Trip Report

Our group consisted of Rob Nachtwey, Bob Portmann, Jonathan Kriegel, Chet Roe, Rylan Cordova, and me. Here is a brief report. Airspan Helicopters with pilot John Christensen got us in from Invermere on Sunday when the weather broke briefly around noon. We skied Gwendolyn that day, with three of us making the summit. On Monday we went to the North Star Glacier and summited Alpha Centauri, which had fabulous, and stable, conditions on its steep NE face. From there we went to North Star peak with four summiting and two stopping just below. The east face of that was attractive -- too attractive. Rob jumped in and started a class 2 avalanche that shook us up a bit. He was unhurt as he was deposited on a bench, with the debris continuing farther. Bob, going down quickly to check on the situation, was caught in a small bit of hangfire which caused him to pop a ski. The ski was buried and the group took 40 minutes to find it. Jonathan and I retreated down the climbing route and guided the group down the remaining steep slopes by radio.

The next day we all went on a nice tour to Mt. Harmon and the neighboring "sand dune", from which we skied down a great ski face to near the valley bottom. My binding had broken the previous day and Chet did a marvelous repair job with some metal straps we found at the hut. Snowmobilers were a constant problem on this day, some going right to the hut.

On Wednesday Jonathan, Chet, and I went for Gwendolyn while the others went to the north lobe of the North Star Glacier. As we started skinning up the steep face I was a little concerned, and about halfway up I left my ski and started booting. But the snow on this face did seem stable. There was a 3-inch wind crust from high winds the night before, but it did not seem to be a problem. The stepkicking was fine and we reconvened on a flat snow ledge before the final push to the summit. I continued kicking steps and was feeling quite good. At one point I had to decide between sugar snow on my right leading to some rocks or the steep snow on my left leading to a flat spot from which the summit was an easy walk. I chose the latter. As I made my last step and reached my axe over the top to pull myself over, the axe pried loose a 12-inch slab and my world was suddenly very changed. The whole area I was in was sliding down and I had a few seconds to realize my predicament as I was on top of a 1000-foot face that was quite steep. Thankfully, after being flushed past Jonathan and Chet, most of the slide stopped and I was only about 20 feet below them, having fallen a distance of about 120 feet. I had a sprained knee. Debris did go down farther, but the face was in fact stable. So they belayed me down to my skis and we returned home.

On Thursday I did nothing while the group toured again to the North Star area. On Friday I went out for an easy tour while the group revisited the NW lobe of the Catamount, summiting Mt. Griffith. Our flight out was scheduled for Saturday 9 am, but Rob and Rylan wanted to ski an enticing dog-leg couloir on the cliffs between Gwendolyn and the pass to North Star. They rose at 5:30, were atop the couloir (which we named "Kinky") at dawn, and skied down in good conditions. They were back at the hut by 8:10, in time to pack and be ready for the first flight out. Awesome!

We were going to spend a second week skiing in the mountains but the weather turned very hot with no break in sight. Don McTighe could fly us anywhere. But the skiing would have been lousy. In short, we were sunned out, something I would not have though possible in this range!

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