ACMG Mountain Conditions Summary for the Rockies and Columbia Mountains. October 18, 2019

This past week saw a return to more seasonal temperatures, albeit a bit on the cool side still with small but steady accumulations of snowfall in the high alpine. Treeline temps have been hovering around freezing give or take a few degrees but the alpine has remained cold and wintery.

The forecast for the weekend and beyond is for more mixed weather with a pulse of snow coming in from the west. Most of this will land on the Coast mountains but the Columbias could see as much as 15 cm of new snow by the middle of next week. The Rockies get shorted this time with anything from trace amounts of precip on the eastern slopes to 10 cm along the height of the divide.

This new snow will signal a bit of an increase in avalanche hazard especially in the high alpine in the Rockies and the Columbias. If you have alpine objectives in mind in the coming days — whether ice climbs, hikes or ski tours — be sure to be prepared with avalanche gear, practise your companion rescue skills, and have a good morning meeting to go over the changes in conditions and what you expect in the way of avalanche hazard. If you have limited winter travel experience and you’re planning a trip in one of the provincial or national parks it wouldn’t hurt to give the visitor safety folks a call to see if your destination is safe.

Late October is always when the high north ice climbing starts up, and this year it seems like ice is forming up early and relatively well. You’ll have to walk for it though, postholing through a weak snowpack to get to the bases, and the ice will be generally thin and challenging to protect. Late October is also when ice climbers seem to have their first brushes with death by avalanche, and the next couple of weeks will test that pattern.

It’s also really early for skiing, but in isolated high alpine areas there’s just enough of a snowpack to entice people to go for a few turns. Expect in the range of 10-30 cm of facets and crusts underlying the new storm snow, but anything from wind scoured moraine to windloaded pockets up to a metre deep is possible. Skiers this weekend will be hitting rocks and other shallow buried obstacles in addition to making decisions about the avalanche hazard.

Travel on glaciers has been reported to be pretty good with the caveat that crevasses are poorly bridged and so careful navigation is essential. I would be very reluctant to ski unroped on glaciers right now. The situation will only get more challenging with new snow and wind concealing the sags.

Hiking is still going strong especially at lower elevations exposed to the sun. Be prepared for icy walking on shaded trails and bring along a pair of the ice cleats and walking poles to keep you upright. Postholing through facetted snow at higher elevations, especially on shaded talus slopes, is to be avoided.

Rock climbing: the season is officially over but that never stopped anyone. Lower elevation sunny crags between the snow showers would be your best bet. High elevation and shady aspects are wet, snowy and wintery.

Finally, the skating. Only the highest and coldest lakes have been skateable in the Rockies and now, sadly, those have been covered by snow. It was good while it lasted. The good news is that there are many unfrozen lower elevation lakes waiting for the perfect freeze.

Tom Wolfe
ACMG Mountain Guide

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