Galena Setup [A Guide's Perspective]

Well, the CMH heli ski season is revving up and it seems to have started with a bang. There is already a solid base of snow (2 metres), which means it looks more like January then December. Lots of the early season hazards are nicely covered and the classic pillow drops and steep glads are ready to go.

I am very excited to be skiing at CMH Galena again, the best place to ski in the world (thats right!). The team is super psyched for the season to start, which you can see in this short video.



Cragging in the Bugaboos

Climbing in the Bugaboos is always a highlight of the summer and definitely one of my favourite places to climb. The rugged hike through wildflowers as you climb towards Applebee, the mystic and grandeur of the spires as they glow in the evening light, and the long shadows draped across the glaciers as a lone headlamp weaves down the Bugaboo/Snowpatch Col.  There is something eternally special about the place.

Last week Simon Meis and I took advantage of a splitter forecast to session the east face on Snowpatch. We decided to forgo the usual journey across to the west side so that we could focus on hard free climbing close to 'home' (Applebee). The locals Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh have been climbing on the east side for several years now, establishing some world class routes. While climbing with Jon the week prior he was adamant that I needed to sample the routes on the east face.

So, with a large free-climbing rack, a backpack full of puffy jackets we set our sites on free climbing as much as we could with as little walking as possible. In the five days that we were in Applebee we climbed, Sweet Sylvia, Sendero Norte, and Labyrinth.

Approaching the east face, with only a 30min approach
most days didn't start before 10am.  
The 2nd pitch of Sweet Sylvia, a sporty 5.12.
Photo: SM
Simon susing out the right hand variation to pitch 5. The original ascent climbed an overhanging 5.11+  hands to 5" crack, a Craig Luebben classic. The right hand variation climbs a 5.12 hands to fingers to 5" offwidth thus avoiding the 4" section. 
Simon stepping off the belay into a perfect 25m hands to fingers splitter.  
Pitch 6 was a sustained 55m 4" crack, luckily it wasn't overhanging. Even with 3 number 4 Camelots it was still runout.  
Stepping left into the crux second pitch of Sendero Norte.  A stiff .12+ which is often wet at the crux.
Photo: SM
Climbing the Split Pillar of the east (Pitch 4). A spectacular 5.10 hands to fingers layback. As Gery Unterasinger said" one of the better granite pitches in the 5.10 range in Canada"
Photo: SM
The second crux of the 7th pitch on Labyrinth. A slab dyno just below the belay. 
Pitch 3 on Labyrinth, a spectacular .12a overhanging fat fingers splitter.
Photo: SM 

Simon Meis and me topping out late in the pm after another day of  cragging.


North Face of Mt Temple, Greenwood/Locke

On Aug 2nd, Crosby Johnston and I climbed the North Face of Mt. Temple aka the 'Eiger of the Rockies'. There is no doubt that the Greenwood/Locke is a "must do" as stated in the Selected Alpine Climbs and I was psyched to do it with a long time climbing partner.

Crosby is usually a coastal rate, often found grunting up Squamish test pieces or swimming with the seals while kite boarding. He rarely finds himself swinging those medieval-looking-thingies, we call ice tools or pimping up steep limestone.  And, I rarely find myself tying in with him but when I do, I know an adventure will ensue. Crosby is currently lurking in the rockies 'training' for the ACMG alpine exam, which usually entails slogging up 'the classics' all while practising the dark art of guiding. I convinced him (easily enough) that training should also include the 'true' rockies classics and that only when you are strung out on a steep and loose limestone face can you discover the secrets of the dark arts.

We started the day in Canmore, leaving at 3am. After an hour of fast hiking we arrived at the snow cone below the Dolphin (1900m @ 5:15am) . We soloed most of the lower face, roping up just before the first traverse right below the second icefield (I only had aluminum crampons which I would regret). It took us just under 2 hrs to arrive at the first rock band. We started the technical climbing while donning gloves, crampons and ice tools. A beautiful ice runnel in the back of a chimney presented itself half way up the first pitch. One of the best I have ever climbed in the alpine. One 60m pitch brought us to the base of the 'prominent ledge' that traverses the face. We found good ice screw placements on the traverse contrary to the guide book description. After gaining the rock buttress we climbed 6 pitches to reach the top (with a little simul-climbing of course). We climbed all the pitches free with light boots but I would recommend having rock shoes if you are not comfortable climbing 5.10.  The rock climbing was aesthetic and had plenty of good protection. Only the last pitch was really loose (in relation to Rockies standards) but there was still good pro.


