GeoBackcountry Rogers Pass Addendum
All photographs and documents are Copyright 1994-2019 Douglas Sproul. Only personal, non commercial use is allowed.
These sets are either addendum's or corrections for the Geobackcountry Rogers Pass book & map. They are meant to used with the book and map along with the Disclaimer.
Running the Gauntlet
BALU PASS - ‘THE GREEN RUN’
Note: I want to be clear that I’m not trying to talk anyone out of heading up Connaught Creek. That would be ridiculous! This is aimed at visitors to The Pass that are not familiar with the area, especially those that may have a lower ski touring skill set and may be considering a tour up Connaught, you could consider this simply as an awareness piece.
Balu Pass is not a destination or a tour in the Rogers Pass book. The reasoning for that was the author chose to not encourage the popularity of the tour any more than it already had been and compared to other available areas at Rogers Pass, Balu is hardly that good of skiing. Of course, that’s an opinion and many people have had the times of their lives touring out and back to Balu Pass. It also happens to be the only area at Rogers Pass that many people feel comfortable skiing, probably due to the mellow and short, open slopes although, the exit on the trail can often be far from mellow, it can be quite difficult and a hazard in itself.
The views are great but the reality is that getting to that view can require advanced hazard assessment and careful decision making. Touring up Connaught Creek can be either a straightforward and reasonable experience or a real challenge and an ultra dangerous one.
Connaught Creek is one of the most popular areas at Rogers Pass. It also happens to be one of the most active valleys for avalanches although, not all of the avalanche paths in Connaught are frequent performers so it helps to know which are and which (usually) aren’t. Most people have heard of the tragic Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) avalanche that claimed the lives of seven people from a school group in February, 2003. That’s how the STS couloir got its name, after the students and teachers that perished in that slide. The event is well documented so I won’t go into it here. What’s lesser known is that many groups have been ‘dusted’ by avalanches from the STS face as well as close calls with the Frequent Flyer Path.
Rare images of the 2003 avalanche
There are less complex areas to go at Rogers Pass but Connaught Creek remains popular due to the proximity of the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and the old Glacier Park Lodge as well as being an incredible place to tour in certain conditions. Lets begin with; what is Connaught Creek good for? It is a southwest to northeast running valley so the aspects available for skiing are southerlies and northerlies. The solar aspects consist of some of the most deservedly popular tours at Rogers Pass with a quick and ‘easy’ approach and terrain that was made to ski. The northerly aspects off of Cheops mountain are, for the most past, an entirely different beast. Steep, north-facing bowls, couloirs and technical descents are the norm for Cheops, with the exception of The Hourglass and North Bowl which are relatively straightforward. When conditions are ripe for either solar aspects or steep northerlies, Connaught is a good choice.
Connaught Creek is basically one giant avalanche path as you can see in the photos. The majority of common threat is from the north face (mainly the STS area) of Cheops and from the Frequent Flyer Path. Not all of the avalanche paths off Cheops are as frequent repeaters as STS. The STS Couloir/face is the most active path on the face, if not the entire valley.
TOURING UP CONNAUGHT
Note that mountains and avalanches are unpredictable and anything can happen in a place like Rogers Pass, expect the unexpected. This is a generalization of conditions that are often encountered.
After you’ve checked the forecasts, checked in with the Rogers Pass Centre staff and determined that it’s a reasonable proposition to tour up Connaught for the day (people do head up the valley even when there is a threat of Grizzly Bowl and similar non-frequent paths releasing, I wouldn’t recommend this as it’s very advanced & risky traveling, it’s best to find somewhere else to go for the day like Asulkan, McGill or Flat Creek) you’ll soon come to the Grizzly Bowl Slidepath. Most people don’t know this but you are exposed to the Grizzly Bowl, shortly after you cross the bridge, as soon as the route enters the ‘opening’ past the bridge. Check it out next time you’re up there, the opening is from a monster slide many moons ago that turned the corner and ripped into the forest.
Although the exposure to slidepaths begins at that opening and soon after, from The Hourglass area and The Chromosomes, often, the first major decision of the day comes at the Frequent Flyer. The name gives it away: It avalanches frequently and is known for burying the Balu Pass Trail. There have been some close calls with this path. Be certain about stability before proceeding.
