Peaks around Canmore, AB Front Ranges
I've been teaching first aid in Canmore this week and watching the conditions on the peaks around me in the Front Ranges.
My first relevant observation was a significant slab avalanche (Size 2.5?) on a NE aspect on Mt. McGillivray that likely occurred on the weekend. This brought to mind the deep persistent weakness that plagued the Rockies this winter. My mind registered that we were not through with this problem yet. This type of weakness has a habit of becoming dormant for a while and then waking up again with a vengeance during weather changes, particularly times of extra load or warm spells. The wind up high was really blowing on Sunday and my eyes were drawn to the sizable cornices along ridge-lines during my drive. Hmmm...
A lot of cool and overcast weather with high winds aloft over the weekend and during the early part of the spring has delayed the spring thaw to a large degree. That together with a lot of spring snow flurries means it is not time to switch off my avalanche brain yet. The transceiver, shovel and probe will remain in my arsenal for some time to come.
Today (Thursday, May 4) brought the dramatic change in temperatures that was promised in the forecast. The overcast skies in the morning kept temperatures warm overnight and the eventual clearing saw temperatures spike into the 20 degree range. By noon this brought about a major change in the snow stability. In addition to the inevitable snowballing, and loose wet surface avalanches, the lurking weakness came alive. From my perch at the Bill Warren Training Centre I saw significant slab avalanches on Mount Rundle and elsewhere on sun exposed slopes. The pictures tell the story of what it looks like out there.
A lot of the scrambles in the front ranges of the Rockies near Canmore and Banff, AB have a LOT more snow than many people anticipate during May so plan accordingly. Things like appropriate clothing, and footwear plus micro-spikes, icers, yak trax or mini crampons for the ice and snow conditions should be in the plan.
Many local rock climbs that are higher in elevation like Ha Ling and Rundle are still holding a lot of snow. Routes like Mother's Day on Cascade near Banff would concern me as well. Rundle EEOR rock routes are wet and snowy with high rockfall potential plus they are threatened by the snow from above. A nice avalanche poured over the top of one of the routes around noon.
The big things to remember are that many cornices are waiting for the spring warm-up to prompt them to fail and the deep persistent weakness is alive and kicking again. Time your ventures appropriately and keep avalanches on your radar. Carry the right gear. During the warm spell think about whether you even want to be on or under any snow slopes that are steep enough to slide or whether you want to be traveling below a corniced ridge.
Did spring just arrive?