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The 6th Annual Berg Lake New Years Extravaganza

Moderate Ski Mountaineering
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Surprisingly Many Whitebark Pines
Monday, January 1, 2018

It has been surprisingly long since my last trip report.  The late fall and early winter have been filled with plenty of ice climbing and short day-tours (not to mention a delightful amount of work-skiing as well!) just nothing involving a peak.  As New Years started to draw closer plans were hatched for the 6'th year of Liam's annual celebration at the ever frosty Berg Lake.  

Complicating my plans this year was a rather fixed work schedule which would mean that I would not be able to leave Jasper until after work on New Years Eve (quite a quandary to avoid missing the fateful hour itself).  A gaggle of folks including Liam and Josh would be heading in earlier on the 28'th.  Armed with the knowledge that the prior stampede would make a well-broken trail up to the lake I reckoned that a night-ski might not be a wholly horrible idea.  After having the usual delays leaving town I arrived at the moonlit trailhead around 1845 and set off amidst a frosty -23C chill just before 1900.  Even with tracks to follow the way into Berg is not a quick jaunt.  A distance of about 21 km (a bit different than summer as you can go fairly directly across both Kinney and Berg lakes) and 800 meters of elevation gain stand between the trailhead and the cabin which can take a great deal of energy and time.
The first part of the trail to reach Kinney Lake went by very quickly and even with the dense forest enveloping the route there was enough moonlight to make a headlamp redundant (which is a good thing as it was cold enough to drastically lower the lifespan of alkaline batteries).  After seeing a whole slew of ski and snowshoe tracks crossing Kinney Lake I decided to take the direct shortcut over the lake-ice, saving a bit of distance and a lot of hassle of the 'bonus' elevation gain and loss on the summer trail.  Looking back east across Kinney Lake under a moonlit starscape was quite a striking view.

Leaving the trailhead around 1900 AB time, already bright with moonlight.


Quite good visibility on the west side of Kinney Lake.


From Kinney Lake the route follows the summer trail working its way up the Whitehorn Hill, down to Whitehorn Campground, and then up the Emperor Hill.  Things were quickly becoming much colder and even with winter camping supplies the prospect of staying over in the -27C chill of the Whitehorn Campground was far from appealing knowing that there would be a warm shelter a few hours ahead!  The Emperor Hill itself is probably the most fearsome part of the approach and while only 4 km in length it gains roughly 500 vertical meters (often in rather steep sections that were not designed with skis in mind).  The only real memory I have from this trip up the hill was a dull sense of delight being able to travel by moonlight tempered by the everpresent chill of winter.  The plan from the trailhead was to reach the shelter before New Years, though my definition of 'New Years' was flexible enough to be either AB or BC time.  Especially when it is around -30 rushing and excessively sweating is a very poor plan so I refused to look at my watch until Berg Lake itself was in sight.  Looking out on the lake AB New Years had already passed but there was still a solid 45 minutes until BC New Years, things were looking up for not being late!  Crossing the lake took as long as usual but the occasional glitter on a headlamp on the far shore near the shelter was all the motivation needed to keep on puffing away.  Warmth, company, and wine were only a couple kilometers away!  Despite a lot of huffing and puffing it was pretty cool to make it to the party on-time (a little under 6 hours is fairly decent for skiing in).


Hours later there was still a brilliant moon blazing over Mount Robson as seen from the Hargreaves Shelter.


Overnight it was good to catch up with everyone (some folks I had not seen since the last New Years get together) and I was pleased to find out that I had missed the annual polar bear swim in the lake (possibly a little too refreshing for right after skiing in!).  The shelter was just as warm as I had hoped, and after tossing on a few different layers the chill of the evening moonski quickly faded away.  The next morning Liam and most of the folks in the shelter would be heading back to civilization whilst Josh, Zak, Fern, and I would stick around.  Mount Robson was gracious with providing interesting rose lighting at sunrise, a last parting gift to those who were heading down.


The next morning we woke up to a rosy sky.


From left to right Titkana Peak, Rearguard Mountain, Mount Robson, and the Hargreaves Shelter.


With a few days of the fire going there are some decent iceicle formation.


Zoomed in towards The Helmet and the north face of Mount Robson.


The whole crew before Liam's group started down the trail.



Whittled down to a group of four we headed up to Toboggan Falls, a perennial favorite for fun yoyo skiing near the hut.  Armed with skis, booze, and holiday cheer the skiing was actually really fun.  Not textbook powder skiing but soft enough to be playful and a short enough skin back up to get a few good laps in before daylight started to run out.


