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A Great Cairn Christmas 2016

Moderate Ski Touring
YDS Difficulty: 
Friday, December 23, 2016

After having gone for hut trips (hut may be a little overstating the quaity of last year's Hidden Cove Shelter trip) for christmas the last few years options for new huts were drawing thin.  With caribou closures and technical terrain lessening my mom's interest we eventually decided to expand our search to include fly in approach huts: the Great Cairn Hut in the northern Selkirks being the front runner.  After booking the cozy 6 person hut and arranging flights with Alpine Helicopters out of Golden/Donald all that was left was finding a crew to go with!  Eventually my mom and I would be joined by Josh, James, and James's dad Norman (giving a little more space in the hut not having a sixth).

This would be my first time doing a fly in approach and things seemed pretty luxurious.  After getting to the heliport (same one that Chatter Creek uses) and everyone arriving it was quite the game of tetris to fit all our stuff in the 407, mostly as the hut needs you to fly in your own wood for the stove (which adds up fast when things are frosty out!).  It was pretty touch and go weather we would be able to fly in with stormy snowy skies limiting visibility. Thankfully our pilot managed to follow up Palmer Creek and drop us off despite the snow.  Jumping out of the helicopter it was very quickly obvious, there is a lot of snow in the Selkirks compared to the Rockies!

Getting into the hut it is certainly cozy.  Six people would be quite a squeeze unless folks are hanging out on the sleeping area.  That being said the small space means that is heats up quite quickly.  One problem we did have was that contrary to what was written on the ACC's website the gas stove at the hut was propane (bring your own tanks) rather than white gas (bring your own tanks). With the wrong stove and no more mantles for the lantern our 4L of white gas wasn't really needed at all.  On the way out the pilot told us he actually flew in the new propane stove this past summer as the old white gas one was broken.  Oh well, all of our cooking ended up being on the wood stove (thankfully we had lots of wood).  The rest of the first day was mostly unpacking and sorting out logistics (with a quick ski down the creek around sunset).


Flying in visibility wasn't the greatest.


Clouds started to lift slightly as we finished getting organized inside.  The hut (centre) and outhouse (right) can be seen.


The next morning started out somewhat grim but low valley clouds boiled off as the sun rose and we were optimistic to get high on the icefield and see some sights.  The Haworth Glacier seemed like the easiest way to access the icefield and proved to be a good choice for easy travel.After reaching the end of the Haworth Glacier valley we worked our way up to the icefield itself passing what looked very much like a tarn at the base of the glacier.  Once on the glacier itself the snow became a lot more supportive, and we were looking forward to good turns on the way down.  Before long we were up on the icefield and in the sun (despite the - 20 degree air things seemed pretty warm).  An inversion in the valley to the west made for some pretty neat views.  Sure enough the ski run back down to the valley bottom was excellent.  James and Josh switched over to snowboard mode and surfed down the powder with ease.  a few hundred meters below we reached the lake flats and started a trudge back to the hut.


The motely crew (sans moi) inside the hut, it is certainly cozy!


The hut does have a pretty fabulous view of Mount Sir Sandford.


Josh, James, Norman and I making our way up the valley.


Zoomed in towards the Silvertip Glacier outflow, a few patches of ice around here.


Looking up the gentle Haworth Glacier valley.


Looking back down the gentle Haworth Glacier valley.


The upper glacier with Alpina Dome in the distance.


Looking over to the west where a cloud inversion had set up.  Possibly Serendipity Spire visible in the back right.


Josh getting ready to start the run back down into the valley cloud.


Things cleared off pretty nicely overnight.


The next morning we were optimistic based on the forecast that things would be clear and we could head back up on the icefield for a longer tour.  The Sir Sandford valley had different ideas with lots of cloud sticking around long after sunrise. Not wanting to be stuck in a whiteout we switched to skiing laps in the trees above the hut, slowly pushing an uptrack higher over the day (and into the night).  That evening a great feast was cooked up with ham, stuffing, potatoes, and veggies.


With the wood stove going we formed some pretty decent icicles.


Josh working his way up the slopes west of the hut, the hut visible in the distant right.


Much less pleasent weather further down Palmer Creek.


Mount Sir Sandford is a pretty snazzy peak.


Cool lighting right out the front door.


Before long things clouded over again and visibility was not the greatest.


Another clear night later on.


On the last morning we all we really had time for was to gobble down a hearty breakfast and then get packed up for the helicopter to fly in (arriving around 10).  It was sad to say goodbye to the hut, it certainly seemed a bit cramped on the first night but you can get used to the space quite quickly.  It would be quite cool to come back in spring when lots of the steeper slopes are skiiable and more climbing objectives are in season.


Sunrise of Sir Sandford.


Getting all of our stuff ready for the helicopter to pick us up.


Parting shot of the icicles off the hut.


Flying out had some fabulous views.

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