I pull the sunscreen out of my pocket to smear all over my nose for the fourth time today. I squeeze the tube as hard as I can, but it is frozen once again and I have to warm it up in my gloves before I will be able to continue. The sun is shining down and reflecting off of the Wapta Icefields. It feels so good. I look up and squint through my pink sunglasses back towards where we came from today. Mount Gordon is not visible from this angle but our tracks home still glean in the soft snow. My muscles relax as I am leaning back against the snow wall that protects our tent. Drew and I are sharing a old grey mat that I am so thankful that I carried up here. Ken has pulled out his own mat to suntan on the other side of us. I look to my left and Michiko and Sanne are laughing at a story that Leighton is sharing outside their tent. We are a good group. Eight of us have come from all over the world to meet for Yamnuska’s Mountain Skills Semester. I think it takes special people to feel a connection so quickly.
Last night we skinned up to the top of the Onion Skin. Ken took off his skis and walked over to where the snow had been blown away and picked up two rocks.
“One for Alex and one for Davy” Ken said, and placed the stones on top of the cairn that stands high and proud on the peak. He then pried away the sticky skins from the bottom of his skis and got ready for the awesome ride down the hill.
Regrettably, Alex turned back after a couple of hours, on our first day into the ice field. His hip, cold and head were all hurting him, and he could push no longer. Even more unfortunate, Davy, our Arctic explorer from Norway sprained his MCL on our ski down from Little Crow Foot Mountain on day Two. He struggled down the mountain and we took good care of him in our camp for the night.
The next morning we woke up to massive boom unlike any noise I had ever heard before. I shook Davy and Leighton awake and wriggled out of my -32 degree Celsius bag that was squished between the two of them.
“I think that’s an Avalanche” I say,
“Oh wow! That’s a huge avalanche!” I was nearly out and unzipping the tent.
“That Avalanche is close!!” The noise is thundering and rippling the fabric in the tent walls. I dropped down into the standing room snow pit beneath the vestibule of our tent. The boys had dug out this coffin for easy use of getting on and off our ski boots. I crawled out the fly to level ground as fast as I could and ran to the edge of our campground, my down boots disappearing in the deep snow. I was met by our Guide Grant Meekins and we stood and watched in awe. A cornice had broken off and created a slab avalanche on top of the ridge across from our camp. That slab fell down and hit the bowl beneath it, setting off the slide. Everything was still sliding and the noise was incredible.
“I think it is going to hit us.” Grant mentions calmly.
I whip my head around to him and my eyes go so wide that they are probably as white as the avalanche.
“It’s going to hit us!!!!” I scream back at him.
Grant is quick to calm me down and let me know that he just meant the plume was going to hit us. The mountains were instantly obscured by the large pillow of snow and the crystals began falling on our heads and camp. It was a size three, only meters away from where we were planning to ski that day.
I turn back around and see that Davy managed to stick his head out of the tent to catch some of the action. Soon we were busy with our morning duties, which then included building a helipad. The rotors of the helicopter pierced the calm air, and we wave goodbye to Davy. We miss him!
It is now a few days later and we are down to 6 of us, I am feeling good and warm, sitting back and taking a break. The sun is finally giving us some respite from the cold and the snow.
We are in the “Snow Semester”, a nickname that we are giving our three-month Mountain Skills Semester for this year. It seems like most days that we head out ski touring we are knocking a lot of snow off the tents. Not that I am complaining because the skiing has been amazing! The scenery on the other hand; Rogers Pass, Bow Hut and the Wapta Icefields all look pretty much the same when you are ski touring in the middle of a golf ball. Leighton calls it “Skiing my brail.” Presently, with the sun shining and the view of Crowfoot Mountain and St. Nicholas Peak, we welcome the rest to take it all in.
Drew is beside me and has taken off his long sleeve and his climbing muscles show beneath his t-shirt, and I think I am being brave since I am down to wearing only one long sleeve and one soft shell Jacket. I imagine he is thinking about all his future rock climbs that he plans on doing. This semester course has given all of us a new personal confidence. I think of what we have learned already and I am so happy that we are only one month in. Everyday I want to learn more.
“Are you being vain” Ken yells across the snow walls to Leighton who is now looking at himself in the mirror of his compass.
Leighton, who never misses a beat replies, “Just taking a bearing on beautiful.”
I nearly fall over laughing as I head over to our kitchen. Dug out in the snow with shelves, seats and counters, the kitchen is a work of art. I prime the stove and then hear the welcomed hiss of action. I pour the little water I have left into my pot in order to help begin the process of melting snow. I have learned that if you don’t add a bit of water you just end up burning the snow and it tastes horrible. I shovel out some good blocks of snow to add to the pot. It melts, and I fill up the waiting Nalgene bottles.
Break is now over, so we put our climbing harness’s back on, and step our boots back into the bindings on our skis. We are off to practice Crevasse Rescue. I grab a hold of my poles and realize I still have the sunscreen in my glove. It is melted now.
Blog and photos provided by Katrina Rosen, Student on the Spring 2011 Mountain Skills Semester