Troy Jungen, Douglas Sproul, Jon Walsh
April 14, 2005
A Head's Up: You gotta have valid Parks Canada Parking Permits and Winter Restricted Area Permits as well as a National Parks Pass for this tour. Overnight parking is not allowed in Illecillewaet/Asulkan or Loop Brook parking areas. Please visit the Parks Canada website to learn about the Winter Permit System.
The Dawson Loop is a three col, mini traverse that involves some fairly difficult ski mountaineering. Expect steep skiing/climbing/rappelling/downclimbing, advanced glacier travel, a bit of bushwhacking and whatever else The Selkirk's decide to throw at you. In other words: Expect the unexpected!
Difficulties aside, this is a pretty awesome tour! There are numerous options that can be added or changed. For example, you could possibly go up and over Donkin Pass or do a Dawson Traverse by ascending the Comstock Couloir and descending the South Face of Hasler. Or the North Face of Michel to the South Couloir then the South Face of Hasler to the Comstock. Or the possible ultimate, up the North Face of Selwyn and down the South Face of Hasler? Variant finishes could be from Lily Col up and out via The Dome or ascending to Mount Bonney instead of Lily and descending the Hanging Glacier. Now that would be epic! You get the point, the possibilities are pretty endless.
The Geikie Glacier is an obvious option and possible escape route as well but don't expect a free ride out via The Geikie, there's some advanced terrain via that exit as well. Basically, as soon as you drop into the Incomappleux, you're gonna be committed to a pretty advanced and long tour to exit. Be prepared!
The South Face of Asulkan Pass is always an adventure.
We started pre-dawn and crested Asulkan Pass perfectly timed for sunrise. After enjoying a bit of the first light on the peaks, we dropped in to the 1000m run that lead into the Incomappleux River. The slope was frozen solid and eventually it lead into frozen avy debris which made for some tiring and pretty engaging skiing.
If you have toured in the Dawson Range and looked across at Youngs and Leda you've seen the mind blowing lines off the back of those. There may be some of that goodness in the next edition of the Rogers Pass book...
Our main objective for the day was the Comstock Couloir on Feuz but we weren't stoked with the condition that it was in so we decided on a Plan B adventure by attempting to visit the Bishop Glacier by going up and over the Dawson Massif some how.
We wandered up to have a look at the Northwest Glacier/Face of Feuz and it looked good so went for it. Of course it was the legendary Fred Beckey along with Jim Jones and John Rupley who got the first ascent. They hiked the lower NW Glacier and then climbed the Northwest Face to the summit in August of 1969.
If it's in N. America and it's a classic, chances are that Fred has been there before you.
Once again, we were honoured to follow in Fred's footsteps.
This is usually a fairly exposed route in Winter or Spring conditions but with the light snowfall and extended bomber stability season of 2005, the exposure was limited to the cornices on the ridgetop and the broken glacier. All went smoothly to the col where the first bit of magic began to happen. Convective clouds quickly began to engulf us. This was a good thing for keeping the snow surface temps down but not so good for visibility. Overall, we were grateful for the cooling effect of the clouds. We sat up top for awhile in whiteout, trying to get a look down the south face. None of us had ever seen it before. "Hmm, now what could be down there" we thought?
Check out the sunlit Northeast Face of Michel in the image below! We were definitely wanting to try for that run but the visibility was letting us have none of it. Looks awesome!
We don't call him 'Sneaky' for nuthin!
After a long wait for a break in the clouds at the col, we were slowly getting ready to do something. What we were going to do, we still had no clue. Undecided I believe is the word. We were still in total whiteout and had not yet had a chance to get a view of what was below us. Suddenly, Sneaky carefully dropped away down the South Couloir and soon disappeared into the fog. No warning, no words, he just sneaked away. We couldn't see him but we sure could hear him as his skis bit into steep, firm snow, echoing off the walls of the couloir. By the sound of it, it was an engaging and calculating act.
There he went, dropping into the Bishop Glacier and a great unknown. Seemingly with not a care in the world. One of the reasons that I like to ski with Troy is that he is always up for adventure when the vibe is good. We've backed off of plenty of shit but he has also been a huge source of inspiration and motivation, for when he feels the time is right, he just gives-er! And we usually follow! Troy lead us yet again into a journey of commitment. We knew that if we dropped in, we were likely not climbing back out. The moment had a foggy surreal feeling but it also held a sense of perfection.
