Mount French Couloir
March 7, 2015 – 9:30 hours
There are few lines in Kananaskis that I’ve seen and needed to do, the Mount French ‘hole in the wall’ couloir has always been on that list. Maybe it’s the fact that my house had a copy of the Backcountry Magazine with a picture of it during each morning constitutional, or maybe the fact that it has a damn hole in one wall was the clincher. Either way, this past weekend skibums aligned to get out and see what the area has to offer.
The area leading up to the wall is a well trodden trail, which is no surprise given the Chic Scott recommendation of ‘terrific backcountry adventure’ on the French-Haig-Robertson Glacier Route. Interestingly enough, we thought the 10 km approach was far too subtle and we needed to feel at home in the Rockies with some Hacksaw Jim Duggan style bushwhacking through a facetted cliff zone. Regardless of the attempts to fail on just making it to the trip, we found ourselves working up the mellow alpine French glacier drainage, this was the 2nd attempt for half of our group as they had gotten sidetracked on a closer line the year before that ended up with Champagne powder, er, I mean actual Bubbly for a birthday in June.
The weather took a slight turn for the worse when we saw spindrift happened above and around us and possibly directly under, it was hard to tell with hood up and my inner marching monologue of happy ski dwarfs. Upon actually spotting the couloir in the distance after a leisurely 4 hour approach, the reality of fun started to sink in and it wasn’t long before the skis were on the pack and we entered the hopefully sheltered north facing line.
Once on the up and up and up the uniqueness of the area started to become apparent. To say the line is a Geological oddity is an understatement. Carter (school for Geology) nearly had an orgasm and I couldn’t stop finding amusing innuendo about tips and holes.
The wall literally looks like some unseen force turned the wall to taffy and picked up this area to allow the snow to flow through. The ‘wedge’ sits in perfect parallel with the walls on either side like a chia seed wedged in my teeth after a cleanse. Anyway back to the skiing part.
We climbed only a few metres before noticing a very odd feature that looked like a dinosaur spine of perfectly spaced ice chunks going straight up. Upon closer inspection it was the boot pack of some friends from a week earlier, except it was elevated out of the snow by at least 10 inches.
I’m guessing this means that they had about a foot more snow in the shot when they skied, which would have made things a bit more enjoyable. The dino spine, waiting to grab our tips, made the already skinny line half as wide and half as likely to be skiable up to the top. We pushed our way up to the crux that we scoped from the bottom and decided that was far enough about 2/3 of the way up.
The way down with very low tide snow started with an ever intense first turn (and maybe one or two feet of side slipping), in which we all had thoughts of the last group’s trip which ended with a Kananaskis accident report. Once a few turns were made we all remembered that we knew how to ski and then the day just became a fun memory on the checklist of steeps in the Rockies.