“Ugh! That Whiskey Jack ate my loogie”
Cody sat on the remnants of the column of snow that he’d dug out to do a Snow Stability test. A persistent weak layer that had formed near the beginning of the month was lingering. The column had serendipitously split just high enough to make for a nice high perch to sit on as he scarfed down some calories.
Spring joked “You look like a King on his throne…yeah… *low voice* Winter is Coming!“. Much to her chagrin nobody, but I, got her Game Of Thrones reference so she let it slide, no pun intended.
Cody, living up to his net nom de plume as “The Camel”, hocked a loogie into the snow beside him. Within seconds it froze solid, within a few seconds more a keen eyed Gray Jay swooped down and flew away with that frozen morsel to a nearby branch to devour it.
Slightly disgusted but amused by this scene it had at least taken our thoughts away from the weather for a moment. A low ceiling of cloud hung close above us, winds were picking up and it was intermittently hailing and snowing.
We’d made it just above the treeline and from here on out we’d be climbing further and further into the clouds and the reduced visibility they promised.
This wasn’t the Spring day I had imagined. This felt more like a day during the depths of Winter. Once again this troupe had been caught on the hop in the unpredictable weather of the shoulder seasons.
We packed up again and continued on.
I couldn’t help but laugh. The last time the four of us, myself, Spring, Ben and Cody, had been out in the mountains together was last Fall. We had attempted, and reached, the summit of Mount Frosty. Back then we had gauged for warmer Fall weather. What we got however was the birth pangs of Winter, with temperatures below -15’c, a biting wind, and a fair amount of fresh snow on the ground.
Frosty had lived up to its name, it was in fact very frosty.
Fast forward through Winter and finally, in the beginning of Spring, all our schedules aligned so that we could get out again together. In town the weather had been warm, it hadn’t snowed at sea level in months and, at times, it felt more like Summer weather than Spring.
So, when I was packing for Mount Rohr, I packed for warm, Spring conditions. What I got however was the death throes of Winter. As we traversed above two lakes heading to the base of Mount Rohr we’d get hit with sudden, strong gusts of wind that would pelt our skin with spindrift. With the wind chill the temperature plummeted.
Rohr was living up to its name, it’s quasi-phonetic name I guess. Today we were experiencing Rohr roar.
As we braced against the wind, with visibility dropping we started to stop and pause more frequently as we neared the base of Mount Rohr. Above we could see a maelstrom of clouds and spindrift ebullient in anticipation of our arrival. Did we really want to put ourselves through this?
Three of us, myself, Spring and Ben were on Skis. I voiced the opinion that I might stay below the cloud ceiling a do a few ski laps on some lower terrain. Cody, on snowshoes, wanted to push for the summit. Ever hopeful that the ceiling might lift we all decided to follow.
Some time later, 50 vertical meters below the summit, we all huddled against a protruding rock crag, the only visible feature we could see in the soupy whiteness of nothing. I recommended trying to wait for better visibility, Cody pushed to make the summit quickly and then start descending. We agreed on the latter. Those on Skis decided to leave them near the rock crag and retrieve them on the descent.
We slowly pushed onwards, wading through thigh deep snow in places. As we crested the final ridge to the summit any bare skin started to sting from the spindrift being blasted against it by the winds. I put on every item of clothing I had with me and cinched up my hood around my face.
Eventually we all stood on the summit, a fact only realized by checking our GPS’ as it was so blindingly white by this point that, if it wasn’t for the pull of gravity on my boots, telling up from down would have been impossible.
We didn’t linger. It was snowing hard and the wind was not abating. Snow loading on the slopes we’d need to descend on was changing by the minute and with it, so was the avalanche risk.
We zig zagged our way back down, retrieving our skis by reversing our GPS tracks. The skiers elected to carry their skis down further until the visibility improved.
Eventually, visibility improved enough that we could use Cody as a living, breathing clinometer. As he descended ahead of us, we could gauge slope angle and ski down it accordingly. This did not stop some odd sensory illusions occurring from time to time though. As I tried to ski down, I’d lose sight of the horizon or Cody as I made my turns. When I’d get hit with a gust of wind it felt like my speed had suddenly increased. I’d attempt to turn to slow down only to look up and realize I wasn’t even moving. It was very strange.
From there onwards it was a quick egress and in no time we were back at Bens car for the drive home. I might break my word on this but that will probably be our last backcountry ski trip until next winter. As fun as it was we’re still quite green when it comes to skiing in variable conditions.
We’re not done with Mount Rohr yet though. I foresee a return visit next Winter, for maybe a night or two, to Ski it again and some slopes nearby. Stay tuned for that report.