Oh, weather. June has performed typically thus far with convective showers persisting across much of the Coast. The weather has behaved like a deranged maniac, stumbling all over the place with persistent drizzle, pockmarked with short-lived periods of sun, then followed by gale force winds ushering in the next batch of weirdness. And it looks like more of the same is on the way based on what I see on the various forecasts I use. None of the models really agree but it seems that the further north on the Coast you are, the more likely you will see rain this weekend. But at least it looks like I won’t be getting snowed on this weekend!
The upside to the cooler and showery weather is the prolonged deterioration of our mountain snowpack. Glaciers are still in great shape and many routes that are typically melted out by mid-June are still holding enough snow to be in “easy” shape. Where I was working around Vancouver Island this last week, there was notably more snow this year compared to the same time last year. People are still skiing, snow climbing is in prime shape, and there’s quick travel to be had in the alpine. Typically snow-line is holding around 1600m, aspect depending of course. But temps have only been “cool,” not “cold,” and nary a freezing temperature looks to rear it’s hoary head in the near future. This means that snowmelt is still ongoing, routes are still melting out, creek levels are rising and the Coastal high alpine holds no real ice to speak of. That said, if we do get some overnight clearing we will experience a "superficial refreeze” of the snow surface which makes for great cramponing and potential corn skiing. In fact, the skiing looked great off the north sides of Mt. Cain with little to no sun-cupping. The persistent rain and cloud has certainly played a role there, with boot penetration 15-20cm in the rain and, blessedly, only 5-10cm after a “dry” period, the latter making for some decent snow climbing conditions.
As I sit here in the Bella Coola valley, looking up at some large and looming East faces of Melikan and Stupendous Mountains, I am reminded of some of the hazards still lurking in the Coast Range. Cornices are evidently still a threat around here but most appear to have been shaved back through bits and pieces falling off over time, rather than the whole lot calving off at once. Loose wet avalanches would still be a concern on steep, warm slopes, and mostly because of the terrain into which they might drag you. From what I’ve observed this past week, these avalanches would be too small to bury you although they were (slowly) picking up mass as they hissed their way down. Rockfall is another big one as percolating water erodes whatever internal ice the mountain may still holding onto. Large rockfall events are impossible for us to predict but fresh rock debris overlying snow slopes indicate that it’s been happening recently. As you travel through low-angle terrain in the alpine, be mindful of the smaller climber-generated rockfall events that can be no less deadly to anyone below. And, as I alluded earlier, creeks and rivers are on the rise and what was waded easily in the morning may well be a raging torrent on the return journey. I’ve also ran into a couple black bears on my trail running excursions, though they have kindly hurried in the opposite direction once I’ve made my presence known.
With how wet the weather has been lately, you should be prepared to encounter wet rock if you’re planning any sort of rock climbing, either in the alpine or in the valleys. Many of the sport crags will be dry, of course, but Chief routes can be slow to heal. Either through rain or snowmelt, alpine rock routes will also likely remain wet until we get a solid period of high pressure. The message to take home is: plan ahead so you’re prepared to deal with wet climbing; have a backup plan; be able to back down, rappel or otherwise escape if needed; and, remember, the summer is young…there are many weeks of beautiful weather ahead! (Next week looks delightful.)
As always, make sure someone knows where you’re going and that you have some emergency communication in place for if the unexpected should occur. A great resource is the Adventure Smart app. Another great resource are all the talented ACMG guides around Coast, all of whom would be psyched to share their mountain craft and passion with you. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path or something that pushes your personal comfort levels towards the limits, consider hiring an ACMG certified guide.
Stay cool, stay safe and climb strong!
ACMG/IFMGA Mountain Guide