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Couloir Series: Shredding Popes Peak via North Couloir

The classic couloir can be seen from the Trans-Canada Highway near the B.C. border

In 2007, with Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau made the first descent of Popes Peak via the North Couloir. The steep line was recently skied by Brette Harrington and Mark Herbison. Below is a story called Shredding Popes Peak by Walsh about his and Brazeau’s line.

The spring of 2007 was the best snowpack in recent memory so many steep first descents were shredded by skiers and splitboarders in the Columbia and Rocky Mountains. One of my favourite outings came in mid-April, when Chris Brazeau and I set out to make what was probably the first complete descent of the Popes Peak via the North Couloir.

We’d been inspired from previous seasons in Chamonix – cutting our teeth on the steepest couloirs we dared to drop into. The French combined skiing and climbing like they were meant to be together and we felt in our element doing the same. Technical descents involving belayed climbing and rappels are common in the Alps with guidebooks listing every line that has been skied including details of cruxes and even grades. These books by Francois Lebande and Anselme Baud were our sources for inspiration and stimulated our imaginations every time we looked at out own “Canadian Alps.” It was also inspiring to see other adventurers mixing skiing and mountaineering to push their limits in steep remote terrain. In general, some impressive shredding was getting done.

On Popes Peak, two pitches of ice and mixed climbing through the small but overhanging serac had prevented skiers from making the complete descent from the summit. As the entire line was plainly visible from the highway and the approach was short, we had envisioned the obvious link-up for some time.

At the top of the main couloir – a classic descent in itself of about 500 metres at 45 to 50 degrees – Chris led a 15-metre pitch of WI3 ice with skis on his pack. With no possibilities for an anchor on top, we simul-climbed the 55-degree hanging snow slope above until an ice anchor was available in the serac. I took the next lead which involved a couple of body lengths of M4 mixed climbing with crampons on the limestone slopers and tools overhanging glacial ice.

I belayed Chris up on a single ice screw then we kicked steps and skinned to the summit. A mandatory break was in order to take in the spectacular 360-degree view before dropping back into the knee-deep cold smoke that waited below. Both climbing pitches were rappelled on the way down – one off a V-thread and the other off the biggest snow bollard we’ve ever made. The rest of the descent was straightforward and before we knew it we were back at the car enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine once again.

Popes Peak

Couloir Series

Grand Daddy Couloir, Rockies
Corbet’s Couloir, Jackson
Saudan Couloir, Whistler
Kindergarten Couloir, Boom Lake