play Up One Level not an important image Ski Mountaineering Photos from Petain GlacierFebruary18-22, 2011


To get to the Petain Glacier we skied along Upper Kananaskis Lake to Hidden Lake then up to Aster Lake where we camped. From there, we skied across Aster Lake and South up a long valley beside Mount Joffre. We roped up for the glacier accent at the end of the valley. At the top of the glacier is a col with a short 50m descent to the Petain Glacier. We didn't see any noticeable crevasses on our access route. On the summit day Kevin and I attempted Mount Nivelle which we reached via the col between Nivelle and Joffre. Easy skiing with no visible crevasses to reach this col. We cramponed up to ascend the West side of the North ridge of Mount Nivelle. There are several big notches on the ridgetop and some big snow slopes on the West side as well. We got almost half way up before we decided to retreat. We headed to the col between Mount Ney and Mount Castelnau but the steep convex roll and the diminishing light turned us back to camp. We headed back out the way we came on the remaining 2 days. A very beautiful area but not much in the way of easy winter ascents. I would recommend trying Mount Nivelle in the summer when avalanches are not a concern.

This trip has been on Kevins wish list for awhile and he finally found enough people to accompany him on this trek. I love exploring so I was very happy to come along. We had hoped to summit at least 1 peak in the area but the difficulty and terrain prevented us from bagging any summits. We did get part way up Mount Nivelle and got to enjoy fabulous views to the South of the Abruzzi Group. We had excellent weather for the first three days and got awesome pictures of the area around Aster Lake and the Petain Glacier.

On Friday morning I drove Kevin and Martin out to Upper Kananaskis Lake to begin our five day trek. When I compared our packs weights, I noticed quite a bit of difference between mine and theirs. I figured that I must have done something wrong. My pack being much lighter than theirs. It turns out that I had not brought enough clothing for my core and could have used at least a sweater and a soft shell. I also forgot my prussiks as well. I rely too much on things being packed the way I usually have them packed and as a result I expected my prussiks to be on my harness like I always have them. But this time was an exception. Why I didn't have prussiks on my harness like I usually do, I don't know. I think I am going to have to put up a tick list on the wall instead of relying on visual inspection of my equipment room to ensure that I don't miss anything. I ended up borrowing some prussiks and a couple upper layers for parts of the trip. This trip was my coldest winter camping adventure to date. On my other trips I don't think it ever got below -25. I figure that it was colder than -30 at night on this trip.

The ski around Upper Kananaskis Lake was long and tricky at times. There were a few stretches where the wind had blown the snow into many hard drifts requiring me to break through many of them with my skis. A moose had put a large number of deep prints in the trail for quite a distance along the lake. It took us about 2 hours to get around the lake. When we got to Hidden Lake we stopped for a short break in the sun. The sunshine didn't last for long before the sun disappeared behind Mount Sarrail. The ski across Hidden Lake was especially cold. I tried to get across the lake as quickly as was reasonable so I could warm up on the steep ascent up the forest. My heel lift on my right ski wasn't staying up for more than 10 steps at a time which has been an ongoing problem for my heel lifts. This trip it finally decided to call it quits and break completely. The metal was completely broken in the heel lift. We tried to tape it in place for the remainder of the ascent to our Aster Lake camp. It worked for most of the way before falling down again. I went without heel lifts for the remainder of the trip.

We followed the track set by Kevin and Martin from the previous weekend most of the way to Aster Lake. Martin was very keen on breaking trail and did most of the leading up the forest. We started to run out of steam before Aster Lake and after Martin fell into an air bubble beside a rock we decided to head down to the creek to set up camp. Martins air bubble was about 2 thirds of his height. Not so deep that he wasn't able to get out, but certainly deep enough to drain enough energy to want to set up camp. We set up camp not too far from Aster Lake. Lots of possibilities in the area for turns. We were too tired that evening for turns though.

After a pretty cold nights sleep we packed up and headed up to Aster Lake. The lake was probably only 20 minutes from camp. A lot of distance was covered this day with the crossing of Aster Lake and the long valley beside Mount Joffre up to access col for the Petain Glacier. Martin allowed me to take over trail breaking for most of the day after we passed Aster Lake. Great weather on this day and lots of cool photos. We roped up for the glacier to the Petain col. We only saw one crevasse right at the toe despite the thin snow cover on the glacier. Further up the glacier we were in the shade and it got very cold. We skied around what looked like the bergshrund before emerging onto the cold windy col. We didn't spend much time on the col and quickly cut a line down through the small cornice to reach the Petain Glacier. Most of the glacier was in the shade already so we had little choice but to set up camp in the shade. We built a large camp area with an impressive wall. Even with that it got very cold. That night I had cover my entire face (eyes, nose, mouth with my balaclava and scarf to stay warm enough to sleep.

