Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Burnie Glacier Chalet Ski Trip

Burnie Glacier Chalet
A couple weeks ago Mike and I along with some friends from the Alpine Club of Canada went up to the Burnie Glacier Chalet for a week of Lodge-based guided ski touring and ski mountaineering.  We started planning this trip about a year ago, at the recommendation of ACMG Mountain Guide Tom Wolfe, and were stoked to finally be going. The lodge was awesome, with 4 guest rooms, a sauna, a kitchen area for socializing and a work shop for any necessary ski repairs, all located in an amazing area with endless ski touring opportunities.

Landing at the Lodge

 We were treated daily to delicious meals prepared by Monica and a warm sauna every evening to rest  up the tired muscles for the next day. The Guiding on the trip was excellent. We traveled daily with ACMG Mountain Guides Conrad Janzen and Christoph Dietzfelbinger, who is also the owner of the Burnie Glacier Chalet. We had a great time getting to know both of them and I really appreciated their encouragement, patients and mountain travel tips through-out the week, especially on days when I was operating at the limits of my comfort zone. Having their support to try out some new things that I would never do on my own truly made this a memorable trip and is exactly why I love guided trips.

Conrad and Christoph on Loft Peak; Photo by Bill Scott

Unfortunately the snow was not as epic as we had hoped. Northern BC had the same warm spell as we did in the lower mainland, so the snow was  icy for the first few days with breakable crusts in spots. However, the avalanche risk was low and travel was fast with clear sunny skies, which allowed us to get high into the alpine and do some long tours and climb some peaks. And part way through the week we did get some fresh snow which allowed for a couple days of fun powder turns on the Loft Glacier and Tom George Mountain.

Sunrise on Solitaire Peaks

Here is a write-up of our trip:

Day 1: Flying into the Lodge

Sorting Gear for the chopper

Here we go! The ACC ladies: Willa, Amber and Margaret

Tony and the Pilot

 We arrived in Smithers, B.C. the night before and after a night and leisurely morning at the Stork Nest Inn, we headed over to the helicopter hanger for transport into the Chalet. It took us a couple hours to sort, weigh and load the gear into the choppers and after three full helicopter trips all 13 of us arrived at the Lodge by late afternoon. After having some soup and snacks and settling into our rooms we headed outside for a short tour and beacon practice before dinner. We enjoyed the evening relaxing and getting to know each other.

We're here!

Chopper #3 incoming!
Heading back to the Lodge for dinner after beacon practice

Day 2: Climbing Solitaire Ski Peak

Today was our first real tour and was a moderate day compared to most other days. We left the Lodge at 8:30 am and skied up to the Solitaire Ski Peak. I quickly realized that  limited skiing this year - only 6 days on skis and one ski-tour prior this trip - had been a bad idea. Fitness levels were OK thanks to lots of running and hiking, but my ski confidence could have been better. Next time, more training on skis! 

up, up, up!

Arriving at the Peak; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Almost there, only a short boot pack to the summit

Mandatory Hero Shot

The tour took us about 6 hours overall with about 4.5 hours of skinning up, a short boot pack to the summit, lunch on top and about an hour to ski back to the Lodge.  The skiing on the Solitaire glacier and off the side of the moraines beside the Burnie Glacier was fun and the snow was ok. It was bit challenging on the short tree section at the end where it was a bit icier, but it was manageable with some slide slipping and careful skiing. Overall, a fun day and good intro to the area.

Paul and Willa; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Mike cranking turns down the glacier; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Yay, fresh trax!
Tony and Willa having fun!; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Tony and Margaret beside the Burnie Glacier; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Day 3: Over the Burnie Glacier to Polemic Pass

Mike on the uptrack; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Our first long day. We headed up to the Burnie Glacier where did all kinds of cool things: we boot-packed up the Burnie step, weaved our way through the ice fall and across a crazy small snow bridge and then travelled up the glacier in an amazing amphitheatre of peaks until we reached Polemic Pass.

Waiting to Climb the Burnie Step

Climbing the Burnie Step

Looking down the Burnie Step; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Conrad and Margaret at the top of the Burnie Step; Photo by Paul Geddes

 After a break on the Pass we skied the 1400m back down into the valley which entailed a bit of everything:  fun glacier skiing, a steep and icy avi path, some single track through the trees and a "surprise" - a crazy steep, treed side slip - to get back down onto the marsh in the valley. from the marsh we enjoyed a leisurely tour back to the lodge for well-earned apres-ski. It was a full-on day but well worth the effort to explore another amazing area.

Crossing the Burnie Glacier Ice fall; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

 Photo by Paul Geddes

Crossing the Snow Bridge; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Crossing the Burnie Glacier, heading toward Polemic Pass

Lunch Break at Polemic Pass

Skiing!; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Willa Almost back at the Lodge; Photo by Paul Geddes

Day 4: Climbing Middle Solitaire

Heading up to Middle Solitaire Peak; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Another long, but rewarding day in the mountains. Today we headed back up the Solitaire glaciers destined for Middle Solitaire Peak. By the time we got to the base of the final climb to the summit I was feeling pretty tired and a bit intimidated by the peak and the windy and icy conditions. Looking up at the steep uptrack on an icy slope followed by a boot-pack up a steep couloir I was really uncertain about making it to the summit. I wasn't concerned about getting up the route, but getting back down was looking like another story.....

