Burgess NW: The (Other) Money Couloir

I’ll go ahead and call it – the northwest couloir on Mt. Burgess should be a classic. (In fact, both couloirs on this peak should.) It overlooks and is visible from an iconic location, it’s steep, it’s technical and it feels wild. Joel had skied the line once before, but Chris and I were experiencing it for the first time when we set off from Emerald Lake Lodge on a claggy New Year’s Day. It’s not normal to get to ski lines like this in the Rockies so early in the season, and all three of us were pumped to make the most of it.

After a short and easy bushwhack through the old growth forest that characterizes the region, we hit the fan and started gaining elevation. Lots of it. Chris loves breaking trail and he got to work doing just that until, somewhat gassed from his aggressive pace, we arrived at the booting. A quick up on firm snow had us at the technical crux of the day – a short but significant pitch of technical climbing. The original FD party climbed a scrappy bit of rock on the right, but we preferred the ice and neve on the left. It wasn’t really worth a belay, and there was nothing moving above so we scampered up one at a time before pounding in a knifeblade to back up the existing anchor at the top.

Chris looks on as Joel works on the crux.

That was it for the difficulties, and we swung leads to the top, which afforded us a nice view over the other side. Jon, Josh and Magda went for the summit on their FD, but that was in April. This was January, and there was no earthly way we were going to wallow up there when there was perfectly good powder to ski down here.

With that, we got into it. Slough rushed through the various intricacies of the line and clouds swirled around us, lending the whole affair an air of wildness. Even if it was turning out to be a straightforward, type 1 fun kind of day. Joel had remembered the rappel being shorter than it was, so we had to extend the hell out of the anchor and do an amusing jump to make it to the ground. I suppose we could have downclimbed easily enough, but once you’re in the rapping mindset it’s hard to switch back. This was really the only (completely self inflicted) annoyance we encountered.

All in all, just an excellent outing with great company. It’s wild to look back on the earlier days of my ski mountaineering career, when something like this would have felt like going to the moon. Now my skills and mindset have evolved enough to allow for a fun day with friends in this kind of wild terrain, which is interesting. Maybe I’ll expound on the positives and negatives of the expanding skillset and headspace some other time, but for now I’d just like to give this wonderful line on Mt. Burgess its due. It’s certainly got a place in my mental Rockies classics list, and, having missed out on the summit, I think I’d even like to return one day. High praise indeed.

The NW Couloir in full from the other side of the lake.

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