Welcome back stability; we’ve missed you. Earlier this week, we tried to ski the Mt. Bell couloir but were relegated to the north col by wind and increasing snowfall. With what looked like a perfect forecast lining up though, Joel and I decided to direct our Wednesday efforts at Narao Peak’s north couloirs. At the last second, Martin threw his hat in the ring as well, hungry for more after having just skied Grand Daddy in fine condition on Tuesday.
High cloud was the predicted order of the day, along with reasonable temps. With that in mind, we stuck with a normal person’s idea of an early start and left the car around 0730. A quick rip up a nice skintrack in Narao Glades, and around into the basin below the lines a little after 0900. The looker’s left couloir had a little more snow and cornice overhead, as well as a more solar exposure, so we went up there first. I say first, because with two gorgeous couloirs side by side like that, our hope was to move quickly and bag both.
Joel broke trail like the machine he is for the first half, until the line’s one choke. From there, the climbing turned straight into wallowing. I took over building the staircase from there, with the help of the ascent plates I was glad to have packed. Usually they just sit at home while I wallow up to my neck and wish I’d brought them. I like this way much better.
Near the top, some thin, isolated pockets of soft windslab began to appear. It took some care, but we were able to thread micro-aspects and get through them, delivering us to the pleasantly un-corniced summit ridge. From our lofty vantage, we had an excellent look at Mt. Victoria’s north summit and north face ski line, which looks to be coming in pretty nicely, plus the rest of the incredible view one would expect from that part of the neighbourhood.
Threading back through the windslabs on the way down wasn’t overly appealing, but that’s what ski cuts are for. The pocket on the uppermost roll into the line was easy enough to knock down, along with whatever pow it saw fit to take along for the ride. It made for a bit of a firm and punchy top pitch, but below that the skiing was excellent. Steep, soft and consistent – we couldn’t have asked for more.
Back at the bottom, we tried to come up with an excuse to take the lazy way out, as one does when faced with the prospect of more wallowing. We found none. Our legs were hurting only a little, the sun had retreated behind some clouds moving in from the west, and a cool breeze remained. Nothing was falling down. Ski quality was excellent. So we ate, transitioned and headed back up.
Shortly thereafter, we found the infamous birth canal – the right hand couloir’s unique choke. At some point in the mountain’s geological timeline, a massive chockstone got wedged into the narrows at the bottom of the line. Now, the easiest way through it is via a wild little slough-cleared tunnel on its climber’s left side. It may just be the coolest feature I’ve ever seen in a ski line, although I have to say, it’s certainly not something you’d want to fall or be dragged into from above.
Above that, the grade lessened, and we made quick work of all but the top quarter of the line, where the wallowing did eventually resume. This time Martin stepped in and took us to the top, where another spectacular view into the O’Hara valley awaited.
The descent was even better in this line than the one previous. With no wind effect whatsoever, the entire thing was nothing but low density pow over a supportive base all the way back down to the canal. Perfect skiing, if not for the regular breaks to rest our burning legs. Once there we had to downclimb, as the tunnel isn’t wide enough to accommodate a skier in any kind of reasonable way, and it’s also quite steep.
Then the fan, a short skin out of the basin and a fairly garbage – but still better than expected descent of Narao shoulder back to the car. All in all, it was an incredible day. We were lucky to have gotten the conditions for both lines at all, let alone in such amazing shape. Now to see if winter will finally give up its hold on the Rockies (and the Columbias for that matter) for good, or if this has just been another tease.