Conrad helping us prep for the boot pack; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

I had decided that Middle Solitaire looked a little to intense for me and was going to wait for the group at the base, but after some coaxing and reassurance from Paul, Margaret and Mike I was convinced to give it a go. The skin up the steep slope went well after it was expertly prepared by Christoph and Conrad. At the top of the skin track Conrad helped us all get prepped for the boot pack and, still feeling a bit uncertain, I headed up with Conrad and Mike, benefiting form Conrad's pointers en-route. The climb up was hard work, but overall pretty fun.

Conrad, Amber and Mike boot packing up Middle Solitaire; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger
Summit shot!; Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Views from the Summit

Views from the Summit

The trip back down to the Glacier was another story. After enjoying the views from the summit we began descending the couloir. Steep snow travel is not a skill that I have a lot of experience with and it showed in my lack of confidence while descending. But, thanks to Conrad's patient coaching and the ACC crew's support, all went well. It was awesome to learn some new skills and to have the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and give it a go!

Down we go, time to ski!

Once we were back down on the glacier Christoph took a group of us who preferred an easier (i.e. less steep) descent route and we took our time skiing back to the lodge while Christoph gave us pointers on what ski techniques to use in the areas of marginal conditions. Overall, even though the day was long and definitely tested my limits, it turned out to be  the most memorable day of the trip for me.

Christoph patiently waiting for us to catch up as he teaches
 us ski skills to get through the breakable crusts and icy sections

Relaxing in our room back in the Lodge, waiting for the sauna to heat up 

Day 5: Rest Day

After a few long days and minimal training this winter, it was time for a break. I enjoyed the day reading, stretching, lounging around the lodge in the sun and socializing with Bill and Monica.  The rest of the group headed up to Tom George Mountain for some skiing on corn snow.

The Group heading out for the day

Willa Cruising. Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

The crew is back from a day in the Mountains. Beers in the sun.
Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Day 6: Burnie Lake Easy ski day

Today we opted to take a break from long days and  steep icy slopes and enjoy a leisurely day of exploring the valley. We skied from the Lodge out to Burnie Lake where we had heard rumours of a Face Tree existing a couple hundred meters off the shore. Once we reached the lake we travelled through the trees and after about a 20min search we discovered the face tree! It was very cool!

Skinning Across Burnie Lake

We found the Face Tree!

 We then found a sunny spot on the shore and enjoyed our lunch amongst the peaks. After lunch we headed down the lake a bit to explore the area before turning back and heading home to the Lodge for Apres-ski and sauna time. On our way back it started snowing! We were all very excited for possible powder skiing the next day. 

Skiing across the lake.

It's Snowing! 

Burnie Glacier Chalet

Relaxing in the Kitchen

Monica preparing another amazing meal

Day 7: Loft Peak

Fresh Snow! Photo by Paul Geddes
After a rest day and a leisurely ski day I was more than ready to get back at it, especially with 10-15cm of fresh snow! The goal for the day was to summit Loft Peak and ski off the peak and down the Loft Glacier. We started the day off with a slow trek through the trees to get up into the alpine. It was a bit tedious as the fresh snow hadn't penetrated the forest and the uptrack was lumpy and very icy. Christoph and Conrad were working hard to shovel out the track and keep the group moving at a reasonable pace.

Heading up to Loft Peak. Christoph trail building in the icy trees.

Icy Tree Skinning
Once we reached the alpine, the going got much easier. There was still the odd icy section, but overall it was reasonably easy travel. We stopped for a snack break on "The Knob of Never Ending Love", really how could you not stop there when it has such a cool name!?!

Snack Break on the Knob of  Never Ending Love
Heading up the Loft Glacier, Stoked for some turns on the 10-15cm of fresh snow!
From here we headed up the glacier, enjoying the fabulous views along the way. Unfortunately the clouds closed in as we reached the final climb to the summit obscuring our summit views, but no worries, we were all stoked for our first real powder run of the week!

Conrad and Jim heading for the summit of Loft Peak. Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

Margaret climbs up toward Hut Peak. Photo by Christoph Dietzfelbinger

We enjoyed a sweet run down the glacier and part of the group decided it was so good they went for another 600m lap. The rest of us reasonable people headed down towards the valley enjoying some more turns along the way.  We had to ski down the same route we took when came down from Polemic pass. We weren't really stoked about it as it had been a bit of a battle the first time around.

Summit of Loft Peak
 But this time with the fresh snow the Avi path was actually not too bad, I could actually do some turns and not side-slip the whole thing. It was still challenging, but in a fun way. I imagine that route would be an epically awesome run with lots of fresh, consistent snow! Even the "surprise" through the trees -the icy, steep side slip to the marsh - went a lot better the second time around.

Once again it was a quick tour through the flats and back to the lodge for Apres ski and sauna time.

Day 8: Tom George Mountain and Travelling Home

On our last day at the lodge we went out for a morning tour before heading out on the helicopter back to Smithers, We skinned for about 2.5 hours up Tom George Mountain, gaining about 700m of elevation. We enjoyed the morning taking in the views and had one last sweet run in the fresh snow through the open trees before heading back to lodge for lunch and beginning the trek home.

Skinning up Tom George Mountain

Group shot on Tom George Mountain

Fresh Snow

Our ride home
Ready for Take-off
Smithers, BC

Click Here for full Photo Album

Click Here for Conrad Janzen's Pics

The Burnie Glacier; Photo by Conrad Janzen

1 comment:

  1. It was a great trip thanks for saving the memories in your blog.