Three Pass Traverse

Just before Christmas, Ian, Luke, Valerio and I made an attempt on Catamount peak, a mildly remote Rogers pass summit in the Cougar Valley. That time we bailed. Undeterred, Luke and I went back in February to give it another shot, after a great week of high pressure. This time we were aiming for the north face, accessed via the Three Pass Traverse. It’s an awesome bit of mountain travel linking Balu, Catamount and McGill passes and drawing an appealing line from the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre to the Bostock parking area.

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Ian looks out at Catamount Peak on an earlier, aborted mission.

The traverse is most commonly sent as a two day trip. We, however hate carrying overnight gear and apparently like to suffer, so we would be doing it in a day. Such is our commitment to sleeping indoors whenever possible, we didn’t even discuss the possibility of making camp, unless of course some unforeseen issue forced our hand.

We left Golden at a fairly leisurely hour and arrived at the pass a little before 8:00 Revelstoke time. We then proceeded to kill well over half an hour putting our boots on very slowly and watching the weather visibly deteriorate. At some point we grew tired of sitting around(or more likely embarrassed) and off we went.

Fast travel to Balu gave us a great boost right out of the gate. A party was ahead of us somewhere resetting the blown in skintrack and despite stopping for a snack and carefully avoiding pushing too hard like idiots we made it to the first pass in 1:40. Perfect, we had planned for two. A quick transition and down we went, aiming for Cougar Creek. The snow was bad, but skiable – breakable crust with something vaguely supportive underneath that would hold an edge. We executed a few perilous straightlines and eventually coasted out into the valley bottom, some 20 minutes slower than we should have. Oh well.

Another snack and then skins on, Luke setting an uptrack towards distant Catamount Pass. It’s a long way up there, and the whole while the peak taunted us, coming visible in glorious sunlight for a moment, only to be quickly mired in dark cloud before we could get a good look. The closer we got to the pass though the better the weather became. It wasn’t long before I found myself setting a bootpack for the summit. In only a few hundred meters, it packs in a great little ridge climb. Little exposure for the majority of it, some snow covered low angle slab climbing and a beautiful knife edge summit ridge. That part is exposed, and we didn’t feel we had the time to safely challenge it, so unfortunately we left the true summit for another day after getting within a few meters. A bit of a bummer, but we’ll have to come back for the southeast face anyway so we’ll unlock it then.

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Lots of air on the right and some cornice on the left. Next time.

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Luke, halfway down a long, committing run.

5.5 hours into the day we clicked in and headed down off the north side. What a great run, it just goes and goes and goes, further from any kind of civilization with every turn. Awesome. 300 meters of decent wind effect off the top, then 500m of beautiful boot top powder down to the denser trees. Followed, of course by another 500m of time eating schmoo to valley bottom at Ursus Creek. A water refill at the creek, some lounging around at the remnants of someone’s old camp site and off we went.

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Skinning out of Ursus Creek with big lines calling from above.

It’s a long walk out of there at the end of the day, but what a walk. Spectacular scenery all around, big lines looming overhead. Exciting. Intimidating. We followed a wolverine track for what felt like forever, plodding along the valley’s gently curving floor until we finally got a look at McGill pass above. Then one last real climb and we topped out, just shy of 9 hours despite a leisurely pace from our last transition.

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The last climb of the day to McGill Pass.

Home free, we thought.

Yeah.

Wrong.

We descended heinous breakable crust down from the pass. At first it was firm and a little skiable but soon it got worse. Thick crust on top and boot deep isothermal mush below. We eventually took to just kick turning and traversing, no effort being made to ski whatsoever. Occasionally a patch of preserved powder encouraged an attempt at a real turn. Nearly every time it was rewarded with an ACL wrenching twist to the knee as the crust reappeared. My headlamp died, Luke lent me his spare. Good thing he thought to bring it. Not sure where my spare went but it wasn’t in my pack.

An hour and a half later we hit the summer trail. Fully over it, we followed a bootpack on the first section before ripping the bullet hard death track out. Another hour had us at the parking lot. Naturally we only brought one vehicle, so we had to hitch hike in the dark. My headlamp illuminated my thumb, while Luke’s, now on its last legs dimly lit his skis. We figured a fellow skier had to come by eventually. We turned out to be right (thanks man!) and the day ended some 11+ hours after it began, back at the Discovery Centre.

Despite the traverse’s refusal to end, the day was a rousing success. We felt strong at the close of it, neither of us reaching anything resembling our limit. We skied off of Catamount, saw tons of new terrain, learned a bit about fuel, pace and rest on longer days and aced our self imposed fitness test. On to bigger things!

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