Early last week some much needed snow finally arrived, only for high winds to chase it all over the mountains before high pressure returned at the weekend. With reverse loading and a rapid warming trend contributing to a fluctuating danger level and a special advisory from the CAC about the unpredictability of current conditions, we scaled back our touring plans. Friday was another fun day of shredding groomers in the sun at Whistler, and on Saturday we headed south to Baker for some backcountry laps.
It was a gorgeous drive down, with drifting fog in the Fraser Valley giving way to a golden sunrise that lingered behind the dark outlines of Baker and Shuksan. Even the huge speeding ticket I picked up on the empty streets of Sumas (no sympathy for Canadian plates) didn’t do much to dent our anticipation. By the time we reached the Heather Meadows parking lot after breakfast at the Wake ‘n’ Bakery, the skies were blue and it felt like a spring morning.
We skinned rapidly up the cat track to the ski area boundary, and headed out toward the Blueberry Chutes. It was already apparent that it was going to be a very warm day, and on the south side of the bowl loose wet snow was already starting to slide. I somehow managed the last steep climb to the top of the chutes without falling on my face (unlike last time), and was rewarded with stunning views of Shuksan and the Shuksan Arm in the morning light.
While B took a break I followed the skin track toward where the peak of Baker rose tantalizingly above pristine snow dunes. After climbing over a couple of small ridges the landscape dropped away in front of me, revealing Baker in all its glory. It was the most jaw-dropping view I’d ever seen: Baker ahead, Shuksan behind, and blue mountains filling the horizon to the north.
I skied back through the dunes to where B was waiting, and we prepared to drop into the Blueberry Chutes. B went first, and I followed once I saw him emerge on the valley floor far below. As I dropped over a steep roll at the top of the chutes I slipped into the backseat, my tips shot away from me and I flipped over into the snow. It was so deep that I didn’t slide far in spite of the slope angle. I dusted myself off, and proceeded a little shakily down the chute. The snow was fantastic, a little heavy but amazingly deep, but my turns were all over the place. On the apron I regrouped with B for a few smoother turns and a hop over the little creek.
On the skin back through the bowl for another run I developed a problem with my bindings about two-thirds of the way up. Once I took the skis off for the transition, I discovered that the culprit was a considerable amount of clear ice that had formed inside the toe piece and directly underneath the pivot point. It’s the first problem I’ve had with icing on the Guardians but I’ve heard this issue mentioned elsewhere, so I’m going to do some more digging on it. I chipped the ice out with my ski pole, clicked back in, and took off for a glorious second run.
Runout from the loose slides on the south faces was starting to reach the skin track through the centre of the bowl, and over on the north riders were releasing some pretty large sluffs, so after one more run from the top of a small outcropping we headed back. We skinned along the valley floor in shirtsleeves with the sun on our faces, feeling like we’d stumbled into summer. It was easily one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever spent out in the mountains.