...to Rudi's Bowl @ Kicking Horse
11.03.2006 -5 °C
We’d been eyeing it up for weeks: the powder paradise that is Rudi’s bowl just to the south of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. A short hike over the back of White Wall and over the snow-capped peak known as Ozone and we'd gain access to some of the best riding that the Dogtooth Mountain range has to offer. All those sweet lines through the virgin snow, perfectly spaced trees and gnarly chutes so close you could almost reach out and touch them. Those intrepid enough to venture out into the backcountry and push their skills to the next level, seemed to beckon us to them. So, with only a couple of weeks left in Canada, we decided that it was our turn. Our time is now.
The declared route for the day, accounting for weather conditions, snow pack stability etc, was to ride up the Stairway to Heaven chairlift, hike the backside of White Wall, up and over Ozone, and then down into Rudi's Bowl and hike and drop the North face.
Having done our Recreational Avalanche Course (RAC) earlier in the season (see my previous narrative here), we knew that despite the appearance of beautiful the slopes that lies outside the confines of the resort, Mother Nature is a wild and temptuous beast and not to be treated lightly! With this in mind, we made sure to hire snowshoes, transceiver, shovel and probe from Don down at 180 in town to safeguard ourselves and compadres on the trip.
With the sun blazing down on a glorious Spring March morning, we were ready to embark on the adventure. Lisa, as the most experienced backcountry traveller, had offered to lead us on our quest for the Virgin Snow much to the pleasure of our party.
The team were buzzing with excitement - alighting the gondola at the Base Station donned with our backpacks and snowshoes, we looked like real backcountry-monkeys and felt our months of training in the ways for the Force were about to come into fruition. You could feel the buzz in the air as the anticipation of the adventure ahead grew and grew with every passing moment, each person expressing their excitement in their own unique way - quiet contemplation, telling enthused tales of previous backcountry adventures or the ever-timeless 'Gondola Chat' ("what is said in the Gondola, stays in the Gondola").
At the top of the gondola, the true splendour and impeccable fluke in choosing today of all days became apparent - blue skies as far as the eye could see, a perfect view of the surrrounding mountains and, perhaps more importantly, every feature and undulation of the terrain was crystal clear. Compare this to attempting the same route on a 'white-out' day where you can barely see your own hand in front of your face let alone the 60ft cliff you are about to unknowingly plummet from to your peril.
None were willing to risk injury and descend one of the many garbage chutes (now wind-blown, rock exposed, and icy as hell) down into Crystal Bowl on the way to the Stairway chairlift, so we opted for the safe(r) cat-track. My ever pressing desire fling myself off any drop won through however, but I quickly discovered just how difficult any freestyle manoeuvre is with a 5kg + backpack - getting any air is a feat in itself, 180's become 270's with the extra weight swinging you further around, and even straight airs are no walk in the park as the load shifts you off balance. Needless to say I kept my feet firmly on the ground after the first few failed attempts.
Alighting at the top of the Stairway lift, the group assembled and checked all transceivers were switched to 'send' and donned the snowshoes. Olly, as the solo skier, mastered the art of attaching climbing skins and touring bindings to his skis wih amazing fluidity for a first-timer. With all gear present and correct and the team fully accounted for, we set off on the first leg of the hike - traverse White Wall ridge and up and over Ozone.
The now familiar inbound double-black diamond terrain from previous powder days seemed tame compared to the gnarly delights that lay ahead. That said, stumbling along a narrow boot-pack trail with over-sized snowshoes made interesting entertainment with a few near miss stumbles off the cornice. Still, I managed to maintain balance long enough for a photo opportunity.
The hike was tough going, my 20-a-day Canadian Lights habit coming back to remind me that it's not big and clever to smoke in the form of neatly congealed grey lumps surfacing from my suffocating alvioli. At the top of Ozone, body and spirits were re-junevinated with an impressive view of White Wall whence we came.
Dropping to the backside of Ozone, the way down to Rudi's Bowl revealed itself in the form of 6 gnarly chutes to choose from, all equally inviting with fresh untouched powder in most. Lisa proved her worth by highlighting that the first two of these chutes contained a hidden suprise - a double 20ft + cliff drop to negotiatate before reaching the open bowl - clearly we were glad of her expert knowledge and opted out. Still with 4 barely-touched chutes to choose from and we could barely stop ourselves from all charging in. Our RAC had shown us, though, that one at a time is the way to go to minimise total burial. We picked two chutes, Christen dropping the left more open chute, and your author granted the privilege of christening the right tighter chute wih only two tracks layed down this one (just off to the right of picture).
Dropping in from a 6ft cornice into foot deep powder, my board seemed to yelp in delight and forged it's way to the mouth, laying out powder slashes as I went creating clouds of powder dust in the suprisingly light snow. The chute tightened almost into a mini-halfpipe allowing me to slash huge turns up the sides and control my speed. When the chute opened out I was presented with my first real view of Rudi's Bowl - a stunning, pristine, untouched, snow-capped wilderness playground. The triple pillow line ahead caught my eye and I tentatively dropped it without feeling a slight pressure change the snow was that light, opening up into a open powder field and cruise to our meeting point. It was amazing is all I can say(super-amazing even)! I think the rather corny ryhme 'deep and steep' pretty much do it justice.
At the bottom, with giant smiles on our faces, we strapped on the shoes again to start the hike up the side of the bowl. Travis and Lisa’s DIY skills were needed to fix Olly’s now broken touring bindings so that he could get up the hill using a cunning mix of duck tape and fuse wire. This is one of the things about backcountry: anything can happen and you need to be prepared! We did get away in the end and we made quite a sight heading up the slope. If we’d thought the first hike was hard…!
The delirium seemed to affect some more than others, notably the Action Man of the team Travis(T) struggling behind and admitting on camera that fitness is lacking - it seems that Mother Nature can humble even the most inflated of ego's ;o) Still, he managed to summon a gnarly gesture on Kodak demand.
One hour later, having all lost half a stone in weight plus our coats, hoodies, hats etc., we hit the top of the ridge. I can safely say that this was in my top 10 of incredible views I’ve ever seen. We lay down, sunbathed, ate lunch, took photos and generally soaked it up. Amazing!
Kicking Horse and Dogtooth Mountain Range
Eventually we decided that, as we’d taken the time to walk up the damn thing, we really ought to get a bit of riding in! We had planned to rip it down the same way as the hike, but given that the North face had been exposed to the warming sun's rays al morning, the other side of the ridge looked too hold lighter snow - an opportunity too good to miss. Every one of us hit knee-deep, totally untouched lines and I have to admit that my English reservedness disappeared in a second as I found a strange, whooping sound coming out of my mouth - I don’t think I was the only one. Nothing compares to the feeling of your board floating through the fluffy white untouched powder, not even sex ("that's because you're not doing it right Roach - quote from Point Break, sad I know").
A moment of reflection and time to change underwear, it was on to the journey home - a tough traverse through gnarly trees, creeks and tree-wells (the last two were reserved for Travis and Mike!), the bottom of which turned into a icey luge/boardercross track which wound it's way around a now melted and fully flowing mountain stream. Hairy stuff, luckily none of the team found cause to take a dip. Still, we couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces.
Back at KHMR, we grabbed some beer and reflected on the day's events. Perhaps a little too much faffing limited how much riding we actually got in (approx 20 minutes versus the 4 hours or so of hiking), but it was one hell of a run, eh?! Quality not quantity and that jazz.
Stand up Matt, Olly, Travis, Ryan, Lisa, Christen and Mike - Rudi's Bowl is ours. See y'all same time, same place next week!