Tucked away on the sharp divide separating 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 carrying on and 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.
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.
So it was that on a perfect 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 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 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.
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 had any clue there was a bridge just downstream of where we crossed, which we discovered in a return to the area a month later!
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.
The magnificent ancient 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, possibly because the bear wasn’t home!
In short order, the forest opened up into an area of scattered trees and lighter foliage. It didn’t don on me at the time, but there was ample reason for that, which we would soon discover.
Once we crested these slopes you could easily discern that avalanches had snapped trees and created several substantial clearings, quite possibly in recent years. We soon climbed into a bowl below the ridge and could finally see a path to the ridge above. Route finding became simplified, albeit cautious. 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 that avalanche not already occurred we might well have shifted our plans or stood down, but luck prevailed, in this case.
This trek turned out to be one of those days in the mountains that have become especially memorable to me. Perhaps it was the feeling of isolation I felt, or perhaps 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.
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 compelling.
The sun was beginning to warm, and 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 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.
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 seemed well consolidated and ideal for travel.
Getting up this peak was not a marathon undertaking, but it did take considerable 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 certainly 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!
The sun had really begun to roast us by then, especially since we were now 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. We could now see the road we’d driven up the valley on, and where we’d begun, roughly eight hundred metres below on the valley floor.
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.
We were now in that 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.
I was in no hurry to accelerate this part of the trek, even 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.
One could easily discern that the prevailing winds had the habit of creating huge cornices overhanging the north face, which we were very careful to keep our distance from. It was safe hiking in the middle of the ridge, but we had seen those sheer drops and avalanche chutes on the face and so naturally wanted nothing to do with those.
Soon enough, 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 ridgewalk in the distance.
In another ten minutes, we were standing atop the high point, at 1568 metres, on this remote ridge! It was time to break out the cameras yet again before beginning the journey back into the valley!
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.
The mountain hemlock, pictured below, that guards the end of ridge where we dropped down may be well over 500 years old. I always marvel at their ability to survive the harshest of conditions!
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.
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 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 took merely half an hour to reach the valley floor!
The end of the ramp had come abruptly, and we welcomed our return to the forest, but not without warning. Some weeks before, a huge avalanche had ripped down the couloir immediately west of our exit point and levelled 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.
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.
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.
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!