Jimmy Junior, in blazing sunshine, and with great snow. Holy shit that was a great day.
A few months ago I got an email from Vi asking me if I'd be willing to run a couple of day trips ski touring for the finale of the ACC's BITS (backcountry intro to skiing) program. Despite misgivings, it occurred to me that when I was starting out in the mountains a litany of impressively patient people held my hand and kept me from accidentally offing myself. Maybe I sort of owe the community a little time paying things forward. In the spirit of settling my karmic tab I agreed. That or it was the promise of free beer I'd get for helping out.
Either way, I found the BITS weekend coming up fast and suddenly I was battling FOMO - worried that I'd miss out on actually accomplishing something cool while pretending I'm competent enough to teach anyone something of value. Had there been a graceful way to bail, I probably would have.
I picked Jimmy Junior (a sub-peak of Mt. Jimmy Simpson) as an objective with no real expectation of topping out - I more figured the skiing low down is mellow and the bench half way up would make a good lunch spot.
The morning of, I met my group at the parking lot. Christina was in her first year of ski touring, Karen's resume led me to believe she was vastly understating her skill and Brad was straight up crashing the beginner party and is quite experienced. This was already a way stronger group than I'd expected.
As soon as we started touring my hope for the day beganto skyrocket. I'd expected Brad to move pretty efficiently, but Karen and Christina were both also moving super well. Neither of them looked like someone who should be on a beginner course.
Jimmy Junior is easily accessed but not a totally trivial peak. You leave from the Bow Lake parking but instead of heading South-West across the lake, you head North-West through some flat lands before starting to climb up through trees. We elected to pass on climbing one of the drainages which are faster travel but come with increased avi exposure. After about 400m, you top out onto the prominent bench that bisects the climb and marks the transition from trees into alpine terrain. I'd expected us to get there by lunch but we made it in less than two hours.
The second half of the ascent is the tricky part. It's a sustained climb up an alpine face. The angle isn't too bad, but it's pretty prime avalanche terrain including some areas of shallow snowpack with protruding rocks, some mild convexities and no easy way to mitigate the danger. We took some time to assess conditions, discuss our options and then off we went. We did our best to mitigate the hazard by using the terrain - staying away from shallow areas, and using benches and lower angle areas to work our way up as safely as possible.
After about another 375m of climbing, we were as high as it made sense to go on skis as the final bit is just too thin and rocky to want to ski back down. So, ditching our skis we started bootpacking straight up. The final few meters are a scramble and the whole team killed it despite some of them having never climbed in ski boots before.
I'll be honest - we didn't quite top out. We got high enough that we could actually reach up and pat the summit, but the last couple of feet were icy, near vertical rock and without ice axes to help us pull ourselves over the edge, we decided to adopt my usual rule - if I can hit the summit with a snowball - that counts.
From there it was a quick scramble down to the skis to get ready for a sweet rip back to the bench.
There was still some route finding to do on the descent to avoid thin spots and convexities and I was getting ready to drop in when Brad volunteered to go first. When I'm skiing with less experienced groups, I like to have someone experienced tail gun so that if anything happens, they can get onsite to help quickly. Brad going first let me be the tail gunner.
Three turns in, Brad got bitten by a shark - a rock hiding just below the surface of the snow. He took a minor fall and I wasn't the least bit concerned until I noticed movement. Brad's binding brakes hadn't properly deployed and while I watched his ski just picked up speed headed down hill. Before long it was out of site.
I swooped down to Brad who hadn't noticed his ski taking off and was digging through the snow looking for it and gave him the bad news. Instead of throwing his toys (I would have), Brad sort of laughed at his bad luck, strapped his other ski to his pack and just started bootpacking down the slope while the rest of us skied down and kept an eye open for his ski.
The skiing was fantastic and we made the most of it. The way up had afforded us this almost 400m run of beautiful alpine turns in blazing sun. Back on the bench, we followed the track of Brad's errant ski back to our lunch spot where we saw signs that another group had stopped - and Brad's ski stuck vertically in the snow.
I'm guessing it was pretty exciting for that group to be having lunch when a ski just magically appeared in their midst. I actually ended up chatting with one of the people in the group and luckily none of them got nailed by it.
Karen gamely volunteered to skin back up to meet Brad and give him his ski so he could at least enjoy the tail end of the run.
Once we'd all regrouped, we had a late lunch and hung out in the sun until the thought of the cold beer and hot food waiting for us at the hostel proved enough to get us upright again and we skied out one of the drainages through the trees and back to the flats below.
I'd gone in with low expectations and instead (mostly) topped out on a mountain I'd never gone up before, met a great group of people, and even got to feel like I was passing on a little knowledge. I'm super, super glad that Vi talked me into helping out all those months ago.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.