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Trip Report

North Joffre Horseshoe ski traverse Feb 10 to 13 2018.


This trip was organized by Wayne Pattern through the BCMC.

We initially were 12 skiers and a canine, to start the traverse on Saturday morning.

The weather forecast was for 3 days of mostly clear skies, light winds, with a maximum of 1 cm of precipitations, temperatures of minus 7 to 15 celsius. The avalanche forecast was considerable in the alpine and moderate at treeline on an improving trend over the following days. We parked our vehicles at Km 10 of Highway 99 past Mt Currie and started skinning up the firm snow of the logging  road to the swamp that forms at the end of N Joffre creek. Travel on the swamp was good. Towards the end of the swamp, we bushwhacked through thick trees and blowdown to the base of the avalanche chute at the start of the climb to Cassiopea Lake. Once we started approaching the slope littered with avalanche debris, we quickly decided to put on our ski crampons.

Travel upwards even with the crampons was tenuous at times. This is a long and sustained climb.Just before entering the forest for the final push to the lake, a split formed in our group, with one skier experiencing gear issues with crampons wrongly mounted and inadequate skin traction. Two skiers remained with the suffering party and pushed on quite slowly.

The front group eventually gained the lake and started the climb towards the Saxifrage col. At about 1700m, we stopped to wait for the last skiers. Around 15:00, we decided to camp on a bench above the lake and wait for the whole team to regroup.That evening, the sky was full of stars and the scenery was sublime. Spirits were high. 

We woke up at 7:00 and started day 2. A group meeting established that the skier with the technical issues would attempt the col and see how if they could complete the traverse. Another member of the party offered to turn around with the skier if necessary.We delayered and climbed to the col on firm snow. We aimed for a col but it was not the one we were looking for so we continued skiers right on a rounded ridge and after a short descent, bootpacked over a wind feature and crossed below an prominence to the right col. At that point, the struggling skier decided to turn around with a companion. We said our goodbyes and pursued our route.

We removed our skins and did our first real descent of the traverse. We stuck to the left side of the bowl. The descent starts with a few mellow turns then rolls down to a 38 degree section that gradually eases off. This is a beautiful run. Sluff management had to be used, and I got a bit scared. We descended one by one and regrouped where it flattened out. The north facing slope offered great snow. Once all together, we skied down to White lake where we had lunch.

For the next section of the route, we descended to a treed slope trying conserve elevation. We moved east,  crossing under sun baked slopes in the trees moving carefully until we arrived at the open slope below a rocky outcropping that forms the south east edge a very large bowl flanked in the north by Oleg and Olds. A climb of about 200m allowed us to gain the bowl. In front of us, we could see Oleg and Olds. The forbidding ridge seemed quite impassable from this vantage point.

We analysed the terrain and decided to contour using a rounded lesser ridge and again conserve elevation to the final push up to the right of Oleg. We aimed for the low point on the ridge to the right of a bump. We kept the angle of our skin track quite low and steadily ascended the open terrain of this massive bowl. As we approached the last 70m of the climb, a wide cleft revealed itself to the left or the bump we were aiming for. We maintained our trajectory but that approach proved to be impassable due to large cornices garding access to northern slopes. 

As some of us started to gleefully imagine cutting through a cornice to drop to the other side, a wise skier went to walk over the bump and confirmed that access was definitely to the left. We bootpacked over the bump and prepared to ski down in blasting winds. By now it was 16:00.

We descended the long low angle run to Place and Joffre gl, that had snow of variable density. As we collected lower down to discuss our campsite location, some of us had noses discolored by the windchill. The wind was fierce. In hope of escaping some of it's ferocity, we skied lower to the Joffre Gl. 

There we dumped our packs and started to build a wind shelter for our tents. Deciding to open the tent fly and poke outside to light the stove and melt water was quite the effort after finally thawing out in our tents. It was a very cold, windy night on the glacier, and we got woken up often by gusts lashing at our tents.

The wind died around 5am. We had a couple of hours of sounder sleep and got up for our last day of the route. We enjoyed a slow start and the sun finally warming us at camp and got moving around 9:30. We travelled west following better than expected slope to a bump skiers right, again thinking that access to the rest of the route was on the other side. Once there, we quickly realized that the other side was a steep rocky gully and we would not ski it.

Remembering a previous trip report, we understood that the bump we had to climb over was higher up and slightly skiers' left. We put on our ski crampons again for the climb to the bootpack. We took shelter against a rock and tied our skis on our packs, took out our ice axes and climbed to the steep summit for what seemed like a long time.

From that summit, we had unlimited visibility of the traverse and countless peaks of great beauty in the gleaming light of the sun. The run below however was somewhat disconcerting. Though feasible, the slope below the peak is a big, steep, long run, with a few potential small rock drops, definitely an expert only descent. 

We skinned up a lesser ridge and transitioned at that point to another run that started close to 40 degrees and eased up after 4 turns. The snow on this south west slope was variably crusty. It was tricky skiing, especially with a overnight pack.

Following a quick lunch break, we resumed skiing the excellent slope of sun crusted snow to treeline.

We remained skiers' left of the creek, and skied superb glades in very good snow conditions. Sadly, our glade fairy tale ended about 300m above the forestry road. 

There we encountered bullet proof snow and forest quite thick in spots. It was an endless side slip to the clear cut and drop off on the forestry road, the final leg or the journey.

We skated with various rate of enthusiasm to the parking lot where we met our other two companions. We really could not believe our luck! Three days or clear skies and low avalanche conditions on a long weekend is quite a strike of good luck for February on the coast. 

In my opinion, this trip is for advanced skiers with good experience of snow climbing and deep fitness. They must be familiar with their equipment and be sure it is functionning properly prior to starting out. I also think that waiting for the second day to ski the steep run on the north side of Saxifrage is a better plan if travel on day one was particularly difficult and tiring. It's good to have fresh legs to ski that one. Bad visibility and snow storms would increase the difficulty considerably and should be taken very seriously.

Long descent north flank of Saxifrage
_Long descent north flank of Saxifrage
Trip Reporter
14.02.2018 (1867 Days Ago)
Trip Report TitleNorth Joffre Horseshoe Traverse 2018
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  •  Muddyman wrote 1867 Days Ago (positive) 
    Great report. Thanks Manouane!
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