Popes Col

April 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Distance: ~18 km

Elevation: 1600 m (start), 2800 m (finish) = 1200 m (gain)

Anytime my alarm goes off at 4:50 am, I know it's going to be a good day. I'm either headed to the airport or up a mountain. Why else would you get up so early?

Chris, Dustin, and I started skinning up the Lake O'Hara road shortly after 6:00 am. We were looking forward to a warm, stable day on Popes Col. As the pitch steepened towards the shoulder, we found ourselves bootpacking up the crust. This would be the downside of such good avalanche conditions; the melt-freeze cycle was firmly set on "freeze." 

We arrived on the shoulder as the morning sun illuminated the Trans-Canada Highway on its route into British Columbia.

We dropped into the hanging valley below, we found it faster to boot pack than to ski along the rock-hard snow. 

Into the Sun

The beautiful glaciers and couloirs of Popes Peak greeted us at the top of the moraine.

Popes Peak

Sense of Scale

In due time, we were back on skis and reaching the crux of the route, which involved negotiating a small rock band. We thought that scrambling to the right would be the simplest ascent, which it would have been, had I not underestimated it and decided against strapping my skis to my pack. I found myself needing a handhold without a hand with which to make it, so Chris had to grab my skis from above to help me out. Lesson learned. Dustin managed to capture part of this section:

Contemplating the Route As we traversed around the rock feature (centre frame, above) on foot, we began to encounter a little avalanche debris and noted a crown fracture encompassing the whole slope below the col. It wasn't fresh in the last few days, no more than 20 cm deep, but it was broad; it was continuous across the low-angled crest of the ridge separating the two fall lines.

We hit the col and were rewarded handsomely for our effort. Here is Chris, grabbing a drink on the summit of the unnamed peak to the east of the col.

Drink It In

Great views towards the Death Trap:

Death Trap

And to the north:

Winter's Finest

After several minutes taking in the calm, sunny views, we headed back down. We had counted on the sun softening the crust for a spring-like descent, but it turned out to be hard and choppy almost all the way to the road. However, a terrific day in the mountains to end the ski season.


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