Fitzsimmons NW Face – It sucked donkey balls April 25, 2009

Words and photos by Lee Lau unless otherwise noted.


We skied the NW face of Fitzsimmons yesterday – total tour was about 2700m vert, 36km distance and 16.5 hours for most of us (I cut out 2km and 250m of vert). The icy crust was terrifying. It received a combination of rain, suncrust and (probably) also got cleaned out by slides. It was an intense experience to say the least.

  • Good news: No avalanche danger
  • Bad news: High probability of losing an edge on barely penetrable slopes and going for 2,000 foot ride down 55 degrees ice


We started from the gondola at about 8am loading with exhibitors setting up tents after a gongshow of forgotten passes and missed meeting times (sorry Brian!) At about 8:15 we left the resort. We were skinning to the top of Harmony at about 8:45 – up and over to Flute and at the top of Flute at about 9:30am or so. Everything going OK.

Start at Flute – about 8:45am

Then we took the usual route over to Oboe, down to Singing Pass, up pass Fissile and to Fissile – Whirlwind Col at about 12:30. Checked in with Sharon who already had a bike ride over in Pemby and who said the corn inbounds was pretty decent. Then we headed up to the Refuse- Overlord notch; admiring big piles of refrozen fallen cornice debris and the bold skin and ski tracks of Spearhead Traversers who didn’t mind playing crevasse and cornice roulette as they put in a high track.

Up the Fissile pocket glacier with McBride range in the background

Fissile – Whirlwind col – Fissile E ridge in background

I set a low track on the Overlord Glacier and left the high tracks to daring cornice dodgers and crevasse jumpers doing the Spearhead

Cornice debris on Overlord. Fissile like a Missile is superthin with a rap in the middle

Lars traversing the Benvolio cornice – Pic by Tyler Wilkes

Group at Fitzsimmons Col – pic by Tyler Wilkes

We kept on going. For sure it had been warm but it didn’t seem like N faces were hurting that bad. The N face of Overlord even had some pow. The N faces as we skittered under the overhanging Benvolio cornices also had snow. The glaciers sure are thin this year though so we gave slots a wide berth. By about 3.00 pm we were at the Fitzsimmons notch.

Checked in with Sharon again who said that the Beer and Nachoes at Cittas was, as usual, very satisfactory.

Weather was decent. The bootpack up to the notch was fine. There seemed like there was a good chance of nice snow on the NW face. Terrible coverage on the climb to the peak. Not wanting to wallow in thin faceted crap we gave it a pass.

Smile of someone about to be scared witless on skis. Diavolo Glacier and Cheakamus Mt in background

There’s not much to say about the rest of the descent. We traversed over to the NW face. It looked like it would be good. Bit of a cornice around it. That must mean wind blew snow onto the face so it’d be good right.? Well, it was a slab of icy, terrifying steepness and we grovelled our way down it. Thankfully none of us fell. Speaking for myself, after a few turns, my skis started shooting out from under me and I braked on the slope with my face. After that, my face was bleeding, my nerve was shot and I pretty much side-slipped down it. Very unaesthetic would be a kind way to describe it.

Ryan – dude where’s my ice-axe?

Why are these guys smiling? Clint and Lars

Clint’s not smiling anymore

Lars lugged alpine boots and Dukes and big skis all this way to ski icy shit-show

Clint did the smart thing and rode with his ice – axe. Picture is at the bench

– Pic by Tyler Wilkes

Lee – not a happy camper – pic by Tyler Wilkes

We managed to eke out about 20m of good snow that hadn’t been cleaned out by the combination of rain, sun and slide debris that had cleaned out the NW face of Fitzsimmons. We had intended to also take a run at Iago’s W face but one look the big piles of avalanche debris and the icy runnels down the middle of the face changed our minds. This was the worst snow we encountered this trip. Every other face we had toured or climbed or skied wasn’t close to this impenetrable. I’ve skied lots of snow that is “mixed” to put it kindly. No other slope I’ve skied (FASP couloir ice and breakable crust, icy goodness in NW Wedge, refrozen crust on NE Fissile) has ever intimidated me as much with its sheer impenetrability and complete imperviousness to ski edges – of course, short of looking for a nice ice-climb to ski.

I want to take a short time out to congratulate Tyler, Clint, Ryan and Lars for staying alive and not going for a 2,000 foot cartwheel down Fitzsimmons. It would have been a pain in the ass extrication.

Our route justin case anyone wants to replicate it.

Getting down and congratulating ourselves on staying alive took some time. We decided to pass on the quick way up to the lower Overlord col (direct from Fitzsimmons Gl straight up a NE face) and descended to about 1575m then started a trudge bootpacking up to the N ridge of the Overlord Glacier. We got to a bench at 2040m on the ridge then had to skin to about 2150 then back down the Overlord Glacier towards Fissile. There are slots on the Overlord Glacier that I’ve never seen before except in summer. The moraine just NE of Fissile has slid to ground. Fissile itself is also a complete utter shitshow. There are new crowns and piles and piles of debris on every skiable face – NE, NW, Saddle, Summit, Banana – everything is done. Maybe there’s some good corn skiing out there but maybe the glacier – walking thing is about all that’s worthwhile right now.

Clint skiing off the Fitzsimmons Glacier with Iago and Fitzsimmon’s NW face above his head

Lee on Fitzsimmons Glacier

Ryan – serac surfing



Lars making it look good

Mellow 500m bootpack and skin back to Overlord Glacier

By the time we got off the Overlord Glacier, back to Russett, then up to Cowboy Ridge it was 8.30pm. The guys wanted to skin up the resort and then ski back down the runs. The thought of getting another 300m or so of elevation and getting my climbing closer to the magical 10K feet for the day was appealing to my rando-racer alter ego but Sknging Pass was so close so I did what every sane person would do and I ditched the guys. Called Sharon and told her I’d be down in about an hour and a half.

That plan was going well till about 2km and 200m short of the resort I lost a ski on Singing Pass and I did the one hour posthole up to knees grovelling back down to Whistler/Blackcomb. The sound of Nine-Inch Nails taunted me as the Telus Ski and Snowboard Festival blasted through the forest. I got to the resort just in time to hike out under the closing fireworks. When I got home at 11pm, my lovely wife had a pizza warm in the oven, cold pops waiting for me in the fridge and best of all (and I love her for it) no I-Told-You-So.

The End

Clint back on the Overlord Glacier. We were kind of close to here about 6 hours ago. Why is he smiling? Doesn’t he realize we’re going to ski out in the dark?

Lee skiing out the Overlord Glacier – pic by Tyler Wilkes

Clint on Cowboy Ridge

Ryan in a Black Tusk oh-no-its-sunset and we still have 3 hours to go to get out here kind of mood

Celebration fireworks – thank god we got out here.

Google Earth image

Elevation profile

Fitzsimmons NW Face from Tyler Wilkes on Vimeo.

Other route pictures – first shot is from a group of friends who were doing the Spearhead and were shaking their heads and saying WTF as we sketched down

This shot is from another group who did Decker. It shows our down route and the alternate bootpack to Overlord

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