With this fresh blast of winter and the nice perma-overcast skies, I went to do a nice 8-ridge traverse at and around Kicking Horse. There are 8 ridges between Terminator 2 peak and Dogtooth Ridge. Seven N facing couloirs, then a East face (wanted to do the Little Tooth on Dogtooth ridge) and then ski all the way back down to the car, no skinning back across. Fresh snow, the right weather to bust trail all day long, gentle ascent slopes, gnarly descents, nobody on the mountain, makes sense right? Google Earth puts it at 2450m, so it’s probably in reality just a couple hundred meters short of 3000m (GE is way out when you go over ridges and the like). I found good dry snow just a couple hundred meters above the parking lot, things seemed up. However once in the alpine, the chutes I dropped on T2 and T1 had definitely slid pretty large prior to the fresh snow. T1 was even down to ground in spots, and the fresh snow had some goopy lubricating layer between it and the old snow that wanted to wet sluff pretty hard. Considering KH has a wicked bootpacking program that mashes down all the nasty early season layers, and I was planning on going out of the boundary where that wouldn’t be in place, I expected the rip to ground issue to become even more prevalent as I went further north. So after T1 I ripped it back to the car.
Now for the main event. Finally, redemption on the Narao couloirs! There was reportedly 45cm of fresh snow in the Lake Louise area, so they should be refreshed and ready to go. I wasn’t going to do something stupid like wake up at a sane hour and risk getting skunked again, so I woke up at 3am, on skis at 4:30. Once I got up into the bowl at 6:15, things were looking like a ski bum’s wet dream. Perfect slightly fluted pow up top, the usual sluff down the guts of the coolie, and a wallop of alpenglow for the lines to bask in.
|But one time he break cage and he “get this” and then we all laugh. High five|
|Popes Peak and Narao soaking up the alpenglow|
I skinned right to the base of the lookers left couloir and started booting up. I left my crampons at home, thinking that I would just be wading through the snow up the thing. I was wrong. I really need to get some aluminum crampons, it’s just so deflating bringing my heavy cromoly steel crampons when it turns out they were not actually be needed, so as a result I try to leave them whenever I can. Shouldda brought em today. The guts of it had some small sluffs run through and clean it down to the crust more often than not. The sides were most of the time ~50cm of light light blower pow on a crust. The pow was too light to support me, so I was forced to walk on the crust regardless, the only option was whether or not to also wade in the snow.
The choke of the couloir was more complex than I had anticipated. The climbers right looked from the bottom to be the only way, and just straightforward bootpacking. In reality, it was pretty much ice. Not sure if it’s water ice off the rock wall above, or if it’s the firn snow that survived last summer, but it was far too slick to attempt without crampons. Aluminum crampons might even bounce on it, it was that hard. It turned out that there was a narrow (~2ft) chute on the left side. Too long and steep to straightline on skis. I thought I would remove my skis and downclimb it when I came back down, however from the top of the choke I thought I saw a way to ski the climbers right side.
|Hey, who turned out the light?|
I continued climbing, and once at the top of the 400m couloir, I went for a jaunt up to tag the summit. Then I went skiing. The weather had moved in while climbing up, and it was snowing and a bit foggy. That was OK though, it kept the sun off the little face that I watched continually drop sluff into the couloir on every other day I’d been up there. The skiing was quite variable, the soft snow that I saw last time I was up here had gotten cooked and frozen before the fresh blanketing. If it hadn’t, the skiing would have been absolutely mind-blowingly good. But it was still really good. Worse snow means more challenge, and that’s OK every now and then. The top was all pretty uniform, 30ish cm of fresh on a hard crust everywhere. Once the sluff runnel in the guts started up, I’d ski either side of the middle on whichever side was wider.
At the choke, I skied along the division between the climbers left and right options so I could bail on the climbers left if need be and downclimb back down the way I came up. I felt pretty OK about the climbers right ice workaround and made my decision. The ice patch was covering the entire ~4ft choke, and it extended up a bit toward the rock. Everything went to plan, I poked the hell out of the snow while traversing above the visible ice patch to ensure I wouldn’t slide down a snow-covered bit of ice, then made the one crucial hop turn above a bit of exposure. Then I pointed it across the ice patch and onto the powder on the other side of it. I had considered sideslipping the ice and keeping a ice axe (a real axe, not the whippet) at the ready for self arrest, but I think the ice was too hard for my ski edges to actually get some real grip on it.
After the choke was dealt with, the couloir was a fair bit narrower than the top section. There wasn’t a lot of good wide snowfields on either side of the sluff runnel, so the skiing wasn’t great. After working my way down it though, the snow on the fan was amazing! Some of the best snow I’ve ever skied. After skiing some breakable crust in the trees, I got back to the car, and got out of Ohara before noon.