Mid last week we got wind of a planned trip to investigate and possibly climb Crater Couloir on Crown Mountain. It’s been on our radar for a while so we immediately put our names down to go along. Some details changed and due to a few of us needing to be back in the city earlier 4 of us, Spring, Leigh, Dean and Adrien ended up planning to start hiking at 4:30am it meant a 3am wakeup alarm on a Saturday but c’est la vie.
We approached via the Grouse Grind trail, a leg burner that stops for most at the Chalet at the top where they check their watches, record their times and never venture further into the backcountry beyond. For us, the Chalet would be our first pitstop.
Starting in the dark, and trudging up this trail that turned from soil, to ice, to snow it was a novelty to burst out into the open and be surrounded by the fully lit up Grouse Mountain Resort. We refilled our water bottles in the Chalets restrooms, changed some gear around then headed out on the corduroy groomed trails towards Crown Mountain, where we left the groomed and broken trails behind.
We made good time from here and passed Dam Mountain, Little Goat Mountain and then continued down to Crown Pass. As our plan was to do the Crater Couloir we started descending towards the Hanes Creek Valley at this point. About half way down we noticed a rather large and wide runnel that had been formed recently by a slide released from the bluffs above to our left. It was enough of a pause to question whether we should attempt the Couloir at all. Conditions weren’t good and we all knew it would be a heinous snow treadmill up the couloir so we decided to leave it for another day. We decided to attempt the summer scramble route instead.
Once we regained Crown Pass we began following the Tree Markers that lead the way along the summer trail. Simple sections that I’m sure are easily bypassed when there isn’t any snow ended up taking considerable amounts of time. An ice layer about a foot or two beneath the snow caused numerous problems in steep sections as the snow on top of it would slide and would also not compress to allow us to make footholds. To add to this, due to the snow, the runouts in quite a few sections of sidehilling were pretty bad.
Nevertheless, we pushed on, swimming and plowing through the powder. We gained the final ridge to the summit and decided to don our crampons and leave our hiking poles and snowshoes on the ridge for our return trip. The rest of the ridge to the summit looked exposed but at least it looked like consolidated snow that would hold an ice tool pick and some crampon points.
Once geared up and moving forward we realized the conditions weren’t as we had hoped. Instead of some nice wind encrusted and hard snow we found a thin pasting of rime on top of rock and krummholz. When we’d swing our ice tools it would either *ping* off the rock beneath or *twunk* into the gnarled trunk of the elfin-trees. We moved ahead as far as possible before resigning to the fact that the summit was out of reach today.
We stopped, ate and drank and joked and enjoyed just being out there in the mountains. Few see this mountain at this time of year so we soaked in the solitude and views and watched the ravens circling beside us, waiting for us to drop a granola bar or half frozen piece of sandwich.
We investigated the top of the Crater Couloir and realized that the entire top section of recent snow had cracked and slid away from some slabs. It looked really unstable and we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief that we had not attempted it.
The return trip went quickly, and before we knew it we were shocked back into civilization at the Grouse Mountain Resort again with people staring curiously at our ice axes and helmets. We rode the gondola down instead of hiking the Grind again and finished back where we started in the parking lot.
Overall it was a great trip spent with people who know how to suffer well. At this time of year you need to enjoy pain as you are always feeling it. Either your lungs are burning from the cold, or you’ve got leg spasms from pushing through heavy powder, or your shivering from stopping to eat and drink or your extremities are aching from warm blood rushing into them when you begin moving again. It takes a certain kind of someone to endure that and smile with happiness afterwards. In our group, we’ve found it in each other.
Until our next adventure…