09 February 2017

Couloir Hunting in the Kokanee Mountains

In May 2016, I was lucky to be whisked away in my first helicopter to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin deep in the heart of the Kokanee Mountains. There, I spent 7-days with my new best friends exploring the beauty of British Columbia. The weather was HOT but the beers were COLD, and I loved every minute of it.

I enjoyed myself so much I signed up for another hut trip as soon as I could. I'm on that hut trip now, so here's a story from one of the most adventurous days in the Kokanee, as I recorded in my journal that night:

Team "Pucker Factor High"

Today we went couloir hunting, only in the most poorly executed away imaginable. Our team – later dubbed “Team Pucker Factor High” – consisted of me, Anthony, Theresa, and Chris. After a late start due to some tummy issues, we headed off at 8:50am to a series of couliors on a far peak, our destination for the day.

The first section was about 200 feet of skinning to the top of this low pass, then skiing down about 600’ on pure ice through the trees to the basin of the next valley and lake. Then a long, left traverse (left hip is killing me) to get to the basin and scope our lines. By the time we arrived, it was probably already 60-degrees, with a UV index today of 6 (I don’t know what that means exactly, but that’s apparently pretty high). The snow was in sub-optimal “schmoo” stage, but we were committed to our line, and ventured forth.

After the heinous left traverse.

Anthony scoping lines. Ours is the skinny coulior, furthest right. Near center of the tallest peak.

Anthony and I split off for a different objective, and started skinning up this open looking slope adjacent to our couloir. We skinned about 400’ until it came time to boot. I put in the first 100 or so feet of climbing, then Anthony took over, finishing out the last 500’ or so feet to the top. The slope was 50-degrees at its steepest (Anthony has a clinometer) and certainly felt very, very exposed. Reminded me a lot of climbing MixUp Peak with Theresa and Drake a few years ago.

My new view after I "let" Anthony take the lead.

Anthony pulling the crux. I waited in a safe spot until he was at the top.

We got to the top where Anthony had stamped out a tiny spot for himself, and I managed to squeeze in a bit lower. Pressed up against the rock face, I held his gear as he worked to transition, carefully pulling the skins from his skis without going over the back or down into the couloir. After some finagling, he was ready to go, and shoved off. But just before he went we heard a call over the radio, “This is team Balls Deep. Ready to drop.” Which is how, on the fly, Anthony came up with our team name and answered back. We later found out they didn’t hear us, but the team name of "Pucker Factor High" stuck.

Anthony executed about 15 perfect jump turns to get to the choke – a narrow section with hidden (and not so hidden) rock crevasses. Massive amounts of slushy snow came pouring down the couloir with every turn, creating a runnel down the center.

Steep jump turns for the win!

With Anthony gone, I had the luxury of extra room to transition. I made haste, and was ready in under 5 minutes. As I clipped into my skis, careful not to lose one, the pucker factor was certainly high. Just like Anthony before, I made a series of (poorly executed) jump turns, breathing heavy from the effort. I reach the choke, nearly choked, but made it through to Anthony.

We only made a few more turns before calling it in the couloir and moving to the adjacent slope. The runnel had just made our ski down too extremely unpleasant it wasn’t worth it. Plus, we’d already done the steep and skinny part of the couloir, so we had bragging rights.

In the open slope, the skiing was more of the same. Make a ski cut, watch the slush slide, make another ski cut, wait for the slush to move out of the way. Eventually we had a pretty nice path cut for us in the snow to ski in without the schmoo, and took advantage of the “fresh grooming” to the bottom. We snagged a knoll and watched Theresa and Chris descend their line in similar fashion. Ski cut – wait for slide – watch snow pummel over a ridge – make another ski cut.

Theresa, glad to be down.

Chris making the best, last turns before the climb back out.

Today we did not win at skiing, but we did win at 'objective'. The skiing overall was not very enjoyable, and it was just too damn hot in the sun. The final ski out was bad as well, slushy and gross. The worst came at the end, where we had to skin back up the 600’ to get to the pass to come home. But we finally made it and got immediately out of the sun. I’ve never been so happy to get inside and out of the sun. Someone get me a beer!


No comments: