Mt. Macdonald Number Five Couloir

In my last post, I mentioned a little mission of mine: to ski every major line on the north face of Mt. Macdonald in Rogers Pass. After skiing the number 10/11 couloir the week previous, I had only a handful left – the most interesting being the number five couloir. With good stability still hanging on and Valerio and Ryan joining to form a strong crew, it should go without saying that on this day, it wasn’t tough to pick an objective.

The number five is 1300m of glorious fall line. Who wouldn’t want to ski it?

Reasonably early start. Double check weather, previous day’s avalanche observations and permit area status at the discovery centre. The usual morning routine at the pass when something a little more serious is on the menu. Then back to the Stone Arch parking area, where we spent some time selecting our technical tools for the day.

There’s a water ice choke low in the couloir which can be seen clearly from virtually nowhere along that highway – or at least, nowhere you’d want to hang out. We responded by rolling heavy, with proper ice tools, some screws and two 30m ropes just in case it couldn’t be bypassed, and set off skinning along the side of the road.

Once you leave the noisy shoulder behind, the line, like its neighbours, rises into the sky incredibly quickly. I’ve never bothered to verify it, but we often joke that these corridor couloirs on Macdonald and Tupper are the only places in the park where a skier can climb as far above the highway as they are away from it in linear distance. True or not, the fan was steep and the terrain above was steeper, so we were booting in short order.

Valerio booting low in the couloir.

The waterfall we’d been preparing for turned out to be a toothless obstacle indeed. We had no trouble bypassing it on steep snow, which was a little disappointing after hauling the sharp toys up. We stashed most of them there and continued, trading leads up through a beautiful, winding rock hallway.

Most of the way, the pitch is quite reasonable, rarely poking above 45 degrees. The top, however, is an exception.

For a short distance I led snow so steep I nearly had to dig it out with my shovel to make room for my body as I stepped up. With some difficulty, we all hauled ourselves up onto the ridge, where a spectacular view around the back of the Sir Donald massif awaited us.

It felt well earned and, were it not for the bitter wind up there we probably would have stayed a while to enjoy it. I dropped in first, discovering beautiful snow that skied much better than it felt on the way up. Between that and the moderate angle, we were able to carry some speed, playing (albeit cautiously) with fast moving slough all the way back down to the gear stash. From there it wasn’t long until we were sidestepping back up to the road, intriguing passing motorists with bags full of technical gear and big smiles on our faces.

Ryan rips past the waterfall.

Every line I’ve experienced on the wild north face of Macdonald has been exceptional, and the number five proved no different. What an incredible day out.

New snow and new snowpack problems came shortly after we made this descent. With no improvement in sight and temperatures parked below -20 for the foreseeable future anyway, our little run of interesting ski days seems to have come to an end. But that’s ok. Hopefully our toes don’t all freeze, and memories of days like this carry us into the next period of good conditions.

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