I first arrived to Tombstone Territorial Park in April 2012. I was on a roadtrip to move to the Yukon. Along the adventure I found myself 300km south of the Arctic Circle. The terrain captivated me - it was rugged and steep. Granite spires soaring from the tundra landscape. I knew I wanted to ski tour there and would make a point of coming back.
It took 5 years to return, to camp out in the snow and bag a few lines with my good friend Chris Logan. We had no idea of how the conditions would be. At 64 degrees latitude it’s hard to say what the snow will be like. With the temperatures sitting at below 40C in the heart of winter, the snow faceted, and not knowing how much snow has fallen or what the wind has deposited.
We had driven up from Revelstoke, making a stop over in Terrace for a week, and had found ourselves camping in the Wal-Mart parking lot of Whitehorse, YK. Over time I’ve spent a year of living in Whitehorse and had grown a strong connection within the community. I didn’t tell anyone I was returning back; instead I was lucky enough for life to make all the connections. I ran into all my friends from when I used to live in the city, everyone! They filled me with so much positivity and poured so much passion and stoke that I wanted to take on any objective that was ahead of me.
Logan and I sat talking to some locals about what zone would have the best snow for us to go for a wander. Haines Pass and White Pass an hour or so outside of Whitehorse had an unstable snowpack. It was balancing on a weak layer and needed a warm up or a snowstorm to naturally release an avalanche cycle. We talked with some friends over in Haines, Alaska and they weren’t having the best season. They were waiting for a good snowstorm that was coming in within the week.
This was Logan’s first time up in the Yukon. We were itching to get into the mountains and I pitched the idea to him. “What about Tombstone?” We had no idea what the conditions would be like, how the terrain would hold the snow, or if there would be any snow at all.
We made the 600km voyage from Whitehorse to Tombstone Territorial Park via the Dempster Highway. We were in Logan’s truck hauling the trailer we’d been living in throughout the winter. We arrived as the sun was setting on this late March evening. As we cooked up some dinner, we played a few rounds of crib as the stars began to shine. After we finished dinner, I joked around with Logan if the Northern Lights were going to say hello. Sure enough - they were going off! We were so excited; we quickly bundled up and cranked our necks skyward and melted in amazement.
As we geared up in the morning we viewed over the map while scanning the horizon for what zone might hold the best snow. We saw a peak with a steep bowl that looked like a worthy option to analyze the snow and go for a ride.
Touring out we found interesting snow conditions: a wind crust sitting over facets, with about a meter or so of snowpack. We toured to the top of the peak and we weren’t exactly keen on the conditions. Logan dropped in first finding the specialities of riding in faceted snow, it being a decomposing snowpack. You have nothing to push against. You have to ride light on your feet and flow down the mountain like a ball playing with gravity. After snapping a few pictures, I dropped in and really enjoyed the ride. I’ve spent 7 weeks riding and living in Kyrgyzstan that has quite a faceted snowpack. I had gained some knowledge of that snow quality and worked it to my best advantage.
We toured back to the trailer to discuss our plan for the week. With the snow we experienced we were slightly discouraged from riding big lines on a rotten, crusted snowpack. After some discussion and putting a meal in our bellies we decided to push the 20kms to Divide Lake and camp around Mt. Monolith. We finished up on dinner, and melted again watching the Northern Lights as my fingers froze from the Arctic chill shooting photos.
We had Logan’s sled up with us and we decided to use it to our advantage and take the mighty steed out to the lake. We learned how hard it was to tandem with a week of gear and food, and ploughing a track through crusted facets. It took us all day and we were exhausted when we arrived to our camp spot just before it got dark. We were relieved! We spent the evening getting our camp spot dialed and looking over the map where some couloirs might be hiding.
Throughout the first two days we were tent bound, waiting out the stormy weather. I usually go tent crazy, but Logan and I did well with waiting it out. From reading books, playing crib, making food, getting safe, making water, random shovelling, and watching movies on our iPhones. We did a good job killing the time!
After two days, the skies began to clear and about 15-20cms of snow fell in the storm with light to moderate winds. The storm that came in was a warmer spring storm and consolidated nicely with the previous snowpack. We toured out to Talus Lake at the base of Mt. Tombstone and Mt. Monolith. Riding in terrain that consists of big rock spires makes it a tad difficult to find lines. Not everything goes, and you have to find the right crack that goes. As we were scanning the horizon an aesthetic couloir jumped right out at me. “That one!” I exclaimed.
As we toured towards Mt. Monolith entering into the basin, we started to see more lines that went, and deemed this area to be our zone for the day. Using Verts, we boot packed up the first couloir that we thought went all the way to the top. Once we reached the col we realized that the line topped out and was divided from the bowl behind it. We switched over to shred the sick couloir we hiked up. I dropped in first and was blown away by the conditions. It was a big difference from our first day: the snow felt light, but didn’t sluff and you could push against it. I rode to the bottom, pulled out my camera and shot Logan ripping the line back down.
We spotted this second couloir beside a rock formation that looked like the Pope. We booted up the following couloir and I was up to my waist. Being 6’6”, it was deep. Logan didn’t have Verts and wasn’t able to put in any of the bootpack. He was just swimming. I continued on. As we came around the last corner, we realized the couloir didn’t top out and a cornice was hanging above us. We had to move fast to reach the safest spot possible. Still being below the cornice, we didn’t want to waste time. The clouds had rolled back in and it started to snow again. Logan dropped in first and was just gone in a white room. As I prepared to get ready I watched slough pour off this steep rock section within the couloir. It was a beautiful waterfall of snow. I waited for it to fizzle out before dropping in. The line was deep, hardly sloughing, and every turn I was in the whiteroom. This was a dream come true! We got back to the bottom as we were now in a whiteout. We toured back to our tent just giddy with excitement!! I couldn’t believe it. After years of dreaming of this place, I finally got to ride something and we scored blower conditions.
We were planning to head to Alaska in a few days. So our time was limited in Tombstone. We had one last day and decided to push for the highest peak in the area Mt. Frank Rae. We skinned up and comparing the snow to before the storm, we could actually stay on top of it and make fast movement through the mountains. We rode an awesome bowl and could just open up and cruise. It was good to get a different perspective on the area from Frank Rae and see new lines and more to discover for a future trip.
We rode back to camp and packed up. We had a good push to make it back to the truck. We packed the sled and rode out in tandem. The snowmobiling was a lot easier on the exit until we reached the frozen lake. With it being spring and warmer, we were slightly discouraged from going over the frozen lake. Once we arrived to it, we punched the throttle and it was literally a skating rink. We were on blue ice, going about 60km an hour. We were fishtailing back and forth trying to hold on with all our gear packed on the sled. We hit the first snowpatch and instantly flipped the sled. Logan jumped to the right and I flipped over the handlebars and landed cleanly on my shoulder. Logan quickly jumped and flipped the sled back over and was eager to get off the ice. I needed a second and rested my head on the ice. I wasn’t so concerned about breaking the ice; I didn’t even put a dent or crack into it when I hit it at full speed. One thing we know is we can pack a sled well, because we didn’t lose a thing. We got back to camp and loaded everything up and headed to Dawson City to celebrate some wicked lines and a sore shoulder.
We were back in the gold mining boom town of Dawson City and found out that there is usually only one good ski touring week in Tombstone, which lies in the first weeks of spring. Our timing was perfect.
Then we were off to Haines, AK for the next dream trip…check in next month to hear all about it.