Out of the fog came Troy's all good call. Jon looked over at me and all we could do was shake our heads and laugh. Neither Jon or myself disagreed with his decision though, we reasoned that maybe we could go down at least a bit and have a look and still be able to bail back up if the need arose. Haha, yeah right! One by one, we made our way carefully down to Troy. The light slowly began to improve. The couloir was frozen solid to the tune of textured freezer ice but it was in overall good condition. The slope angle was mostly 45°+ with a few of steeper sections of high 40's. Downclimbing to the rappel was steepest. Overall, it was pretty moderate.
We soon joined Troy and decided on another pitch as the light was continuing to improve.
After a few pitches, we could see a choke below us but it appeared reasonable. Jon had the rope as usual (he always insists on carrying the rope) so he slithered down then took off his skis for a short downclimb to check out the choke. Visibility was now good as the cloud had finally passed. Jon is a master alpinist and it's always a pleasure to watch him operate in his element. He's one of Canada's top-shelf alpine climbers so when he goes skiing, it's usually more like a walk in the park for him. He made short work of setting up a quick rappel for us. I can't remember specifically what he used for an anchor but I think I recall one nut and one jammed knot.
After the rappel, we cruised out on to the Bishop Glacier in that springtime light that shines magical colours through numerous cloud layers. Convection and its effects are such a cool thing to witness.
You always have to pay close attention to where these longer tours could lead you as some valleys of the Selkirk's are valleys that you generally want to avoid. Since this was a low snowpack season, we were concerned about the lower Mitre Creek terrain. None of us had yet been in it and on the map, it looked a bit difficult in a couple spots. Fortunately, there were only a few short difficult spots that led us fairly easily in to the Incomappleux River. We were a bit surprised as we definitely were expecting it to be tougher.
Google Earth imagery sucked for the Rogers Pass area in 2005. It was not useful at all and we were still utilizing paper maps only <gasp> for trip planning as well as navigation. If you spend enough time cruising around any mountain range, you'll learn a lot about the maps that you use and the way that they translate actual terrain into squiggly lines on a flat piece of paper, that's no trivial feat. Maps can vary depending on the person that created them. Each cartographer it seems, has their own way of adding little hooks & crooks to contour lines to represent certain terrain features.
We were guessing that ascending up the back side of Lily Col was a great idea, as long as we could find a reasonable way to whack up the headwall from the valley. From there it would be easy cruising to the col. Turns out it was pretty tough but only for a short section at the beginning. 4x4 uptracking was required through this section and I remember grabbing on to a few small trees for upward progress assistance. The difficulties were short lived and then we found ourselves cruising up the mellow and stunningly beautiful, Swanzy Glacier basin.
Shortly thereafter, darkness fell across the landscape. And then it began to snow.
Heavy convective snowfall was on the menu for the evening. By the time we reached the col it had snowed about 10cm. And then another magic moment happened. A break in the convective clouds allowed the moon to cast its reflected light upon us, lighting our path for the final descent to the highway. Magic! That was another stroke of luck cause the headlamps back then were pretty lacking. Modern headlamps are a welcomed addition to the pack.
Turns out that Mother Nature had one more surprise for us!
We slid down to the highway and were soon cursing our lack of foresight to have a second vehicle dropped at Loop Brook. Nothing like a 2.5km walk on pavement after a long day in the mountains! Ouch, that definitely hurt! Troy and I said goodbye to Jon as he headed back to Golden and we headed back to Revelstoke.
Ah, the easy part - back to civilization - pavement - should be a breeze
It began snowing so heavily while driving that visibility was reduced to near zero. I'll never forget the mesmerizing effect of the snow coming at the windshield like you see in Star Wars when they jump to light speed. Between the memorizing vision, our brain synapses' inability to accept any further calculations for the day and our bodies being devoid of any further physical action, we just couldn't continue. We would have likely crashed before we reached home. We quickly pulled over to a rest stop and fell asleep in about two minutes. We slept uninterrupted for a couple of hours, just what the doctor ordered.
Much of this terrain is fairly remote and also serious ski mountaineering terrain with many hazards. This is a very difficult ski mountaineering tour. It is recommended that you have many years of mountaineering experience through hazardous terrain before you attempt this trip. Use this information at your own risk.