Turns All Year Trip Reports

2003 Backcountry Trip Reports => March 2003 Backcountry Trip Reports => Topic started by: Zap on 03/30/03, 07:35 PM

Title: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk Mtn
Post by: Zap on 03/30/03, 07:35 PM
It was a backcountry ski trip of a lifetime.  This report will be a bit long but the number of trip reports on Fairy Meadow (FM) is limited, and this might help others start dreaming.  FM is located at 6730’ and is calledl “the backcountry ski destination in Canada” by Chic Scott and it certainly meets that claim.  The prime ski dates are only available by lottery so luck has to be on your side.  I found a spot on this trip via a posting on this website about a vacancy and responded immediately with my check.  I didn’t know anyone on the trip, but that added to the adventure.  Our group of 19 was composed of randonee, tele and a snowboarder from Seattle, Bellingham, Colorado and Australia.  I knew I was with the right folks when I learned that the organizers (Norm, Pete & Ross) were bringing 2 pony kegs of a wheat ale and a half-barrel of Guinness.

We spent Friday evening in Golden and shared beers at the local brewpub and expectations of the upcoming week.  Saturday was spent in the rain at the helipad waiting for the clouds to lift so we could fly. After a false start, we started the 20 minute flights to FM about 5 PM, and everyone arrived at the hut as daylight faded.  The previous group left us dinner because they had anticipated staying an extra evening then learned the weather was clearing enough to fly.  It snowed all evening and we awoke to 30 cm of dust and minus 10 degrees C.  Wow!  Group A climbed near the practice slope and began snow analysis in a pit.  Our Group B headed east past the helipad for the trees.  We began our methodical descents of knee deep powder in the trees.  Mike and I figure-eighted our lines along the trees and slopes with barking and damp diapers.  The pit diggers from group A eventually arrived and chaos erupted.  Descents of boulders into pillows of powder through the trees.  Somehow my snaking through the trees provided me a new nickname of “Silver Fox”.  We returned after day one elated, but still cautious of the snowpack.

Monday, Mar. 24. That bright thing in the ski is the sun - WOW!  Glaciers, high peaks and powder surround us.  Today is a high alpine day.  We have divided into 3 groups.  One group heads for the Granite Glacier towards Unicol and the icefields of Unicorn Mt.  The second group heads climber right of the hut to circumnavigate towards Friendship Col (FC).  The third group heads down the glacial morraine through the trees and up towards FC.  The second and third groups meet at a ridge and climb towards FC. We dig pits, analyze the snowpack and decide to turn around about 200’ below FC due to windloading of the approach.  We descend 2500vf back through powder bowls and ridges.  The powder feels great on our faces as the sun glistens.  The views are BIG and the terrain is bigger.  Glaciers, seracs, icefalls, bowls, chutes - this is what we all dream about.  Our only incident of the trip occurs as Mark sinks into a dip and picks his nose with his ski tip.  A one inch slice at the mustache line, some red coloring of the snowpack and a hiatus on nose picking for the next week are the only results.

Tuesday, Mar. 25.  It's snowing again and it's another tree day.  More snow analysis, but our confidence is rising.  Nothing is releasing.  We "up" the descent gradients in the trees and cliff bands above the helipad.  We work the steep trees near the hut.  The "young warriors" begin their methodical "Search, Ski and Destroy" strategy.  Chute after chute, they climb and descend in tighter lines and steeper gradients.  We see "our chute" still pristine and rush to capture the first lines.  As we top the ridge and cross towards the chute, we see 3 fresh tracks - they beat us.  They found the obvious line, but we found the hidden slot with knee deep powder - tasty.  We were feeling quite smug as we started to skin towards the hut and looked up at a precarious line 700’ above us.  Damn, they're atop the tightest line, and one by one they leap 10 feet into the slot as a pillow of dust explodes and Ross, Anneka and Stephan scribe beautiful lines in knee deep powder.  Fantastic lines and the snowpack is stable.  Wow!

