Southern Caribou Speed Attempt



There’s still so much to learn in this speed traverse game that we’ve been trying to play this spring.  We took lessons learned from our Wapta speed tour and set our sights on a bigger traverse in a bigger range.  The Southern Caribou from the Mclellan Glacier to Azure Pass seemed like a worthy step up.  Ultimately the traverse was unsuccessful in reaching the planned end point but the tour that we completed was an important step towards our larger goal of moving fast and light in the mountains. 

The trip started with an early wake up at 3 AM to eat and hop in Reiner’s truck headed for the snow line.  With the snowmobile unloaded we began the 15km tow in to the Mclellan drainage.  Right off the get go was about 100 m of dirt road to sled on and Reiner put on quite a show with sparks flying off the rocks in the dark morning.   After a kilometer of sledding, Reiner driving, me behind on the seat and James towing, the first SNAFU of the day occurred.  In the dark behind the sled a loop of rope caught under James’ ski causing him to bail hard onto the still frozen whooped out track.  Determined not to let that stop the trip, James soldiered on hoping that the knee pain would subside and we could complete our mission.  Not a great start to the day!

A subsequently uneventful sled ride to the end of the road had us skinning as the sun came up into the big flat valley at the headwaters of the Mclellan.  With a decent freeze in our still shaded valley we could tear hide and skate for a few km, quickly gaining the headwall of the valley where we switched to foot crampons and booted the firm but softening slope to the glacier. 

Amazed at the intensity of the sun already we put it into high gear and skinned across the glacier to the first broken terrain we would encounter.  After weaving through the crevasses and seracs, roped together with only minimal gear we realized that without more substantial rope gear we were exposing ourselves to a greater risk than we deemed comfortable.  It’s always a trade-off with these type of trips where you want to get away with carrying as little as possible but not stick your neck out without an acceptable safety buffer. 

The group decided to continue tentatively to see what was ahead and go until we were at an obvious turn around point.  So we crossed another few kilometers of flat glacier breathing heavy from the thin air and fast pace.  Once at the ridge we were eye to eye with the first crux of the route and behind it spread out was a good vista of the rest of the traverse in all it’s enormity.  The crux was a 1500 ft steep east facing slope to Penny Col that had two significant bergshrunds and cornice hanging above a portion of our route.  The sort of thing you want to be climbing while it’s frozen solid without the sun even on it yet, not at ten o’clock when it’s been in the solar radiation for a couple of hours.

A good chat about our comfort with the level of risk we would have to take led to the decision that we’d leave the traverse for another day and focus on bagging a few peaks around us and getting some good beta on the route ahead for our next attempt.  Making the call to back off is rarely an easy decision, especially when you’ve invested so much time, energy and effort to get to that spot.  But you need to put all that stuff aside and listen to your gut, and my guts were telling me the timing wasn’t right.  It also told me the peperoni stick/ju-jube combo I ate at 7 AM was a bad idea.

Standing on the top of a couple new summits was a nice consolation prize, as was the pow at 9000 ft that lead to creamy corn skiing and a quick schuss/skate to the sled.  School was definitely in session in the Southern Caribou’s, so many aspects of mountain mastery have to come together with weather and luck all being on your side as well.  I left to drive back to Golden without the satisfaction of crossing our goal off “the list”, but with a head full of ideas for tactics and training to get’er done next year.


10 Responses

  1. Better safe than sorry, that’s what I always say.
    Wicked pictures, broseph. The helmet cam footage is great, too… can it record HD?

    • I’m still trying to figure out the headcam. I got lots of footy but it was so bright on the snow that everything ended up looking really blown out white…. It does shoot high def, and I now have a permanent mount on my helmet so I’ll be putting more short clips in my blog posts…..

      • I think my previous comment is tied up in moderation or deleted because I included a link but:

        I was reading on teh interwebs about someone who made a polarizing filter for their GoPro out of a lens from some 3D glasses.

        Definitely feeling the stoke, makes me want to push over the next col. Just need to do more training and learn crevasse rescue

  2. Sick attempt! Gotta get out and pay your dues before getting it right. Nice work, still got a sweet day out if it anyways. Jealous.

  3. Leg’s still black and blue (and yellow and green) from the little towing mishap. You hit the nail here E, we need to learn more about this speed game before we commit to these routes with such scant kits. So much different than doing something fast in Europe were there’s huts and people everywhere. Track’s usually in, beta at one’s finger tips, and long-line helicopters on stand-by. Different game for us over here….baby steps. Like the Canadian public just shouted last monday….Conservatism is the way to go!!!! Until our next adventure……..

  4. I think the problem is that you probably didn’t have enough peperoni stick/ju-jubes to get through the day. Awesome terrain…it’s a little different than doing traverses in the Wasatch where we can always bail off the side of a ridge to a road. Good job blog master!

    • NO MORE JU-JUBES!!!!! 🙂

      I think one of our biggest mistakes was underestimating the scale of the traverse, big remote terrain, it was a huge step way up from the smaller ranges like the wapta.

      The great thing about the access in areas like the wasatch is it’s allowed you guys to get into some pretty wooly places……. ice climbing in the middle of a ski run….. you guys are nuts

  5. sooo fucking cool to see you guys taking on these kind of goals. I’m sure y’all will do some crushing… be patient for the right conditions, then bring on the pain!

    • Yo JR , thanks for the stoke, these speed traverses are such a sweet way to blend touring and racing. Definatly inspiring to read about your Bugs to Rogers blitz a few years back, super bold! I can’t believe more people aren’t into speed traverses in Canada….

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