The Grand Daddy Couloir is Ridiculous

On Saturday, Skyler and I skied Mount Hector and despite some misgivings about the weather got seriously rewarded. Sunday we tried to repeat that luck in the Grand Daddy Couloir and holy shit did it ever pay off.

Really, our planning for the weekend was about as perfect as it gets. Mount Hector was only two kilometers away from the Mosquito Creek Hostel, so we went from skiing to drinking victory beers by the fire in about ten minutes. A lot of victory beers later, we woke up gloriously late since skiing the Grand Daddy involves leaving from Mosquito Creek. Yep - you basically roll out of bed, put your skis on and away you go.

With a blisteringly early alpine start of 8:30am we sauntered up through the trees towards Bow Peak and got our first real view of the couloir. Much like Saturday on Hector, there was a little weather related concern. It had snowed overnight, was still snowing, and there was a fair bit of cloud cover. Vis was not great - but it was good enough to start getting nervous. Because of the angle it slices into the mountain's face, it's a while before you can see the whole thing - but before that you look up and see a gash of snow disappearing into an incredible wall of vertical rock.

Our first real view up the guts of the Grand Daddy Couloir

We toured up to the iconic gendarme that guards the mouth of the couloir and there we switched to bootpacking. We'd hoped to be able to make use of a boot pack left by a previous party, but overnight snow and the simple reality of a shit-ton of sluff coming down a steep couloir meant that there was no trace to be had so we were blazing a fresh trail the whole way.

The bootpack starts

It was a grind. We tried to stick to vertical bands of stiffer snow, but there were a number of areas where it was basically swimming up hill. I spent some time wishing we had climbing plates.

Skyler and I took turns breaking trail up the couloir and the deeper in we got, the more atmospheric it got. The rock rises hundreds of meters above you on either side so every noise echoes. For over an hour our ears were filled with the sounds of feet kicking into styrofoam, the grunts of one legged squats and our own gasping breath. At one point a sluff came down off the rocks above us and the whole couloir filled with the sounds of it slithering down.

Alone with the sound of your gasping breath

The majority of the couloir is about 40-45 degrees (based on nothing but eyeballing it) but the upper pitch, which is also narrower, steepens into the 50 degree range. We climbed as high as we could, leaving just a bit of rock between us and the school bus sized cornice looming over the top of the line. There, we each dug out a platform big enough to let us transition back to our skis and then eyed the line.

Other than a brief narrowing to about 3m wide right near the top, the whole thing is as wide as you could want and was filled with (mostly) beautiful snow. There were some thin spots with rocks that we could see we needed to be careful of, but the rest of it was perfection.

Skyler led things off. He slowly side slipped into the fall line. He took a moment, stood right above the tightest choke point on the line and then without a sound, threw a jump turn and dropped in. Two turns later he disappeared from sight through the choke and I was left with nothing but the sounds of edges scraping on the variable snow.

Skyler jump turns into the line

A few seconds later he called up that he was clear and I should follow him through.

I love that moment - standing at the top of a line. There was no alternative - I had to to ski the line. I knew I could ski the line. All the same, it was steep, committing, and narrow. I knew I could ski it. But still, there's that gut check. Falling would really, really suck.

I dropped in and followed Skyler. 

Through the choke, I cut to the left to join Skyler in a bit of a natural alcove. We decided that I would ski the next pitch first so that I could shoot some photos of him skiing at me. Below me, the couloir opened up dramatically to over 10m across. I linked steep, but unhurried turns down the line while cutting to the side periodically to let my sluff wash by.

Skyler explores the concept of edge control in the Grand Daddy Couloir

Skyler and I proceeded down the 300m vertical line, leap frogging each other as we went before exploding out onto the fan below. The transition, from the steep, closed in couloir to the wide open fan was like taking a giant breath. All of a sudden we had unlimited space, bright sun and total freedom.

Skyler charging towards the gendarme that guards the mouth of the Grand Daddy couloir

The Grand Daddy couloir is one of the most atmospheric lines I've ever skied. Between the darkness of the walls rising above you to the echoes reverberating around you, and the giant spire guarding the mouth, nothing about the line doesn't feel epic. This is one line that lives up to the portent of it's name.

Skyler pops out to skier's left of the gendarme (less debris from above means better snow)

Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.