Bow Hut, Wapta and Little Crowfoot Area
Spent February 24 - 26 in the Bow Hut, Wapta and Little Crowfoot areas with the ACC Calgary SkiMo course.
The previously reported good skiing above Bow Hut was thoroughly trashed by moderate to strong winds in the alpine and open areas. By the afternoon of February 25 most snow on the glacier was a combination of thin windslabs (10 - 15cm soft slabs), breakable crust and developing sastrugi. Cornices could be seen to be visibly loading. Travel was generally good with 15 to 20cm of ski penetration.
The group rated the ski quality as fair to poor. Careful planning of your turns could produce some decent skiing but nothing to write home to mom about. Our attempt to ascend Gordon on Saturday (Feb 25) was thwarted by moderate to strong winds and cold temperatures creating a very cold windchill. Despite heavily covered faces, we had four cases of frostnip / superficial frostbite. We bailed out well below the summit and spent the rest of the day discussing humans factors in decision making...
We probed pretty extensively between Bow Hut and Gordon and agree with Conrad's report of 200 - 300cm of fairly dense snow on the glacier in general. The anomaly would be the thin area directly to the west of St. Nicholas which had variable depth ranging from 120 to 160cm. We kept the rope on for all uphill travel, as did most of the other folks we saw during the weekend.
On Sunday (Feb 26) we skied over to the Little Crowfoot moraines before heading down. We had some cracking and whumpfing on our way up and stuck to conservative terrain of 30 degrees or less. We set out with a conservative mindset and didn't challenge any steeper terrain or convex rolls as the 40cm slab over weak facets was still pretty evident here. Plus... there was lots of local evidence of old slab avalanches failing on the persistent weak layer of facets and depth hoar in the immediate vicinity.
Despite the recent winds, skiing in the moraines was very good to excellent with up to 15cm of low density, non-wind-affected powder on a supportive upper snowpack. We heavily skied much of the remaining safe terrain which had not been previously skied.
Travel in the canyon on the way out was generally very good with extensive traffic over the weekend, but a number of spots of open water remain as per normal. The canyon was generally in better shape than the same time last year.
There was a lot of evidence of the previous avalanche cycle with several cornice triggered avalanches up to size 3 on the E face of Mount Olive and on the Onion. The now much older Size 3 on Cirque sub-peak was still plain to see. There were numerous other examples of smaller size 1 and 2 slabs on many different aspects, many of which were becoming obscured by the wind event on Friday night and Saturday. A new size 1 natural slab avalanche below the Bow Hut and a cornice triggered steep pocket on Mt. Thompson were thought to be new on Sunday but these are now at least 48 or more hours old.
Cyril and the ACC SKiMo crew: Dana, Sheena, Mark, Vi, Sam and Sandro
ps: I have to commend the three ice climbers we encountered who decided not to climb Bow Falls as they didn't like the snow slopes they would have to contend with in making the ascent. They decided to ski over by us instead. It is heartening to see ice climbers making good risk management decisions during times of considerable hazard.