Crowfoot Mountain: Janoline Couloir

It’s a funny feeling when a line you’ve stared at for years suddenly pops into shape. Ideas are easy but the execution can be much harder, and it’s always a mix of excitement and a sort of workmanlike restlessness as the full scope of the project finally comes into view. All those little details to iron out.

At least, that’s the way it feels if it’s interesting enough. And, tucked away on Crowfoot Mountain, Janoline Couloir certainly is.

Viewed from the road, it’s an imposing little strip of snow and ice – just barely visible, and only if you know the right places to stop the car. Beta is sparse to say the least. Years ago, either Kieran or I found a post on Gravsports detailing a spring epic on the couloir by some ice climbers. It wasn’t easy to find, because they had called it Janoline, rather than give any kind of identifying hints as to mountain or aspect in their thread title. But one thing made sense – it was steep and blue. It looked more like an ice climb than a ski line, and for several years it remained a pipe dream. “Hey, maybe Janoline is filling in” one of us would say.

“Yeah right.”

But, this March, it did. So, restless as always, Kieran and I headed up.

The day got off to an inauspicious start when we both forgot about daylight savings time and foolishly agreed to meet at 4:00. We caught the error at 3:30 and postponed by an hour, but closing your eyes and wishing for sleep just isn’t the same. Things improved considerably as the sun came up. We peeled away from the well worn Crowfoot Glades uptrack and into the moraines. Thanks to the short approach, we were at the base of the line in no time, where we quickly set to work on the WI3 pitch which guards it.

It goes! I think.

We each took a few cracks at soloing it but accomplished little, although I did manage to drop an ice tool down the fan.

Idiot.

That made Kieran the default choice for the lead, and he scampered up the pitch, placing a single screw 2m off the ground to avoid dragging me down the fan with him if he fell, then simply trailing the ropes decoratively the rest of the way. After finding a pin placement proved rather fruitless, he brought me up on a tricky v-thread in the shallow ice.

Kieran pokes onto the ice, seconds before the ominous hiss of incoming spindrift would chase him back down.

Both of us agreed that the rope had provided little in the way of protection, but had bolstered our confidence considerably. We further noted, for the millionth time, that we should climb some ice once in a while to sharpen up. As we discussed it, we moved slowly up surprisingly steep snow.

Surprisingly steep snow. No belay here, I’m just trailing to ropes as I look for something to pin them to. We could have left them hanging off our v-thread, but then we’d risk returning to find them buried or sloughed away.

The whole line feels like a white ribbon, pinned to the ridge and draping itself over the rock and ice that comprises the rest of the face. A quick measurement showed the couloir to average around 55 degrees, and it only got steeper as we moved past the second ice crux. This one had filled right in to form a planar ramp, which is exactly what we’d been hoping for when we caught our most recent glimpse from the road. Above there, a relatively simple bootpack brought us to within spitting distance of the enormous cornice, around which we saw no reasonable or intelligent bypass to gain the ridge. The tension in the school bus worth of snow just above recreated itself faithfully in the pits of our stomachs and we wasted no time getting out of there.

A quick transition to skis and we both instantly felt more comfortable. Keen, exacting turns were the order of the day. The snow was nearly as good as one could hope for, but little dinner plates grabbed at the edges from time to time, and the surface occasionally turned rock hard. Given the pitch and exposure, there was no room for a loss of control and the time we took to get down reflected that. We’ve had enough opportunities to open it up this season, and it was fun to reign it in and ski with precision for a day.

Kieran makes his first turn.

It took one 25m rappel to clear the ice pitch and we were back on the fan, where I collected my stray tool. Soon enough we were back at the road, lounging in the sun and enjoying the satisfaction of a dream turned to reality. I love spring on the parkway. It feels like it’s well and truly on across the Rockies, with people teeing off on big objectives everywhere you look. The buzz is palpable, and I have to say – I’m enjoying it. We’ve never heard of anyone else skiing Janoline – nor heard of any other name for the formidable strip of ice and snow – but it’s hard to believe we got it first given how close it is to the road. If you’ve skied it, or know someone who has, I’d love to hear about it.

As viewed from the road a few springs ago. Intimidating!

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