My week’s planning generally start the same way; Is there going to be new snow? If so, how much and where is it going to hit? Following that I can narrow my options from my Mountain Range Rolodex. Each year I keep a tick list of want-to-do ski descents, and each week I cross reference this list with the probability of being able to ski them. This week, the snow dropped early and the avalanche danger was moderate with only solar radiation as a concern. So it was time to attempt one of my ticks.. Well actually two of them in one day.
A rude 2am wake up was needed to ensure we made it to the Duffey Lake Road with plenty of light to complete the mission. But also to get away from solar affected slopes before the sun heated them, causing instabilities. I managed to convince three friends to join me. Really? I have three friends that were willing to wake up at 2am and endure a 15km, 9000ft death march?
After a quick nap in the car we left the Cerise Creek parking lot with only one other group in front of us. We were attempting to ski both the NW face of Mount Matier and then swing around to ski the Stonecrop Glacier. Linking two of the North Face crown jewels of Duffey is an ambitious but not impossible mission.
We made quick work of the approach with fast travel conditions and a well worn in up-track. We made the turn for Keith’s Hut in a little over 1.5 hours. With Joffre Peak in the background we slowly inched our way to the Anniversary Glacier.
As we rounded the corner and headed for the Matier Joffre Col, the wind picked up significantly, up to 60km/hr, and stopped us dead in our tracks. Suddenly, my epic alarm was going off. There have been a few times in my outdoor travels where I’ve been stranded in terrible weather conditions, regretted not turning around sooner, or even worse, forced to spend an unexpected night sleeping under a tree or boulder, in an attempt to complete ambitious objectives. Wind hammered snow, 5 hours of skinning ahead of us, and the idea of skiing 45 degree slopes on hard crusty snow was not something I was interested in doing. I would rather save this mission for another day.
We called off our mission along with three other groups that were attempting to ski the NW face of Matier. All was not lost a 900m glacier run to the valley awaited us!
There is nothing wrong with turning around and aborting a mission. I have done it more times than I can count. Learn to trust that feeling, as it is normally alerting you to danger. That being said, if you always turned around when you saw a small storm cloud in the sky, or weren’t feeling 100% fit and up to par, you’ll likely never accomplish your objectives.
So don’t turn around the moment you feel scared, but evaluate the situation objectively when that little alarm goes off. It is all about your risk tolerance – the more you are willing to risk, the more you ignore your epic alarm. The mountains will still be there next week so sometimes waiting is the best course of action.
It has been a great run so far this season and with work on the horizon plus a little sun vacation to recharge the batteries. The skiing will taper off a little, but weekend warrior-ing will be in full force!