Rogers Pass North Guidebook — Part 1


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Guidebook author, Doug (aka the Wolverine) in his natural environment on Cheops - picture by Renaud Paradis. Used with permission

Guidebook author, Doug Sproul (aka the Wolverine), in his natural environment on Cheops -- photo by Renaud Paradis. Used with permission.

Rogers Pass is considered to be one of the world’s meccas for ski touring. Located in Glacier National Park in British Columbia, Canada a major highway winds its way through the park topping out at Rogers Pass at 1330m. From that pass and from various access points located close to the highway, multiple ski touring zones can be accessed. Huge peaks, icefields and slidepaths l00m kilometers above the land.

The ingredients of terrain and copious snowfall (averaging 10m of snowfall/year at the pass, 14m of snowfall/year at the Fidelity snowplot at treeline and snowing an average of 141 days of snow a year) make for paradise. Rogers Pass North by Doug Sproul of GeoBackcountry.com is the first installment of a guide to the area.

Glacier National Park (GNP) is located in the Selkirk Mountains (identify yourself as a geographical noob by wrongly referring to the range as the Rockies). The Selkirks are known for high prominence, aesthetic sculpted beauty and ridiculous amounts of snowfall. Weather systems come in from the west, pick up speed as they barrel through the useless (from a skiing point-of-view) flatness of the Merritt to Salmon Arm leg and then slam into the Monashees just west of the Selkirks and then into the Selkirks themselves. The storms are funneled into an east-west natural drainage past the town of Revelstoke. The precipitation laden clouds then annihilate themselves against rock walls of the Avalanche — MacDonald group as the drainage takes an abrupt north—south leg at Rogers Pass. The pass itself is where the storms go to party.

The ingredients of terrain and copious snowfall (averaging 10m of snowfall/year at the pass, 14m of snowfall/year at the Fidelity snowplot at treeline & snowing an average of 141 days of snow a year) make for paradise. Rogers Pass North by Doug Sproul of GeoBackcountry.com is the first installment of a guide to the area.

The guidebook’s content is so rich and deep and the way in which it is presented so unique and novel that I’ve found myself unable to write a review of reasonable brevity. Accordingly this review is presented in two parts. The first part describes Rogers Pass North in the traditional sense that many will use it — as a traditionally laid guide presented in e-book PDF format. The second part will describe the free KML file accompanying the guide and Rogers Pass North in its form as a mobile optimized guide.

Sharon Bader on Bruins Ridge on a beautiful day in the Pass

Sharon Bader on Bruins Ridge on a beautiful day in the Pass.

A Colorado boy in his formative years, Douglas Sproul heard the call of big mountains 20 years ago and came to Canada. In his first year (June 1994), Doug and some friends ended up in Whistler. Craving a little less glamour his crew was told about this little known town in the BC interior called Revelstoke. Driving into town in dark they pulled off the road camping on a spit of the Columbia River in the dark. The next morning, the sky was alight with the fire of sunrise. A friendly local greeted them, laughing at the piles of ski gear scattered over the road. He pointed at the Monashees and the Selkirks and told them that’s where you want to be.

The next day, with huge packs and camping gear fresh from Army and Navy off the crew went to Sapphire Col stumbling through glaciated terrain and into the teeth of a driving summer rain storm. Thirty mm of rain proved too much for even Army and Navy quality so off the crew staggered back down to the parking lot. They did meet with success at Moraine Lake skiing some of the Twenty Dollar Bill couloirs.

Doug’s come a long way since then establishing himself as one of the backcountry ninjas that every BC town seems to have: outdoorsman with dogged persistence, tenacity and skill. In December of 1995, he moved to Rossland spending a lot of time skiing at Whitewater and Red. After that he spent four winters in Nelson and Golden alternating time between Canada and the US. Doug now makes his permanent residence in Revelstoke with significant other and number one fan, Trace P. In the meantime Doug’s steadily accumulated an insane amount of knowledge about the mountains, both in summer and winter. Credited with some remarkable ski mountaineering accomplishments (north face of Tupper, speed traverses of the classic Bugaboos to Rogers, south face of Sir Sandford) Doug was inspired to take his knowledge and reams of random scrawls on dog-eared maps into a guide of the mountains that he loves.

