On Sunday, Paul, Shaun, and I took on the Aemmer Couloir. 600m of 45-55 degree snow bisecting the huge north face of Mount Temple. Not only is it a huge, aesthetic line, but it has the bonus of being visible from Lake Louise which increases opportunities to brag about it. How can you not want to ski it?
Saturday night, the three of us met up in the Lake Louise overflow parking lot where we'd be sleeping in our cars. We hung out, carb loaded with some beer and finalized our plans.
We were up at 4:30am and after driving to the (still closed) Moraine Lake Road turnoff, we parked and were moving by 5:30am.
Our route to the Aemmer Couloir took us up to Annette Lake by following the summer trails. We'd gotten a decent freeze overnight so there was a solid fast moving crust overtop of the isothermal facets we knew were lurking below.
From the lake our route took us up a drainage until we reached its head. Climbing out of the drainage to the pass above required either ski or boot crampons based on individual preference. We could have bootpacked without crampons, but kicking solid steps into the crust would have been frustratingly slow.
Once on top we finally could see the Aemmer Couloir. We stopped for calories and to assess conditions while we ate. It had taken us about 4 hours to get to the base of the couloir so it was only 9:30, but it was already super warm and concerningly, we soon watched a large sluff come down the guts of the line.
I can't say we were undaunted - but we pressed on. I guess that makes us semi-daunted? Anyway, we strapped skis to our packs and started bootpacking up, taking turns kicking the steps in. Conditions were pretty standard 'Spring Rockies Couloir', with a frozen crust sitting overtop of isothermal snow which meant that either we stuck to the most frozen line - which made for higher consequences if we lost our balance, OR we could stick to the softer lines and more or less wallow. What happened in the end is we basically oscillated between the two depending on which option was currently frustrating us less.
While the Aemmer Couloir itself was well protected from the sun, the rocks above were getting super hot and starting to rain debris on us. Luckily, it was mostly snow with only a few small rocks, but it was still unnerving.
Eventually though, another bigger sluff came down. Our climbing line was intentionally protected from it, but it was still indicative that despite our semi-early start, things were getting too warm on the rocks above.
Clearly the mountain was telling us it was too damn warm and it was time to go away. We'd made it about two thirds of the way up as measured from the bottom of the fan so there was only about 200m left above us to grind up - we were looking at less than an hours work to top it out. It was a pretty tough pill to swallow to turn around, but hey, better to live to ski another day.
We dug out platforms to transition and pretty quickly were skiing down. With the whole top of the line still in shadow, the crust hadn't warmed up enough for the skiing to suddenly be great, so it was an icy descent until we hit the fan which had been baking away all morning. Suddenly, the skiing was incredible corn snow on top of a supportive crust.
Our speeds ramped up and we went from steep sketch sideslip-happy turns to cranking super-g turns down in blazing sun the entire way down to Annette Lake.
From there, I won't lie, it was mostly shitty up and down travel through isothermal crap but we got back to the cars around 2:30pm so while less than awesome, at least it didn't last too long.
All in all, we were 9 hours car to car and covered 22km and 1100m of elevation. If the temperatures hadn't warmed up to the point of turning us around and we'd hit the top of the couloir, it would have been about an extra hour.
Great day, great people, shame we didn't top out, but hey, everyone came home safe.
EDIT - After chatting with a few people online (including Marcus from Confessions of a Ski Bum which is very worth visiting) about the sluffing, I feel even better about our decision to bail as the slopes above can hold snow and face East which means they get sun early. This one deserves a seriously alpine start.
Jeremy Pulsar sent me a link to this Informalex post which clearly illustrates the hazard.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.