Confessions Of A Ski Bum

The Mind Shaft

I believe the first time I saw this run was 11 years ago (2009) on a trip to Egypt Lake, (or maybe in Lost Horse Creek, where you can actually see the whole run). The line was huge with massive rock walls on either side and it looked fairly steep for the whole run. I started doing recon work on it but year after year I found poor snow conditions due to the line starting high up and ending in what is often a dry valley. Often by spring the lower part had little snow or was just avalanche debris, in winter the upper section looked good but the lower was 10cm of facets on ground. After 10 seasons of finding these poor conditions I started to think I would never ski it.

Copper Mountain from Mt Brett, taken in 2014 to recon the run.

Then last month we had two major storms that seemed to hit the Ball Range hard. Sunshine got a lot of snow and usually the Ball Range gets a bit more. After a report from Egypt Lake of higher than normal snow height I started thinking about The Mind Shaft run. I spent a few days bush bashing in the Massive range at low elevation and I found deeper and more supportive snow than I was used to. This area is fairly close to the fan of the run so a week later Nick and I decided to head up the north side of Copper Mountain to see if we could find quicker access to Copper Mountain and The Mind Shaft run. We made it to treeline and found a fast and easy route to refollow in order to figure out the route to the higher alpine.

Another week goes by and Mat Brunton sends me a message saying he’s heading to Alaska but has a few days to kill in the Rockies. Nick is game for a big day and I’m looking to figure out the fastest way to The Mind Shaft. After some roadside recon we decide to try climbing up the north ridge of the western sub peak of Copper. There looked to be only 100m of vertical which had avalanche concern, far less than the other routes I had found. Our mission was to establish a route, maybe flush the line and if we were very lucky maybe, MAYBE, ski it.

Nick climbing the first spine section of the north ridge of the western sub peak of Copper Mountain.

The morning of Jan 24th 2020 we dropped a car at Redearth Creek (for the off chance we skied the line) and went back to Castle Junction. We made excellent time to treeline by following our previous skin track. Once in the alpine we followed a ridge line up and over a small highpoint and to the start of the questionable alpine ridge. It was steep but short with lots of exposure. We were able to skin up to a large boulder where we transitioned to bootpacking. Mat led the way up the first spine to a rock feature which he climbed to avoid stepping out onto a snowfield. After the short easy rock section we climbed snow until reaching a short traverse below a large slab. Only 10 meters of flat but exposed and no way around if we wanted to continue. We quickly skinned across the section one at a time to arrive at the large plateau of Copper Mountain.

Once at the top I felt relieved but then a massive storm rolled in, we were in a complete whiteout. Following my GPS (in order not to skin off one of the many cliffs in the area) we made it to the north bowl of Copper which we thought would be our escape route for the day. The weather improved and we started up towards the entry for The Mind Shaft. The last 30-40 meters to the entry is pretty wild with a large corniced cliffs on climber’s right, big open slope exposure to the left and just enough room for a pair of skis for skinning.

After checking out the run (you can see all 1000 meters of it from the cliffs above) we decided to try to flush any instabilities out by dropping some cornices. We cut a small refrigerator sized one which triggered the upper slab but there was still hangfire to the left and right. We cut two larger cornices on either side to flush more out. The cornices took about 1.5 hours to drop and by the end the weather had gone bad, we could barely see the line below us and the wind was full tilt.

Mat skiing the lower section of The Mind Shaft.

After 20-30 minutes of debating what to do it was decided to wait for a window and ski the line. We had noticed a pattern of short less cloudy windows every 5 minutes or so. We switched over and waited for our first chance, when it came Nick dropped into the line and started making turns on the avalanche bed surface. The turns looked good but Nick is a really good skier so it’s always hard for me to judge what I will think of it. After skiing the first 250-300 meters he yelled up to come reground where he was.

I skied into the line, dropped off the crown and onto the bed surface. The bed skied nicely, much like a groomer at the resort, I was pleasantly surprised. About 200 meters down the avalanche had ripped to hard ice for a short 30 meter section which I side slipped. After the snow became debris covered cream pow and despite the many fist to head sized chunks it skied well, actually very well!

Nick having a great time in a long run.

Once regrouped with Nick we called for Mat to join. He skied down with a smile on his face to join us. We then leap frogged down the rest of the run, regrouping every once and a while. At one point we decided that we could all meet at the bottom because “there wasn’t much left” but as Mat headed down we realized just how long this run was. Slowly he became a small dot as he reached the fan, soon too tiny to spot. As I looked away and back up the run I realized how absolutely massive this terrain was.

It was all smiles at the fan and after sending out InReach messages we crossed the creek and got on Redearth Creek Trail. The trail was fast and we made good time. 25.5km, 1500m in 10 hours, (with 1.5 hours cutting cornices!), not bad!

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1 Comment

  1. Geoff Kennedy January 26, 2020

    Nice one Marcus! Great line, and good read. Hope you enjoy the rest of the winter!

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