Friday, November 4, 2011

TR: Saint Marys Glacier - 11.3.2011

Today Erik and I went out for our first tour of the season on Saint Mary's Glacier, its been almost exactly two years since I was there last. We have had several significant storms this year, but the base just isn't the same as it has been some years at this time. Its not that there isn't some snow on the ground, its just not supportive like it was last year. I remember at this time last year we were making good turns on a one foot base, and not really hitting anything. Given everybody's observations that the snow is taking time to set up, Erik suggested going to Saint Marys where we there was already a base. 

From the car I decided to hike, Erik to skin, I'm not sure which decision was worse, but regardless the hike to the base of the snowfield was very quick. We were greeted by the beautiful views of the frozen lake and its headwall. 

Saint Marys Lake
Saint Marys Lake with Mount Evans in the background.
At this point I switched over to skinning mode, and tried to keep up with Erik as he attempted to set a human land speed record. Skinning along I experienced something I have never experienced before at Saint Marys: silence! No wind and no people; very strange! I was also trying hard to fight the bleak thought that although we might not hit any rocks, the snow we were skinning up had the unmistakable texture of sastrugi.
At the top we stopped to enjoy the beautiful views including the James Peak amphitheater, and ate a snack before beginning our descent.

Erik skinning ahead
James Peak
As usual all the snow had been blown into the snowfield.
As I had suspected, the top half of the glacier was indeed quite firm, but just soft enough to break through every once and a while. As always it was great to be out, but my knees were hurting just at the thought of breaking through the crust. It was that kind of snow that you really preferred not to turn in, but building up lots of speed sounded like an even worse option. About half way down the snow improved remarkably, becoming an enjoyable cream with the slightest crust. By this point I was having a great time, happy to be out skiing with an old friend like Erik.

Erik carves over some styrofoam
Erik enjoying some better snow down low
The bottom was so fun that we hiked back up for a short repeat of the bottom section. 


At this point the sun was getting warm, the snow was getting sticky, and I was sweating too much, so we headed down. As Erik was threatening to hike down, I made sure to start skiing before he had a chance to go through with this all too reasonable decision. The ski from the lake to the car was thin to say the least, but I came out of it with no core shots, so I was satisfied.


It was great to get for my first tour of the year. It’s hard to beat a warm, beautiful, and empty day on Saint Marys Glacier. However, I have to wonder: is the snow ever NOT wind affected here?