January 9, 2016
Pemberton / Duffey Lake Road, BC
The beautiful Slalok Mountain is the 3rd highest in Joffre Group and boasts 3 classic routes for beginner/intermediate level mountaineers – the NE Ridge from Matier Glacier; the SW Ridge as described in Matt Gunn’s scramble book; and the N. Face that rises straight up from the upper Joffre Lake. After finishing Mt. Matier and Joffre Peak in a roll I was excited to put this one down. The North Face route was decided and to make the trip more aesthetic Alex, Ben and I decided to ski it. It’d be my introductory trip to “steep skiing”, which in my definition refers to ski terrain that’d require long section of boot-packing using ice axe/crampons, with serious consequence in case of a mistake.
There’s some delay in the morning and we didn’t manage to leave Vancouver by almost 6:30 am, and that meant hordes of people (hikers, snowshoeers, skiers and split boarders) were already on the Joffre Lakes trail. Apparently this is the most popular access trail on the Duffey and it’s my first time visiting. For obvious reason all three Joffre Lakes were frozen so I weren’t quite impressed by the views, but I do like the fact it’s a short approach. The trail was very packed down though (almost too icy at places), and the section just before the second lake was fairly steep. In over an hour we all made to the upper Joffre Lake with the North Face of Slalok looming in front.
The face appeared massive as we skin’d across the upper Joffre Lake in frigid temperature. Another group was ahead of us at this time but they went towards the Matier Glacier’s icefalls. One variation of Slalok’s NE Ridge approach does go through that icefall but we weren’t sure where exactly they were going. The route we took would be going straight up the N. Face – ascending the obvious central couloir then up the Stonecrop Glacier. Alex led a way skinning to the base of that couloir and it didn’t take long before we all had to boot-pack. We started without an ice axe nor crampons but halfway up the couloir it’s becoming increasingly icy so we took the gears out. I then took over the lead and the terrain steepened to 40-45 degrees near the top of this couloir as we exited it on climber’s right side avoiding an exposed patch of ice. We kept boot-packing up for another 100 vertical meters or so until the grade finally eased off on the Stonecrop Glacier. Looking across the glacier we saw the other group popping out on the NE Ridge.
The terrain was still fairly steep and the snow was still wind affected and icy so ski crampons came out. A few long switchbacks later we arrived at the base of the final face. The bergschrund was easily crossed and then it’s time to boot-pack again. This time I thought about leaving the skis down by the bergschrund but after some second thoughts I decided against it just for “completeness”. The snow wasn’t in a great skiing shape but it’s a good opportunity for me to learn.. The grade for the final face steepened to above 40 degrees for a while, a convex roll was ascended and then we were on the upper NE Ridge just below the summit block.
The final block required some scrambling on rime covered rock but nothing overly tricky and in short time we all made to the summit. The views were incredible towards each direction and with the mighty Joffre Peak and Mt. Matier stealing the show – two peaks that I ascended a few days earlier. We waited for the other group to show up and they turned out to be Mark Jenkins (mj22 from ClubTread) and his friends.
After some short summit celebration time it’s time to ski down the face. I wasn’t sure how well I could do given the steepness and the shitty snow quality, but without facing it there’s no way to know. While the other 5 guys all managed to ski down the upper face in good style I had to do a few kick-turns and some very long side-slipping. I couldn’t commit to a turn until much lower once the grade eased, but then the run down Stonecrop Glacier was pretty awesome. For the couloir we had to avoid that ice patch and that involved some dedicated side-slipping. I wished I had an ice axe at this point, but oh well. Watching the other skiers struggling on the side-slipping and the jump-turns lower down didn’t help my confidence neither, but again, I just had to face it… Although it took me a good while I did manage to descend the entire couloir without taking the skis off, so that’s fine.
And then there came the super duper icy and steep trail down from Joffre Lakes. I took a crush at some point descending from the upper lake to the middle lake and after that I decided to just boot-pack the rest. While I could manage steep grade or even shitty snow in some way, I do absolutely need open space. For trail like this it was much faster for me to just walk down rather than risking for another crush… At least this time I didn’t have to put the crampons on like my Youngs Traverse trip last year… Once the grade finally eased I put the skis back on and enjoyed a fast run down to the lower lake, but then I had to remove them again for the final uphill slog back to the car.
This trip turned out a bit longer and a bit more involved than I was expecting. The climb was pretty normal given what I’ve been doing in these couple years but the skiing was definitely one of the most challenging I’ve committed to yet. But then I felt pretty good to have Mt. Matier, Joffre Peak and Slalok Mountain knocked off in just one week in early January, and with good weather persisting through Sunday we wouldn’t go home yet…