In case you haven’t stuck your head outside recently, it’s been a cold week throughout western Canada. With overnight lows dipping into the -20 C range on the icefield parkway below treeline that means that winter really has set in in the alpine.
With the heavy snowfalls of the previous week and more in the forecast, it’s natural that people have been getting out skiing already. Snowfall up at Parker Ridge has been off the charts with a height of 100 cm+ being reported. Further south, like in the Waterton and Castle Mountain zones where the upslope storm really raged at the start of the month, there are reports of similar snow accumulations. I wouldn’t get too excited about skiing quite yet — it’s very early still — but this is also a really exceptional early season and it’s not showing signs of letting up any time soon. There’s the usual menacing foreboding about what early snow will hold in store for the winter snowpack but let’s worry about that when the time comes.
Hiking these days will be treacherous on the packed and icy trails so be sure to bring those little shoe crampons so you don’t slip and break your hip. Off trail the snowpack has no base so be prepared for nasty postholing, especially on talus.
Ice climbing is certainly something to consider right now if you’re into that. With alpine temps as cold as they’ve been it’s no wonder people have been sharpening the tools and getting out, only to blunt them again. Again it’s early season so be prepared for long lonely walks to cold high places with suspect ice.
The thing that should be on everyone’s minds if you’re heading to these places is avalanche hazard. The snowpack is now above threshold for avalanches in many zones and there’s been plenty of wind for slab formation up high. Bring your beacon, probe and shovel and have a proper morning meeting with your mountain buddies before heading out to discuss the plan for the day along with the hazards and backup options in case things don’t turn out to be the way you expect them to be. Doing a quick companion rescue review is always a great idea too
Finally, ice skating is something to consider. Free of avalanche hazard (usually!) but not free of drowning hazard, we’re actually at the threshold of skatable ice here in the Canadian Rockies already. Be sure to bring your life jacket, ice screw for testing thickness, throw rope, and consider equipping yourself with ice safety picks/claws because the ice will be super thin and the water warm except on the shallowest of swamps. Bow Valley Wild Ice is a great facebook group to check out if you like wild ice skating.
Thanksgiving weekend promises continued cold temperatures with overnight lows into the single and double negative digits and daytime highs hovering around freezing in town from the Columbias to the east slopes of the Rockies. Another pulse of snow is due to arrive Sunday evening and the long-range 10+ day forecasts look — as Marc Piché described last week — more like November.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone,
ACMG Mountain Guide