Backcountry skiing is about so much more than fitness and athletic ability. To play the game is a lesson in weather, snow science, communication, and yourself.
The sun was high in the sky and we were working hard to find north aspects that still harbored winter snow. We set out for the intimidating north face of Kickstep.
Our review of the weather forecast did not show any sign of wind that could make the face unstable. But, working our way up Tincan Creek, snow plumes off the high peaks meant there was room for improvement in our weather knowledge.
Crossing the pocket glacier we observed that the swirling winds had produced pockets of windslab in the big terrain around us. The face was too exposed to risk even a small pocket of instability.
Everyone wanted Kickstep. Alex and Robert had been turned around on it
before. Malcolm, Josh, and I had looked down the north side and dreamt
about it ever since. We couldn't let our wills, wishes, desires, or the comfort of the herd cloud our decision making. It was time to be flexible, to try
different elevations, aspects, and drainages. Switching gears, we went north, hoping that there was a sheltered couloir dropping into Ingram Creek.
On the ridge between Ingram and Tincan Creek, there were only cliffs below us, but across the way was a beautiful zone to save for a time with less solar radiation.
Zero for two. Time to not get frustrated and instead think more. We skied past the pocket glacier and towards the south wall of Tincan Creek.
That was fun.
Needing snow sheltered from the wind, we booted up a steep and tight couloir.
At the top was a small loft for the transition.
Then Malcolm was off and over the edge of the bowling ball.
Just as hoped, the rock walls had protected the powder from the winds.
However, back in the apron, that changed. Arcing down, Julie popped out a wind slab. Exactly the spatial variability that could have spelled disaster on the complex and exposed terrain of Kickstep.
The shadows were getting longer and it was time to motivate more. We were tired from the constant momentum shifts and avalanche concerns of the day - the human factor. To continue safely we'd have to focus on the details of the snow and not just fall into the rhythm of slogging.
Looking for those pockets of instability, Robert lead the way up another big wall.
I dropped first, stopping to watch Robert.
Large and in charge!
We were tired, exactly when the risk of making the wrong avalanche judgement in questionable stability would happen - it was time to head home.
The day was a good learning experience. Our weather forecast was wrong for the primary objective, limited knowledge of the valley got us on attempt two, but eventually we found what we were looking for.