Surprise Pass is popular spring tour, finishing with a 700 meter chute down to the back of Lake Louise. There’s a fair number of TR’s about this one, but I haven’t seen anything from a splitter’s perspective.
Zee and I left Calgary around 6:30 and were on the trail by 9:00. You follow the trail for Saddleback Pass, starting near the Lake Louise boat house. After 2 hours of gradual climbing over 3.7 km, we made it up to Saddleback Pass.
Saddleback Couloir – On the to do list
Me and Zee at Saddleback Pass:
From Saddleback Pass, the route leaves the hiking trail and traverses below the slopes of Mt. Fairview into upper Sheol Valley.
This is the 100 meter convex slope that Chic Scott warns about in Summits & Icefields. Zee transitioned to ride it, while I split skied it. The slope very slick with sun crust, but I was just barely able to hold an edge across the traverse. If you can ski this section, it will save you some time, but don’t bother unless you’re confident in your skiing abilities.
Another kilometer across the upper section of Sheol Valley brings you to the base of the 100 meter couloir you have to climb. You literally don’t see it until the last minute, hence the name, Surprise Pass. (mostly hidden on the left).
The climb up to the pass was fairly difficult, since it was very crusted over and full of frozen debris from small wet slides, but I was able to skin all the way to the top with the help of split crampons. Zee managed to skin about halfway up, before booting up the final half of the couloir.
Me riding down (courtesy of Zee's iPhone)
In spring conditions, I would highly recommend bringing split crampons. They weren’t absolutely necessary, but they were very useful. If Zee had some (he was on Karakorams, so I couldn’t lend him mine), we could have moved much more easily from Saddleback Pass to the 100 meter descent and they were invaluable for climbing the couloir.
An ice axe wouldn’t be out of place for climbing the couloir in any conditions.
Nice one guys! Looked like a great tour. Been thinking about getting out to do this one myself. Drop me a PM if you guys are heading out for some spring turns in the next couple of weeks! The fat lady isn't singing just yet....