Climbing Conditions

4 photos

The French Maid

Mt. Hunter Ice Climbs

Climbing Conditions

This report is several days overdue, but think those interested will find it useful.

We punched the track into the French Maid drainage, having spied it from the TCH and it appeared to be 'in'. The bushwhack/posthole took 2.5 hours in shin to mid thigh snow, slow and arduous. As we got closer and the French Maid came into view, we saw it wasn't in great condition, a thin pillar starting the second pitch, overhanging chandelier ice, greyish and thin overall. We opted not to climb it and continued up the drainage to the The Fine Line.
From this point we walked on old avalanche debris covered by 10cm of recent snow. This gave me us some confidence that we wouldn't get hit by a large avalanche. The bulletin rating was mod/low/low, the sky was overcast, not snowing, light ridgetop winds and -8 when we left the truck, it seemed like the time to climb in the area. As we were getting geared up at the base of The Fine Line the sun broke through the clouds and you could feel the gentle warmth of its rays.
I had swung my tools three times as the first spin drift came over the cliffs 100m to the right of the climb, nothing significant as it dissipated into the open air. I contemplated, for a split second to put up my hood, but my thoughts were interrupted by "spin drift!" and my world turned white, snowy and cold. I held onto my ice tools, preparing for what I hoped was not coming, an additional mass of snow. I waited for 20 seconds or so for it to stop, clinging to the ice with thin blades of steel. The downflow stopped and I quickly made my retreat. If I had been only a few meters high, I would have have been more exposed to the direct flow and likely flung off the ice.
The 15 minutes of solar input had triggered several loose dry avalanches in the area above us, no larger than a size 1. My timing and location was unfortunate, as the first two pitches of The Fine Line climb a tight, ice filled 'chimney' feature where even a small amount of snow could have serious consequences. We bailed and descended back down the drainage in fear that the sun would trigger additional small avalanches... this is where we received the biggest surprise of the day. The 'thin pillar' on The French Maid had collapsed (insert green, pukey emoji face here). The sky once again became overcast, the sun was only out for 30 minutes but was enough to weaken the ice for it to collapse (subsequently, right when we would have been at the base or starting the first pitch if we had walked up there). I felt slightly nauseous.

That day was not our day. That morning we had already changed from our original plan to climb Cold Comfort in Yoho, but due to mod-strong ridgetop winds we bailed, as that climb is threatened by massive overhead hazard. The French Maid was plan B, The Fine Line was plan C, but we ended up taking plan D - a mid afternoon nap on the couch.

My take away from this:
- trust your instincts, if it looks sketchy, it probably is sketchy
- you never really know how close you are to disaster until it hits you (a good way to gain experience, as long as you come of it out alive)
- small avalanches in confined terrain can have serious consequences
- know what is above you and what it will take to trigger an avalanche (the sun wasn't suppose to be out that day, but quickly changed conditions when it was)

Mt. Hunter West Ice conditions:
The French Maid - Not In
Corax - In
The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test - In
The Fine Line - In

Mark Herbison
ACMG Mtn. Guide, Parks Canada Mountain Safety

On The Map

These observations and opinions are those of the person who submitted them. The ACMG and its members take no responsibility for errors, omissions, or lapses in continuity. Conditions differ greatly over time and space due to the variable nature of mountain weather and terrain. Application of this information provides no guarantee of increased safety. Do not use the Mountain Conditions Report as the sole factor in planning trips or making decisions in the field.