We are hitting our stride with current alpine conditions in the Coastal Ranges! Those brave (or foolish) enough to endeavour forwards despite unfavourable weather have, for the most part, been rewarded for our efforts. Another week of showery and unsettled weather has continued to prolong a rapid decay of the alpine snowpack and glaciers, which has made travel conditions fast and firm on the way up and great for quick glissades back down. But, as always, one must keep one eye to the weather and another to the route, with a solid backup plan in case either become too dangerous to continue.
For example we've had fine snow travel on the backside of the Mt. Cain ski area these last couple of weeks but, on one occasion, were turned back from the summit due to pouring rain which made even the easiest scrambles feel like mid-5th Class. With cloudy overnights the snow has remained soft and wet but after the odd clear night we've enjoyed rock-solid crampon travel. On a recent ascent of Elkhorn, after one such clear night, we faced hard snow well into the afternoon. Perhaps it's because I've been such a valley-dweller these last few months but I was surprised to still see how much snow there is in even the Island Alps let alone the mainland visible on sunny days. Snow line still remains around treeline elevations on the Island with some patches lingering lower on north aspects and the bottom of avalanche paths still melting out. But it is all melting at a steady pace, despite the cool and wet weather, making the amount of snow still in the mountains more of a testament to the Spring's prodigious snowfall than recent weather.
Victoria and Warden still have plenty of snow on their southern and aspects but becoming patchier. Golden Hinde (and its surrounding entourage of summits) remains blanketed under enough snow to make things look more like mid-Spring than early Summer. Where crevasses and moats are usually gaping open on Matchlee Mountain there are currently only small wrinkles indicating where the holes will be within a few weeks. The N. Ridge of Elkhorn is a fine snow arete and the King/Elkhorn Traverse looks to be fast right now with snow still filling in many of the gullies and chutes. From the dry campsites at 1500m on Elkhorn we could see a large bergschrund across the entire width of its N. Face and, on our way up the NW Ridge, we observed that the W. Couloir was mostly melted out and seemed unappealing to us. That said, Elkhorn's West Basin is very full of snow, a bit surprising given its aspect. Colonel Foster is relatively devoid of snow and the upper Landslide Lake remains frozen. The fixed ropes used for approach to Elkhorn's NW Ridge are in OK condition but definitely ratty enough that we didn't solely rely on them in our travels up and down.
While the weather may be our biggest hurtle these days there are still other mountain hazards to watch out for. Large (car-sized) chunks of snow laying around indicate old collapsing cornices or places where rock slabs have shed the entire snowpack. On the Island there's been relatively little natural rockfall the last couple of weeks but there have been a couple larger events as evidenced by new boulder fields on the snow's surface. We saw one of these below Sky Pilot a few weeks ago. Glacier travel has been easy and moats posing little trouble so far but be mindful of soft/weak bridges or crumbly edges in the afternoon or after rain. While avalanches in the classic sense may not be on your radar, I'm still thinking of all the melt and rain water running underneath the entire season's snowpack, lubricating rock slabs or steep glacier ice. We've had sz. 3 slabs release in early Summer before...
The weather this weekend actually looks pretty decent for once and we should expect to see more people out recreating. While some people may feel COVID19 is a thing of the past, many of our favourite Parks remain closed and we need to all respect these closures while they're in place. And, beyond that, none of this matters if we're not treating each other with respect and kindness as we enjoy Nature together. Let's recreate responsibly and carefully this weekend!