Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Canada

For the past ten days or so I have been in Canada on a tour of avalanche operations. I have been based at the town of Revelstoke in British Columbia. Revelstoke is about a 40 minute drive away from the infamous Rodgers Pass. Rodgers Pass is the route that the Trans-Canada highway and main railway line takes through the Columbia mountains. The top of the pass is 1330 m above sea level, which is almost the same height as Ben Nevis. The peaks that surround the pass are 2000-3000 meters high, and many large avalanche paths run down across the road and railway.

The railway opened through the pass in 1890, but from the beginning they had problems with avalanches blocking the tracks. The worst accident came in 1910 when sixty two railway workers were killed. They were digging out the railway from a large avalanche, when another huge avalanche swept down from the other side of the pass and buried them. 

 Snow build up at the Fidelity research station at Rogers Pass at 1900m. It has not been nearly as snowy as last year, but doesn't look too bad to me.

These days the railway goes through a tunnel long tunnel, and the road through a series of avalanche sheds. As well as this the authorities have an program of aggressive control. This basically involves  shelling the start zones to knock the snow off before it builds up to dangerous levels. Last winter they fired about 1000 shells. This year however conditions have been much more stable, so the highway closures, and the amount of shelling they have had to do is minimal.

Unfortunately the don't let Scottish Avalanche forecasters fire howitzers. However, I have managed some very interesting days out shadowing at Rogers Pass and elsewhere. When not doing avalanche stuff I have been out ski touring for myself, again mainly around Rogers Pass. However, tomorrow the plan is to head down to around the Nelson area, which is about three hours to the south of here, for some more shadowing with avalanche control people down there.

 Ski touring on Mount MacPherson, the base of which is about 10 minutes drive from Revelstoke town centre.  By this point we had already done about 1500 m of ascent and I was feeling pretty warm in the sunshine. It was another 300m or so to the top, followed by an epic 1800m descent.

 Ski Touring above Rogers pass. The road, where we had started that day, is below the biggest area of trees in the background. The terrain and avalanche paths in the background are very similar to those which threaten the road and railway.

 Heading up the Asulkan Glacier with Castor peak on the right and Youngs peak off to the left. The descent from here was superb,  I see why people people buy really fat skis.

 Doing some research with ASACR (Applied Snow and Avalanche Research) students at above Rogers pass. In this case investigating the February the 12th surface hoar layer weak layer.

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