Ever since skiing up Vermillion with Scott a few years ago, I wanted to go back for Mount Haffner. The Vermillion burn area makes for some great tree skiing in the right conditions and the no-nonsense approach from hwy 93 makes both of these peaks repeatable - something which I rarely admit to!
We started out making other plans for Saturday, January 5 2013 but as reports came in regards snow conditions (horrible bottomless sugar down low and hard slabs up high) we changed our aggressive goals and settled on Haffner instead. Originally it was Kevin Barton, Eric Coulthard and I but by the time we met in the Numa Falls parking lot we were joined by Kev Papke, Steven Song and Grant.
Steven and Grant would be on snowshoes (probably not a terrible idea given the snow conditions) and the rest of us on skis. The parking lot was gray and cold under a low blanket of clouds. We were psyched because we knew there was an inversion and we would be breaking through the clouds within an hour.
Even though we knew there was a risk of getting too high on Vermillion, we choose to follow the great skin track right across hwy 93 from the parking lot rather than the snowshoe route that Bob Spirko used. I figured the skin track up Vermillion would probably have a branch in it to the pass between Haffner and Vermillion once we got higher. I was wrong but our choice was still the right one in the end...
The first hour of of the ascent was under the gray sky and a bit chilly. The skin track was bloody steep though - almost like it was made for snowshoers and not skiers! My G3 skins just barely gripped the track and I had my heel lifters on the highest setting almost all the way up from the parking lot! Eventually the forest started getting a bit lighter and the air temps went up. We started shedding layers.
[Steven ascends the first headwall before the old road.]
[We start breaking through the clouds]
As we worked our way higher I was feeling really good despite my awful cold. My cardio seemed fine and Steven, Grant and I chatted our way up the slope. Barton was right behind us and Eric and Kev Papke were a bit further behind.
Eventually it started to become obvious that we were experiencing an awesome inversion and our views would be spectacular. It was also obvious that we were too high on Vermillion and would need to lose height to the pass. I started to talk about skinning my own track to climber's right but kept going up in hopes that someone else made that track already. They didn't. Finally I'd had enough. I waited for Barton to catch up and we chatted options.
It was decided that Steven and Grant would follow the track up Vermillion and break a trail to the summit before following the rest of us up Haffner. Barton, Eric and I would break trail up Haffner (there were no tracks on it anywhere) and we would wait for Kev Papke so he could join us. I'd already done Vermillion and so had Papke. I encouraged Barton and Eric to go for Vermillion since they were so close already but they didn't want me to be solo on Haffner and chose to go with me first. If there was time they would bag Vermillion on the descent - we knew the slopes we ascended were better for downhill than the slopes right under Haffner.
[Grant comes up with the layer of cloud under us now.]
[Yep - that's Haffner in the distance! Crap! Oh well. We wanted exercise anyway...]
As Steven and Grant went up Vermillion, we waited for Kev Papke to catch up. We shouted and asked Eric where Kev was but he'd lost him a while back. We weren't worried because our route was obvious but now we wondered how long we had to wait. We decided to start breaking trail up Haffner and left huge arrows pointing our new route and even built a snow wall across the skin track in case Kev wasn't paying attention to make our intentions really obvious. We took the skins off and descended about 150 vertical meters to the Vermillion / Haffner pass before making a new skin track up Haffner. There was very little evidence of recent parties anywhere near the pass or Haffner which surprised me a little. Good thing we didn't follow the other track or we'd have been breaking a lot of trail!
The views across the valley and all around us were mind blowing and the weather was perfect. The Goodsirs were awe-inspiring in the distance, as were many, many other peaks rising above the thick layer of cloud. Eric was in his t-shirt coming up Haffner - beautiful weather for January 5th.
[The Goodsirs are awesome peaks.]
[Looking up Haffner from just above the pass.]
[Kev breaks trail up Haffner under a warm sun, no wind and stunning views. ++]
[Looking back at Vermillion and the Rockwall. ++]
[Kev breaks trail - we dropped our skis just above the rock outcrop to his right.]
[Eric follows us up - we dropped our skis right where I'm standing.]
Eventually the snow pack became too thin for skiing and we dropped the skis and continued on foot. This short uphill section along the ridge was awesome! The views were great and the terrain pretty tame as we topped out and enjoyed the views in all directions. The only concern was Kev Papke who was nowhere to be seen. :( We could see Steven and Grant coming down Vermillion but no Papke anywhere. I knew he wasn't going to make it which sucked since he needed this summit for his goal of 50 peaks... I figured he must have gotten sick or something.
[We've dropped the skis and are getting much higher. Eric is in his t-shirt! ++]
[Great views towards Deltaform and Hungabee.]
[The mighty Mount Assiniboine!]
[Looking across hwy 93]
[Vern on the summit of Mount Haffner - Vermillion Peak behind.]
[Summit panorama, looking at Mounts Stanley and Ball. ++]
[Amazing panorama of the thick layer of cloud over Hwy 93 along the Rockwall. ++]
The trip back went without a hitch. Originally Eric and Kev were seriously considering an ascent up Vermillion, following Steven and Grant's tracks but we were running out of daylight and they would be descending in the dark so they made the call to join me on descent. We passed Steven and Grant on their way up Haffner - they would be getting two peaks this day! Steven indicated a tricky traverse to the true summit of Vermillion - I believed him - it's not a simple winter objective with a narrow summit cornice and some real exposure in sections.
We still didn't have any sign of Papke so we knew we had to ski back to our original ascent line in case he was stuck somewhere. He wasn't. We descended fast and relatively unharmed through the burn (my jacket was black by the time we got down!). A few hilarious moments arose when Kev Barton decided to try running through a tree instead of around it but the skiing was much better than we expected.
[Great views as we start approaching tree line again.]
[Kev descends the burn.]
[The trees do thicken a lot towards the lower part of the burn - you have to watch out or you get stranded behind giant dead fall! No issue for the "Superman Barton"...]
[See what I mean? Superman. :)]
We got to the parking lot - back in the cold and gray - to see a shivering Kev Papke. He had decided that we were going up the wrong peak and he turned back - unfortunate but it was his decision. He was cold but otherwise unscathed. A highly recommended ski ascent in good snow conditions. One of the few peaks I'd consider repeating just for the skiing!