Cayoosh couloirs – on Go; No Go decisions Feb 2018

A powerful story by my friend Adam about decision-making processes inspired me to think a bit about how people who get out in the mountains might want to talk more about the trips which don’t result in triple overhead blower pow but rather about readjusted objectives.  And more importantly why.

Margus, Sharon and I set out one rare sunny Duffey day to wander around the north arm of the Cayoosh drainage to see if Million Dollar Couloir was in good shape and if it was, to ski it.  All three of us have done it before so the route was a known quantity.   On the weekend the typical BC coastal snow cycle of this winter had resulted in a massive snow dump increasing snow base even more.

S facing shot off Rock and Roll Ridge - an alternate possibility for the day

The SW’ers accompanying the snow dump changed to NE and NW winds on Sunday and the following Monday with arctic temps.  Shar and I went out on the Sunday in the Whistler area and found good snow below treeline on SW and S aspects sifted through the trees.  On Monday we went up Duffey and found good snow below alpine ridgeline on S aspects.

Tuesday found us a valley W of our Monday trip skinning up the Cayoosh drainage up the N arm of Cayoosh Creek.  Temps were still cold; -13 at valley bottom but winds were nil. Skies clear.

Red line shows proposed route to gain Cayoosh N glacier crossing E facing slopes

Decision 1 – there is terrain of N, SW, W and S aspects up this drainage.  To get to the bigger objective (the N facing Million Dollar couloir) the approach is via a wide valley and a wide glacier.  We played the terrain card by picking this route so we would have choices.

The Million Dollar and the Cayoosh N Glacier

Decision 2 – an E facing small feature just popped size 1 and remoted as we gained the ridgeline.  The remote was also a small sz 1.  But we had a considerably larger more solar exposed E facing feature to traverse to gain the Cayoosh N glacier.

Closeup of the sz 1 and the remote on the E face. A small avalanche but nevertheless a sign

Decision 3 – we collectively thought the Million Dollar and (backup plan) the Half Million aka Squamish 1 bedroom lookers left of the Cayoosh Glacier seracs would also ski well. Million Dollar had actually slid in a previous storm cycle thus probably cleaning out major persistent weak layers so educated guess would be that it would be sluff management in the feature.

Another angle of that sz 1 and the remote - E aspect

But weighing risk/reward traversing an E facing larger slope was not worth it given the Na just triggered skinning up an E facing slope

Exploded zoomed out shot of location of sz 1 NA and proposed route behind - all E aspects

Decision 4 – we skinned up to Rock and Roll Ridge to pick off a 500m slidepath that looked to be not wind-affected.    Had some settlements on the SW aspects below treeline as we were skinning up.  Expected because there was preserved surface hoar below treeline and the wind slab formed a cohesive slab above said SH.   Unfortunately the target slidepath we skied had snow that was variable.

Up to Rock and Roll

One side of the path was SW (slabby); the other was W (creamy boot-top).  The path was too constrained to really play with angles to get into the W aspect.

Shar on the top of the path - approx 35 deg of variable

In retrospect perhaps we placed  too much reliance on S and SW slopes from previous days skiing being good.  Instead we should have picked other paths further down the ridge which were wider and less constrained

Shar and Margus near the bottom of the path


Path in the entirety


Path with markups

We finished the day by ascending approximately 1100m and really not skiing much.  But we had a good day in the sun, collected information and made observations, made decisions based on those obs and finished off contented.  Plus the valley bottom had warmed up to a balmy -7 when we were done and beers were tasty

Completes the trip



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