The next day we awoke to awesome weather again and cold temperatures. Martin opted for a rest day, so it was just Kevin and myself left to tackle Mount Nivelle. We skied to the Nivelle-Joffre col where we left our skis behind. We never saw any signs of crevasses on the Petain Glacier during our approach. We decided to put on our crampons at the start since we had a nice flatish place to put them on and we would likely need them later. We headed up the west side of the North ridge of Mount Nivelle. A series of big notches on the ridge convinced us to stay on the West side until we could see a way up to the final section of the ridge. We short roped the first section of scrambly rock above a scree slope that we wanted to avoid for fear that it could slide. I belayed Kevin across a few snow sections. We reached a large rock band that had a deep snow gully in one place that we decided was the best way up. I belayed Kevin as he broke trail through this steep gully. The snow was very deep and as a precaution Kevin placed some pro on the wall since the rope wasn't long enough to belay up the entire gully. This section took a long time to get through. Once on the other side, we saw the next big snow slope and after deliberation we decided the risks outweighed the potential benefits.

Looking at where we turned around on the satellite photos, I now see that we made a really good decision as we'd have to ascend a big slope to reach the ridge which still had many notches left before the summit. If we had stayed low, we still would have to cross big slopes and find our way over several cliff bands before we could ascend to the summit which looks very difficult to reach from the West slopes. To top it off, I had another equipment failure. I lost one of my crampons in the scree on the way up. My crappy ski boots where very ill suited to crampons and the adjustments the fellow at MEC made to get them to work with my boots failed. I found the crampon on the way down. The other one had fallen off as well but I noticed it and put it back on. I don't think I have ever been so poorly equipped on a trip before. This was downright embarrassing. I had used the crampons on a trip before when I descended West Stutfield on them without problem. I guess the scree is what did them in.

At the col I managed to get my skis to lock into downhill mode, which is another ongoing equipment problem. In uphill mode my toe locks get clogged with snow forcing me to melt the snow with my breath before I can put them back into downhill mode. For the remainder of the trip I left the skis in downhill mode so that I wouldn't have to do this again. Once we had our skis back on, we decided to head to another col between Mount Ney and Mount Castelnau to the East. We deskinned to try and get some glide down the Petain Glacier. We only got a little bit of glide before we had to use our poles again. When we got closer to the col, the slope that looked fine from a distance was steeper and convex close up. The daylight was diminishing as well since this was February. So we headed back to our camp. This night Martin lent me an undercoat that he hadn't been using, which allowed me to sleep easier that night.

In the morning, we packed up camp and headed back to the col before the stormy clouds hanging over Nivelle and the South end of Joffre got to us. There were some really cold and nasty snow devils near the col as we approached. It was a little tricky getting back up to the col but we managed to find a way. Very strong winds at the col and during the descent as well. The snow on the glacier was very grabby making for interesting skiing. Near the bottom there was a lot of bare ice increasing the difficulty of skiing. I managed to fall over 4 times which is pretty normal for me. There wasn't much downhill for the remaining ski back to our first camp.

Once back at camp, we had plenty of time left, so we went out to do a bunch of turns. The snow below treeline was much softer and way more enjoyable than in the alpine. We probably wouldn't have found very much snow to ski on in the alpine anyway. I had a lot of fun doing all those turns even though I fell frequently. For my next trip, I will have AT bindings and boots which I hope will help out my downhill skiing a lot. I never could do telemark turns and after 3 seasons of skiing, I still haven't gotten the hang of downhill. I think it is time for me to ditch the telemark bindings. During the evening, we built a campfire in our kitchen area and enjoyed the heat but not so much the smoke. The fire melted a pit that was deep enough to fit a whole person. Martin stepped into it in the morning after to demonstrate the full depth of the pit. The weather came in during the evening, but I didn't notice it much until the morning due to the lovely fire. The temperate that night was much better than the previous 3 allowing me to have a much more comfortable sleep.

