Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 49.74967°N / 125.87345°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 30, 0000
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Winter

Great West Couloir, Mt Colonel Foster - Trip Report

As Christmas 2014 approached Vancouver Island was blessed with a nice early winter cold snap and I had squeezed in a couple of good days, including a quick trip with Hunter Lee up King’s Peak where we looked over at Mt Colonel Foster and plotted a trip with Josh Overdijk to the west face. Hunter had used the couloir as a descent off a climb up the Dirrettissima on the east face the winter before and confirmed it’s character as being pretty moderate angled. 

The cold weather held through Christmas and between unwrapping presents and eating seasonally decadent meals the obsessive checks of the forecast promised a perfect weather window between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. Plan in Place Josh, Hunter and I were once more back on the Elk River trail headed toward Mt Colonel Foster.

It was a little strange hiking up a clear trail in the dead of winter. We didn’t reach snow until Landslide Lake and it was so consolidated we were still carrying snowshoes until about halfway across Landslide Lake when we started to get water pooling on our boot tracks and it seemed prudent to use them to spread our weight. Not to worry the forecast was for the temperatures to drop that night and stay cold until the 31st, two days from now. Just enough time to get up and down.

We bivvied at Foster Lake under a crystal clear star-studded sky with the silhouette of Mt Colonel Foster’s East Face looming impossibly overhead. We were actually chewing over a variety of objectives including climbing an east face route but eventually we all had to agree that the face was still a bit lean and so the next morning we pushed up the south chute toward the South Col. There had been about a foot of fresh snow a day or so prior and we were half expecting to be spooked by the snow stability. But the more we looked, observed and studied the more reassuring things became. The slog up to the South Col went without incident. The steepest thing encountered all day was Josh’s learning curve on the snowshoes but he triumphed and we made our way into the col by midday. 

There was a stiff, bitterly cold wind ripping through the col as we huddled behind a large boulder for lunch. With the wind at our backs we ascended a bit above the col and then began the traverse across the wide snowfield below the west face toward a treed spur ridge and flat shoulder overlooking the bottom of the Great West Couloir. The golden light of the low winter sun was glorious as we trudged across the snowfield. There is massive exposure above Donner Lake here but again the snow just seemed locked solid onto the slope and we made it across to the shoulder just as the sun set. Above our little camp the jagged towers of Mt Colonel Foster were every bit the impressive alpine scene.

West Face, Mt Colonel Foster
West Face, Mt Colonel Foster

A pre-dawn start saw us dropping off the spur ridge on its north side into a massive cirque under the north half of the Colonel’s west face. The whole cirque seems to funnel up toward the Great West Couloir showing how the glacier and subsequent avalanches that scoured out the cirque were being fed from the high terrain surrounding and at the top of the couloir. We slogged up with our snowshoes as the slope tapered into the gully. As the ground steepened we stashed the shoes off to the side and switched to crampons. The angle was moderate with no technical climbing but the situation was awesome. The rime coated walls bounding the couloir were fearsome looking and being isolated as we into our third day of travel now, the sense of adventure was a thrill to soak in. After about 350m of grade 1 snow there’s a short 50m grade 2 outlet leading onto the upper glacier on the summit ridge. Once again the wind was relentless through the notch at the top of the couloir. We were left in little doubt it was winter.

Josh and Hunter made an attempt for the summit but I was happy enough to be on the summit ridge. My quest had been to see the couloir first hand and figure out if it was viable as a year round route to the main summit and standing there below the Corporal gendarme that was now left in no doubt. With the only caveat, which applies to pretty much all Island alpine snow gullies, that conditions are bound to be best with full snow cover it’s pretty safe to say that the Great West Couloir is the fastest, least technical route to the summit of Mt Colonel Foster and eliminates much of the loose rock, long rappels and frequent bergschrunds encountered following the summit ridge from either the North or South Col.

After a valiant attempt along the summit ridge finding sketchy unprotectable rime on a crucial slab, Hunter and Josh returned to the top of the couloir and we headed back down.

Our descent down the couloir went smoothly and we were back at our bivvy spot in no time. I was a tad reluctant to leave so soon, the west shoulder really is a beautiful place, but the warming trend forecast underscored the need to avoid lingering so we headed back. We traversed a lower line across the snowfield back to the South Col and made our way down the south chute as darkness settled in. After a questionable rappel in the lower part of the chute, that kept the adrenaline flowing, we were back at our first night’s camp at Foster Lake for a late supper and a very deep sleep. Next day we retraced our steps out the Elk River trail and headed home for New Year’s Eve and family.

Great West Couloir: AD AI1 (lll) 325m

FA: Hunter Lee, Josh Overdijk, Philip Stone 30 December, 2014


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