Route: "Killer Couloir"
Elevation Gain: 2,804'
Snow Seekers: Darrin, Kelly and I
When Kelly suggested climbing Pacific via the Killer Couloir, both Darrin and I were excited with the choice. Climbing the north couloir has been on my list since I saw a trip report on it a few years ago. My interest spiked again, when I saw Pacific from Crystal earlier in the year.
We car camped at the 2WD trailhead, and then drove up the 4WD high clearance road to the upper trailhead. Some exciting road features, but nothing too tricky.
We got an early start (4am) since the forecast called for storms after 11am, and we didn't want to rush this beautiful basin or climb. In fact, we took our time on the approach. The trail up to the lakes is great, but there are lots of side trails and off-chutes, so beware, it can get tricky in the dark. There is a sign we missed that took us to another lake we didn't intend to see. Plenty of fisherman come up here for what appears to be excellent fishing, as well as those wanting to see the lakes and waterfall. This leads to plenty of social trails to confuse the hiker. What was obvious on the descent, was not so clear on the approach!
It looked to be a clear and gorgeous day, as the first light started to filter over the mountains to the east. A sickle moon could be seen over Silverheels as we ascended higher up in the valley. The lack of wind made for some fun reflections in the numerous lakes.
With the orientation of the easterly Killer Couloir, it took a while to see if it was in to the top. But as the suns first rays hit it, we could see that we would at least have snow/ice to the top. It is not likely to remain "in" to the top, for much longer.
Pacific and Crystal in reflection
Kelly pointing the way
First light on Pacific
First good view of the Killer Couloir
Our snowy descent path on the left.
We took a quick food break at the first good viewing point of the route ahead. This is where the other 3 climbers of Pacific's frozen seas would pass us, intent on the more technical (or so we thought) North Couloir. We were instantly jealous! But we didn't bring any gear, so no steep ice for us. We transitioned to crampons at the base of the climb with the other group.
The snow started of pretty firm at the base, but with our slow, enjoyable pace up the couloir, the snow softened up. Expected, with the easterly exposure and strong sun hit. The climb itself was easy for the first section. So we took our time, and watched the progress of the other group, wondering if their beta of continuous snow was correct.
Starting up the apron
Movin' on up!
Suncups, kinda like pre-made steps!
At the point where the two couloirs diverge, there was some thought of taking a left turn, but with the rock and ice fall that was and would continue, we decided to follow our original plan.
We stopped midway up, to view the progress of the other team, and to take some beta shots (in case anyone wants to get after this in the next week or so). The main crux appears to be at the very start. And based on the comments from the group, the route didn't appear to be all that well protect-able at present. Snow is continuous until the very top, which is melted out and is "junk on junk".
The point where the North splits off from the Killer Couloir
Getting steeper now
Technical ice section of the North Couloir
Good side view of steepness in middle section. Photo Credit: Darrin
Crystal Peak, peeks over the ridge
Break over, and snow softening nicely, it was time to get on our way up this frozen strip! As we got closer to the narrowing of the couloir, the more spicy it was starting to look! We could see some ice (~WI3) poking through the thin spots of the snow, as well as rocks gaping in the center. This won't be in for much longer!
The snow/ice gets thin in the upper constriction
Kick, Kick, Ice!
View down the couloir, from the upper constriction
On the ice, both Darrin and Kelly were singing the praises of their BD Venoms, as I came with only two regular mountain axes, leaving my heavy ice tools at home. They made some very nice pick holes, so I could follow easily enough. I guess I know one present that may be coming my way soon
The couloir was mostly 50-55 degrees, with the last 30' going to 60, and the cornice a bit more. What we thought was going to be a fairly mellow, non-technical climb, actually turned out to be quite exciting and very enjoyable!
BD Venoms to the rescue!
Approaching the cornice
Kelly and me coming up the icy section - Photo Credit: Darrin
Happy to be here - Photo Credit: Kelly
Kelly working ont he cornice
Kelly topping out - Photo Credit: Darrin
View of the final steepness - Photo Credit: Darrin
View from above - Photo Credit: Kelly
On the way to the summit, we saw the other group just getting to the top of the North Couloir. With rope and setting out pitches, it took longer than our leisurely pace to the top. And as the leader said, the last few feet to the ridge was "junk on junk", as the snow was gone.
We hung out for a little bit on the summit, noting how close Atlantic was, but not wanting to go. Why rush through the close by peaks? Besides, if I'm to repeat, it may as well be a ski Plus the clouds were developing right on schedule, so we went over to the snow slope we spied earlier for our glissade. Not the best glissade I've ever had, but certainly one with a lot of work to keep it at a slow pace. Sun didn't hit this snow with much force today!
Looking down the North Couloir
Pano to the south - Photo Credit: Kelly
Approaching the glissade
A happy glissader!
The hike down was a mix of lots of hikers, fisherman, and some snow flakes at one point. The skies looked grim, but once back at the trucks, the sun was back to beating down on us. A great climb in a beautiful basin, with great company. Those that chose poorly on this day, lost out - you know who you are!
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