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Big B.C. Mountain Climbed by All-Women Team – “Quite a few people doubted us”

Tiffany Cunha, Darryl Anderson and Eryn Tombu-Haigh climbed the Great West Couloir on Colonel Foster, finding good conditions during their three-day mission

Photo by: Tiffany Cunha

“It was the climb of a lifetime for me so far,” said Tiffany Cunha about an ascent of Vancouver Island’s Colonel Foster that she made with her wife Darryl Anderson and friend Eryn Tombu-Haigh.

Cunha, who grew up in Gold River said that she’d often see the famous peak as a kid and that she remembers “being absolutely blown away that people had climbed it.” Colonel Foster is the fourth highest peak on Vancouver Island at At 2,135 metres.

Cunha said, “Fast forward to getting into climbing and mountaineering over the last 10 years and it just seemed so far out of my wheelhouse and up until we were on the summit, I still had some serious doubt.”

There are several old routes that were established in the 1970s and 1980s, but Cunha said they “took a relatively new route that has only been climbed by a few parties called the Great West Couloir to gain the upper glacier and summit ridge.”

From there, they climbed the summit traverse over to the main summit and back the way they came. “We took three days,” said Cunha. On the first day, they went from the Elk River Trail parking lot to the West Ridge of Colonel Foster via Landslide Lake and the South Col. The following day, they summited and moved camp back to the south col, and on the final day they hiked out from the south col.

“I led the group all the way to the summit and my wife led everything on the way back,” said Cunha. “Eryn is working on all the 6,000-foot peaks of Vancouver Island and just has a small handful left. This was the scariest to her. The exposure was great at many points, but I was just having a blast all damn day.”

High on Colonel Foster. Photo by Tiffany Cunha

Weather and snow conditions have been finicky so far this year on the Island. “It was just a stroke of luck we got the weather we did,” said Cunha. “The snow conditions worked out awesome for us as the south col and couloir were very full on the way up. The south col was tricky and very moated on the way down. There was also some crap snow on the very exposed bits of the summit ridge, but we managed to work around it. The pitches of climbing were clear and that’s what was important.”

Cunha reached out on social media to find out if any other all-women team has climbed and summited Colonel Foster over the years. “It sounds like no other group of all ladies have summited, which is really a cool experience,” she said. “I’m so proud of us and how well we worked as a team. I felt that we were very safe and made good decisions. That’s so damn important. We also just did well speed wise. Quite a few people doubted us, and I had a few messages and stuff beforehand warning us of how the snow would complicate the ridge and how my timelines for moving were set up. Well, we nailed it in the end.”

The alpine climbing season in western Canada is just starting as conditions at higher elevation in the Rockies and Coast Mountains improve. When asked what’s next, Cunha said, “So many things. We want to finish our Island Qualifiers and have Warden and Septimus left. We need to go back and do the Kain route on Bugaboo Spire. Tick off some of the bigger volcanic mountains like Baker, Rainier, etc. I would also love to do a bolder line up the East Face of Colonel Foster like Cataract Arete or something. There are so many good multi-pitch alpine climbs being established here on the Island that the list gets ever longer.”

Eryn Tombu-Haigh, Darryl Anderson and Tiffany Cunha
Lead photo: Tiffany Cunha