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The last week of March, Louie and I had the privilege of joining a rad group of humans on another round of Kokanee hut fun. This year the Kootenay snowpack was lower than usual, with us arriving at the hut to learn that there had been no new snow in the region for almost three weeks. We were greeted by blue skies and gorgeous visibility on the heli flight in, a world different from the stormy ski touring weather we experienced last year. The views sure were nice, but it was heartbreaking to see signs of lots of warming activity; rollerballs, cinnamon rolls, chunks of leftover wet slides all around the mountains.
After arriving at the hut, we went for a quick lap to discover that north aspects were still holding cold snow. Sure love those north aspects!
With low avalanche danger, we wanted to try and ski something interesting. After reviewing the old printed trip reports stored at the hut, we discussed a few options, ultimately landing us on the decision to ski two lines on the north side of Sunset Mountain; Crazy Mary Couloir and KGR Couloir.
On Sunday, March 24th, Kate, Brandon, Louie and I set off to complete the quest. We had an idea where the couloirs were, but thought it was worth exploring the ridge on Sunset mountain to see if we could get our eyes on the KGR entrance from above, as well as peek at the full ridge walk over to Crazy Mary. We got a clear view of Crazy Mary from the top of South Sunset Mountain, and confirmed that KGR started from a lower ridge below the south summit that was not visible from above.
To get to Crazy Mary, we skinned up to the top of North Sunset Mountain and explored the ridge walk over to Crazy Mary. The snow on the ridge felt isothermal and loose, boot penetration indicated our concern was valid. The group decision was that it would be smart to save the couloirs for another day. After bailing, we enjoyed some flat light skiing off the south side of Sunset, then gained the summit of John Carter. Geigerich was looking fine when we descended off John Carter so we decided it would be worthy to ski a line on it as well. We also hoped to get a glimpse of the couloirs on Sunset on our way up.
The next day, we explored the possibility of skiing to the base of the couloirs and booting from the bottom. We headed down toward Griffin Creek drainage but again found possibly unstable isothermal snow. The descent was steep and exposed to a few big avalanche paths that displayed lots of past avalanche activity. We quickly made the decision: turn around, as it was only 10 am and the sun was already cooking.
As we skinned over to Nansen ridge, Kate saw a wolverine running near the top of ridge; he seemed to have been following an old skin track made by others in our group the day before. Wolverines sure move fast! We enjoyed some fun north facing lines of Geigerich and Nansen; Lutefisk skied really well!
By the third day, we were a little over attempting the couloirs; and with snow in the forecast it seemed like a great opportunity for a rest day. The next 24 hours brought about 20 centimeters of fresh, and lots of smiles. The next day all fifteen of us went up to Kokanee glacier to soak up views and powder. Jen, Lee, Todd, Erin and I dropped in for a long pow lap down into Joker’s basin off Cond Peak; hands down the longest and raddest pow line I’ve ever skied.
With last day of skiing arriving way too quick, and the new snow settling nicely, we pondered going for Crazy Mary and KGR once again. After our previous two attempts, we were making jokes that we’d be attempting the couloirs each day of our week in Kokanee until we were able to get them. We kept calling KGR “KGB,” so since I’m Russian, I was deemed an integral member of the group.
On the last day of the trip, Louie, Kate, Brandon, Chris, Theresa and I decided to go for it. Since none of us really liked the ridge downclimb to Crazy Mary off the summit of North Sunset, we were hoping to contour and attempt to ascent the west side of North Sunset to gain the entrance. After scoping that out, the ridge walk/downclimb of North Sunset still looked the best way to go; the west side looked steep, exposed and already baking in the sun.
We were psyched to see that the ridge walk was way more filled in compared to our last attempt. Chris, Kate and Brandon spider-maned their way down to the top of Crazy Mary, while Louie, Theresa and myself did a quick rappel.
Crazy Mary skied well with the new snow. Even skier number six got nice turns! After a short traverse, the top of KGR ended up being just a short bootpack away. The skier’s right entrance was easy to locate.
The snow at the top of KGR looked phenomenal! To be safe, Brandon, who was the first one down, got on belay to confirm what we were seeing. After a few extensive turns and bounces, he started down the couloir. The vertical descent is a little over 2000 feet, with the steepest section at the top. I dropped in third and enjoyed mostly soft turns (with a few icy ones) all the way down. By the time I came out on the apron I could barely feel my quads. Kate actually counted the number of turns that she made in the couloir: 144. The thing just kept going!
Agreed among our group, this was truly the most exceptional line we’ve ever skied and a phenomenal way to wrap up this year’s trip. Kokanee is a magical place and I hope we get to keep making this trip every year.