Fairy Meadows Part I – 3/4-3/6

Precision takes time

– Team Sloth

Fairy Meadows was a long time coming. Garrett entered and won the required lottery back in 2018, with the trip originally planned for the 19/20 winter, specifically March of 2020. Needless to say, the timing did not work out. For me personally, I had been hearing stories of epic Canada hut trips since first meeting the friend group, but despite joining on some amazing alternatives, I had yet to experience one of “THE hut trips”. I was thrilled, then, to receive an email in August with the subject “Fairy Meadows 2022!”. The long talked about trip was happening and I was going to be able to join.

The more I learned about Fairy Meadow Hut the more excited I became. Located in the heart of the Adamants Range, Fairy Meadow provides access to some very cool, and very big, alpine terrain. As the trip grew closer reports began to trickle in of a relatively stable snowpack, offering hope that we would get to sample this terrain. And then finally the trip was upon us. I quit my job (a recommended but not required step to prepare for this trip) and we all loaded into some cars to start driving north.

We arrived in Golden after essentially two days of driving. Garrett and some other friends had headed up a bit early for some bonus days in BC and had rented an Airbnb outside of Golden. We were unsurprised to find a nice hot tub given Garret had booked the Airbnb, but it offered a wonderful place to unwind and soak in the savored the mountain views after a long drive.

We woke up early the next morning and drove the 45 minutes to the heli staging area. By some miracle, despite numerous coffee stops, ambiguous unmarked turns, and a complete lack of cell service, all cars arrived at the landing zone on time. The group set about organizing the seemingly obscene amount of gear; food and soft goods on the left, skis and sharps in the middle, explosive airbags on the right. It clearly wasn’t the groups first rodeo and the cars where safely parked and gear safely secured when we heard the first thunks of the incoming helicopter.

The logistics of getting moving 40 people (20 coming, 20 leaving) is not simple, but the heli operation has it dialed. They utilize two helicopters: a six-seater and a larger 12-seater. We sent a bunch of gear and one person in on the six-seater to help coordinate loading and unloading gear with the leaving group. The leaving group mirrors and sends out one person on the leaving flight. It takes the six-seater two more flights (one loaded with humans, one mainly loaded with more gear) and the 12-seater one flight to get everyone in. I ended up riding in on the six-seater’s passenger load. It was my first time in a helicopter and, even expecting it to be cool, my mind was still blown a bit. The turns and accelerations of the helicopter felt nothing like that of an airplane and the distance above the ground somehow felt much more “real”.

The views from the helicopter were even more mind-blowing than the sensations. As we flew over each ridge line a whole new set of mountains would become visible, each gnarlier and more glaciated than the rest. I had never been in such vast mountains in the winter and they provided quite the contrast to the Wasatch where pretty much every remotely ski-able line (and even the non-skiable ones) have been skied and named. The massive south face of Mt. Sir Sandford was especially eye-catching.

Soon after passing by Mt. Sir Sandford we began to dip towards a ridge. We skimmed over the ridge line and banked sharply up into the valley beyond. Suddenly I spotted a cabin, whimsically nestled amongst some trees, perched on the side of a glacial moraine. Our home for the week! Appearing comically small, the lone man-made structure provided a sudden reference for the scale of the terrain we were entering. The cabin grew larger and larger as the helicopter began its descent and soon enough we were touching down in a clearing below the hut.

We clambered out of the helicopter and soon the landscape grew quiet as it disappeared back over the ridge line. We introduced ourselves to the remaining members of the leaving group and were thrilled to hear first-hand reports of deep, stable skiing conditions. Giddy with excitement, we set about transporting our supplies up to the hut.

The hut proved just as dreamy as the surrounding terrain. The lower floor was made up of a large kitchen and dining area and the upstairs was a large open room with elevated sleeping pads lining the walls.

Despite the hut’s coziness, the weather was too perfect to sit around so we quickly unpacked our gear and broke into groups to go explore our new playground. Despite it being a half-day, Taryn and I unsurprisingly wanted to get after it. Jake and Hunter were feeling equally psyched so the four of us took off. Our route ended up being the following:

Leaving the hut we decided to first head up to an inviting looking ramp beneath the Houdini Needles. The approach to this ramp was glacier free and the pitch of the ramp looked moderate, making it a low commitment destination to get a feel for the terrain and conditions. The full scale of the place became apparent as we made our way up from the hut and into the true alpine. As we worked up towards the ramp we could see another group heading up towards Friendship Col and the the magical reality that we had this amazing zone all to ourselves began to really set in. Any tracks we were going to cross were going to be laid by one of our friends.