Wednesday, Mar. 26. It's another sunny day with 15 cm of fresh powder and minus 10 C temperatures.  Another high alpine day and back to FC and Mike breaks through the cornice protecting FC.  We enjoy lunch on the upper plateau and we are surrounded by Sentinel Peak, Pioneer Peak, The Gothics, The Gargoyle, Gibraltar Peak, Mount Fria, Mount Wotan, Ygdrasil Mtn., Mount Pythias and Mount Damon.  We are in a mountaineer's paradise.  We climb Sentinel Peak and look down towards the Granite Glacier and the tracks of Pete, Jim, Nic and Britta.  We begin our descent at 9940 feet.  I pull out and attach my snorkel for the descent. :) We carve the ramp off Sentinel and drop off the cornice guarding Friendship Col. We ski to the notch between the 2 rock fins and descend the blowhole, break through the blowhole's cornice and then Ross, Anneka, Mike and I begin a 1500 vf descent on a dogleg left 38 degree slope in sunshine and powder towards the Echo Glacier.  Mike and I traverse between crevasses onto a ramp of the Echo Glacier and start a barking feast on a 700 vf line while Dan continues to video our descent.  Anything this good is probably illegal. :)

Mar.Thursday,  27.  Yeah, it's sunny again and cold.  Pete, Jim, Nic and Britta summit Sentinel Peak and then Jim and Pete climb Pioneer Peak. They receive radio directions from Nic atop Sentinel Peak as they descend Pioneer Pass and its crevasses onto the Granite Glacier.  I noticed them changing their underwear that evening.The "Search, Ski and Destroy" team has regrouped and set their sights on the untracked powder ridges above the hut, climber's right.  The "young warriors" took the obvious lines first, then the ribs, rockbands and then the cornices.  The snowpack was stable.  We were unable to trigger any releases and began skiing steeper lines.  We refueled for lunch at the hut and restarted the plundering.  There were endless lines of 700 vf at our doorstep. A setting sun ended the powder frenzy.  

Friday, Mar.. 28.  An overcast sky with patches of blue set the stage for our last full ski day.  We climbed to Friendship Col and headed east down the Gothics Glacier as the sun began poking through the clouds.  Ross and Anneka set their sights on the Houdini Needles.  Jim, Norm, Tracy and I descended the chute just south of the Needles.  We dodged the rocks that guarded the entrance then began our 1500 vf descent of the powder choked chute.  I stopped about half way down to video the group and measured the slope angle at 38 on one side and 44 on the other side of the double fall line chute.  The snowpack was solid and the only sounds were the echo's of heavy breathing and barking.  We then looked skyward and watched Anneka and Ross skirt the rock dotted couloir entrance and descend the powder slot of the south Needle with beautiful and powerful lines.  What a stunning way to end the day.  We spent our last evening with a Mexi feast, cold Guiness and big grins.

Saturday, Mar. 29.  It's snowing lightly, the temperature is rising and fog layers delay our departure by a few hours.  As we board the Bell 407, we view our graffiti on the surrounding slopes and grin.  Back at the departure helipad on Highway 1, we gather in a warm rain just as we did a week earlier.  The hugs, laughter and high fives are history but our memories will be with us forever.  This was the best backcountry hut trip most of us had or will have - 2 storm days, 4 sunny days, 45 cm fresh powder, temperatures around minus 10 C', a stable snowpack for us and a setting that was breathtaking.  If it gets any better than this, you're probably having a dream. Zap(aka Silver  Fox)

Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: ron j on 03/31/03, 01:03 AM
Nice report, Zap.
Thanks.  It was the next best thing to being there.

Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: Pete A on 03/31/03, 03:37 AM

I was wondering who was going to write the trip report first!  Zap, I was so glad you were able to join our group for this trip, without a doubt I had the best ski days of my life up there last week.  The high alpine tours over the friendship and pioneer cols and the various glaciers were beyond my highest expectations.  
I think our group was very lucky to hit the Adamant Range when the weather and snow conditions allowed us to ski so much big mountain terrain.
Now I just have to adapt to life in the real world again, no more face shots and guiness lunches for a while.
I hope that some of the fairy meadows gang can meet up again soon for some spring tours.


Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: Jim Oker on 03/31/03, 07:48 AM
Great report - sounds like you guys had fantastic conditions for the trip. I was up there several years ago after a big storm cycle so we had lots of great powder our day and a half (during which we managed to yo-yo the wonderful descent of the Granite Glacier from Unicol), then the wind picked up and cooked the snow anywhere at all open. Though there were still some nice pockets here and there for turns, for the most part we turned to "mountaineering objectives" for the remainder of the week. Not to say that sucked - Sir William was a particular highlight of that portion of the trip and there's lots of other fun objectives. But from what I've heard, FM groups often get either windcrust (as we did) or storm days in that one patch of trees above the moraine.

You guys must know how to do the correct weather rituals!

Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: markharf on 04/02/03, 04:33 PM
A remarkably complete and coherent trip report from Zap, posted in all sorts of random and widely-scattered places (e.g., Couloir, Telemarktips, RSB, Turns-All-Year).  I find I've got hardly anything to add...although I did want to clarify certain events which transpired during our descent to the cabin that second day.  Despite published reports to the contrary, I was not trying to pick my nose with my ski tip; rather, I was executing a wondrously graceful and complex aerial maneuver when I snagged on a bit of windcrust, momentarily achieved escape velocity, and upon re-entry bonked myself in the schnoz with the sharpened business end of my Mira.  Being generously endowed with blood vessels in that area of my anatomy, I then proceeded to leave a trail of bright, arterial red for the next several miles of downhill.  Tracey, our resident medical doctor, was kind enough to offer to sew me up with dental floss, but I demurred.  

This aside, the trip was much as Zap describes: good to great skiing in a variety of astoundingly beautiful settings, with endless fields of apparently-stable powder on all aspects.  Also worth noting: the culinary masterpieces which kept appearing at dinnertime each evening, ranging from Thai to Tandoori to Mexican; the northern lights which flickered overhead each clear evening; and the fact that all in our party of 19 seemed to be getting along just as well at our departure as we were upon arrival.  Our timing was exquisite as well:  a week prior, the hut log reported fearfully assigning spotters and wearing beacons for each trip to the water hole behind the hut; the day after we left, the snow level rose to 2000 meters (exactly hut elevation, in fact), with wet snow above that elevation later freezing into trap crust.  When I drove through Rogers Pass a couple of days later, the avalanche center staff were still moaning and groaning about conditions and stability, being apparently uninformed about the stellar week we'd had just thirty miles or so north of them.  

Watch for the movie version, coming soon to a theater near you.



PS:  The North Cascades Highway is on the verge of opening.  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/regions/northcentral/Maint/Area3/nc2003/

Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: Pete A on 04/09/03, 07:44 AM
Posted eight of the better pictures I took on the trip here:


Title: Re: March 22-29, 2003, Fairy Meadows Hut, Selkirk
Post by: Faceplant on 04/12/03, 03:45 PM
Zap, tells it like it is.  There are guide services that will take you up there if the guide service is lucky enough to win the lottery and/or you can hire a guide and cook if you win the lottery.  The guide service is up to you, but save the money and have the group do the cooking for themselves.  It was a great way to bond.  It was actually one of the most interesting parts of the trip.  The skiing was some of the best I ever did.  If you go guideless, make sure the group has a strong focus on avy risk.  There are many terrian traps in the area.  It's so beautiful up there it's hard to stay focused on just how dangerous it can be. ???
And if you Ski with Zap, don't fall.  He'll get it on film.  :D

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