  • 1 x single 60m rope
  • 1 x 6 mm tag line
  • Single rack (00-#2 Camelots) 
  • 12 x quick draws (which include 4 long runners)
  • 3 x ice screws
  • 2 technical tools 
  • Crampons (aluminum crampons didn't work very well)
  • Rock shoes (we didn't use ours)
Lake Annette in the early morning.

Crosby marching up the 'right hand' gully as the sun rises on the seracs above. It took us 2 hrs to climb to the base of the technical climbing. 
Topping out above the 'Dolphin' 

Traversing right at the top of the first snow field.  This small section of ice is the only ice we climbed on the snow fields. 

Croby 'the Cosmonaut' Johnston 

Traversing left towards the rock buttress on the 'prominent ledge' that crosses the face. Notice the large amount of rock fall in the snow. This is probably the most dangerous place on the face for rockfall hazard. 

Looking down at the first pitch of rock climbing on the buttress. A previous team had chopped out a bivy site on the snow fin below.  

Crosby starting the 4th pitch, a little loose but with good pro. 

Crosby stepping right on the 6th pitch.  


Common Knowledge on the Washburn face

It was day 18 of the trip. We had just spent 3 days sleeping and eating copious amounts, trying to recover from our ascent of the Cassin Ridge. Our base camp friends had all left and the 14000 ft camp was starting to feel abandoned. The snow walls fortifying our tent were drooping and looked more like ruins that would tumble over in the next breeze. We where starting to feel the pull of civilization, but we where also feeling like we needed to climb again to make the trip complete.

We woke up at 3am after a restless night. The temperature was -20c and we moved slowly. I could feel the hesitation in both our movements. At any moment if either one of us would have expressed doubts, we would have went back to bed. We pushed through the discomfort and packed our bags.

We left the security of our shelter and leaned into a cold, and relentless wind. We had a four hour descent ahead of us, with ample opportunities to justify a retreat. Once again we forged forward, without talking or looking each other in the eyes. The lack of motivation to continue was like a thick haze, I was wondering when it would clear. I got my answer when we made a long, overhanging rappel above the bergshrund.

Raphael descending below some small but intimidating seracs. It took 4 hours to get  from 14000 ft camp to the Peter's Gl.
The route Common Knowledge marked in red. The lower half of the route is 1100m long and the upper (where the line goes right) is 1000m long. 
The route Common Knowledge presented itself in front of us. A thousand one hundred meters of ice climbing (up to grade WI6) would lead to the upper face. From there we would have to slog through fresh snow (at times 85 cm deep) for one thousand meters! We soloed a large majority of the lower face and then roped up for four pitches including 2 pitches of simul-climbing. Raphael, being the stronger climber took the lead for most of the technical portions. I was disappointed I was not leading more of the harder pitches but this feeling fizzled when the midnight sun dipped below the horizon and the 'summit' slopes rose indefinitely above me.

Raphael S. gettin amongst it on the Candelabra pitch. He place 4 pieces of marginal rock gear over 30m of climbing. A bold lead. 
The waterfall ice pitch and the last of the steep ice climbing.  As the first ascentionist said "...a pitch of WI 4 that would be more at home in Crawford Notch, NH, than at 14,000 feet on Denali". 
Hour 24 came and went and my body started to shut down. I barley had enough energy to keep my fingers and toes warm or for that matter, move upwards. Raphael continued on above. With a bitting wind pushing from the east and arctic temperatures, stopping was not an option. Once he saw me nearing the summit he quickly disappeared, traversing towards the fixed lines. A thick windslab slowed my progress as I was approaching the crest of the face. His steps had already blown in and I was re-breaking the trail. I would look back at my steps and disappointment would rob any hope I had left. I was completely empty. My blood was dry, my body was cold, my mind was transparent and my consciousness was now looking down at me. I laboured through, knowing that I only had one option.

Once I started traversing the west buttress towards the fixed lines I thought I was ok, but this was a false sense of security. Until I was in my sleeping bag I wouldn't be able to stop. At one point, I remember turning my back to the wind and while standing there, trying to get some rest, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. When I opened them I had the same adrenaline rush as you get while falling asleep behind the wheel. This was a sobering feeling and i was starkly reminded of my situation.