The day out we had our skins on the entire time since there were sections of uphill between each downhill portion. I managed to fall over constantly on the way down. After falling the first 3 times I was so tired that I could hardly stand up and do kick turns. I think I probably fell while doing kick turns at least 4 or 5 times. Before heading down the last hill we had a break where I consumed 2 Mocha Gels, which are my secret weapon when it comes to energy. I noticed a huge improvement in my energy and skiing ability for the remainder of the return. The ingredient in the Mocha Gels that I think works the best for me is the caffeine. We saw a fresh slide beside Hidden Lake that had started from a steep bowl high up on a sub peak of Mount Lyautey. The remainder of the trek back along the side of Upper Kananaskis Lake was long and uneventful. We stopped at Kananaskis Village for a beer ad some food before I dropped the gang off in Calgary and headed home. I would like to thank Kevin and Martin for an awesome adventure and for putting up with my many gear mishaps. I hope I never again have nearly as many things go wrong with my gear

Click on the play button in the top left to start the slideshow or click on any picture to enlarge it. Use the icons on the top left to navigate.


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Looking up the slopes of Mount Sarrail.
Looking up the slopes of ...
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The view across Upper Kananaskis Lake in the morning.
The view across Upper ...
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Mount Invincible appears.
Mount Invincible appears.
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The view across Upper Kananaskis Lake. Mount Invincible on the left and Mount Indefatigable in the center.
The view across Upper ...
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A subpeak of Mount Sarrail.
A subpeak of Mount Sarrail.
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A subpeak of Mount Lyautey.
A subpeak of Mount Lyautey.
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Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake
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Skiing through the forest.
Skiing through the forest.
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The view South to Mount Sarrail (second peak on the left and Mount Marlborough on the right. Mount Foch is occluded.
The view South to Mount ...
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The view up Mount Lyautey.
The view up Mount Lyautey.
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Skiing in the alpine.
Skiing in the alpine.
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Looking back down to Upper Kananaskis Lake.
Looking back down to Upper ...
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The view back to Upper Kananaskis Lake. Mount Lyautey on the left and Mount Sarrail on the right.
The view back to Upper ...
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A panorama from beside Aster Lake.
A panorama from beside Aster ...
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Warrior Mountain
Warrior Mountain
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Mount Sarrail to the East.
Mount Sarrail to the East.
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Steep slopes nearby.
Steep slopes nearby.
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Crossing Aster Lake with Warrior Mountain in the distance.
Crossing Aster Lake with ...
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Mount Northover to the North.
Mount Northover to the North.
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Looking back across Aster Lake.
Looking back across Aster ...
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Warrior Mountain
Warrior Mountain
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Heading up the approach valley to the Petain Glacier. Mount Joffre on the right.
Heading up the approach ...
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Skiing up the valley. Mount Joffre poking out.
Skiing up the valley. Mount ...
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Me Skiing up the valley. Mount Northover behind me on the left.
Photo courtesy of Martin Siddles
Me Skiing up the valley. ...
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Looking back North. Mount Northover on the left. Unnamed peak on the right.
Looking back North. Mount ...
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Mount Northover.
Mount Northover.
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Heading up the sunny valley.
Heading up the sunny valley.
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Looking back to the peaks in the distance.
Looking back to the peaks in ...
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The end of valley and an unnamed glacier. Mount Petain on the left.
The end of valley and an ...
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Skiing up the valley. Warrior Mountain on the left and Mount Northover on the right.
Skiing up the valley. Warrior ...
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Another look at Mount Northover.
Another look at Mount ...
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Martin skiing the last stretch before the glacier.
Martin skiing the last ...
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Looking back down the glacier.
Looking back down the glacier.
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Sun shining on our access col. Shade is creeping across our route.
Sun shining on our access ...
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The view North from the access col. Mount Marlborough on the right. Mount Northover on the left with Mount Sir Douglas to the right of it in the distance.
The view North from the ...
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The Petain Glacier. Mount Castelnau on the left then Mount Ney and Mount Nivelle in the center.
The Petain Glacier. Mount ...
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Mount Castelnau. The slope at that col is steeper than it looks.
Mount Castelnau. The slope at ...
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Mount Nivelle.
Mount Nivelle.
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Descending from the col.
Descending from the col.
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The view East from the Petain Glacier. In the distance is Storm Mountain on the left and Mist Mountain on the right. Mount Aosta is the closer rocky peak on the right.
The view East from the Petain ...
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Unnamed peak beside the access col.
Unnamed peak beside the ...
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Mount Joffre looms above our campsite.
Mount Joffre looms above our ...
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A late evening panorama of the Eastern Petain Glacier area, Mount Petain is the big snow slope on the left. On the right is Mount Castelnau on the left then Mount Ney and Mount Nivelle.
A late evening panorama of ...
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Mist Mountain.
Mist Mountain.
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Mount Joffre in the morning,
Mount Joffre in the morning,
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Mount Petain. The true summit is not visible.
Mount Petain. The true summit ...
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Strengthening our camp in the morning.
