Traversing the Ridge of Chanter

Tucked away on a sharp divide between Cyrtina Creek and Furry Creek, the unofficially named Chanter Peak and its accompanying approach via its western subpeaks looked to be an adventurous ascent.  Simon had diligently researched the ridge and knew that it was rarely hiked and promised great views, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity! The name Chanter, assigned by the Bivouac website, refers to the pipe of a bagpipe which is provided with finger holes with which to play the melody. It was not, as we joked then, what you call those groups of friendly Hare Krishna folk you sometimes see carrying on and singing happily at the airport. The peak’s suggested name is supposed to be in keeping with the Scottish theme of names in the area, like Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond, whose names are official.

Our  immediate concern  when considering our options, was to try and avert any kind of route that crossed a potential avalanche chute. The north face of the ridge that you see in the photo below had several that were particularly dangerous looking and incredibly steep.

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Chanter Ridge: We were to approach at right and traverse to the left in this photo. The summit of Chanter Peak is 1568 metres in elevation. Our exit ramp is clearly visible at far left… Photo credit Martin O.

So it was that on a perfect tenth of May in 2006, we set out to tackle the task. Simon’s Nissan X-Trail lurched to and fro up the logging road, and we took delight in watching a big black bear cross the road at one point! It was evident that it was going to be a warm spring day, and we continued up the road to park at a washout about 8 kms from the gate. I was intrigued about this ridge, since I had seen it when climbing nearby Capilano Mountain the year before. We had packed snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes, as we weren’t sure exactly how the snow conditions might play out, and expected the trek to last a good portion of the day.

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Morning views from our parking spot
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Here is a view of the ridge, in the foreground, as I’d seen it from Capilano Mountain in August of 2005. Sky Pilot Mountain is at left, and the tower of Ben Lomond on the right

We began by crossing Cyrtina Creek to gain the forest below the western side of the ridge. This went well, at least for Simon, but I managed to end up in the drink.

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Simon shows how it’s done on the creek crossing

None the worse for wear, we continued through stands of ancient mountain hemlock, working our way to the bottom of the ridge. Plenty of stories and laughs were exchanged as we worked our way upward. We had developed quite a rapport through previous expeditions and now had that easy sense of humour that only develops through familiarity.

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The beautifully open old growth forest that we saw that day is now forever gone, according to Simon, who repeated this trek some eight years later. At the time it had been slated to be logged, and though we had hoped it would be preserved, that, unfortunately, was not to be.

We soon came upon a tree that looked as though it would be a perfect den for a bear. Simon peered inside for a quick look, finding no ursine residents, but did so with a casual air that had us both chuckling at the time.

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Hey in there, anybody home?

In short order, the forest opened up into an area of scattered trees and lighter foliage. It didn’t quite don on me at the time, but there was good reason for that which would soon become obvious to us.

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The forest begins to open up as we near the ridge above

Once we crested these slopes you could tell that avalanches had snapped trees and created substantial clearings, and possibly in the not too distant past. We soon climbed into a bowl below the ridge and could finally see a path to the ridge above. Route finding was simple – we chose a steep gully already razed right down to the earth in some spots by a recent slide.  It provided an ideal avenue to attain Chanter Ridge. Had that avalanche not already occurred we might well have shifted our plans or stood down, but luck had prevailed, in this case.

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Me ascending the steep gully below the ridge… Photo by Simon C

This trek turned out to be one of those days in the mountains that has become especially memorable to me. Perhaps it was the feeling of isolation I felt, or perhaps it was the more than ample sense of adventure. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but these photos still evoke strong recollections. I  sometimes use the photo above as an icon on social media sites.

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Simon waiting for me atop the west end of the ridge

The elevation at the west end of the ridge was about 1420 metres, I believe. It was an appealing vantage point, and we were beginning to enjoy the day immensely. The route we would be taking to move eastward toward the summit seemed straightforward. We knew only of the destination, and scarcely little of the possible obstacles, but that was perhaps the best part of it all.

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Mountain views across the valley were beginning to improve!

The sun was beginning to warm us up quite a bit, and the first thing we realized was that neither of us had brought any sunscreen. While that was no issue at the time, it certainly was to be later. We resolved to move on, trying to shade ourselves wherever possible. There were, after all, plenty of other things to focus upon at the time. Here are some of the emerging views that were enjoyed.

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The ramparts of Capilano Mountain through the trees
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The Tantalus Range over in the Squamish River drainage
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Ben Lomond, a nice looking rock tower at the head of the Seymour Valley

We now concentrated on the task at hand; the next peak on the ridge was a short but sharp ascent of less than 150 metres, elevation wise. The snow, at this point, was well consolidated and ideal for travel.

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Simon assesses the route up the next peak we must ascend

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Getting up this peak was no marathon undertaking, but it did take some determination. We had to stop on a ledge to put our crampons on, and, as we did, we noticed a huge crevice where snow met rock. It looked very deep and foreboding, and neither of us wanted to end up trapped inside. We carefully moved past the ledge then tackled the last fifty meters or so to the crest. The first crux was soon ours!

