Winter is coming, in more ways than one.
It looks like we may get a break from the dry conditions of the past few weeks. Forecasts for this weekend show significant snowfalls across most regions. At treeline elevations, expect 15-30 cm of snow along the Great Divide in the Rockies. In the Columbias snowfall amounts will vary significantly, from 15 cm (Nelson area and the Purcells), to 30 cm (Selkirks) or even 50 cm (Monashees and Cariboos).
Unfortunately this precipitation is short lived, and then the other part of winter comes. Expect extremely cold temperatures of -25 to -30 throughout the Columbias and Rockies by the middle of next week.
The snowpack is thin everywhere, and although this coming storm will help, I wish it were more prolonged with heavier snowfall amounts. I was not too concerned a week ago, but we are getting to the point where the lack of snow is worrisome. Let's hope it is not a trend for the entire winter!
Thin snowpack means there has been little skiing happening. Upper elevation coverage on lee aspect smooth slopes (shale, grass, or ice) is enough to get some turns, but getting there and back is difficult and hazardous. Crevasses will be barely covered and constitute a notable hazard.
Ice climbing in the Rockies has seen some improvement, but not everything is in. The cold temperatures next week should help, but who wants to climb at -25? Have a look at the ice climbing forums to keep up to date with what has formed and what has not.
Avalanches: wind slabs are the main concern right now, with the addition of storm slabs
with the forecast weather coming in. All of these slabs will be sitting atop weak facets and surface hoar layers that have formed during our dry spell. Expect there to be an active avalanche cycle during and after the storm. I expect slabs to be touchy to human triggering. Unfortunately the most active zones will be the ones that have the most snow and which we will be attracted to!
Skiing: even with the coming snow things will be thinner than normal for this time of year. Rocks, logs, bare ground, stumps, crevasses; all will pose a significant hazard. Many low elevation zones with rough ground will continue to be virtually impassable on skis.
Ice: many climbs will be thin with the attendant climbing and protection difficulties. Make sure you are up to the challenge before committing. It may be a good time to brush up on the dry tooling techniques at the crags before launching onto a more alpinish ice climb.
Hiking and scrambling: there are still objectives available, but make sure you have some avalanche training. Even in the dry ranges expect small slabs to be a concern, and if you go for a ride you will be sure to have a rough ride, hitting various obstacles on the way down. Things are slippery and spikes will be de rigueur.
Cold: all activities will be subject to the cold. Carry a LOT of clothing, spare mittens, heat packs, etc. Days are short so bring a headlamp.
OK, that sounds like a lot of bad news. But the season is early and we have lots of time for winter to catch up to our desires. The mountaineer's mantra is "be patient". Things will get better and there are still plenty of activities for us:
- Enough ice to get some climbing in if you are familiar with early season conditions.
- Hiking, snowshoeing, and even some easy scrambling, but make sure you tone it down from what you did this summer.
- There will be some ok skiing in isolated areas (be prepared to share the terrain).
- Lake skating season will probably end this weekend, but there has been some fun flat ice out there.
- Fatbiking has been pretty good.
- Off-season training sessions in the gym!
The mountains are always there for us to enjoy, even if it means toning down the activity, going slower, and taking the time to breathe and look around. I recommend it.