Last Two Days

The last two days have been overcast with light snow falling intermittently. The avalanche risk is still considerable, so we ski the trees.

I am getting better at picking my own routes through the trees but can only plan so far and then have to stop and review the upcoming terrain and plot a new route. I occasionally do my panic thing and end up laying in the white stuff waiting for Murray to ski down to fish me out.

Murray has been searching for the good snow and makes extra runs with a couple of the others after I head back to the lodge. Today they discover some great snow just above the lodge off to one side.

I look at a map that has the number of feet of the climbs up to the tops of the mountains.  Mista Vista is a climb up a 150 story building, Heather Ridge is a 100 story building and Mohawk is a 70 story building. Ouch!  Today I climbed up three quarters of Heather Ridge twice today, no wonder my legs are tired at the end of the day!

We have finished skiing for the week and I think everyone has had a great time. Great food, great skiing and great company. We are already talking about next year.

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2 cloud day

Suppose to be an easy day today. Take a trip up to the treeline on Heather Ridge and another trip through the trees for Debbie. She needs a bit more experience to believe she can do it. Oh my, what a gorgeous day. The sky is so blue and so clear. At treeline there is a discussion. Three of us are headed to Mista Vista. Yesterday, C had set a track to the top and it was mostly blown in with snow but it is easier to follow the bits and pieces of the track than break our own trail. M, Debbie and I trudge up. All the way up the snow seems unpredictable. There is 6 or 8 inches of new unaffected snow on top of a fairly but not completely supportive layer. Every tenth step or so I break through.

mistata lodge

It is way more climbing than we had planned but if we are going to get a view from a higher vantage point today is the day.

Top of Mista Vista

Top of Mista Vista

The white mountains with the sky blue back drop is stunning. The sun is out and the heat gain from it is significant. Although it would be a good lunch spot it is a might chilly with the wind.

Skins off, zippers zipped, poles shortened, boots locked into ski mode and down we go. Damn the skiing is great. The snow is fast enough for the gentle slope and turns are easy to make. There are 3 grins as wide as the face they are on. At treeline we stop and find a place in the sun for lunch. It is warm for a winter day but we still have to don extra clothing to avoid getting chilled. It is always amazing, we eat lunch with a million dollar view and we did not have to tip the waiter to get a table at the window.

mistaya lodge

The trees await. Debbie has a little apprehension about the first few turns but after one or two her concentration turns to where the next one will be and progression down happens quite quickly. One kurplunk in the snow and we are at the bottom. This is a rest day and Debbie heads to the lodge. M and I go for one more lap in search of an opening in the cliff band that faces the lodge.

We use the same up track we used this morning so travel is easy. A few extra vertical added to the top of the track and we manage a few more good turns above the treeline. We follow the cliff line to where we thought we should be and we were one gap to far. Six or eight turns and it is our turn to head home.

Short day? I guess so, somehow the skiing is a draw that cannot be passed up. We come home tired again.

 

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Skiing the Trees

The avalanche danger is quite high, so we ski the trees today. The combination of the slope and the trees make that type of terrain safer when avalanche conditions are like they are.

Murray, T and I hike the up track to Heather Ridge, but we do not go above treeline. Once the trees thin out, we stop and take our skins off our skis. I have not skied the trees here and am a little nervous. The trees lower down on the slope look awfully close together, but both T and Murray tell me I can do this.

Here we go! The snow is very thick and the lack of slope makes for a slow ski down. I panic and fall a few times, but I manage to navigate my way down and get used to skiing the white spaces in between the trees. “Don’t look at the trees!” is the rule. The trees are not  too close together after all.

Mistaya lodge

We come out of the trees at the lake in front of the lodge. A walk around part of the lake and across a meadow, and we are on the up track of Red Cliff.

The runs are steeper here and the wipe outs more numerous. I think I need lunch! We stop for a quick lunch and Murray skis off to find our other group and ski a run called ‘shoom room’. T and I find our up track and ski a less challenging run on Red Cliff (no wipe outs!) and then head back to the lodge.

Murray and the other group arrive back at the lodge about an hour behind us. It was a great day of tree skiing and I am sure I will win today’s award for most wipe outs!