The result is the guide, Rogers Pass North.

Geobackcountry's author, owner and chief dishwasher - Douglas Sproul. Photo by Ole Hesbol, used with permission

Geobackcountry's author, owner and chief dishwasher - Douglas Sproul. Photo by Ole Hesbol, used with permission.

Rogers Pass is not for rank beginners, and to his credit, the author does not gloss over that. Lots of information is presented in a consistent graphically-heavy format. Descriptions are accurate and, once you get used to the overall scale of the terrain described, brutally realistic. The guide’s style is such that the author expects the guidebook reader to read the entire description and have basic map/picture reading skill to figure out how to assess and accomplish objectives. Put simply, there’s not that much hand-holding going on here.

To expand on this, in terms of inclusion, no holds are barred when including routes or proposed routes; even exceptionally difficult trips are described. For example routes culminating in mandatory rapped entries, exits or heinous bushwhacked starts or finishes are described in laconic, clinical choose-your-own-adventure prose. There’s a refreshing honesty in the author’s understated ability to describe you-fall-you-die terrain and point a way for the reader to find her own path down it. Having said all of that, Rogers Pass North is an exceedingly comprehensive guide. The majority of trips described here are difficult because of the nature of the touring terrain at the Pass. For the rest days, there are some (not many) easier tours and the author doesn’t hold back on those; also describing how to access and enjoy those tours.

The guide shouldn’t just be read for its description of routes. If you pay some attention to the “Techniques” section what shows is the author’s passion and dedication to his craft. It’s a labour of love and expression of Doug Sproul’s respect and awe for mountains married with eminently practical advice for getting up and down ultra-technical terrain safely described in Mark Twightian fashion. However, the author isn’t just a mountain-man but also a closet tech-geek. What is most novel about this guide is how Doug Sproul has delved into the world of KML, KMZ, Google Earth, mobile content, mapping, terrain photos and GPS to lay out a different paradigm for how to use information, not just in isolation but as an entire package. You’ll have to read further to Part 2 to get a flavour of how this information technology integration works.

The evolution of Doug's maps - before. Scrawls preparing for the Golden to Rogers traverse

The evolution of Doug's maps - before. Scrawls preparing for the Golden to Rogers traverse.

The evolution of Doug's maps - after (recommended Day Tours maps)

The evolution of Doug's maps - after (recommended Day Tours maps).

Rogers Pass North can be bought as a static PDF e-book for $ 25. It contains standard content: maps, terrain photos and route descriptions. Many people will use the guide in this configuration and not look at the KML (free) or mobile content derivations (separate purchase). This isn’t such a bad thing because the reader will quickly find that the author has included an overwhelming amount of information. Give the guide a cursory glance and you can still get a lot of use out of it, at a relatively superficial level but yet still deep enough for the user to get information about interesting and challenging tours. Immerse yourself in it and give the guide more time and it’s like peeling back curtains to a stage. Possibilities will expand as more and more terrain unfolds itself before you as the pages turn.

For many people Rogers Pass North will be used by simply printing out the information needed. It’s the good old-fashioned reliable way. Some of the more notable details and notes about the guide in its PDF book format follow:

GPS datum is WGS84. Units are metric (although freedom units are occasionally used).

The start is a basic primer talking about the general layout of Rogers Pass and how it is divided up into zones delineated by either geography, convention, or Parks Canada names. Because GNP is highly regulated it pays to know the permit system which the guide describes in detail.

The content of Rogers Pass North is divided up into zones. The PDF book divides content into Sorcerer, Wolverine, McGill, Ursus, Rogers, Cheops. Confusingly the mobile app’s zones are different: McGill, Cougar, Ursus, Rogers, Sir Donald and Asulkan. My recommendation is that any user of the guide best have a general idea of the lay of the land before getting there, have some idea of conditions and what is open, and have some idea of what he wants to ski. It would be a monumental hassle to have an intended trip description and map printed and then not have information at hand if trip plans have to change. Pretty hard to find a printer while stuck in the Asulkan Hut in the middle of a sudden weather event!

