Chasing an old dream at Duffey: skiing Joffre, Matier, Slalok in 5h 58min

I believe everyone has their mountain dream missions whether it be a ski traverse with friends, a steep line descent, or a new climbing route. Everyone has dreams and everyone gets inspired.

One of mine came to life when I first skied off Mount Matier about 10 years ago. That evening, I and Miki (good friend of mine) imagined skiing the summits of Joffre, Matier, Spetch and Slalok in a day. We planned to have a camp on Matier glacier to allow an early start and a place to return for a nice dinner.

We never went for it.

And in the years since I only skied the N ridge of Matier and Aussie Couloir on Joffre. I never summited or skied Slalok, nor skied the NW face on Matier.

But as time passed the dream was still there, however, taking on a different shape.

I realized that if we ski Slalok then it has to be its north face, otherwise, there is no point.

Then as we progressed it became clear it would be possible to do it all in one big day – starting at Cerise Creek, finishing at Joffre Lakes.

Finally, in the past 3 years, I twisted the dream further as I became more inspired by what ski mountaineering racing was teaching me and seeing how our Canadian skimo racing team was progressing. More came from John Baldwin’s exploratory spirit, Kilian Jornet’s running quests and Ueli Steck’s speed climbs.

The dream was the original but I wondered how fast it could be done.

And an integral part for me is always to do such missions in an unassisted way – you carry all you need, otherwise, there is no point.

The route

At the end I decided to leave out Mt Spetch. Its north face is nice and around 40 degrees but it is only 200m high, and the whole peak is kind of small within its spectacular surroundings.

The final route became – start at Cerise Creek, summit Joffre, ski Aussie, summit Matier, ski its NW face, summit Slalok, ski its N face, finish at Lower Joffre Lk.

Duffey Lake speed traverse map - Joffre, Matier, Slalok

A more aesthetic link-up is possible and maybe even faster - climb Joffre via its SE face/ramp, and climb Slalok via its small and steep E face. And include Spetch in the loop ;)

The challenge

The most fun but somewhat intimidating part of the whole thing was that I would be skiing the NW face of Matier and the N face of Slalok for the very first time. I liked the unknown element.

Safety wise, the worst part would be down climbing Matier summit and to ski its NW face. Once there it felt natural but I made only precise turns as the face was hard frozen. I have never seen so much snow on Matier's summit ridge (which helped), and I didn't expect to skin up right over the summit rock of Slalok (right).

Planning

For bigger speed missions I like to plan well because I hate coming out short-handed. By that I mean either not being able to pull it off or not being able to go as fast as I would like to.

I didn’t know whether it was still possible this year. I didn’t know anything about current snow pack and temps as I have not skied at Duffey Lake since early February. So I dug up some recent weather stats, and started to follow temps and weather about 10 days prior.

I knew data knowledge is good but a personal experience would be the best. On May 13th I went up Cayoosh Mt to get a feel for snowpack, and what temps and sun were doing. Also, that I could snap photos of Slalok’s N face so I could study where is the safest to ski it should the day be very warm.

Final piece of my puzzle have not come together though – a ski partner. However, there was no time to stress about it as it fell through at a late stage and the right conditions (snow, day temps, weather, desire…) were/are running out.

I decided to go through with it solo as I did in the past when I couldn’t agree on conditions with a friend over a speedy Spearhead Traverse mission.

Stano on Joffre, Matier, Slalok

Peace and quite up high. Standing on top of all three within about 2h.

Some facts and the day’s route

I started a bit after 6am (May19) from the bridge over the first creek below the Duffey Lk road at Cerise Creek. The start gave my mission “a bigger life perspective” as there was no bridge/log over the second creek. But quickly I managed to find a log crossing it about 100m down.

In 5h 58min I finished on the bridge over the creek that drains the Lower Joffre Lk, after some summer trail and forest navigating as all Joffre Lakes were unfrozen on their perimeter and couldn’t be skied over.

Joffre, Matier, Slalok from Cayoohs

I snapped this photo a week earlier from the Armchair Gl below Cayoosh.

All in all, my watch measured 2520m of climbing and descending (the start and finish happen to be at almost the same elevation). Fresh hard tracks all day long, up and down.

3 summits, 3 classic descents. What a day :)

Further inspiration

There was one thing that struck me during the day – I crampon boot-packed from the bottom of Aussie to the summit of Joffre in about 35min (400m), and I feel couple of weeks behind my fastest this season. That means that someone much more skilled can surely boot it up in 20-25, maybe Steck even faster, that would be something to watch!

Here are some route points and times that further inspire me and can serve anyone as a reference if they want to repeat it:

  1. Start point – bridge at Cerise Cr below the “parking lot” at Duffey Lk road
  2. Up the Cerise Cr drainage, up the right moraine (close to the hut)
  3. Up Anniversary Gl to the col [reached in about 2h]
  4. Ski down to the bottom of Aussie Couloir
  5. Crampon up Aussie and to the summit of Joffre Peak [2h 45min]
  6. Ski off Joffre summit and down Aussie [3h 15min]
  7. Skin and crampon up the North ridge and over the summit of Matier [4h]
  8. Down climb to the top of Matier’s NW face, ski it and down the Matier Gl
  9. Skin up (with a short boot-pack) over Slalok’s Northerly rib to its summit [5h]
  10. Ski down the Slalok’s North face to Upper Joffre Lk
  11. Ski down to Lower Joffre Lakes mostly via the summer trail

After getting it done I believe I can do it quite faster, and it likely could be done under 4h30 by the fastest skimo racing Euros. But not while going solo, skiing two first time lines and visiting new places. That only could have happened in a more balanced way :)

Matier from Joffre

Awesome morning atmosphere on top of Joffre, and scanning the planned route over on Matier.

Skiing Aussie Couloir

Skiing in Aussie was tough – very hard snow as the sun hit its top half only 10min before I started skiing, and bunch of funnels through the middle in the lower half.

Aussie Couloir from Matier.

Looking back at Aussie. And so much snow on the summit of Matier.

Joffre lakes forest.

And as all good Canadian traverses end - with a tree skate-ski slalom over pine needles and creeks :)

Comments

  1. very cool

  2. I believe it is more enjoyable when done in powder conditions, so you should shoot for that (and I have yet to do it then). But once you go for speed there are all kinds of other beautiful moments because the conditions are different and you are playing on a fine edge since you are skiing/climbing very different aspects quickly, so you need to pay close attention. It’s all great fun.

  3. Nice work Stano. That trip is on my tick list for sure, but maybe a bit slower. :)

    Inspiring for sure.

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