Supercouloir (Noun.) = The 1000m couloir beneath Spire peaks that is plainly seen from the traverse across the Garibaldi neve. Many are called, but few choose to embark on the long journey required to ski it.
The avalanche danger was low, the snow seemed pretty good and I was free during the week. Julien Renard had the intriguing proposition of skiing Supercouloir. He was not free to leave on Tuesday, which was the only day during which mountain forecast predicted blue bird skies. Therefore, we elected to start our trip on Wednesday, which put us at the mercy of the “some clouds” weather forecast for that day. However, the Avalanche stability was only getting better as the week went on.
Given the distances involved, we decided on a 2 day adventure. We would camp at Mamquam Lake and then get an early start the next day to circumnavigate Spire Peaks to get to the top of Supercouloir from the South as described in a trip report on Bivouac. It seemed like a big day for the team, and they reported a total output of 55 kilometres of distance as well as 3600 meters elevation gain.
Not deterred by these numbers, I was also excited to attempt Mount Garibaldi. I had still not summited this peak. It taunts me almost every weekend.
On my summit attempt last year, we were thwarted by a scary snow pack. We elected to turn around just 250 metres of elevation from the summit and continue our neve-in-a-day trip.
Julien was on board for a Garibaldi detour, despite having summited the peak a few times already.
We left Vancouver at 5 a.m. on Wednesday to give us enough time for this side-trip. We started skiing at 6:45 a.m. Fortunately the “highway” up to Diamondhead wasn’t too icy. I managed to easily drive up to the upper parking lot with my chain-less 2wd Mazda Protege. On our way up the ridge from Red Heather, we passed a solo snowshoer returning from the Elfin shelter. She reported having the hut completely to herself the previous night! Surprisingly, it was toasty warm when we arrived at the Elfin shelter at approximately 9:40 a.m.
It turns out that they have installed gas heater that runs on a timer. We exercised fantastic self-restraint and only stayed in the hut for 10 or 15 minutes for a quick snack.
As we got out of the shelter, it became clear that “some clouds” does not necessarily imply the remaining sky will be clear…We were in a whiteout. Garibaldi was nowhere to be seen.
Despite the poor outlook, we trudged on towards Ring creek. We eventually contoured along an old access road, which provided some very nice railroad grade skinning. After dropping our overnight packs at the base of the ridge leading to Garibaldi’s north face, we skinned up around Tent peak toward the summit. We saw old skin tracks up to the summit from within the last week.
The snow up to this point was uniform and predictable, but high up on the north face, this came to an abrupt end. The upper part of the north face was wind loaded with about 30cm of snow that was not properly bonded with the underlying crust. With three to five light taps of the wrist, this slab would easily slide off the underlying faceted layer. Past the bergshrund, the slope was only getting steeper, so we decided to turn around, the summit a mere 150m of elevation away.
Although we didn’t like the stability, the scenery was okay. the ceiling of the whiteout was at approximately 1900 meters. Iconic Garibaldi peaks poked through. We could even see the very top of supercouloir, our objective for the next day. At least the first hundred meters of it…
After regaining our packs, we proceeded in the dark, in a whiteout, to Mamquam Lake. Relying mostly on GPS, navigation was slightly inefficient. When we eventually touched down at camp it was 8:20 p.m.
Fortunately, running water was easily accessible and we proceeded to make very expedient work of setting up camp, making and eating dinner and going to bed. We were asleep by 10 p.m.
At 4 a.m. we woke up. Julien poked his head out of the tent and saw clear skies (constellations). By the time we had eaten our breakfast in bed and started skiing, it was 5:15 a.m.
There were no longer any stars in sight, nor any summit. We did and adventurous downhill bushwhack toward Eanastick meadows to gain the main drainage of the glacier. We then we followed the creek up towards the col between Trick peak and Spire peaks. To this point the visibility was still pretty terrible.
There was a lot of avalanche debris along our path. We donned our ski crampons with little benefit as we started to climb the steep slope onto the glacier. Needless to say, the approach up to the col is extremely avalanche prone and should only be climbed in very stable conditions.
Finally at 7:30 a.m., our fate took a turn for the better. The splendid sun simmered away the clouds and our visibility rapidly improved. We had perfectly clear skies by 9 a.m.
It suddenly seemed as though our mission would be a go.
I started to skin towards the entrance when Julien stopped me and politely reminded me that I was looking at the entrance to Camel toe couloir, a steeper and narrower couloir, skiers left of our objective. To my knowledge it has only been successfully skied by one party, during ideal conditions.
I changed course and went to the nondescript col to take a peek at the entrance to Supercouloir. Before skiing down, we stopped for the snack that we should have had on the sheltered, sunny plateau…
Instead we braved a break on the only blustery bump in sight. No time to detour for shelter though, so we coped at the col.
The weather held, and we got some nice turns down Supercouloir! Emphasis on some. Although snow was very good for the first third, small avalanches had cleared out most of the snow from the remaining couloir. Having convinced ourselves that we were going to be skiing glorious snow in terrible visibility, we we’re happy for perfect visibility, even if the snow wasn’t completely perfect.
The couloir ends in a narrow valley and as we started making our way toward Mamquam lake, we admired as many as 10 other couloirs of various difficulty coming down from Spire peaks. This valley has been dubbed the “Valley of the Chutes.”
As we skied out we had to navigate much more avalanche debris from various class 2 and class 3 slides. They littered the Valley of the Chutes. I scoped out Camel-Toe couloir. It was not in condition yet without a mandatory rappel.
We did plenty more skinning to get back over a col to Mamquam Lake. Fortunately, the rest of the skiing we did that day was fantastic. The snow quality was better than what we had found in supercouloir. It always seems ironic when you travel so far to find worse snow.
The sun had set by the time we crossed Ring creek. Surprisingly, we were still fairly energetic, invigorated by actually getting to see things…
Although neither of us had obligations to be home that evening, we were pretty convinced that we would not be tempted to stay overnight at Elfin. Especially seeing as we did not bring meals for another day. I made a sarcastic remark that probably the only thing that would keep me at the hut for an extra night was if there were several girls on snowshoes who had extra food for us.
At 8:00 p.m. we touched down in Elfin hut. Lo and behold, there were six girls playing cards at the dinner table, one of whom generously offered us the remaining half of her Mountain House meal (which she purported to be a lot for one person).
On this second visit to Elfin, we exercised even more self-restraint and after a mere 25 minute break to snack and change our socks, we were off again. I blasted some music through my phone speakers for motivation. The sky had finally cleared and the stars were out in full force. Orion especially, undeterred by Squamish light pollution, was sporting some spiffy belt studs.
Considering our long day, we made good time back to the car, returning just before 10 pm
For the first time in as long as I remember, I was too tired to make the whole drive home. I switched off with Julien who was caffeinated from our McDonald’s stop.
We completed the most dangerous leg of our journey without incident.
Thanks Julien for suggesting this trip. I’m glad we stuck it out through super clouds to find some couloir. (Although, every time you respond to my recommendations by saying “As you like” I feel as though I am princess buttercup.)
Also, thanks to Ryan Allderman for posting a detailed TR on Bivouac.
*We personally felt that making camp at Mamquam lake was by far the best option because of the readily available running water. Also, we thought that the best route of egress from Mamquam lake was along a mellow bench to the north of the summer trail. (pictured below)
Of note, Mamquam lake offers very nice, mellow skiing terrain, with 300m runs to the lake. Ideal for those looking to avoid the crowds at Elfin and Red Heather… But you do miss out on a fancy caged stove and girls on snowshoes with too much food.