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Our morning routine

Breakfast is served at 8:00 but Murray gets up well before that time. I roll out of bed and wander downstairs a few minutes before. Breakfast is two courses, a cereal and fruit course followed by a hot meal of pancakes and bacon, or eggs, toast and ham.

Once we have finished, lunch fixings are laid out and everyone makes sandwiches or wraps with a variety of meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments. The selection of cookies and desserts is enormous.

Dishes are done by the lodge caretaker and two helpers from our group. I think the two helpers are more for providing entertainment for the washer than anything else. We all get to know C, the lodge caretaker.

Mistaya lodge

We start the process of gearing up. Pack our packs with lunch, tea, water, heavy jacket, goggles. Put our boot liners inside our boots. Get dressed, long underwear, ski pants, shirts, avalanche transceiver, jacket, hat, sunglasses.

We then make a dash outside to put our skins on our skis. Back into the lodge to put our ski boots on, double check we have everything, don our pack and head outside.

Hook into our skis, make sure skis and boots are in walk mode and off we go for another day of powder.

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Watching the thermometer

When Murray gets up this morning, at Mistaya Lodge, the thermometer says -28.2 C. As each person arrives downstairs, the thermometer is checked and groans are subsequently emitted.

Mistaya Lodge

Trapper Peak

Breakfast is served and the thermometer reads -25.9. It is light outside but the sun hasn’t peaked over the mountain tops. We are not going to rush out this morning.

As the sun rises over the mountains and shines gloriously, the thermometer rises not in tenths, but in whole degrees. There is hope!

Mistaya lodge

Top of Mohawk

At about 10:00, we are geared up ready to tackle Mohawk, the temp is a balmy -14.9! The snow is sparkling and the sky is a blue that never gets tired.

The high today reaches -9, a perfect temperature for backcountry skiing.

It has been a day of climbing, deep snow, great turns and watching the thermometer.

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Expectations

moose

We saw moose on the drive to Golden!

Debbie and I try to travel without expectations. If you go somewhere and you are all excited about what you might see and or what might be there to see or experience and then things turn out different you could be disappointed big time. If you go there without any preconceived notions of what you might run into no matter what transpires you will most likely have an entirely enjoyable time taking in everything with the interest of a child.

Last week was an epic snow week. In Edmonton XC skiing went from marginal to excellent in 2 days. The temperature was quite pleasant, the tracks were set and skiing started in earnest.

heli landing at mistaya lodgeWe are scheduled to heli into Mistaya Lodge the next week. Every day it snowed I was checking where it had fallen and how much fell. Southern Alberta got hammered with snow. Calgary got a months worth of snow in two days. The good thing about that is Mistaya Lodge is on the west side of the Rockies at more or less the same latitude as Calgary and the west side of the Rockies gets way more snow then the east side. Therefore, I was EXPECTING some fantastic snow which translates in to fantastic skiing. Expectations, if you remember, are something I try to avoid and it turns out should have. There is a ton of snow and visually it is beautiful. On the uptrack the snow is easy to flick with our poles and it is a foot deep. On the way up we plan our descent. The slope is open and the snow still soft.

view from heather ridge, mistaya ridgeGet to the top and take the skins off and realize the snow is really dense. I mean really dense. Normally the slope is steep enough to ski but this time we have to point the skis straight down till we could get enough speed to make some turns. The snow was so stiff every turn is effort. Turn after turn and it didn’t get any easier as we progress down the slope. We get to treeline hope the snow gets a bit better. Nope, still dense and still extremely hard to turn.

mistaya lodgeI really wanted to ski silky light Rocky Mountain snow. The walk up is still good and skiing is still skiing but reality did not meet my expectations. That silky smooth effortless descent is not to be.

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Solomon Islands – All Tied Up

It has been a long time since we have traveled without having the trip laid out in detail ahead of time. Don’t know why but it seems with the internet it is too easy to reserve all the air flights, all the hotels, all the dive excursions and, if required, all the side tours on line thereby avoiding any adventure trying to solve problems upon arrival at some destination. This also eliminates the spontaneity that leads to wonderful unexpected discoveries.  I do like the fact we can be efficient with the use of our time away and not have to spend energy and  1/2 days finding a hotel for a few nights, but I do miss the adventure and the solving of puzzles that I associate with travel in the past.