Maps are TRIM 1:20,000. To be technical they are They are geo-referenced with a linear grid, but as PNG images they do not contain Geo-referenced digital data. Some of them can be very crowded (lots of information embedded) but they are an improvement to the 1:50,000 official maps both in clarity and level of detail.

Speaking to the information presented, there is no shortage of general information about the Pass presented, including for example, designated access routes, the permit system, avalanche control, road closures and avoiding rail traffic–all things designed to make your experience just that bit better.

Recommended Day Tours is undoubtedly the reference that most people will use. This list is, of course, the author’s opinion and an interesting insight into his belief in individual responsibility; many of the most difficult routes in North American ski-mountaineering are represented here with some of the you-fall you-die difficulty level.

As previously mentioned, the author includes many vignettes of the ruthlessly practical and opinionated variety. His advice is based on years of practice and experience and not for everyone (read the Techniques section starting at page 80 about dealing with “Steeps” especially in using mountaineering techniques for ski objectives). There’s also lots of good information on dealing with heinous character-building approaches and exits which should give you a hint of what to expect from the character of the author’s trips. Consider yourselves warned! You’re shortchanging yourself if you don’t kick back and read some of this stuff.

No holding back on you-fall-you-die terrain. The North Face of Swiss Peak presents objective hazards on approach, descent and exit. Most guidebooks won't describe a run of this magnitude

No holding back on you-fall-you-die terrain. The North Face of Swiss Peak presents objective hazards on approach, descent and exit. Most guidebooks won't describe a run of this magnitude.

I love this guy! Look at the Lens Couloir description: "At 1350m there is a fork. Take the climbers right!" No braggadacio, no sandbagging!

I love this guy! Look at the Lens Couloir description: "At 1350m there is a fork. Take the climbers right!" No braggadacio, no sandbagging!

Comments

30 Responses to “Rogers Pass North Guidebook — Part 1”

  1. Brian February 19th, 2014 12:01 pm

    I purchased this for my first trip to Rodgers Pass this January. For $25, I felt almost guilty not paying more for a guide book this extensive and detailed. Anyone skiing Rodgers Pass should have this. Thank you sooo much Doug Sproul!!
    Hopefully he does a Rodgers Pass South someday with the same format.

  2. Lou Dawson February 19th, 2014 5:20 pm

    I’m still trying to get my head around what Doug has done here. It is a magnum opus, just amazing. Lou

  3. Lee Lau February 19th, 2014 6:50 pm

    Thanks Lou for letting me run wild with this one. Everyone has to check out the intro video – kind of mindblowing how much functionality it has

    https://vimeo.com/85216008

  4. Deez February 20th, 2014 7:38 am

    Does anyone know if the lodge at the top of the past next to the avi center is ever going to reopen? Ever?

  5. Joel February 20th, 2014 8:49 am

    Is the hotel to open ever again?

    Nobody knows.

  6. XXX_er February 20th, 2014 10:20 am

    We got a hotelier buddy who has looked very carefuly at the glacier park lodge TWICE, the 1st time when it was running and the second time after it shut down. Buddy sez he see’s big problems with snow removal, with retaining a good chef/staff due to the remoteness, upgrading the whole place which make it a no go for him … I assume GPL will eventualy be torn down as it falls down

    On a positive note that cheesy gift shop made 1.5 million a year selling trinkets made in China TO … mostly Chinese tourists

  7. Lou Dawson February 20th, 2014 10:46 am

    My impression is the place would need to be scraped and another lodge built there. Another impression is that a year-around lodge that included gift shop and moderate cost dining along with a variety of room prices (including a few bunk rooms) could do really well. Hoji told me when I was speaking with him in Europe a few weeks ago that a lot of factors are in play that make it difficult, but that some vision on the part of someone with the money and expertise could make it happen. To me, it is a total utter abject tragedy that this place is closed and may go away for ever. The worldwide trend for mountain sports is to have these sorts of ski-in-ski-out hike-in-hike-out drive-in-drive-out amenities available. We have so few. Lou

  8. Brian February 20th, 2014 11:50 am

    Right on Lou. Us backcountry folk don’t need fancy hotel amenities, leave that to CMH and other big operations. Keep it simple, keep the price reasonable, and we will come.

