Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Positives

We woke on our last day to perfect weather and a stunning sunrise on the Minarets, Ritter and Banner. We had breaky, broke camp, packed and were off skinning by seven, north up to the col between Nydiver and Garnet Lakes under the imposing massif of Mt Banner. 

We had some nice turns in good snow down to Lake Garnet, tarnished only on my part by a lost edge followed by a forty-pound-pack-plowed-face-plant. 

We got into a good stride on the traverse east along the never-ending stretch of Garnet with a healthy tempo that might have been tempered somewhat if we'd known about the length of the day. Howie though was good natured enough not to spoil our fun, but a sail or kite would have been good if we'd had any sort of tailwind.

The descent down the gorge from Garnet was a little technical: the sunny south faces hadn't corned up yet and had a breakable crust that made skiing with a full pack dicey - and so we stuck to the shade amongst the trees on the other side which permitted few straight lines.
Eventually we bottomed out and started the very long ascent east up towards San Joaquin Mountain, which is essentially the peak from which the Positives stem - the Positives being several cirques or ridges south of the Negatives.
This is all magnificent and easily accessible BC (unless you've approached it from the west this time like us, in which case it is a bitch) with a recent article in Backcountry Magazine extolling its virtues, as well as the proposal of turning June Mountain into a BC mecca.
It sure was nice to finish on a Positive, especially after a climb that caused both JP and I to tear up and have the odd little cry in private. The last chutes and gullies had the finest little stashes of powder yet, which made the skin back up to lift-access at June at least tolerable. JP was so spannered that he couldn't even remember how to ride a chairlift.

For me, the Ritter Range has been one of the Great Ski-Tours. It is on par with the High Route, and is certainly wilder and more beautiful. Compared with LHR, we did not see another soul. Whilst there was neither the security or warmth of a refuge (nor a beer or roesti), these mountains are far more intriguing, particularly in the way they plunge so spectacularly from the same lofty heights as the Alps, down into the utter otherworldly barrenness of the Nevada desert. 
In Howie Schwartz, JP and I have made a new friend. He is as conservative a guide as the terrain demands, and yet is as one with this part of the world as is possible to allow for some amazing skiing and the conquering of some astonishing lines.
I used to think France the most beautiful country on the planet, however this construct has been seriously challenged by this trip.
Howie has a little boy the same age as mine and I like to think that they will someday be skiing in these parts together.   
I know I'll be back.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Mt Ritter and the Minarets

On Wednesday we got off to an alpine start and were greeted by a pretty special sunrise, but with obvious continuing high winds. Our aim was to climb and ski Mt Ritter (1st photo, peak on right), the highest mountain in the Ritter Range at 4006m.

After an appropriate amount of coffee and fuel loading we were skinning by 0700, with morning tea a few hours later after several boot packs where switchbacks were a little too steep. There had been a recent very large avalanche off the entire northern face of the cirque which we were mindful of, but worse, as we climbed above 3500m the wind started to howl to near gale force , and the snow got icier and more challenging to climb. 

At 3800m we decided to bail. Visibility from the summit would have been limited, and whilst climbable and skiable, summiting wouldn't have been worth the effort when the best snow was obviously between camp and 3500m.

Whilst the top was scratchy, the snow got much better once we were out of the wind and ice, with some fantastic pitches of softer snow on what was apparently a stable pack. 

We had lunch in the sun, and then started skinning up south towards the Minarets, which are a spectacular ridge of spires at the start of the Ritter Range. We topped out at around 3600m with amazing views over Iceberg Lake, and then had a lovely gentle run through some pretty decent wind deposited powder.

JP had had enough and found a snow pyramid to meditate on as Howie and I climbed back up for a final run down a very sweet chute from just below the feet of the Minarets. The snow was epic.

Then we had a long gentle run back to the tent for a few hours relaxing in the setting sun. JP set up a Chinese laundry as Howie cooked up some of the best spag bol in the history of alpine cuisine.

We were pretty much all asleep before sunset.