Retreat! Commonwealth N Couloir
Despite the forecast calling for an upslope storm, J and I decided that we’re faster than the wind and thus could outpace any storm, especially one coming from the big city which doesn’t know how to navigate in the mountains. Sometimes I don’t know what goes on in my head.
With the system expected to move in by around noon we set out towards Commonwealth Lake at 7.30. It was dreary which is fine because I don’t ski bluebird days. The route up to the base of the N face of Commonwealth Peak is the same you’d follow for the Pig’s Tail Traverse. After going in the incorrect direction thanks to my sublime map reading skills we made it to the lake, and there it was.
A terrible photo of a great line. We lost all vis about 3 mins after this photo was taken.
There was lots of evidence of natural activity on solar aspects and an excellent crust which almost supported our weight on the up. Crust is one of my favourite things to yardsale on as it’s just a whole lot of fun so I was pretty stoked. Moving into the alpine we encountered lots of wind blown snow which made travel fast if a little scary. We were able to skin all the way up to the entrance of the couloir thanks to my steep, 40 degree kick turning abilities.
I’ve always said it’s not a day unless you throw in a bootpack so we took the skis off and went up on foot. About halfway up the line we got a good look at the rock step that thwarts so many intrepid ski mountaineers. This year it looked shorter so we felt pretty confident. It was also about halfway up the line when that weather system decided to open the taps, proving that we are not in fact faster than the wind. Spindrift and slough started flowing down, intensifying the closer we got to the step.
The obligatory booter. I’m fearlessly leading from behind at this point.
The step itself would be fairly trivial, if not somehow buried beneath an overhanging snow shelf that was imported from Alaska. We dug around a bit looking for some ice which promptly shattered upon closer inspection. Biting the bullet I sunk a dodgy looking tool into the snow and hoisted myself up on it, wincing as it slid downwards. I was rewarded with an extra foot of height and a face full of spindrift, nearly sending me downhill. We repeated this for a while, trading off mouthfuls of snow before giving up. A tumble from this spot would probably have seen us falling all the way down the couloir, pinballing off the walls.
Taking cover out of the fall line, we clicked in and hip hopped our way down. The line was quite steep at this point, by my professional accurate estimate a touch more than 50 degrees. A consolation prize was that the couloir happened to be full of powder, no doubt because of its sheltered aspect and the aforementioned spindrift. Skiing was amazing and the flow just kept going down the all the way down fan, until I caught an edge and nearly ate it in the crust. Due to the pesky storm it didn’t warm up and break down so we survival skied back to the track and onwards down to the car.
Didn’t finish things but it’s not going anywhere. At least we got to ski some #powder.
I always feel down after bailing from a run, but it was definitely the right choice. A fall would have been nasty and with the storm intensifying who knows how much more snow would have fallen on our heads. Now I can’t stop thinking about heading on back there to finish the job.