Traversing the Ridge of Chanter

Hidden away on the sharp divide that separates  Cyrtina Creek and Furry Creek, the unofficially named Chanter Peak, approached via its western sub peaks, looked to be an adventurous ascent.  Simon had done all the research, and his promise of grand views with a challenging climb was more than enough to pique my curiosity! The name Chanter, arbitrarily 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 singing happily at the airport. The peak’s suggested name is meant to be in keeping with the Scottish theme of other names in the area, like Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond, whose names are official.

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

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 the tenth of May in 2006, we set out to take on the task. Simon’s Nissan X-Trail lurched to and fro up the logging road, making good progress. Our only brief delay was in watching a big black bear cross the road! It was evident that it was going to be a warm spring day, and we continued up the road and parked at a washout about 8 kms from the gate. I was intrigued about this ridge, since I had sighted it when climbing nearby Capilano Mountain the summer before. We had packed snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes, as we were unsure exactly how the snow conditions might play out, and expected the trek to last a good portion of the day.

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 end of the ridge. This went well, at least for Simon, but I somehow managed to end up in the drink. Funny as this was at the time, neither of us knew there was a bridge just downstream of where we crossed, which we discovered in a return to the area a month later!

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 a draw. 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 with cameraderie.



The magnificent 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 was not to be.

We soon came upon a tree that looked as though it would be an ideal 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, possibly because the bear wasn’t home!

Hey in there, anybody home?

In short order, the forest opened up into an expanse of scattered trees and lighter foliage. Once we crested these slopes one could easily discern that avalanches had snapped trees and created those spaces , perhaps quite recently! We soon clambered into a bowl below the ridge and could finally see a route to the ridge above. Route finding now became a simplified, albeit cautious exercise. We chose a steep gully which had been  razed right down to the earth in some spots by a recent slide.  It provided an ideal avenue to attain Chanter Ridge. Had the avalanche not not provided that handy escape route we might well have shifted our plans or stood down, but luck  prevailed, in this case. I remember thinking it felt a little too much like whistling in the dark while walking through a graveyard.

The forest begins to open up as we near the ridge above
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 have left an indelible impression on me. Perhaps it was the feeling of isolation I felt, or maybe it was the ready sense of adventure, but these photos still evoke strong recollections. I  often use the photo above as an icon on social media sites.

Simon waiting for me atop the west end of the ridge

The elevation at the west end of the ridge was roughly 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 what made it all so compelling!

Mountain views across the valley were beginning to improve!

The sun was beginning to warm us, but much to our chagrin we realized was that neither of us had brought any sunscreen. While that was not an immediate issue, it certainly was to be later. We moved on, just trying in vain to shade ourselves wherever possible. There were, however, plenty of other things to think about, like the surrounding views we now enjoyed!

The ramparts of Capilano Mountain through the trees
The Tantalus Range over in the Squamish River drainage
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, well consolidated, seemed ideal for travel on snowshoes.

Simon assesses the route up the next peak we must ascend


Getting up this peak was no marathon undertaking, but it did take considerable determination. We had to stop on a ledge to put our crampons on, and, as we did so,  noticed a huge crevice where the snow met warming rock. It looked very deep and foreboding, and under no circumstances did we wanted to end up trapped inside! We carefully moved past the ledge, and tackled the last fifty meters or so to the crest. If the snow razed gully had turned the key to the west ridge, then this slope had opened the gate, as it were.

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

Now the open ridge lay before us, with its series of summits! The sun had really begun roasting us by then, and now we were without the cover of trees. I had also wrenched a knee on the steepest section of the climb, but it seemed I could manage well enough. We stopped to eat some lunch and survey the sublime views in every direction, savouring them as much as we could. Looking back, the road on which we’d driven up the valley was now visible, some eight hundred metres below on the valley floor!

Looking back at the entrance to our valley and the road on which we accessed it
Capilano Mountain, at the head of the Capilano River, a major source of Greater Vancouver’s water supply
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 he routinely 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.

Beginning the ridge walk…Photo by Simon

This was the kind of territory every mountaineer loves, an open stroll on a friendly expanse of snow with stunning vistas all around. We enjoyed the vibe, while working toward yet another peak on the lengthy ridge.

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

Not that we were in a hurry to accelerate this part of the trek, but as we trudged along through snow that was fast becoming  soft and isothermic. There was little doubt we’d both be sporting sunburns in the days to come but that too, seemed not to matter. There was no sign of the summit as yet, but according to readings Simon figured it was not far away.

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

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

Finally, the summit was in our sights, and Simon took the lead once 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 route in the distance.

On the last pitch to the summit!
Almost there!

In another ten minutes, we were standing at the apex of this remote ridge, and could not have been happier! It was time to break out the cameras yet again before beginning the journey back into the valley!

On the summit…Photo by Simon
Sky Pilot Mountain, at 2031m, tallest in the Britannia Range
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!
Cathedral Mountain, tallest in the North Shore Mountains at 1737 m….Photo by Simon
Britannia Range…Photo by Simon
Simon explores the surprisingly wide summit plateau

While capturing this 1568 metre 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.

Pondering our escape

We discovered a mountain hemlock that guards the end of ridge where we dropped down which may be over 500 years old. I always marvel at their ability to survive the harshest of conditions!

Tsuga Mertensiana, Mountain Hemlock
Where to next?

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

The bowl we descended into, with the summit looming behind
Me, hiking down into the bowl below the ridge…..Photo by Simon
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 contemplating where we should go next, a conspicuous solution leaped out at us. A perfect ramp to the left seemed 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 took merely half an hour to reach the valley floor!

The end of the ramp came abruptly, and we welcomed our return to the forest, but not without trepidation. Some weeks before, a huge avalanche had ripped down the couloir immediately west of our exit point and levelled a huge swath 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.

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
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.

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 lamented the lack of a beer fridge at the time, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Simon in the ski cabin
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 only 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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