  9. Lou Dawson February 20th, 2014 12:27 pm

    I’d be there once a year for sure, it could be one of the best things in North America.

  10. Deez February 20th, 2014 12:46 pm

    If you look at the history of lodging in the Glacier Park area, ie: the remnants of lodging in the Assloggin’ valley, nothing lasts up there.

    Time to buy a decent van and convert it into a mobile home.

  11. Gregg Cronn February 20th, 2014 2:02 pm

    It would be ideal to have the Alpine Club of Canada build a lodge similar to the lodge/hostel that exists in Lake Louise. Maybe having two ACC lodges within close proximity will not work . It is a sham there is not a place to stay anymore. Spent many days of skiing behind the lodge. Loved skiing down and clicking out of my skiis and walking to my room.

  12. XXX_er February 20th, 2014 3:08 pm

    My buddy is more of a top end guy for sure but when you got skiers cooking on tailgates or in rooms how do you make it pay?

    Whatever is up there must make $ or die

  13. Lou Dawson February 20th, 2014 3:23 pm

    In my opinion, backcountry skiing is so big now a full service lodge up there (and in many other places) could work, if it’s done right. The myth of the dirtbag hero is fun, but reality is many backcountry skiers have plenty of money for things like accommodations in amazing places such as The Rogers Pass.

  14. Douglas Sproul February 21st, 2014 5:57 pm

    Brian – You’re welcome!

    Lou – Thank you!

    Gregg Cronn – It would be great to get the ACC involved in this.

    There are a lot of people wondering “Hey, where did the lodge go? Isn’t this the birthplace of North American mountaineering?”

    The lodge will likely never be reopened as it is. That is just my opinion of course. Lou is correct in his comment of Hoji saying that it is a complex situation.

    Parks Canada is like the NPS in The States; they both struggle for funding and operate on reduced budgets with most profits going directly into the Black Hole coffers of government, never to be seen again.

    Let’s clarify an important point. The local people who work for and operate Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are a part of our community. They are outdoors people who love skiing and the mountains as much as we do. This is about the government, not the people who are just doing their jobs.

    Now that Rogers Pass is being rediscovered and known to a broader audience as world famous, newcomers can get a little taste of the local history at the freshly renovated Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. And of course, some really phenomenal skiing.

    Remnants of a time when The Pass was bustling with outdoor explorers and amenities to supply and cater to them have faded. Did you know that there was a Rogers Pass Ski Club formed a long time ago by the Swiss guides who were employees of the CP Rail? I think it was 1910 or so.

    That ski club died out when Glacier House (the original CP Hotel in the Asulkan Valley) closed. You ski by that old hotel site on the way to Asulkan Hut.

    Presently, there is no backcountry ski club for either Golden or Revelstoke; we recently lost the ‘Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier Park’, an organization that did much good to promote the enjoyment of the Parks over the years. That’s another sad story as their accountant allegedly skipped town with all of the club’s funds. Argh!

    How cool would it be to someday have a new lodge built to accommodate the tens of thousands of annual visitors? From October 2011 to May 2012, 16,663 winter backcountry recreationalists visited here, a rise of 124% since 2009!

    We need to unite. Let’s reform the Rogers Pass Ski Club to assure that Parks Canada has the resources with public input regarding their allocation to continue with its legacy of creating and preserving an incredibly beautiful area for all people to access and enjoy.

    I love to see people enjoying this inspiring place. Therefore I want to help reinstate the Rogers Pass Ski Club. Like you, I don’t have a bunch of time to spare, but I assure you that I will create the time. I am openly seeking help and would love to hear your thoughts on this. -Douglas

  15. canwilf February 22nd, 2014 3:50 am

    Sounds like a challenge but I am sure there would be backers. Someone come up with a solid plan and inspiring vision and there is a good chance a lot of people would kickstart something with this.

