Back in January I got together with some friends (including an ACMG guide) and went out into the Whistler backcountry to brush up on some glacier travel, rope work and steep skiing techniques. Saturday morning cracked with beautiful blue skies and a gondola ride to the top of Whistler to give us a running start towards our goal for the night – the notoriously frigid Russet Lake Hut. Our packs were heavily weighed down with fresh food, excessive clothing and delicious beer, so the short ski shots we had through the Musical Bumps were more survival than stylish – a scene that would be played out again over the next days. After some route finding exercises led by Dave we slid into the vacant hut as the sun was dropping to the horizon, hastily repacked for skiing and went out to try and get some turns in the fading light on the west shoulder of Fissile. Racing up the skin track to stay ahead of the rapidly ascending horizon line, we topped out and transitioned just in time to get some smooth turns down the face with the last rays of an epic Black Tusk sunset as a backdrop.
The night was at least as cold as expected and we woke stiff and frozen before the sun even crested the Spearhead range. We had a long day planned, so we ate a quick sunrise breakfast and ventured out onto the Overlord Glacier for some crevasse navigation and rope travel. As a “freeskiier”, I’ve always stayed far away from icefalls and crevasses in favour of steeper powder spoils, but our wander through the magical blue and white world of ice filled me with awe. My appreciation for the mountaineer’s skill set and motivation increased and I know that my time among the slow-moving ice rivers is only beginning.
We winded our way up beneath the Overlord and started our trek up to the Whirlwind-Fissile col, from where we intended to climb up Fissile’s south spine. The steep ridge was wind-blown and icy, and when we finally made the south summit our hopes plummeted. The knife-ridge towards the true summit was guarded by alternating north-south cornices, courtesy of the recent arctic outflow weather change. We had the right gear to cautiously navigate the ridge, but the short January day didn’t leave us with the time. Begrudgingly, we navigated back down to the col and had a great powder run down Whirlwind back to the hut, where we packed our gear and began the slog back out the valley. As we climbed back up to Cowboy Ridge, we were blessed with another awesome sunset and as the final rays of the trip disappeared behind the tusk we dropped down towards the ever-exciting Singing Pass Trail. All in all, a fantastic weekend of old friends, good food and fresh powder, spiced up with beautiful bluebird days, epic sunsets and more training, confidence and respect in the mountains. Cheers!
As always, a big thanks goes out to all the friends that made this possible… Dave for fearlessly leading us into the ice, G3 for getting us out there and back, and Granted Clothing for warming me up back in the car (wool sweaters are a bit too bulky/heavy to fit in the overnight pack)