisingly busy and the trail was very packed down, by all kinds of traffics (AT skiers, X-country skiers, split-boarders and snowshoeers). The trail continued flat for another long distance before climbing steeply up towards Assiniboine Pass. The weather started to move in at this point. The storm came in fast and heavy, dumping a shit ton of wet snow on us. Our jackets got soaked very soon, oh well… Eventually, up and over the pass, we turned right (north) for another kilometer of so before setting up campsite in the trees at the lower slopes of Cave Mountain. It’s funny that the group behind us kept following our tracks to our camp while they still thought they were going towards Naiset Hut… It was a long night and the weather didn’t improve. We must have got at least 15 cm of new snow.
The next morning we woke up in snow again so we slept in. It was hard to get going in this weather but we eventually decided to give Cave Mountain a shot. The sky was so grey that we could barely see the outline of Mount Assiniboine and the surrounding peaks. We never got a clear view of it. The trail-breaking was very bad and we sunk to the bottom for every step. The snow was shitty sugar at the bottom and offered no traction at all. Our skins also got wet and frozen and they started to fall off from our skis. (It would have been better if we were on snowshoes though). Eventually after struggling hours in the knee to waist deep snow we came closer to the treeline. The terrain was much steeper than appeared from topo map and it was certainly avalanche terrain. With all of the new snow the snowpack became very unstable and we started to hear whumps around. The alpine was wind-blown but looking around we couldn’t find a safe line to access the rocky slopes. We figured it wasn’t worth to take the risks so we bailed the attempt. The skiing down was also very bad but offered some nice practice on kick-turns on survival skiing.
Ben brought his fancy SPOT and checked the weather forecast again. Obviously the weather turned snowy for the following few days entirely. Looking around that we might can get up Cascade Rock and Mount Cautley without venturing into avalanche terrain but boot-packing 500 vertical meters on frozen scree on ski boots in a blizzard just didn’t sound appealing to any of us.. To cut the lost, we decided to ski partway out in the afternoon, particularly, to the Shelter. We eventually made back to the shelter which was pretty much occupied by a large group from Calgary. Thankfully there were still two more spots. The night was much nicer and warmer and it felt like summer again..
The sky got cleared up for a couple hours overnight, but as expected, we still woke up in a blizzard the next morning. There wasn’t anything fancy this day except for skiing 14 km out. This is some sort of trips that you’d wish to have an iPod with full battery, and thankfully I brought mine with me. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant trip, but useful. We’d never done camping trips on skis before, and it was a success to even just finish this trip without getting sick nor blisters, not to say we successfully ski’d 27 km in one day with full winter camping packs on. This certainly helped building up our confidence for the following big plans in the spring time. Speaking the snowpack, this winter is way worse than the last year’s. I’d only spent the previous two winters in the Canadian Rockies so far. People are talking that the last two winters being abnormal and maybe this year’s comes back to normal and I have to get used to it.