Strengthening our camp in the ...
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Zoomed in looking East to Storm Mountain on the left and Mist Mountain on the right.
Zoomed in looking East to ...
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A full panorama of the Petain Glacier.
A full panorama of the Petain ...
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Mount Castelnau.
Mount Castelnau.
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Storm Mountain far to the East.
Storm Mountain far to the ...
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Mist Mountain far to the East.
Mist Mountain far to the East.
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Looking back down the Petain Glacier from the Joffre-Nivelle col.
Looking back down the Petain ...
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Mount Rae far to the East.
Mount Rae far to the East.
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Looking East. Mount Rae on the left
Looking East. Mount Rae on ...
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Looking back to our camp and the access col.
Looking back to our camp and ...
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Mount Foch to the North East.
Mount Foch to the North East.
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Mount Fox to the North East.
Mount Fox to the North East.
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The sun shines over Mount Nivelle.
The sun shines over Mount ...
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Looking back from the col.
Looking back from the col.
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Our ascent route up Mount Nivelle. We ascended the snow col in the middle of the photo before seeing the next section and calling it quits.
Our ascent route up Mount ...
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The view South into BC. The Abruzzi Group on the left and Mount Joffre on the right.
The view South into BC. The ...
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Zoomed in view South into BC. The group on the left is Mount Cadorna, Mount Swiderski, Mount Battisti, and the pointy one is Mount Stiletto. The peak in front on the left is Mount Macdonell
Zoomed in view South into BC. ...
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Mount Joffre East subpeak.
Mount Joffre East subpeak.
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Our snow route over the first cliffband
Our snow route over the first ...
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Looking back down to the col.
Looking back down to the col.
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The view South and West from Mount Nivelle.
The view South and West from ...
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The view up Nivelle from our turn around point.
The view up Nivelle from our ...
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Heading back down the slope.
Heading back down the slope.
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Heading back down the slope.
Heading back down the slope.
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Heading back down the slope.
Heading back down the slope.
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Heading back down the slope.
Heading back down the slope.
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Kevin taking in the view from the col.
Kevin taking in the view from ...
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The view from near the Castelnau-Ney col. Mount Joffre on the left above the Petain Glacier. Mount Petain in the middle. Mount Foch in the sun to the right of Petain.
The view from near the ...
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Mount Castlenau from our turn around point.
Mount Castlenau from our turn ...
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Heading back out to the access col.
Heading back out to the ...
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The weather that was approaching us from behind.
The weather that was ...
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Mount Joffre.
Mount Joffre.
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Mount Petain with its slope now barren.
Mount Petain with its slope ...
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Skiing up to the col.
Skiing up to the col.
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Skiing up to the col.
Skiing up to the col.
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Me ascending the final section of the col.
Photo courtesy of Martin Siddles
Me ascending the final ...
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The final push up the col.
The final push up the col.
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The East side of the col.
The East side of the col.
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The West side of the col.
The West side of the col.
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Kevin plants the pole he was hoping to leave on Nivelles summit.
Kevin plants the pole he was ...
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Skiing down the glacier.
Skiing down the glacier.
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The view down the glacier. Mount Marlborough at the opposite end.
The view down the glacier. ...
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Skiing down from the col.
Skiing down from the col.
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Skiing down the glacier.
Skiing down the glacier.
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Skiing down the glacier.
Skiing down the glacier.
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Skiing down the glacier.
Skiing down the glacier.
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Skiing down the glacier.
Skiing down the glacier.
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Skiing back down the valley to Aster Lake.
Skiing back down the valley ...
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A panorama from Aster lake.
A panorama from Aster lake.
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Part of Mount Lyautey.
Part of Mount Lyautey.
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Upper Kananaskis Lake on the left. Mount Sarrail on the right.
Upper Kananaskis Lake on the ...
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Our fire pit.
Our fire pit.
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Warming up by the fire.
Photo courtesy of Martin Siddles
Warming up by the ...
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Warming up by the fire.
Warming up by the fire.
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Warming up by the fire.
Warming up by the fire.
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Martin demonstrates the depth of the fire pit in the morning.
Martin demonstrates the depth ...
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Martin demonstrates the depth of the fire pit in the morning.
Martin demonstrates the depth ...
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This is what happens when you suck at skiing as much as I do. I think I fell at least 30 times coming down the forest.
Photo courtesy of Martin Siddles
This is what happens when you ...
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A small avalanche that recently slide into Hidden Lake. Originated high up in some isolated bowl.
A small avalanche that ...

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