Note that how you approach safely touring up Connaught is largely dependent on current conditions. For example, if solar aspects are a concern, you’ll obviously be more concerned (generally speaking) with the solar side of the valley. If the shady (northerly) aspects are the concern (massive cornices/windloading, etc.) then you’ll want to be more aware of the Cheops side of the valley. In other words, don’t take this write up as a ‘How to ascend Connaught every day’. Everything depends on conditions so you’ll want to assess them carefully and adjust your plans accordingly.
In other words, there’s no need to take a low route for Frequent Flyer every day, especially if the concern is more from the Cheops side of the valley.
The Frequent Flyer start zone is crossloaded heavily by the Connaught wind funnel. To get an idea of the funnel, look at a map and imagine the usual southwest flow of air, constantly struggling to get up and over the pass, all the while being accelerated by the highway corridor, it crests Balu Pass then has free-reign to begin its hasty journey eastward, wreaking havoc along the way, first stop, Connaught Creek. This wind is the reason that certain areas of Connaught have a significantly less snowpack than neighboring slopes.
A not-well-known tactic for managing the Frequent flyer is to take a low line either close to or even on the other side of the creek. See the images for the why. After the Frequent Flyer, the exposure lessens (usually) until the STS area. Sure, the entire valley is basically an avalanche path but most times, the only paths you’ll need to consider carefully are the Frequent Flyer and the STS Couloir/face. So now you’re on your way and you’ve past the FF, usually, the next major decision point comes at STS. If you are concerned about the STS area and are headed to Ursus Trees area, Video Peak, Bruins Ridge, etc, then there is the option of setting uptrack up the avalanche path just after the Dispatchers Bowl Path/waterfall. This uptrack is definitely not as good as the standard route of Hospital Gully (can be difficult) but it works and keeps you from being exposed to the bulk of the STS area. If you’re headed up towards Balu Pass however, you’ll have to walk under the STS area. The only comment that I’ll make here is that if you do decide to continue, do it quickly, even in so-called stable conditions. Below the STS is not a good place to linger, even if the avalanche hazard is rated lower than Considerable, the STS is a popular run with many people doing cornice cutting/control work before entering the couloir.
Whew! You’ve made it through and you’re on your way to Balu Pass. Keep an eye out for skiers coming down Nicci’s Notch, Hospital Gullies, etc.
SO YOU WANNA SHRED THE FREQUENT FLYER?
The FF is a high-frequency avalanche path. If you intend to ski it, you must know that anything that comes off while you’re descending, will likely hit the Balu Pass Trail uptrack. Can you see where I am going here? I left the FF out of the book because of the hazard that people skiing it could pose for people on the uptrack. The avalanche track is steep and confined, there will be no warning for anyone on the uptrack, these are extremely fast moving avalanches that the FF spits out. The author doesn’t recommend skiing the FF but people are so it’s going into the next edition of the book along with Balu Pass in hopes to explain the situation better and make people aware of the possible consequences. Most of the avy paths in Connaught Creek do not share the same characteristics of FF, there’s lots of other stuff to shred.
A NOTE ON TRIMLINES
A trimline is simply the edge of an avalanche path where it meets existing forest, etc. I can remember at least one day that our group was so frightened of the STS that we made the effort to uptrack slightly above the Balu Pass Trail, up on the trimline of the path. It’s obviously not as easy as down on the trail and if you’re even considering this as an option, the best decision is probably to go somewhere else but it does work and in theory; will offer more protection than being on the trail and if you try hard enough, you could quickly climb up into the small trees on the trimline, better than nothing I suppose. It sounds ridiculous but if you’re ever back in Connaught when the shit’s hitting the fan, you may just find the trimline more appealing than the trail. Note that these paths can produce very large avalanches and no trim line is historically safe from avalanches. Very large avalanches can create new trimlines and even paths.
Many people consider the terrain of Balu Pass to be safe. Just as a side note for historical purposes, I’ve seen Balu Pass rip wall-to-wall, all the way to the ground. And yes, that was in winter! That was the winter of 2001 (the year of none). Thankfully, a rare snowpack for Rogers Pass.
