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NWAC Avalanche
+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
|-+  2010 Backcountry Trip Reports
| |-+  January 2010 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
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Author Topic: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise  (Read 3825 times)

Posts: 55

1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« on: 01/30/10, 10:33 AM »


After years of dreaming about midwinter overnight trips at Roger's Pass, we finally got it together for two nights at the Asulkan Cabin...

Monday we skied epic North facing chutes off Ozone in the Kicking Horse slackcountry under grey skies with limited visibility. This was a good warm-up(?) to the -10C temps that we have not had in the PNW, and great fun. Big thanks to Mike Taylor for showing us the sweet lines.

I also got to stop into the new Avalanche Safety Solutions store in Golden where my sister works promoting and selling the new SnowPulse Airbag backpacks. Check out for more info. I hear they may be selling this years fleet of Heli-ski Company backpacks at a big discount come springtime, and that next years models look sick! (end shameless plug)

Monday night we got last minute reservations for the Asulkan Cabin, and with a superb weather forecast, packed our overnight bags.

Tuesday morning my sister Claire, Mike, Annie, and I headed west to Rogers pass and after a quick check-in at the Discovery Centre, headed south up the Illecillewaet and then Asulkan Valley under sunny skies and building pressure with no winds. It's about 8km (5mi.) and 920m (3000') of travel through beautiful Spruce and Mountain Hemlock to the cabin at treeline. I was excited to finally see the notorious Mouse Trap in person before ascending the Tree Triangle below the hut, and found the journey quite pleasant with a reasonable-sized pack. It's mostly flat for the first 5km until the Mouse Trap is reached, then the ascent becomes steeper but very manageable.

We settled in for the night with Chloe and Diz from Chamonix and Montana, fully spoiled with extra space left by the group of 6 that never showed up, and watched as the sunny day turned to alpenglow under the rising moon. Pressure continued to rise through the night as we cooked ourselves in the propane heat (sleeping bags are generally unnecessary at the well-insulated Asulkan Cabin), and planned our ascent of Youngs Peak the next morning.

We awoke to clear skies and more alpenglow as we hit the skin track, and we were on the summit of Young's around 11:30am. This is a straightforward ascent, and the headwall was in prime condition for a swift bootpack and decent skiing. We didn't actually see the sun until we were on the summit ridge, and the expanse of the Columbia mountains greeted us with a hUge panorama while we ate lunch.

The Illecillewaet Neve is an ice sheet that sits close to 10,000' among the high peaks in Glacier N.P. with drips dropping off on all sides, helping to form valleys like the Beaver River and Incommapleaux, all making their way to some portion of the Columbia River. We could see Mt. Columbia, Sir Sanford, and the Valhallas above the ocean of peaks in the distance, and it was possible to imagine what the first party (Bill Briggs et al) to do the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass traverse might have felt before making their descent back into civilization as we looked across the final section of their route.

Then it was time to ski!

The Seven Steps of Paradise (nowhere near Mt Rainier) is a classic moderate line down the North face of Young's Peak, following a series of rollovers between the massif and the Pterodactyl (a rock feature very near the Asulkan Cabin).

There was about 10-15cm of fresh snow on top of a deep base that increased in density with depth. It was wind-affected in many areas, although still very skiable, and we found several deeper and softer areas while avoiding some obvious windslab. There had been a lot of talk about the Dec. 29th Surface Hoar layer, but we saw no signs of it in the alpine. The storm snow was not bonded to the layers beneath, but we had no problems managing the minor sloughing of the top 5-15cm.

Skiing was fun and adventurous, with lots of nice turns and a few exciting unknown rollovers below the Pterodactyl. The weather stayed beautiful all day, and Claire and Mike headed back to Golden while Annie and I skinned back up the Tree Triangle to the hut.

Whoa. Long trip report! I hope this is interesting enough to be worth reading...

As we were climbing the final slopes to the cabin, a party of Czek and Slovakian skiers made their way over the last steep pitch and settled into the cabin. When we arrived, they were unloading very large packs, smoking tobacco, and commenting on their struggle over the steeper sections (one ended up booting up the middle of the skintrack!?!).

About 15 minutes later, two more local skiers arrived at the hut and asked if anyone knew "Ivan". After some clarification, we learned that Ivan was the slowest member of the Slovak team, and that he had last been seen hours earlier, lost and struggling above the Mouse Trap, and had taken the wrong skin track towards The Dome rather than the Asulkan Hut. Furthermore, when these two skiers had gone higher to help find Ivans team, they instead found another couple who suggested they "might have seen someone below falling into a tree well". The two local skiers had skied back down, searching for Ivan, and not having found him, skinned up to the Asulkan Hut to notify his team.

So, now it is about 5pm and -9C outside. The sun is beginning to set, and nobody has seen Ivan since around 1pm, when he appeared disoriented and clearly off his intended route (and maybe lost in a terrain trap). Several of us in the hut realize the seriousness of this situation and begin to organize a plan and information for the Wardens.

