Last week I bailed on an objective close to home because the approach was too heinously melted out. Then, the other day, Kieran and I pulled the plug just above the bergschrund on the north face of Mt. Andromeda because the snowpack was far too wintery and unstable. Can’t win, apparently.
So yesterday, Chris and I thought that maybe west was the goldilocks aspect and set off from Lake Louise towards Mt. Lefroy to find out. Ominous red alpenglow lit Mt. Victoria as we headed up valley towards the deathtrap. Red sky in morning and all that, but we’re not sailors and neither of us were too attached to the objective. If we bailed, we bailed. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the Victoria glacier was in excellent shape, and we cleared the serac-threatened portion of it quickly.
Now thoroughly gassed, we took our time getting up to Abbot pass. There are worse places to have a few minutes to look around though, and we got some very helpful glimpses at future objectives. Then, we could see no good reason to turn around, so we continued up onto the face. It more or less consists of three chutes. The leftmost always seems to have rock in it, the middle fills in during exceptional years and the furthest right is the old faithful. This is not an exceptional year as far as the high alpine is concerned, so we went for the climber’s right option.
It’s actually a pretty simple ascent – more straightforward than we were expecting. After trading leads for a while, we arrived at the connector choke referenced by Trevor Sexsmith here. This proved in better shape than he found it, and we noted that it would be perfectly skiable on the way down. Like Trevor, this was where we chose to pull the axes out – it’s the first bit of the face that feels particularly technical.
Above, however, things suddenly get a bit more real. Not insanely so, but the connector puts you above what feels like quite a bit of exposure.
We continued to within sight of the false summit which represents the top of the skiable line. Only a few meters from topping out, the snow depth dropped to only 10 or 15cm over hard alpine ice. The snow itself felt like one cohesive windslab – the kind that might just propagate and sweep us both into the void. I’ve learned to be very wary of those. On a nicer day we might have thrown in a few screws to protect the pitch and made for the summit, but the weather had just rolled in and we decided that was enough mountaineering for us.
It was a bit of an awkward transition spot, but I placed an ice screw and used it as an opportunity for some awkward transition practice, while Chris wisely downclimbed to a more comfortable location. Then a fine ski indeed! First, through the tight choke, which was about 180cm wide in its snuggest two places (I ski 178s, so phew.) Then onto the gorgeous planar face that makes up the majority of the line and out through the deathtrap. Over 1500m of fantastic spring conditions, followed by a warp speed skate back across the lake. Perfect.