Raph slogging up avalanche prone slopes.  At times there was 85cm of snow to break trail through, slowing our progress to  a snails pace. At this point I think I told Raph we should go one at a time, just in case. 
The last rays of the sun.
I arrived to a quiet camp, 26 hours after leaving. My exhaustion was complete and so was the trip.

For a complete description of the ascent check out Raphael Slawinski's blog, he did a great job telling the story.

We would like to thank MEC for there generous support via their Expedition Support Program.


Cassin Ridge in Under 24 hrs

Denali 2011: Spring Chicken Road Trip

Our trip to Denali started on June 4th. We left Calgary early on a Saturday morning and by Sunday evening we were setting up our tent below the spectacular north buttress of Mt. Hunter. It was quite the shock, especially since I had just returned from the Utah desert.

This was my first trip to the Alaska Range but Raphael Slawinski's forth, so I followed his lead in strategy and style. Our original objective was to attempt the Denali Diamond on the southwest face but conditions were ill suited for an attempt, so we diverted our energies to the uber-classic Cassin Ridge. After 14 days of travel, acclimatization and many days of resting we got the weather window to start climbing. Our strategy for the route was to do it as a day climb. A committing but simple style. 

One of my goals on this trip was to collect enough video footage to piece together a few shorts. This was a difficult feat while trying to keep up with Raphael. Many times, I found myself getting frustrated because I was only getting ass-shots. The other added challenges were the extreme cold, 'high altitude lassitude' and the style of the accent that we were committing to. But somehow I managed to collect enough. You can watch the video of the Cassin in Under 24 here or on my Vimeo site. Also, for a complete account of the our accent of the Cassin, check out Raphael's blog

Arriving at the airstrip below Mt. Hunter. The usual chaos as disoriented climbers arrive and exhausted climbers leave.

A rare site in AK, the moon traversing the horizon above the two summits of Mt. Hunter.

Dropping down the West-Rib cutoff. The Cassin Ridge starts via the Japanese  couloir at the right of the image. 

Raphael leading out above the Japanese couloir. We roped up for the first portion of the climb (up to the Hanging Glacier) but then removed the rope for the remainder of the climb. 

Raphael climbing through the 1st rock band. Lots of low angle terrain with short steps of mixed climbing.

Hour 16.5. Don't look too deeply into Raphael's eyes, he might remove your soul!

We would like to thank Mountain Equipment Co-op for their generous support via the 


Indian Creek

I just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Indian Creek and the Utah desert. This was my sixth trip to the 'Creek' and it still fills me with the same awe and wonder as the first time. The physical climbing, desert climate and dirtbag living all seem to purify the body and soul. I usually leave broken and bruised and this trip was no different.

"Balance, that's the secret. Moderate extremismEdward Abbey

All Photos By: Joshua Lavigne

Heading home

Delano enjoying 'the crack' a little too much.

Lydia Marmont hiking the uber-classic 'Scarface'

The standard 'Creek' tape job. Day 1

Delano Lavigne trying hard to make his hands fit. Sometimes smaller is better!

Lydia Marmont enjoying splitter thin hands.


Tsunami 300m M5, WI5+

After a long winter of skiing I've finally had enough. I put the misery sticks away and sharpened the ice tools. Raphael Slawinski and I made plans to go check out an alpine ice line that had caught his eye. He had scoped the line while climbing the classic mixed route Rocket Man. It is located just to the right of the iconic route Riptide in the spectacular cirque below Mt. Patterson .

At first glance it looks like it is threatened by seracs but up close they seem fairly benign. We climbed the route in 6 pitches. To access the ice we climbed 3 very alpine like pitches with thin ice and scrappy mixed climbing. Once we were established on the ice, three sustained pitches brought us to the top of the seracs.

An amazing day out and a classic alpine ice route!

Photo: Raphael Slawinski
 Climbing the Riptide approach gully with the climb to the right

Photo: Raphael Slawinski 
Traversing out on the second pitch

Raph couldn't resist the temptation of the chose. Like a bee to honey.

 Photo: Raphael Slawinski
Starting the fourth pitch with some thin ice to spice things up

Raph taking the lead on the final 2 ice pitches. They call him the professor but he bossed up these ice pitches. 

  Photo: Raphael Slawinski
Raph getting creative with the lens. The rope cut through a snow mushroom and I'm trying to squeeze through it.

