Fairy Meadows Report
March 30 - April 6
We had a group of six - three people just never showed up in Golden. One spot was vacant due to a woman in our group dying in a car accident.
This report does not mention the endeavors and many successes of the group we shared the hut with, just what our group did for the week.
Sat Mar 30
We flew in without difficulty. Our group of six all went up above the practice slopes then cut east and dropped into the trees for a run ending below the hut. New snowcover varied from 0-25 cm depending on location (due to winds). There was a crust under the new snow which consistently collapsed under us on the Shoestring Glacier morraine and on the small crest to the east above the trees. But this did not seem to propagate too far. Small morrainal features showed evidence of windslab formation. In the trees there was no collapsing and the new snow seemed bonded well enough to the underlying surface.
We discovered early on that the group sharing the hut, which was from some club in Alberta, was not a ski-mountaineering oriented bunch. They refused to go in on a cook in favor of taking over the kitchen at 2-3pm, laying out full place settings, and cleaning up late after some roudiness.
During the first night, when nobody ever sleeps too sound anyway, we suddenly heard one of them shouting to another to "hurry up and go for it", which was followed by a mad dash down the stairs and the sounds of dinner coming back. Fortunately he grabbed some sort of bucket in time. Then a few of them sat in the kitchen talking for a few more hours.
This group had been there in the past and was keen on an ascent of Mt Sir Williams - which is a long and full day. If there was ever a time to do it this week was it, but they would send somebody out to look at the sky at the hour of an alpine start each morning and this person would inevitably spot some clouds which allowed them all to justify going back to bed.
Conclusions - If you want to accomplish the longer mountaineering tours go with a cook. And don't share the hut with a group that won't go in on a cook because they're likely to take over the whole kitchen and keep everyone up late.
Overnight a lot of low density snow fell and the winds howled.
Sun Mar 31
We got a late and relaxed start and skied the trees due to the weather. The snow in the trees was very light and incohesive, sluffs could be started with some effort but there was no slab propagation. Some settlement was evident by mid-afternoon. Quality of skiing was excellent all day.
One of our group had consistent problems with his new model of Dynafit binding releasing on its own and borrowed the K2 Merlin downhill skis with the old reliable but heavy Silvretta 404 bindings on them which I brought as spares. He was very happy the rest of the week!
Mon Apr 1
We awoke to clear skies, much to our surprise! It was also rather cold for April, and calm. Given the amount of new snow, the clear skies, and the time of year I fully expected to see plenty of avalanche activity on the south facing slopes of Cycle Peak by mid-morning.
We got an early start and went to the base of Pioneer Pass, avoiding steep slopes until we could see how stable things were after the recent snow and the winds. The cold temps prevented any sun crusting, and there was only modest settlement/consolidation of the new snow. The skiing was excellent and the tour shorter than anticipated so some of our group did runs on the practice slopes when we returned to the hut. There was almost no sign of any natural avalanche activity, only one very steep slope on one of the Adamant Peaks which was visible from the Granite Glacier.
Tue Apr 2
Another perfect day just like Monday. We got an early start again and climbed to Friendship Col using the uptrack the other group in the hut had made the previous day. We then broke trail straight across the Gothics glacier to Fria Col. We followed the edge of the glacier back around past Thor pass until we picked up the end of the existing track from the other group, made the previous day. At its high point crossing the base of Pioneer Peak we went up the east slopes to the summit (or a sub-summit on the ridge, we're not sure about this now but it was close enough for us). After skiing down Pioneer three of us went on to climb Sentinel and the other three went directly back to the hut.
The skiing was excellent all day with few signs of instability. We had spotted one small slab release on the far side of Fria col to the left (on some southerly aspect, probably SW) in very steep terrain. There were a few more sluffs becoming evident on southerly slopes such as Cycle Peak but they remained small and infrequent and were limited to very steep slopes.
Wed Apr 3
After the big day Tuesday we all rested. Most of the group did some number of runs on the practice slopes which continued to offer excellent skiing and was not overly tracked up. In the late afternoon and evening some of the group created and used a "luge run" behind the hut using the sled which is there.
Since I was debating a tour over to Great Cairn I dug a snowpit on a SE slope, using the Granite Glacier morraine behind the hut. So this was at hut elevation. (It turned out not to be representative of what we found on Azumith Ridge on our tour - see below.)
This pit location had about 8" of settled new snow over a crust of 1-2". There was a weak layer under the crust and under that it seemed pretty solid. There was an easy shear on the weakness under the crust but it was a moderate failure in a tap test and a RB7. So stability was good for the time being despite the weak layer. The temperature at the crust was -2C and at the surface (in the afternoon) it was -0.5C. The easy shear on the weakness under the crust was something to keep in mind as things warmed a bit each day, but so far the warming had been very minimal.
The only additional activity spotted was small sluffs on very steep slopes, mostly initiating near visible rock outcrops.
Thur Apr 4
Iain and I skied to Great Cairn planning to be picked up there. This is worth much more detail, which will be in a final and more thorough report. I don't know exactly what the other four did for the rest of the week.
We had good conditions until we got to the top of Azimuth ridge. High on the ridge we found a variety of crusts and facets on the southerly side. Skiing had deteriorated by the time we descended Azimuth ridge, with a breakable crust prevailing. At the base of Azimuth ridge there was debris from wet slides during the day. This appeared to be from point releases or localized activity with no sign of slab avalanches of any size on the ridge.
However, from Azimuth ridge we could see that the entire easterly ridge of Silvertip had slid. As well as a large area on Sir Sandford just below the summit. So it seems that things were quite different than the Fairy Meadows area. We don't know when these large slides occured, both are large leeward slopes and it may have been during the actual snowfall event.
Fri Apr 5
Over at Great Cairn we rested and went to the slopes below Azimuth peak for firewood. The weather was changing and it was warming. By nightfall a storm had set in, arriving with quite warm temps. Winds were gusty and high.
Sat Apr 6
Waited around for the helicopter. At about 3 pm we heard on the radio that FM shuttles had not begun. At 4 we heard that incoming people had been sent home from the staging area so we turned off the radio for the night. High winds continued.
Sun Apr 7
At a surprisingly early hour we heard a helicopter below. Don had flown part way up Palmer Creek until we could hear him and replied on the radio. Within a half hour we had a good landing zone stomped out and marked, and our gear ready to load, and Paul picked us up. (There was some confusion and frustration in all of this for several reasons. It has all been sorted out now and this also will be expounded upon in a full report.) It was about 7:30 am and Paul was on the last trip out of FM already when he picked us up. So the show must have begun very early on Sunday and the incoming group really didn't lose too much time off their trip.