Yesterday we booked the last single day we had open for our trip to the South Pacific. There was one day when we arrive on the Solomon Islands before we are to board the live-a-board dive boat when we need a hotel. For some reason this detail had slipped through the cracks and if we not figured it out we would have had to use some of the old skills acquired pre internet to find an abode for the night, heaven forbid. Anyway our omission is found and we have a place. Now the only thing that will cause ‘adventure’ is if some part of our plan goes awry. I’m not saying we won’t have a good time it is just the path we follow is going to be much more predictable.

We are going to expend a lot of energy on the dive boat in the Solomon’s and Debbie wanted to pamper herself with a rest on an island where the only habitation is the resort at which we are booked. Don’t think we will learn much about Solomon Island culture but it will be “holiday”, something we rarely do.

The other place we booked on the Solomon’s is in the largest city. Not very big really and it is easy enough to get into the hinterlands so we will get a bit of what the place is like.

We did learn that it is expensive and difficult to travel the islands. The road system is poor and the islands are quite small so in order to travel you have to take pricey airplanes or ride on iffy watercraft.

Anyway, we are now tied to a schedule. There are still loose ends, like malaria pills, and getting an online Australian visa but for the most part the plans are made and we are headed south.

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Mistaya Lodge

I cannot stop looking at the snow covered peaks that surround Mistaya Lodge. This is what nature and beauty are all about. Today it is cloudy, but the view is just as spectacular as a sunny day.

mistaya lodge

It is quiet here. Away from the city, phones, sirens, just silence. when we are skiing, I hear my breath, the tromp of skis on snow and, yesterday, a far off avalanche rumbling.

There are signs of wildlife in the snow. Small tracks leading here and there. We spy an odd track and D tells us they are ptarmigans eating the bark on shrubs.

mistaya lodge

Today, I am taking a rest day. The rest of the group goes up towards Heather Ridge, where Murray and I were yesterday. Once near the top they will hang a left and go to Mista Vista. Murray is nursing a sore wrist so hopefully he will be able to stay out all day. For me, it is a day of reading, maybe watching a movie and a nap. Definately a nap.

mistaya lodge

Murray and our guide

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Mistaya Lodge

A 15 minute helicopter ride brings us to Mistaya Lodge and a winter paradise. White fluffiness everywhere.mistaya lodge

We do an avalanche update in a meadow and then climb Mohawk Ridge. Most of the group skies down one ravine, Murray and I (the newbie) ski down another shallower ravine. A good afternoon with only one wipeout.

Today the main group climbs to Ophidian Glacier. We leave them at the top of the Whaleback and do one run in so so snow before Murray’s skins stopping sticking to his skis. we pull the plug and head back to the lodge to warm up and get his skins working.

ophidian glacier

The group climbing up the Ophidian Glacier

We eat lunch, warm up and rest at the lodge and then climb up Heather Ridge with a plan to ski down Leprachaun Creek. The powder was perfect and we make it down with a slight detour due to a wrong turn. The sun is very warm on to of the ridge but down in the valeey, it is chilly as we ski back to the lodge for soup, a sauna and another delicious supper.

 

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Road Trip to Golden, BC

We have the car packed up and are on the road by 10:00 am. It will be a six hour drive to Golden, BC, skirting around Calgary and passing by Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and Field.

Socks

At least I have my socks on the correct feet!

The traffic on Hwy 2 and then Hwy 1 is heavier than we thought it would be, guess all the students and teachers who have the week off are on the road too. The drive is just a drive until we get into the mountains, then there is awesome scenery that never gets tired.

Cascade Mountain

Cascade Mountain outside of Banff

Once we pass Lake Louise the traffic thins out but the road gets dicier. Glad Murray is driving. We plod along at the speed limit and enjoy the mountains.

Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain

The sun is getting lower and lower as we approach Golden and we have had enough sitting in the car. We reach Golden in just over six hours. Not bad for winter driving conditions.

Approaching Golden

Approaching Golden

We are now ensconced at the Country Comfort Bed and Breakfast waiting for it to be time to go for supper. Let’s go!

See you on top of the mountain!

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