ACMG Mountain Conditions Summary for the Rockies and Columbia Mountains November 12, 2020
Posted on Fri, 12/11/2020 – by Tom Wolfe
A storm earlier this week brought winter back to the mountains and deposited up to 20 cm up high along with a fair bit of wind from the SW. Temperatures have been well into the negative double digits in the alpine with highs around -15 recently. At treeline and below it’s been milder, but still seasonably cold; Bow Summit for example went up to -8 briefly this afternoon.
Skiers are going for it despite the fact that it’s still really early season. Some big lines in less than ideal condition are being skied, but by skilled, strong parties. Everyone is praising the raincrust which is carrying skiers. West of the divide this crust is well developed up to >2400 m but in the Rockies where it was colder during the rain it’s a narrower band and less supportive.
Ice climbing took a hit with last week’s warm temperatures but is coming back strong. The best conditions will be in the highest, coldest places but even low elevation ice in the Rockies is back in reasonable early season shape.
The Columbias looks like it’s going to get treated to more snow. Rogers Pass for example might get 30 cm with mild temps and light winds (RDPS model), though other forecasts are predicting much less (GDPS model). The Rockies as usual gets shorted, with nothing more than light flurries (amounts in the 5-15 cm range), overcast to broken skies, and cold weather to look forward to.
Overall the hazard is currently Moderate in the alpine for most areas reporting, but wind and further precipitation would spike the hazard.
Avalanche activity picked up a bit with the snowfall and wind. Today a medium sized avalanche poured out of the bowl above Urs Hole (an ice climb on Cascade Mountain) and threatened the upper pitches. Earlier in the week groups reported getting hit by pushy loose dry avalanches in Storm Creek. Ski operations have reported isolated larger avalanches up to size 2.5.
The main avalanche problems to consider are new windslabs and the basal facets. A recent large avalanche triggered by a hiker in K-Country ripped out right to the ground. I might not be worried ice climbing on a calm day on routes with overhead hazard, keeping my eyes on what’s going on up high and ready to turn around if I saw a hint of wind transport. On a day with wind in the forecast I would consider other safer options.
Loose dry avalanches aren’t too big of a deal right now but if you’re looking at some of the bigger couloirs (or climbing in gullies) consider power-sluffing potential.
Cornice failures resulting in size 2 avalanches have been observed across western Canada so add that to your list of avalanche problems.
Crevasses: are still poorly bridged and rugged travel might influence your route choices, nudging you into terrain that has other concerns like avalanches from above.
Thin snowpack: below treeline travel everywhere in western Canada is terrible right now and in the alpine it’s still hit and miss. You might find yourself whooping it up on dust on crust one moment, and the next losing 8 inches of base material and tearing out an edge on a hidden rock. But I speak from personal experience — use your powder ninja skills to stick to the deep pockets and you’ll be fine!
Finally, cold, short days: especially in the Rockies the nights are long and bitter and the daytime temperatures take a while to warm up, especially with cloudy skies.
WHAT TO DO
Last weekend I went for what will surely be my last mountain bike ride of the season in Canmore.
Hiking is still possible, but the window on that has closed for all but the diehard.
I’m attaching a photo of my daughter skating on the “Backswamp” (aka Aftonroe) with Mt Cory looming above where I had been happily rock climbing in the sun just a few days before. It’s all covered in snow now.
So this weekend, it’s back to scratching around on my rock skis and maybe I’ll join the club and dust off my ice climbing gear. I think we can finally turn our attention to winter now.
Avalanche Canada is expecting to come out with their forecasts near the end of November.
ACMG Mountain Guide
Here’s a link to my Resources Page which has a bunch of weather sites, weather datalogger links, equipment lists, and other handy things as you plan to head out into the mountains.