 Photo: Raphael Slawinski
Enjoying a moment in the sun after topping out on the seracs. 


CMH Galena Week 11-12, "A Guides Perspective"

My last 2 weeks of work at CMH Galena were some of the best skiing I have ever had. We received over 200 cm of snow, which brought the snow pack to 400 cm. With this much snow the pillow lines and cliff drops were soft and smooth.

I captured some footage of Hank (77 year old skiing on K2 Pontoons), Jessica (Galena staff veteran of 8 years ) and Charles (CMH U.K. agent). Enjoy!

CMH Galena Week 11-12, "A Guides Perspective" from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


Mixed Climbing in Storm Creek

After 21 days of ski guiding I was ready to get out and stretch the arms. Raphael, Juan and I decided to head up Storm Creek (just up from the Stanley Headwall) to check a couple mixed climbs, Xena (named after Raphael's cat) and Cosban (named after Eamonn Walsh's dog). Two awesome climbs, side by side, decorated with thin ice, featured limestone and natural rock gear. A fantastic day out!

Check out the short video clip below.

 Furry needles decorate the trees as we approach Storm Creek

Juan leading off on the first pitch

 Raph stepping out on the second pitch of Cosban

Great rock, good gear and thin ice, what else could you ask for.

Mixed Climbing in Storm Creek from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


CMH Galena Week 7 " A Guide's Perspective"

The snow just keeps on falling at CMH Galena, with over 300cm on the ground. Week 7 and 8 (Jan 29th-Feb 12th) were particularly good with blower powder day in & and day out.

During week seven I had the opportunity to ski with Anselme Baud, the grandfather of extreme skiing from Chamonix, France and Gunnar Moberg, from the Swedish freestyle team, now living in Vail. I spoke with them about there week at CMH Galena and shot some video of them skiing, check it out.


CMH Galena Week 7 'A Guide's Perpective' from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


Heli-Assisted Ski Touring with CMH Adamants

I spent the week of Jan 22nd to 29th ski touring at the CMH Adamants lodge. But this wasn't a normal ski touring week, we happened to have a helicopter at our disposal. Tom Raudaschl (lead guide) and I would look at the map in the morning (with over 1073sq. km of terrain to choose from) pick an area to explore, then fly out and ski tour for the day with no restriction on where we ended up. Once our lungs and legs were finished, the helicopter would swoop in and take us back home to the spectacular Adamants lodge for beers and a hot tub. Now that's my kinda ski-touring.

I put together a short vid of the 6 days we spent skiing. Enjoy the footage and conversation with Dick Eitel (who has been skiing with CMH since 1968!).


Heli-Assisted Ski Touring in the Adamants from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


CMH Galena Week 4 "A Guide's Perspective"

Week 2 of guiding at CMH Galena was one for the books, after receiving over 80cm of fresh snow a high pressure system rolled in. We were able to fly north to Westfall Creek where 1000 meter runs consisting of steep glads and dreamy pillow lines were ripe for the picking.

The snow just kept on coming with over 150cm of snow in 10 days. It looks like the legendary Kootenay winter has returned with a vengeance.

Enjoy Webisode 3

Galena Week 4 "A Guide's Perspective" from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


CMH Galena Webisode 2 "A Guide's Perspective"

My first week of guiding at Galena has been by far one of the best weeks of skiing I have ever had. The veteran guides say that this is normal, which makes me wonder what it will be like when it starts to really go off. I think I'm about to find out, another storm is crashing into the Kootenays starting today (Jan 12th).

I will let you know how it goes ;)


Week 3 Jan 3-8th "A Guide's Perspective from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


Guiding Satoshi Shimizu

Satoshi Shimizu is from Japan and he loves ice climbing. He travelled to the Rockies to climb for a week, first with some friends and then hiring me through Yamnuska Mounain Adventures. He was keen and fit, having already climbed for 5 days and with only 3 days left. I wanted to show him some of the classics so we started our 2 days together in Field B.C. where we climbed Guiness Gulley and Carlsberg Column. On our second day we travelled to Kananaskis Country to climb Whiteman Falls and Redman Soars. We both had 2 great days of climbing together and Satoshi is already thinking of his return trip.

Here is a short video of his trip.

Guiding Satoshi Shimizu from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.

 Satoshi following Whiteman Falls

 Carlsberg Column

 The end of another day

The top of Whiteman Falls