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Guide’s Report on Splitboard Mountaineering in the Freshfields
Posted on January 23, 2016

Roped up on the glacier, the team goes for a scenic walk near the base of the icefall off of Mt. Trutch to scout lines for the next day.

All week long we’ve been running the trip report from the Freshfields. Trevor Gavura was an integral part of the expedition camping mission to the hushed touring zone in the Canadian Rockies and we asked him to sum up what makes splitboard mountaineering different from standard touring. As one of the first ACMG guides to pass his exams on a splitboard and with an extensive resume of mountaineering missions around the globe, Gavura is a guy you want to listen to on the topic. This is his report on expedition splitboarding, post-Freshfields. —LYA Editor

The boys each take a turn rippping down the unbelievable east face of Mt Walker.

Words by Trevor Gavura, Images by Bruno Long

Splitboarding in the mountains is an incredible source of energy and inspiration. Although I also spend a lot of time ski touring in the mountains, I feel splitboarding is a more organic form of movement. I believe that we are not only drawn into splitboarding by the same feelings of purity one gets from surfing in the ocean, but also the extra connection between man and mountain we get from the leather boots and a more organic feeling between our body and the snow. Splitboarding with a softboot set-up is one of the purest feelings I get when moving around in the mountains, but is not without its challenges. That said, given all the plastic gear and equipment used these days, it is incredible to have the opportunity to be able to feel the power of a perfectly arced powder turn move through your feet, up into your body and leave butterflies in your stomach.

Typically, one’s splitboard career starts with a visit to the local shop with intentions of avoiding future bootpacking missions and accessing the local resorts’ sidecountry. This rapidly becomes an obsession that pulls us further and further from the easy access, as we seek out quiet, untouched zones of untracked powder and eventually find a personal haven often referred to as a “stash.” After a few seasons of shredding the stash and sharing coveted secret areas with close friends, a need for exploration may start to build, leading to a new chapter in one’s splitboard career.

“Stuck in a storm for days digging your tent out, rationing your food because the storm seems endless, skinning through a serac labyrinth on a leash like a dog or looking down between your boot crampons to see your partner below you, are now all part of your splitboard outing.”

 

This next step in a splitboarder’s growth is splitboard mountaineering, and it only adds to those previously mentioned sensations and emotions as we integrate other mountain skills and a new level of commitment into the mix. In this stage we will not only be “on” the mountain, but deep “in” the mountains. We are no longer simply alone, but days away from others. We are not only gaining vertical for powder turns, but also traveling long distances in search of adventure and motivational objectives.

Adding ropes, crampons, ice axes, harnesses and overnight gear to your daily splitboard routine is a huge growth in the mountain connection. Not just because of the additional weight we must carry, but also because of the new skills and techniques we are integrating into our flow and movements. Acquiring these new skills means we can move into the heart of the offering. Splitboarding has come a long way in this direction over the years.

 

Splitboard gear can seem like a bit of a junk show. Yet as the discipline evolves, the gear will get better. Splitboard mountaineering is quite involved and is not always as easy as ski mountaineering, but it is often worth the extra efforts when the surfing sensations of gliding through remote blankets of powdery goodness come to life. As a rider becomes skilled in the art of split travel, it quickly becomes apparent that little differences—like less side-hilling, steeper skin tracks, using split crampons more often, and transitioning to boot crampons sooner—can make the journey much quicker and less frustrating. This leaves us with more energy for the ultimate goal of thrilling descents. Understanding the limitations of this more organic equipment so we can anticipate transitions and changeups sooner is a big part of daily success.

Splitboard mountaineering is usually synonymous with mountain objectives that require preparation, big decisions, good timing, extra tools and a relationship with the mountains. It takes time to develop this relationship and for some it can happen quicker than for others. Either way, it is important to be sure you are ready and you aren’t feeding yourself to the lions. When you finally decide to go deep and only have your team to rely on, this is when the mountaineering component becomes real, and splitboarding is no longer only about the turns, but about the journey.

Our last Eddie Bauer team trip to the Canadian Freshfield Icefield was representative of a split mountaineering trip. Stuck in a storm for days digging your tent out, rationing your food because the storm seems endless, skinning through a serac labyrinth on a leash like a dog or looking down between your boot crampons to see your partner below you, are now all part of your splitboard outing.

“One great thrill of being in the mountains is that you can never plan for everything, and the adventure of dealing with situations as they arise is what makes us feel strong and vibrant.”

 

Probably what was not anticipated when you first walked into the shop and bought your first splitboard was dreaming of untouched powder turns. One great thrill of being in the mountains is that you can never plan for everything, and the adventure of dealing with situations as they arise is what makes us feel strong and vibrant. But although we cannot plan for everything, we must be as prepared as possible. Companion rescue gear is now a basic requirement. Radios for emergency contact, improvised rescue toboggans, significant first aid kits, and good training in the required mountain and rescue skill sets should not be taken lightly. Be prepared, not scared.

A splitboard mountaineering trip is always filled with questions, and as we glide through the mountains we are often looking for an answer with each step. But eventually, as the landscape takes us away to another place and the problems of the streets are far below us and long forgotten, we finally become part of our journey. The journey is always the ultimate objective and the target objective is merely the spark that gets us started.

Tools of the trade, going for a walk on day three in the Freshfields.

Check out the video recap of the Freshfields trip at blog.eddiebauer.com/fresh/

 

Author: - Saturday, January 23rd, 2016
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