Soon enough we reached the base of the ramp. We were happy to find the ramp as mellow as it had looked and we started up, poking at the snow to get a sense of the snow pack. Seeing only green lights we zig-zaged up the ramp. Fueled by first-day excitement we made quick work of the skinning and soon arrived at the col at the top of the run. We briefly contemplated traversing the ridge to access some of the steeper chutes to the south, but the prospect of a perfect powder field was too enticing to pass up. We ripped our skins and one by one dropped. I’ll let pictures do most of the talking. But it was good.

Really good.

We reconvened at the base of the ramp, all smiles. We debated going back up the ramp for another run but decided instead to take advantage of the remaining daylight and head up to Friendship Col. Taryn and I were feeling a bit over-stoked and managed to drop Hunter and Jake on the climb up the flank of Mount Damon. This provided a great excuse to pause and soak up the scenery. Below us we could see a group of friends adventuring up the steep chutes between the Houdini Needles and Mount Pythias, our warm-up ramp behind them in the distance.

The 1300 ft climb to the col went by quickly and we found ourselves at the base of the steep final headwall. This 100 foot section looked a bit wind-loaded so we regrouped and booted up it one at a time. Luckily the col had been well traveled by previous groups and we were able to follow the remnants of a booter, avoiding the worst of the wind crust. As I reached the top of the col I could hardly believe my eyes. In front of me lay a massive snowy expanse, crowned by rocky gems all around. Formed by the top of the Gothic Glacier, this snowfield is over a mile and a half across and made me feel like I was in Antarctica.

The distant outcroppings beckoned but it was already 3:30pm so we set off towards the nearby Sentinel Peak. The half-mile trek along the periphery of the glacier helped satiate some of the polar-explorer fantasies I was having.

Arriving at the final ridge leading up to Sentinel Peak we saw that the ridge narrowed considerably so we decided to leave our skis behind and tag the summit on foot. We tiptoed along, wary of the 1000 foot drop to the west. The ridge culminated in a final knife-edge section guarding the true summit. Hunter and Taryn opted to turn around, but Jake and I committed to the final scramble and were rewarded with sweeping views of Granite Glacier and the surrounding peaks.

By now it was 4:45pm so we quickly reversed back down the ridge to our awaiting skis. Psyched to be done with the ascending portion of what had turned into quite a large afternoon ski, we clicked into our skis and savored some wonderfully soft turns back down towards Friendship Col.

Once safely through Friendship Col we decided to opt for a little bit more exploration and cut west under the impressive flanks of Mount Damon and Sentinel Peak. More great turns were found on this descent, driving home the insane breadth of terrain available to us. We finally arrived back at the hut at 5:30pm, tired out, but so so excited for the week to come.

The weather the following day looked perfect. A clear forecast and stable snowpack had me craving a big day out. Taryn, Luke, Zack, Duncan, and Shanna were feeling similar so we made plans to wake-up early and venture across Granite Glacier towards the impressive Enterprise Peak. Our day ended up being the following:

The group was refreshingly efficient for six people, and we had our skis on and were moving by 7:15am. The sunrise provided a perfect reward for the early start, and the cloudless sky hinted at an excellent day to come.

We worked up the ridge above Fairy Meadows Hut and shortly found ourselves at the edge of the Granite Glacier. This glacier was far more vast and broken than the glaciers we had encountered the day before so we stopped and roped up.

To our pleasant surprise navigation across the glacier was much simpler than it initially appear. We contoured across a relatively flat section of the glacier and encountered no crevasses. Working our way up the ridge underneath Colossal Peak we could make out some late-rising friends taking advantage of our tracks across the glacier.

Cresting the ridge we saw a friendly looking snowfield standing between us and the final flanks of Enterprise Peak. We skinned across the flat terrain to the base of the steep snow guarding the peak. Cliff bands dotted the face, but we managed to find a short couloir that looked like it would provide passage to some gentler snow slopes above. Full of psyche-fueled energy, I offered to put in the boot pack and launched up the couloir. As the cliffs receded and the couloir opened up to a gentler slope we were treated to some amazing views of the Adamants Massif.

As the angle eased, we transitioned back to skinning for the final distance to the broad summit of Enterprise Peak. The terrain from the previous day stretched behind us and it was fun to identify the various lines we had all skied.

We hung out on the summit for a while savoring the bluebird weather. The great visibility offered incredible views of the Mount Columbia and surrounding peaks in the distance.

And then it was time to ski. The plan was to descend off the northeast side of Enterprise Peak and then make our way up the east flank of Mt. Sir William for some more skiing. The slope looked reasonable on our maps, but we found ourselves at the edge of the summit plateau uncertain exactly where to go. We could see our intended destination 1300 feet below us, but the rollover of the face hid much of the run and we knew we would have to cut through some crevassed-terrain in order to avoid dropping too far back towards Granite Glacier.