In 1997, I did the CAA Level 1 avalanche course at Rogers Pass. It was a great week with lots of highlights and amazing skiing but mixed with a nasty surface hoar layer. After skiing one day, most of our group was in the bar of the old hotel. There was a young guy in the bar who was not a part of our group. He was drinking and talking and more talking...Eventually, one of the members of our group started getting concerned when he was going on about his buddy and how long he was taking to get to the bar. After a few questions, it had been discovered that it had been a pretty long time that he had last seen his friend.
To make a long story short; a guide was skiing out of Connaught Creek at the end of the day with a guest. Like all good guides do, he stopped to have a quick look around while his guest caught up. His eyes scanned the mountainside and immediately noticed a large crown in the fan of The Hourglass. His eyes were drawn to movement and he noticed a raven on the avalanche debris. Odd, he thought as he watched the raven apparently doing some kind of dance. Like it was just sitting there getting its jive on. A few moments passed and his brain put the pieces together: “THAT’S---NO---RAVEN!”
To say that kid was lucky is an understatement. It was near dark. Of all the people, the one that spotted him was a guide, highly trained in rescue. And to think of the chances that the guide just felt like stopping at the foot of The Hourglass...lucky! The victim had triggered a large slab that was a 1.5 metres deep and ran into the creekbed where he was buried with only one hand (the raven) sticking out of the snow. He survived! Our class went and did a fracture line profile on the crown the next day with obvious results.
Tupper Designated Access Route
The ACCESS KMZ and EGRESS KMZ are separate files containing different images & info for their perspective direction of travel.
Connaught & Lookout Paths & Tupper Designated Access Route
The Connaught and Lookout Paths are not easy to get good photos of. Finally got some good ones so here they are.
Route 49 Lookout Path
Route 50 Connaught Path
Route 51 Tupper Traverse. Exit via Connaught Path East
Flat Creek Designated Access Route
Not sure how this happened but it did. The Flat Creek Designated Access Route shown in the Rogers Pass book and map is not correct. The route does NOT go to the second bridge as the book and map show, it goes to the first bridge. Please see the files below for updated location info.
Download the updated Flat Creek DAR .kmz
Note the lack of spaces in the file name as flatcreekdar. This is intentional. It is recommended to retain this name for mobile phone use, otherwise, many phones will not open the file.
GeoBackcountry Rogers Pass Replacement Pages - December, 2016
Replacement Pages 032-035 GeoBackcountry Rogers Pass.pdf
Replacement Pages 144, 145, 147, 148, 156, 163, 168, 169 GeoBackcountry Rogers Pass.pdf
This suggestion is from a local, extremely knowledgeable mountain guide whom I greatly respect. The conversation went something like this: "Why did you have to put the fuckin line down the Dome Roll?" There are lots of dangerous routes in the book and you may have noticed that there is not a lot of hand-holding going on with the descriptions. This suggestion however, I thought was a good one and worthy of mention due to the extreme popularity of the route and the obvious, less exposed variation. The Dome Roll is a massive convex roll, on glacial ice to boot. It's a wicked line and totally awesome with good stability. Just think it's worth pointing out that the uptrack route is a much safer option if conditions aren't prime for the roll. Thanks Scott!
There are basically three ways to exit The Dome.
1. South Exit: If you ascended via The Mousetrap, go back the way you came. Pretty unaesthetic and traversy, but it works.
2. The Dome Headwall: Serious business here but incredible lines if you've done your homework and these days, they are being shredded on a regular basis although, I suspect by a small group of folks. Steep terrain, pillows, cliffs and water-ice make scoping this option prior to descent, mandatory. It's easy to scope and take pics on approach if you're coming from the Asulkan side. See the book & map for more info.
3. North Exit: Follows the trimline of the headwall avy path along the north edge, under The Rampart. Steep water-ice directly on skier's right of the line so it's best to stay close to the trimline. There are options to get to the trimline but the two most popular are either to descend the Dome Gully and cut over at the bottom or, traverse over sooner from higher which allows for sweet turns on approach through morainal features. See the images here as well as the book and map for more info.