Swiss Peak North Face

It’s been a special kind of winter, and now that spring is (finally) beginning to make an appearance we’re left with snow in places that were bone dry in March of years past. One thing we haven’t had much of though is clear weather, so when the forecast promised us a day of it, Ian, Rory, Mike and I mobilized for one of the premier ski descents in Rogers Pass.

Some law enforcement shenanigans slowed the Revy based portion of our crew down, but we still managed to get away from the trailhead at a reasonable hour, given the cloud overhead. In short order we found ourselves skinning across the Tupper Glacier with Swiss Peak’s awesome south face in view. A party ahead of us was already setting the bootpack up the approach couloir, which saved us a lot of deep trailbreaking. Despite the time of year, we were a little surprised to note that high south facing terrain was still holding great powder.

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After ensuring the group ahead didn’t seem to be descending the way they came up, we made quick work of the couloir, keeping a keen eye out for hiding spots in case the sun came out or the pair decided to bail on the north face. Sharing in confined terrain is always awkward. Having set a pretty brisk pace all morning, we topped out in around five and a quarter hours – a time we were all pretty happy with. We hadn’t seen a single slough in the couloir and the summit was still mired in swirling cloud. The other party dropped into the whiteout, but we opted to wait for the clear skies the forecast had promised.

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Up the couloir we go.

We ended up there for a few hours. I’d have given up earlier myself, but Rory was convinced the cloud would break in the afternoon and the group as a whole was willing to wait, so we ate some early lunch and relaxed. Or tried, anyway. I find my mind tends to race when stuck waiting on top of a line. Much to the chagrin of my coaches, I used to make a point of showing up for competition and race runs at the last second for that very reason. It’s something that I know is worth working on, and this day was good practice for the type of waiting that’s often a necessity in the mountains.

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Waiting in the clouds, just shy of the summit.

Finally, the clouds did break and one by one the four of us dropped in. What a line. 800m of 45+ degree fall line down to the Hermit Glacier, right off the summit and with an intimidating start on a steep hanging face to boot. Just an unreal ski run. We had it in perfect condition too, with about 30cm of right side up pow for the duration of the line and a very manageable amount of slough.

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Ian dropping in.

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Rory follows.

Then it was time to get out. A big thank you to Parks for the new Shaughnessy Designated Access Route, which finally establishes a legal way to ski this incredible line without a bizarre and nightmarish bushwhacking traverse all the way back to the freaking Tupper DAR.

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A look back at the line.

The easiest way to find the exit is to look for a forested bench on the skier’s left of Stoney Creek, just before the valley constricts into a muddy, canyonish sort of gully feature. With some difficulty, it can be traversed to reach the left rim of the gully, which is then followed to the first of two train bridges. It’s worth trying to follow the rim, because if one pops out anywhere other than the bridge, the only legal option is to go back into the trees and battle through steep deadfall next to a perfectly good set of train tracks with a wide allowance on either side.

From there the route is straightforward, if a bit of a thrash. Under the train bridge, down the shoulder, under the other bridge and out to the highway is essentially it. The DAR instructions detail a route back to the parking area at the Beaver Valley, however, if hitchhiking it would seem that there are faster, more efficient ways to get to the road. Regardless, an incredible day of perfect spring skiing conditions and a line which had to be skied to be believed. Swiss North is a classic for a reason.

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Who wouldn’t pick this guy up?

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