  16. Lou Dawson February 22nd, 2014 8:48 am

    Once a small group of committed folks starts a well organized not-for-profit club/corporation, with solid accountability, then we could do a Kickstarter. I’ve been involved with a few of these sorts of things, key is the startup, it’s got to be well organized, formal, to give financial contributors confidence. In our case here in the States, getting the 5013C classification is key as well, as that makes contributions tax deductible I’m probably stating the obvious, but some folks reading this might be new to this sort of thing. Lou.

  17. Alex C February 22nd, 2014 7:22 pm

    Doug wrote:
    “we recently lost the ‘Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier Park’, an organization that did much good to promote the enjoyment of the Parks over the years. That’s another sad story as their accountant allegedly skipped town with all of the club’s funds. Argh!”

    Just a correction here, but no one skipped town with any money, the Friends were just grossly mismanaged to the point they were $250,000 in the whole. Folding was the only option. No one took the money – but a bunch of people lost out because they were owed quite a bit.

    As for the lodge, my vision is some combination of hostel that caters to the dirt bags and hotel for the mid to high end tourists. Give the dirt bags a kitchen and a hot tub, sell beer (or BYOB) and charge about $30 per night for a dorm bed, and they’ll be happy. On the other side, have a nice hotel for the tour buses that pass through and the families that are looking for a place to stay that isn’t camping. Run a guides office out of the hotel so people can hire someone to take them ski touring in the winter and hiking or mountaineering in the summer. I’d like to think there’s someone out there who could make that work.

  18. Douglas Sproul February 23rd, 2014 9:52 am

    canwilf, Thank you for your positivity and encouragement.

    Lou, Thank you for the info and the offer (once we get our ducks in a row). And also for allowing us to discuss this on your site. Just starting out on this long journey so any info is much appreciated.

    Alex C., Thank you for the correction. Sorry about that all. You have obviously put a good deal of thought into this Alex. Thank you for sharing your ideas. The idea of catering to different groups is excellent. The guide’s office idea is also most excellent. The resurrection of Glacier House? Thanks. Want to help form the club? ;)

  19. Terrance February 23rd, 2014 10:45 am

    Instead of the not for profit entity look into the Illinois L3C hybrid which may work out better.

  20. Lou Dawson February 23rd, 2014 1:25 pm

    Doug, thanks for working with Lee to get this up here. Good place for it, as you’re setting an example for the rest of the world (grin). I don’t think a 20 meter DEM for USA exists other than in isolated circumstances. But I’d love to be wrong.

    Lou

  21. Douglas Sproul February 25th, 2014 11:45 am

    Lou, You’re welcome. Thank you for having it on your site. I cannot find 1:20,000 for The States. Where did you find those “isolated circumstances?” Thanks.

    Douglas

  22. Lou Dawson February 25th, 2014 1:00 pm

    HI Doug, I just recall a few special mapping projects of things like National Monuments, but I can’t remember exactly. I’ve been using the USGS digital DEMs for years, to build contour maps from scratch using Surfer mapping software, but haven’t done the process in quite a while. Decided a long time ago to live the Google way and try to always use their maps, though Google Terrain View is not that great, it’s just as good as what I was coming up with using the 40 meter DEMs.

    Endless issues with this, I’m delighted to see how you cut through it all to a published result people can use.

    Lou

  23. Ian February 26th, 2014 2:40 pm

    There is 1/3 arc second (10 meter) elevation data available for all of the continential US. It is available at http://nationalmap.gov/viewer.html#download_ned.

    Hope this helps.

  24. Lou Dawson February 26th, 2014 5:01 pm

    Thanks Ian, that’s pretty interesting. Lou

  25. Douglas Sproul February 28th, 2014 8:26 am

    Ian, Thank you. That helps a lot.

  26. Roger Artigues March 2nd, 2014 6:44 pm

    Since Doug is posting here, I’d like to ask how difficult was it to build this guidebook? It seems from reading between the lines that you’ve developed your own mix of various technologies to make this work? I’m a Carpenter with limited computer skills so probably won’t even understand your answer but am hoping you can maybe say it in way us laymen can understand? If there was a way to make it a package or template for others to use in their local area would be cool.

  27. Mark Worley March 3rd, 2014 9:49 am

    Guidebooks of this magnitude always amaze. Purely out of love and devotion do you men and women do such guides, and I commend you.

  28. Douglas Sproul March 5th, 2014 10:12 am

    Roger,
    Hello there. I’m a trail builder/designer and a recently self taught, self publisher. That’s the quick answer anyway. Believe it or not, I still have limited computer skills so we have that in common. What I did, you and others can too!!! A lot of people think I am a GIS guy. I’m not. Others think that desktop publishing is difficult. It’s not.

    Most phones can display a PDF (with the exception of iPhone and iPad-arghh) as well as an image file without much fuss so I figured, why not just build a table of contents as a .zip file and embed PDF’s and images, simple! It really is. It still needs refinement and it will likely be improved upon as others catch wind of the idea. That’s my hope anyway. So how can you do it?

    1.) You would have to learn how to format a book (desktop publishing) for mobile use or hire someone for that. Most authors already have PDF files of their books with the layout done so the hard work is completed. Having someone layout the same material in a mobile optimized format really isn’t that difficult.

    2.) You would have to learn Google Earth. Google Earth is incredible considering the ease of use and the available options as well as a great help and tutorial base. Most people don’t realize that when they use Google Earth they are using a powerful GIS program. The neat thing about G-Earth is the simplicity of it.

    3.) Another option but more complex is to learn some GIS although not essential. There are also open source GIS programs available called Quantum GIS and GRASS. Most people won’t have to go that far though. You’d probably be surprised at what you can accomplish with Google Earth.

    4.) And then there is the mapping which can be the crux depending on what level you want to take it to but most people will find that they can produce good maps simply by using the plethora of map bases available on the internet and then finding a way to crop and join as well as illustrate on them with an image manipulation program such as G.I.M.P. or Adobe Illustrator.

    Again, GIS is the next level of mapping so depending on what level you want to take it to, you may want to look into it. I do a combination of QGIS and Google Earth as QGIS allows for more advanced tinkering.

    Here is a list of the programs that I use. They are all open source and free:

    1.) Scribus (Desktop publishing program) A free alternative to InDesign.
    2.) Quantum GIS
    3.) Google Earth
    4.) G.I.M.P. (Image manipulation program)

    That’s it. Easy-peasy. One thing that I would like to point out is that you do need a powerful computer for all of the processing. A cheap desktop will blow up.

    You point out an important factor and a crucial point in all of it and that is the development of a mix of technologies to make it happen. A wee bit of background: I suspect that there are many guidebook authors that would like to take the leap into mobile land, for obvious reasons. I sure wanted to but upon learning the complexity, cost and amount of resources needed to make an app, I quickly began looking for a work around DIY solution.

    One of the main reasons that I put this out there to the world is that hopefully, other people will want to contribute to the format. Make it better kinda thing. I know that eventually, this will fall into the hands of some capable people and I believe they will run with the idea. That is what I am truly excited about.

    My creation (GeoBackcountry) is the first of it’s kind, created by one person with limited resources. My hope is that people with good computer skills will take it to the next level. I believe that this format has the potential to free some authors from the world of publishing houses.

    Can’t really go into that here but I can say that by learning, creating and selling all of this on my own, I as an author get 100% of the net from sales, minus my overhead which is extremely small. That’s a big change from what that figure was just ten years ago so I will say that it is definitely worth it.

    Not sure what you mean by : “If there was a way to make it a package or template for others to use in their local area would be cool.” Care to clarify on that?

    I am planning to eventually blog this info this summer when I have a bit more time. Any more questions, fire away. Thanks Roger!

  29. Douglas Sproul March 5th, 2014 10:15 am

    Hi Mark Worley, Thank you! Cheers.

  30. Lou Dawson March 5th, 2014 12:09 pm

    Simplest solution is still often the best. Am dealing with some IT issues today which that applies to…

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