The Slovak skiers seem to say "Eh, he'll be OK, he knows what he's doing. Plus, he's got a full bottle of Schnapps!", while everyone else looks at each other with alarm and urgency. While I am calling the Park Wardens (there is full cell coverage in many areas of Rogers Pass) with the information we have gathered, the other members of Ivan's party ski down from a lap above, and being the stronger skiers in the group, they agree to go down to look for him in the last seen area above the Mouse Trap (Triangle Morraine).

After another hour, during which the Wardens say it is essentially up the skiers in the valley to organize any search for that evening, the possibility that Ivan is out alone in the cold and darkness starts to hit home for his friends. They wait outside the hut, smoking tobacco, hoping for at least someone to emerge from the slopes below. They have not drank any of their beer...

I have a couple phone conversations with the Wardens and the skiers in the valley, and as night sets in, the best they can hope is that Ivan made his way back down to the Wheeler Hut near the trailhead.

Finally around 8pm, I got a call from the Wardens that Ivan has indeed arrived at the Wheeler Hut and is safe for the night. Everyone at the hut cheers and sighs with great relief, and the search party returns from below about an hour later. At least they got to be out skiing in the backcountry on a beautiful moonlit night.

What a relief. I never met Ivan, but I couldn't help imagine the possible experiences he might have faced. It was really interesting to note each person's reactions to the situation, ranging from casual confidence (from his friends) to serious concern, and even strong anger towards the members of his party who had left him behind (the local skiers who initiated the search were ready to punch his ski partner for not waiting for him above the Mouse Trap).

What I noticed was that the more experienced a person was with both backcountry skiing in general and this area in particular, the more concerned they were. Those of us in the hut who could imagine the consequences were really motivated to help, while some others seemed to simply let it unfold. In the end they were right that Ivan was able to take care of himself, and I am very glad he did. However, there were at least five skiers out after dark looking for him, and a lot of people were really concerned for several hours.

Anyhow, we got a good nights sleep, packed our bags and skied sweet powder down the tree triangle and out the valley to the truck in about an hour. After breakfast in Revelstoke, we made our way back to the wet side. We were in Bellingham in time for dinner at Boundary Bay, no problem.

There's really not much (if any) snow on the ground this side of Revy except along the Coquihala. It looks a little sad from the road (or at least like April). However, things look a lot better on the other side of Roger's Pass... this would be a good year to visit.

See you out there!

* Asulkan_1_2010.jpg (51.42 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1001 times.)

* Pterodactyl_Morraine_1_2010.jpg (38.71 KB, 640x480 - viewed 961 times.)

* AsulkanTopo_1_2010.jpg (66.48 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1022 times.)

Posts: 255

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #1 on: 01/30/10, 11:02 AM »

Awesome TR. I'm looking for my passport now.

Glad Ivan was OK!

Posts: 71

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #2 on: 01/30/10, 12:53 PM »

Great report. Interesting analysis of the group dynamics. Maybe the nonchalance over the missing Ivan is more an east European thing than due to group inexperience. The other thing is maybe Ivan had a few wee nips too many of the schapps.

Posts: 2408

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #3 on: 01/30/10, 01:11 PM »

Thanks for the conditions update and description of the group dynamics for the delayed skier.  It re-enforces the "rule" of choosing your ski partners carefully.

Posts: 345

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #4 on: 01/31/10, 06:15 PM »

Great story.  One of my favorite places to ski anywhere.  Regarding Bill Briggs and his Bugs to Rogers Pass ski traverse (1958);  When my buddy and I came through on our traverse of the Bugs to Rogers, we found Bill Brigg's party signature carved into the window frame at the Glacier Circle Cabin.  The park service rebuilt the hut in 2005 and put all the historically important etchings behind protective plastic.
I had a chance to talk to Bill Briggs last summer in Jackson Hole at the weekly hootanany in Moose.  He got a chuckle when I told him about his groups carving written on the Cabin window frame behind plastic.  There was no hut register so everyone just wrote on the walls what the climbed and their trip goal.  They did their trip in June because that was the earliest they could get up to BC.  They ended up hiking through some of the valley bottoms.

Pic of group register:


Posts: 813

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #5 on: 01/31/10, 06:55 PM »

Wow...Roger's Pass SUNNY...I've never seen it. LOL. Seriously, everytime there it was immersed in cloud for both ski and climb. I'd really love to actually see it one of these days. Thanks for the preview. God knows this helps keep the dream alive.


Posts: 17

Re: 1/25-28 Golden, Asulkan - Seven Steps of Paradise
« Reply #6 on: 01/31/10, 10:13 PM »

Jason, great post. Guess what I was there at the Wheeler Hut at the same time. We skied the seven steps on Telegear the day Ivan dissappeared. Small world eh?

We were back at the hut around 6:00 pm after having some dinner at the Glacier Lodge and Ivan had reached the bottom of a bottle of distilled Plums straight from Slovakia. Just a guess but he probably turned around  early and came back to the Wheeler knowing the little trip up to Alsukan would be more than he was up for.

Anyway made it up to the Saphire Col the next day, and down to Kootenay Pass's Lightening Ridge on the way home. Way to go on finding the goods. Skiers right of the Pterodactyl had some sweet lines left to finish up, hope you hit it.



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