Welcome back to the ACMG Mountain Conditions Summaries.
Provincial governments in Alberta and BC are opening up parks for recreation so we at the ACMG feel it is time to start talking about Mountain Conditions again. It has obviously been an unusual spring but our actions as a society have been successful enough that we have not put an excessive strain on our emergency response and health care system and returning to the mountains is in some ways our reward. Our relationship with Covid-19 is certainly not over so our actions in the coming months and in the mountains are still important. We need to continue to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Late spring/early summer is always a transitional season and this year is no exception. There is still a spring snowpack along the main ranges in many places extending well below treeline. In the past week in Kananaskis country there were reports of people falling through lake ice and into snow moats on scrambles so it is certainly not summer conditions yet. There has been some large avalanche activity reported throughout the ranges with last weeks heat and certainly this weeks rain has triggered more avalanches. Parks Canada reports the occasional avalanche still running to the valley bottom where it was already mostly dry (eg. Mt Dennis in Field). This could be a concern for people on trails like the Stanley Glacier, the Plain of Six Glaciers, the Beehive, Asulkan Valley or even some climbs at the Pond or Fraggle rock areas at Lake Louise. With some clear weather in the weekend forecasts we may get a decent overnight freeze that could allow for good morning snow travel but if possible keep an eye on the sky overnight as it will take a clear cold night to get a trustworthy freeze. For example Friday nights forecast is for cloud and rain in many places. Hard to imagine decent snow anywhere Saturday morning. IF Saturday night is clear Sunday morning MAY have good travel conditions. Glaciers still should have a relatively deep snowpack. There will be some fresh dense windslabs in the alpine and cornices are still mature in many places and will have been recently stressed.
After a winters melting and freezing and a few days of hard rain there is bound to be some loose flakes and blocks on rock climbs. I have been "socially distant cragging" a few times on familiar Bow Valley crags and twice have climbed around flakes that felt much more hollow than I remember and was not comfortable pulling on.
As a Conditions Summary summary, the effects of the past weeks rain and snow is currently our primary concern. Avalanches, rockfall, cornices, rising river levels, ticks, wildlife and social distancing should all be part of our pre-trip planning. Please recreate responsibly as more than ever this summer our actions in the mountains have repercussions for others. If Emergency Services are overwhelmed we could possibly loose open access to the mountains again. Every incident potentially exposes Mountain Rescue personnel, helicopter pilots, EMS and hospital staff to infection.
We all know the Covid-19 deal now. Stay home if you are feeling unwell. Recreate within your usual social circle. Keep a safe distance from others. Avoid crowded crags, trails, parking lots. Keep your hands clean and be conscious of climbing where others have just been. Think about what you would do if you had to interact with an injured person who is not part of your social group. Consider using the ice climbers trick of putting a note on your car to say where you are going at rock climbing area parking lots like Yamnuska or the crags. This could help avoid crowds and now is certainly not the time to be passing other parties on multi-pitch rock climbs.
Finally, be kind and be grateful to be back in our fabulous mountains. If we can continue to "do the right thing” we could have a long fine summer season as a reward for our wise behaviour since March and as part of our road to recovery.
Hands Washed and Fingers Crossed
ACMG Mountain Guide