Thursday, March 31, 2011

Icefall Lodge- Part 2

Part two continued…


The following day the group decides to make the lengthy trip back to the main Icefall lodge, with the news that a massive storm is on the horizon. The first flakes begin to fly as we make our final turns back to the lodge.

With the morning comes a healthy 16” serving of pow, a hearty breakfast for any powderhound. Yet, we best save room because this meal is bottomless, with more fixings on the way. We spend the day shooting photos near the lodge, as the continual snowfall, foggy conditions and avi hazard discourage us from traveling too far. Throughout the night layers of tasty snow fall.

The crew awakes to another gluttonous breakfast. The sum total of snowfall in the last two days reaches nearly 3 ft. Luckily the storm has subsided and there is a calm about the air. The sky is overcast, but the ceiling is high, well above the peaks and the visibility is sufficient. Everyone is eager to feast, as the gear room bustles with activity. The clack of boots buckling sounds like the countdown beeps in a starting gate. Time to get the game face on- the pow game face.

My pow game face:

Today is our last full day of skiing and we are hungry for some delectable skiing. With the avi danger being considerable to extreme, we choose to ski some lines in areas of old growth timber, just down valley of the lodge. The group takes great precaution in our approach. We cross major slide paths one by one, with eyes always on. We ascend through trees and over pillowed boulders, with observations constantly being noted. The guides arduously break trail ahead. Snow billows up near their hips, as they work for every forward step. The pitch begins to steepen while rocks and fallen timber stack upon each other, creating shelves and drops. We continue to weave through these obstacles, gradually nearing the top of the tree line. Finally we reach the top. Quickly skins are stripped, goggles are defogged and backpacks are strapped on. We pick partners and get to it.

As I drop in, my world turns white. A veil of crystals envelopes my upper body, while plumes of snow surge near my waist. My nose and mouth inhale these chilling flakes, cooling my breath. I feel as if I am in a suspended state of falling through clouds, as I roll over the undulating terrain. I give myself to the experience, allowing my senses to maintain my equilibrium. Fighting for total control is futile. Hoots and hollers cry out from phantom figures floating through the glades, with a trail of cold smoke in their wake.

I stop briefly to reconnect with my partner, Jimmy. We meet each other with the same ecstatic grin. “That was unbelievable, “ I say still reveling in the descent. We take a few breaths and then head down to join the others below us. The group is already putting on their skins for another lap. I drop my pack and begin to riffle through it. No time to waist.

Soon we reach the bottom again, after another divine powder line. I stand with Jimmy catching my breath when I hear a portentous cry from up the valley, “Avalanche!”

Jimmy freezes. For a moment we listen. He then relays the warning down hill, “Avalanche!”. I stare uphill, fearful of the sight to come. Soon the headwall of a powder-cloud, roughly 30ft high, appears just beyond us. Initially I hear hissing, as the airborne ice crystals crash into the vegetation. Then a deep rumbling reverberates down in my gut. I scream out, “Avalanche!” hoping the others have taken shelter further into the trees, away from the neighboring slide path. Jimmy and I stand nearly 25ft from the edge of the trees, out of harms way, as we watch the massive white beast roar past. For a instant I am stunned. I then yell down to the group, desperately hoping a rescue isn’t necessary. My pulse races as I fear for the worst. Then a cry back- all are ok. I ask for a head count. All accounted for. I take two deep breaths to relieve my nerves. Jimmy and I then descend to the others. Branches and debris litter the snow. Everyone is rattled.

After some decompressing, the group then decides to move quickly back to the lodge and out of harms way. One by one we cross the slide path, navigating around fallen trees, branches and massive clumps of snow. The debris has set up like mortar and the traverse across is fast and turbulent.

Returning to the lodge, we find Larry, head guide and Icefall lodge owner, still shoveling the roof. He had witnessed the entire event and had made the ominous call down valley that Jimmy and I had heard. All that evening the group shared stories and thoughts on the experience. Thank Zeus we eluded danger.

The next day we pack ourselves into the little aircraft and head out back to Golden, BC. As we fly, we overlook the countless massive avalanches that had occurred in the past few days. I take a sigh of relief. Time to step away from the bull’s eye, and out of firing range.

(photo by Jeremy Benson)

(photo by Jeremy Benson)

Special thanks to the Icefall Lodge crew!


erica laidlaw