TR: Fairy Meadows Day 1 (2.3.2018)
The first thing I thought when I turned off the TransCanada Highway was, “It’s gonna be a good week.”
If we could get to the helipad, that was. The dirt road that the vague Alpine Club of Canada directions steered us down had been plowed at some point, but not recently. A solid half a meter of fresh snow blanketed the road. Our rental car, a Ford Explorer with bald tires and packed to the ceiling with four dudes, gear, food, and beer was never going to make it. Judging from the stack of cars in front of us filled with the rest of our party, it didn’t look like anyone else liked their chances, either.
Fortunately a plow driver from the neighboring mountain lodge took pity on us and blasted a single lane path down to the parking area. As we crept down the road we were greeted by the previous group’s cars, all but invisible under the cumulative snowfall of the past week.
The plow driver didn’t actually plow out the parking spaces though, but Bert was feeling sporty and put his Subaru to work doing donuts to somewhat pack out a parking area. Subaplow did it’s job and we were soon off-loading a massive stack of skis, duffels, food, and booze and engaging in the arduous task of hauling it up to the staging area.
Canadians, at least the helicopter company, apparently run on a pretty loose schedule and we waited for sometime before our first bird appeared. This was my first time near a helicopter, and videos hadn’t quite prepared me for the sheer violence that is the rotor wash from a Bell 212HP setting down in fresh snow. We sprawled over our gear to hold it in place as the pilot, a large, no-nonsense, good old fashioned Canadian redneck shut down the chopper and hopped out to give us our safety briefing, eh.
There would be a total of four flights to get our crew of 17 people and all our supplies into the Bill Putnam Hut. The first flight in the big 212 would fill the ski basket and a few small compartments with gear, then pack 12 people into the cabin. When we arrived, we would unload, and the heli would take an equal amount of people and gear from the exiting group back to civilization. I jumped in the first flight, and snagged a backwards facing window seat on the starboard side. It was the wrong side for good scenery on this overcast day, but an impressive flight nonetheless.
Upon arrival at the hut’s snow platform helipad, the chopper doesn’t shut down, meaning you get to exchange gear with the rotors spinning menacingly and loudly above.
Upon the heli’s departure I immediately began quizzing the previous group on snow and avalanche conditions. The remaining three flights were done with a much smaller Bell 407 - two packed full of gear, and one with the remaining people. The departing group did a poor job packing and left us with two boxes of their trash that they could not find space for. Fuckers.
The beta I gleaned from the previous group was solid, and they had written some great observations in the hut's log book.
Despite the good beta we wanted to gather information of our own. So while much of the group spent the afternoon settling into the hut, while myself and the other Coloradans in the crew (Rick, Zach, and Chris) along with a few others elected to venture out and do some snow stability analysis. We dug two pits near the hut, deep ones - over 2m into the 3m+ snowpack height.
Our main goal was to evaluate some pesky persistent weak layers deep in the pack that the local avalanche center had been talking about; fortunately, we found at this location, that the layers were buried quite deeply, appeared to be rounding and bonding, and were generally unreactive to propagation tests. While still something to keep in mind, we were encouraged, and returned to the hut by headlamp to begin drinking and planning our six day assault on the bountiful fresh snow.
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