It was Family Day in BC last weekend! A few of us got together and headed up to the Ripple Ridge Cabin in Kootenay Pass for a few days of ski touring. Unfortunately, snow conditions weren’t quite as “epic” as we had hoped but that didn’t turn out to be a problem: we just made the best of it and enjoyed being out. One of the great benefits of the Ripple Cabin is it’s close proximity to the highway. The ski in only took about 20 minutes so when you’re loaded down with gear and food, it’s nice that you’re not lugging it all in for a long period of time. The cabin itself is pretty kitted out: propane stove, wood burning fire place, two tables (that fold down into sleeping areas), and 2 outhouses. By no means glamorous, it’s a step above a basic shelter and a solid 3 star accommodation!
The crew included: Scott, Jeff, Isa, Gent (one night), Adam, myself!
I was really looking forward to this weekend. You may recall I have been very conscientiously trying to improve my backcountry skiing skills and attempting to get out, at minimum, once a week on the gear. I’m learning how to be a more competent skier in unknown conditions, speeding up my changeover system, getting my gear dialled in, and also learning how to ski with a backpack (it’s incredible what that does to your balance!). And with this particular crew going out, I knew they’d be patient with me and are the types to just be happy to be outside.
To add some excitement, like all good backcountry fun, there needs to be a story! Ripple is so named due to a hunter believing that this particular cabin becomes an area where time ceases to exist as we know it and you become caught in a “ripple of time”. He was known for disappearing for extended periods of time and, eventually, never returning. A group of youth also disappeared without any trace or clue as to where they went. The common factor? The disappearances all occurred during the full moon.
Day 1, Saturday
- Distance: 7.45 km
- Elevation (m): +417/-496
Day 1 was the ski into the cabin, dump a bunch of gear (sleeping set-ups, food, clothing, etc) and try to find some pow! The day was windy…like, very, very windy. It seemed all of the slopes were incredibly wind affected (hard, crusty snow) and the sun wasn’t quite strong enough to warm us up when a biting gust came up. Nonetheless, we headed over first to the Craggs and then over to Mt. Char, hoping to find a bit of a pow stash. We did a run down the Craggs area, skinned back up and attempted a summit of Char but turned around due to icy, windy conditions. We managed to hit a cut-block for a pretty decent run down and then opted to head back to the cabin to get started on the 2nd (or perhaps, primary) priority of the weekend: eating.
Day 2, Sunday
- Distance: 12 km
- Elevation (m): +850/-850 (*just a note that we all agreed, it felt like waaaaaay more than 850m!)
When we woke up to sunshine on Sunday, we made the decision to attempt a summit of Ripple Mountain. At 2,334m, it’s the highest peak at the pass and something I’ve wanted to do. I haven’t ski summitted too many peaks, as much as I love the Rossland Range in my backyard, the peaks aren’t huge. For me, this was a big deal and I knew that it was going to be a challenge for me; both physically and technically. But we had clear skies and no pow dump overnight so the group was fine with the option of going for a walk and getting up high! Jeff acted as leader for this day, having been up Ripple Mountain before. We skied off the front of the cabin for a fun, albeit short, 150 m descent through trees and then began the fairly flat walk over to the approach. With the sun shining and no wind, we all quickly stripped to base layers and hoped for sweet goggle tans.
It was a fairly mellow approach up to the saddle – the crux – where we all stopped for a snack before spreading out to attempt the ascent. For the rest of the group, although steep, it wasn’t anything out of their comfort zones. For me, however, it was the steepest “up” I’ve gone, coupled with forcing me to do kick-turns, on hard, wind affected, icy snow, up a chute with concern for slab avalanches…or at least loosening a big chunk on those below. I got up to the saddle and, I have to admit, I was pretty stoked and proud of myself for managing that!
But there was no time to enjoy my little achievement: the summit still awaited! Onwards and upwards! We met up with another group from Rossland, and safely arrived at the top…being advised from wandering out too far due to the massive cornice. We had stunning views but the wind was alive and well again, instantly freezing us while we tried to take a few photos.
A quick and efficient changeover was necessary and we regrouped a little ways down to be protected by the wind. It also turned out to be boilerplate hardpack so our turns were more like slip-slides as we made our way back down to the saddle. The snow turned a bit softer for our final run down and we returned to the cabin; happy for making it up to the summit.
Day 3, Monday
- Distance: 12 km
- Elevation (m): +700/-960
Day 3 turned into the expected warming trend with temperatures raising significantly and rapidly. This is cause for avalanche concern – any rapid temperature, up or down, raises avy risk. We figured we’d hit some low-angled trees, as they should be less sun affected and we had notice they were less wind affected as well. We did have to watch out and be aware of “tree bombs” though (when the tree sheds a huge amount of snow, coming down with force). Another 200 m descent right from the cabin and we traversed along towards Lightning Ridge.
At this point, I was tired. My climb up to the cabin the previous day took me forever and I was definitely feeling fatigued. When we stopped to assess where the best skiing may be, and what the plan for the day was turning into, I actually opted to skip one run and enjoy the sun. I set up a ski chair, ate my Swedish Berries, drank some tea, and waited for them to return. I have no regrets on that decision – it was so lovely out! We then carried on up to Lightning Ridge and I had my first real panoramic view of the area. I’ve been up a couple of times but it was neat being in a spot where I could see so many different areas and pick out the features I’ve heard about but unsure where they actually were. And then we began the traverse. Turns out, this is another skill I need to improve! Oh my goodness! Skiing down hill, with your boots undone, heel loose, and skins on is HARD. And…wow…I struggled! Turn, fall, push up. Repeat. And then I nearly got tree-bombed by one that was so big there would have been injury had it landed on my head! ACK! But I got through, obviously, and now know that I have yet another skill I must work on.
When we got home, a shower was first on the priority list, followed by laundry, picking up Shasta, beer, and pizza.