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T’is the struggle that makes the man, as Simon captures in this photo!
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Sky Pilot Mountain, from near the summit of the first subpeak

The sun had really begun roasting us by then, especially since we were now without the cover of trees. I had wrenched a knee on the steepest section of the climb, but it seemed I could manage. We stopped to eat some lunch and survey the sublime views in every direction, savouring them as much as we could. We could now see the road we’d driven up the valley on, and where we’d begun, roughly 800 metres below on the valley floor.

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Looking back at the entrance to our valley and the road on which we accessed it
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Capilano Mountain, at the head of the Capilano River, a major source of Greater Vancouver’s water supply
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Simon having a look at Ben More, Sky Pilot Mountain and Mt Sheer

We had set a good pace up to this point, or rather, I should say, Simon had set a good pace! Of all the people I’ve been with in the mountains, he is certainly the quickest when moving uphill. I’ve often wished that I could spend the number of days he does in the hills, as usually he averages ascending over fifty new peaks a year and has climbed hundreds of summits. Me? I’m just glad to have been along for a decent handful of those hikes.

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Beginning the ridge walk…Photo by Simon

We were now in the kind of territory every mountaineer loves; an open stroll on a friendly expanse of snow with stunning vistas everywhere you looked. In the photo above, you see me working toward another peak on the ridge.

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Simon with the westward end of the ridge and the Tantalus Range behind him

I was in no hurry to accelerate this part of the trek, as we trudged along through snow that was fast becoming isothermic. It was also clear we’d both be sporting obvious sunburns in the days to come but that too, seemed not to matter. We had not managed to catch sight of the summit yet but according to readings Simon figured it could not be far away.

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Simon on the ridge again, one of my favourite photos!

One could easily discern that the prevailing winds had the habit of creating huge cornices, which we were very careful to keep our distance from. It was safe hiking in the middle of the ridge, but we had seen the sheer drops and avalanche chutes on the north face and so naturally wanted nothing to do with those.

Soon enough, the summit was in our sights, and Simon took the lead again as we dug in for the top. You can see (in my photo below) Simon making tracks upward and next (in Simon’s photo) me ascending the ridge with the start of our ridgewalk in the distance.

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On the last pitch to the summit!
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Almost there!

In another ten minutes, we were standing at the high point, at 1568 metres, on this unnamed ridge! It was time to break out the cameras yet again before beginning the journey back into the valley!

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On the summit…Photo by Simon
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Sky Pilot Mountain, at 2031m, tallest in the Britannia Range
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Ben Lomond. Simon was to stand on its top in about 4 weeks, and while I was present on the trip when he did so, it would take me another year later to make it back for a successful second attempt. That’s a fine tale in itself!
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Cathedral Mountain, tallest in the North Shore Mountains at 1737 m….Photo by Simon
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Britannia Range…Photo by Simon
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Simon explores the surprisingly wide summit plateau

While capturing the summit had been eventful,  now it was time to think about the day’s second crux. How were we to get down? While we had a general idea, there was some apprehension due to the snow having softened and the need to avoid avalanche prone slopes. That would take some doing, but we were confident a solution would present itself.

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Pondering our escape

The mountain hemlock, pictured below, that guards the end of ridge where we dropped down may be well over 500 years old.

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Tsuga Mertensiana, Mountain Hemlock
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Where to next?

As we reached the end of the summit block, an appealing snow bowl with reasonably safe slopes came into view. We would start our trip downward there, plunging steps as we walked.

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The bowl we descended into, with the summit looming behind
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Me, hiking down into the bowl below the ridge…..Photo by Simon
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Mountaineer’s best friend

Next came a glissade on wet snow that enabled us to lose almost a hundred metres in elevation. At the end of the slide only quick reflexes allowed Simon to avoid a nasty broken snow bridge. Had I been in the lead I would certainly have broken through if only because my greater weight would have ensured that. As we stood about considering where we should go next, a conspicuous solution leaped out at us. A perfect ramp to our left seeemed to lead to the foot of the ridge, and since we knew that the slopes above it were reasonably safe,  we walked and glissaded our way down. It had taken merely half an hour to reach the valley floor.

The end of the ramp came abruptly, and  welcomed our return to the forest, but not without warning. Some weeks before, an avalanche had ripped down the couloir immediately west of our exit point and taken out a huge expanse of forest. There was no urge to linger there, because while the danger had passed, the feeling of vulnerability had not, so we continued on toward the logging road.

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The ramp where it met the valley below. You can see the devastation a previous snowslide had wreaked on the forest here! It looked to be a week or two old
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Another view from back on the logging road. The chute at center was the one that released. Our ramp exit may have been unsafe in typical winter conditions or even a couple weeks earlier

It had taken us just under eight hours to complete our trip, and we were feeling that brimming sense of accomplishment that a fine day in the mountains typically brings.

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Well done!

On our walk down the logging road, we stopped in to have a look at Rolf Beltz’s ski cabin, which has now long fallen into disrepair. We certainly wished it had a beer fridge, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

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Simon in the ski cabin
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A decent wood stove

All told, our eight hour day featured about 9 kms of travel and 1300 metres of cumulative elevation gain. It was a day that tested not just our skill and mettle, but also our critical thinking process. It was a satisfying day in so many respects, and I suppose that is why this trek has left such an impression on me. The ridge with no name, had, to us at least, made a name for itself!

 

 

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