Duncan, having the most glacier experience, offered to go first. We watched him take off down the face, his ex-racer turns on full display.

He quickly disappeared from view and we were relieved to soon hear him on the radio, letting us know that he was at the base safely and the run went smoothly. One by one we followed his tracks down. The snow was just as good as it was the previous day, remarkably unaffected by wind or sun. Even more remarkable was Duncan’s route-finding sense. Part way down the face the tracks cut hard left and it was not until I arrived at the bottom that I saw a section of glacial ice and small crevasses waiting to ambush any skier who continued straight down the face. How Duncan blindly picked a perfect route down the face all while arcing beautiful turns at full speed, I will never know.

With everyone down safely, we started the trek up towards the summit of Mt. Sir William. The slope slowly steepened and soon we were making our way up wide 30-35 degree east face of Mt. Sir William. It felt a bit wild to be skinning directly up a such perfect slide path, but we had yet to see any signs of instability so continued upwards, knowing we were in for a treat on the way down.

Approaching the final summit cone we were able to look across and see our late-rising friends now atop Enterprise Peak.

The final summit cone of Mt. Sir William proved to be steeper and more challenging than it appeared from below. After some deliberation we decided to attempt it from the north. When we popped onto the north ridge were greeted by howling winds. The combination of a corniced ridge and dramatic exposure over Ed Falls Glacier gave us pause so we decided to ditch our skis and poke our way out onto the ridge to see what conditions allowed. The wind made the travel feel intense, but we were able to kick reasonable steps into the upwind side of the ridge, and soon we were all standing on the summit.

The wind quickly drove us from the summit and back to our skis where we transitioned and dropped back onto the east face to collect ourselves. From there we got to enjoy a 1700 foot run down a wide-open powder-filled face.

By the time we reassembled at the bottom of the run, we had been on the go for over six hours and had covered over eight miles. We discussed continuing our descent back to the hut, but the conditions were simply too good to stop. We set our eyes on our next objective, the west facing slope that sits opposite Mt. Sir William. Looking at the map it looked like we might be able to ascend the west face and then drop off the east side, down towards Granite Glacier, avoiding a tight, and somewhat complex looking, exit down Forbes Glacier.

The long day was reflected in our group’s slightly slower pace up the face, but we continued to make steady progress upwards, taking turns breaking trail. Cresting the ridge atop the face we peered over the east side. We were disappointed to see cliffs blocking the entrance to an otherwise appealing run.

So we skied the perfect mid-angle powder slope back down the way we had came. To bad!

The initial descent down the Forbes Glacier ended up being fairly straightforward, although there were a couple steep sections that gave us pause with the warm, afternoon snow. Once through those steep sections we ended up on a hanging glacier of sorts, with a band of steep terrain separating us from Granite Glacier below.

We knew from prior research that there should be a couloir splitting this cliff-filled terrain, nicknamed “Beam Me Down Scotty”. The line had been obvious looking across from the hut, but now on top of the ridge we struggled to find it. Our tired legs dragged us up the ridge as we stopped to peek at every break in the rocks.

Finally, after considerably more uphill slogging than we anticipated, we managed to locate the top of the couloir. The top was filled with wind loaded snow below which the slope plunged away at a sickening angle. We took a bit of time to poke at the top, but the decision was clear. The only way to safely check out the stability from above would be on a rope, and it was far too late in the day to dive into ski-mountaineering shenanigans.

The alternate descent to Granite Glacier was hardly straightforward. From the map we could see that the ridge line would get us most of the way down but turned to cliffs near the bottom. To avoid these cliffs we had to find a little sneak to skier’s right that would lead us into a mellower looking couloir to the glacier. Some afternoon clouds had caused the light to grow extremely flat, and we did our best to feel out the new terrain from above.

Duncan once again put his magical navigational skills to use and led the charge. Shortly we found ourselves standing on top of the couloir, a clear path down to Granite Glacier visible below. we zipped down to the glacier, thankful that the day’s adventures were almost over.

Safely down on the glacier we descended along its north flank to a flat spot with minimal crevasses where we crossed and began the final 1000 foot climb back up the glacial moraine to the hut. My legs were beat at this point, but I did my best to bound ahead so I could capture a few more shots of the group coming up.

We arrived at the hut nine and half hours after leaving. It had been a perfect day. We had covered 14 miles and 7000 feet, stood atop two summits, skied four long runs, all in perfect weather and perfect snow. It was hard to believe that we had only flown in a little over a day ago. My body felt blissfully tired, but I knew I had much, much more good skiing to look forward to.





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