Chris, Kieran and I decided to go up Collier North Glacier today due to a forecast that hinted at a clear sky. There was a ton of reports of great north face skiing but on the downside my last recon photos of the area looked like dry access, an even drier glacier and winds were starting to slab up the new snow. Regardless we left early this morning hoping for the best.

Soon after arriving at the Lake O’Hara parking lot Kieran realized he forgot his boot insoles. After playing with the idea of going without them he decided to call it a day. Chris and I started up the road and reached the drainage fairly quick. Easy part is over, now for the hard part I thought. To our surprise the bushwhack had supportive snow and easy travel for such terrain. Soon we found ourselves in the low alpine with the first “rock step” section.

Climbing thin snow on glacier ice.

Again, to our surprise the dreaded rock step was filled in and bookpacking up it was an easy task. Soon we were back skinning over the rolling terrain headed for the north glacier. The parts of the day which I assumed would be the roughest ended up being easy, “we’ll be at the top in 1-1.5hours easy at this rate” I mentioned to Chris… boy was I wrong.

The bottom of the glacier had a bit of ice showing so we decided to work up beside that in what looked to be a deeper section of snow. We started skinning upwards, ropped up but soon realized there was only 15-30cm of snow over the ice. We ditched the rope and skins for axes and crampons.

Chris led the way up the glacier, finding a thin but solid temp crust (March warming?) over a thin layer of facets (Feb deep freeze?) but with only a HS of 20-40cm so we pressed on. A couple of times on the way up I created a quick single ice screw anchor for myself to have a short break and let Chris move up, as he moved to either side I carried on to the next rest spot. Not ideal conditions but also not horrible.

At around 2900m I caught up to Chris, he had quickly transitioned from a shallow caked onto the glacier snowpack to one with a thick hardslab over deep depth hoar. With the top in sight and only 200m to go we decided to call it a day. “Ah the skiing will be shit anyway” we both said.

Skiing down as the next storm rolls in

The skiing was actually pretty good, although no room for error and neither of us felt good about charging down the slope. We were basically skiing some good, supportive snow on glacier ice. Once off the glacier we tucked around the lower cliff band and skied some great powder in bad light before exiting back down to the O’Hara road on a mostly supportive melt freeze crust with a dusting of fresh snow.

Once at the O’Hara road a storm rolled in, we definitely got lucky with our weather window today. I was really hoping for the same powder conditions we found on Popes North Glacier a few days ago but oh well, until next time Collier.

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