Zak enjoying the first couple laps on Toboggan Falls.  Pano artificats can be very odd sometimes.


Josh demoing splitboard-teli-jumps.


A gentle glow to end the day.


Cooking up a feast in the shelter later that night.


That night there was a discussion between Josh and I.  Zak and Fern had to head down the following morning to get back to town for work but I still had time off, and the forecast was actually predicting both warming temperatures and clear skies.  It did not take long before Josh agreed to stay around for one more day.

Our plan for the following day was to go for a lap up Mount Anne-Alice.  Two New Year's ago we had skiied up the peak (not one of the most lofty around Berg Lake but one of the most skiiable) and it was a pretty fantastic run.  On this year's trip Josh had actually gone up the peak two days prior with the rest of Liam's crew but was still keen for another lap (especially with clear skies and warmer temperatures).  Going to bed decently early we took advantage of the calm evening to catch up on sleep.


The next morning looking up towards Mount Anne-Alice.


Working up towards the peak much of the snow was wind affected which would make for interesting skiing back down (nothing like a good thin breakable crust to make for pretty turns).  With the previous group having ascended the peak two days prior there was still a decent track to follow up (though a bit obscured by wind in places) and we made good progress up to the saddle at the base of the summit slope.  Looking up towards the summit from the saddle it seems like not too far to travel but there are still 450 meters of elevation to ascend.


Quite the view from the col below the summit dip-slope of Mount Anne-Alice.


Looking back down towards Berg Lake.


Nothing like sun-crust and wind-slab to make for interesting skiing.


Whitehorn Mountain looks great from many angles but especially from here.


From the summit, the views were as spectacular as I remembered from two years previously.  Thanks to a temperature inversion we were sitting at right around 0C and with big poofy down jackets hanging out to take pictures and enjoy the sights was very pleasent.  Switching in to ski and snowboard mode we leapfrogged our way down the slope.  While most of the snow was tricky breakable crust every so often we could hit a pocket of wind loaded soft stuff and have a great turn or two.  In spring corn snow the 450 meters down to the saddle would be a truly amazing run, have to come back for it!  That night we enjoyed the remaing warmth of the fire in the hut and gobbled down the rest of our grub.  The last night at Berg in the winter is always a sad time, Josh and I agreed it would be really easy to spend a couple weeks up here at a time.


An intersting pano-artifact making a double-Josh scenerio on the false summit.


A zoomed in view towards Mumm Peak and some of the other peaks on the North Boundary Trail back in Jasper.


Josh ripping the skins off his split and going into board mode.


Josh finding an interesting single-ski-wide line through the upper part of Toboggan Creek.


Surreal lighting with the moon rising over Titkana Peak.


After cleaning up the shelter we started to make our way down the trail back to civilization.  Much like how the Emporer Hill is the crux of the way in, it is also the most tricky skiing on the way down.  A sequence of hairpin turns, steep narrow slopes, and blind corners with significant cliffs make it not something to be taken lightly.  Thankfully even with 10 people having gone down ahead of us there was still enough powder bordering the trail to check speed at key places, and the track itself soft enough for some sideslipping and snowplowing when prudent.  One of these years I should strap on a gopro for the ski down, it looks quite spicy in places!  The Whitehorn Hill was actually more damaging rock and stump-wise than the Emperor, with manditory rocks and roots skiing over at essentially every turn.  Another 10cm of consolidated snow would make for a much more straightforward descent!


The next morning arraying our skis before heading down the trail.


A wide view from the flats near the Marmot campsite.


Looking up towards Whitehorn Mountain.


Down by the Whitehorn bridge looking back at the Emperor Hill.


Back down on the west side of Kinney Lake, quite the path laid down now!


One last glimpse of Whitehorn from Kinney Lake.


Quite a lot of hoar coating trees near the outflow of the Robson River.


The Berg Lake area is quite a special place, summer or winter, but the cold quite calm of winter does make it easier to appreciate how exceptional it is.  I am often torn writing about winter in Berg, part of the allure is the lack of other groups.  It is a hard balance to strike between helping others share similar experiences versus the risk of crowding the area as it is during the summer months.  Hopefully the fearsome Emporer Hill, both while heading up and skiing down, serves as a filter from too many folks making the trek.


Certainly not a bad way to spend New Years!

Average: 5 (1 vote)


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