Trip Report - Burgess NW Couloir
Last Saturday J and I headed out for another krazee mission. The NW couloir on Mt Burgess is line that we’d joked at the start of the season as something that we’d never do. So with great trepidation we drove out to Emerald Lake to ‘just take a look.’ Armed with minimal beta from John Walsh's and Adam Greenberg’s blogs we really didn’t know what to expect. Two ice tools and rock protection are not part of my standard ski kit.
The Burgess fan. There’s a couloir up there somewhere too.
With all weather forecasts calling for cloud cover all day we elected for a later start as we’re both lazy guys and no amount of scary skiing will convince me to start early. Upon arriving at the lake it appeared the Emerald Lake slide path had let go in a loose wet fashion and snaked down the whole length of the run. As we were skiing a different aspect we weren’t too worried, but it was clear that if the sun came out we’d have to bail because there were likely cornices above us.
Skinning through the trees we came out onto the infinite fan. Perspective, rolling terrain and flat light made it seem like this went on forever. And it does, as 700m of the 1300m day was fan. Avalanche debris and breakable crust had us feeling good about stability, reckoning that cornices had all popped and given the couloir a nice flushing. We were apprehensive for our knees however, this would be a tough descent.
We reached the crux of the line. To gain entry you must grovel up a couple of gullies filled with snice. I don’t ice climb anymore because it sucks so I was eyeing this section with disgust. J gracefully awarded me first swings as he enjoys a laugh as much as the next guy. It was also at this moment that it started to snow and spindrift started pouring down the chute. Yay. Once we made it up we started up the line and got nervous. This was steep.
Just up the ice step. Always pick partners with a good sense of colour coordination; that’s your ticket to bulk Instagram likes.
It was pretty hard under the powder so we elected to keep crampons on and tools out. Photo rotated for a balance of maximum steepness and believability.
After digging around and finding a good anchor spot for the abseil we booted up. Snice gave way to hardpack and finally to deep fluffy powder. What a winter it’s been! We had a quick team meeting and I allowed J to set the bootpack. He felt that he hadn’t been training enough lately. From the infinite fan to the infinite couloir. Constant doglegging, constrictions and openings made it impossible to tell how far we’d yet to go. Finally we arrived at a junction, to the left was a mellowish chute guarded by a huge cornice, and to the right was a very steep narrow run with no cornice. The cornice was giving us the stink eye so we went right and transitioned.
It was steep! I didn’t measure the angle but it had to be 50+ degrees. After scooting across the top I managed to kick off a bit of storm slab, flushing the couloir from top to bottom. It took a while to work up the courage to make turn no. 1, it’s always the hardest. Ten turns later I went from shouting ‘this is scary’ to ‘this is awesome!’ Powder can do that to the psyche.
J needs to pole plant because he’s pretty new to skiing. Good effort, J!
One of the doglegs in the endless couloir. Amazing snow!
We traded off leads through the doglegs so we each got first tracks. The hardpack at the bottom was sketchy, as any slip would send us sliding over the rock band. We gingerly rappelled the couloir (a first for both of us with skis on), only needing to do one 30m abseil as opposed to the recommended 60m. I guess it’s well filled in. The line was so fun that we shared a man hug at the bottom before coiling the rope.
So exciting. Abseiling with skis on. Wow.
Skiing the fan was unfortunately not as good as the couloir, unless you enjoy skiing debris buried under a breakable crust. If you do enjoy this sort of skiing, PM me and I can give you some suggestions on where to go.
The fan. Not as good as it looks, I just happen to be an able hand with photoshop.
I highly recommend this run to anyone with the skillz to hit it. You need a bit of all the mountain skills to do it safely and it was a blast to ski. The only downside is that it’s not in an easily visible location so it’s a tough one to spray about.