In the Throne Room of the Sun God

***It is with utmost respect to the late noted author, climber, and elite photographer Galen Rowell that I pirate, or rather, paraphrase, the fine title of his book for this tale. While my work may not be up to the standard he set, it is at least meant to be in the same spirit***

Sun God Mountain… The name has a definite ring of authority to it. I had been intrigued by this mountain for some time and wondered what could be seen from its summit. Both Doug and I had seen the peak from Birkenhead Lake on separate camping excursions, and that was enough to sow the seeds for a new adventure.

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Sun God and company from the shores of Birkenhead Lake

It was July of 2011 when we finally ventured to Sun God. Following a somewhat discouraging evening of torrential downpour in our hometown of North Vancouver, Doug and I nevertheless found ourselves in the Birkenhead area July 8 on a cool, unsettled summer morning. The goal was to drive to the Birkenhead/North Tenas Branch 8 junction, park the truck, and ride our bikes packed with overnight gear with an eye toward camping in the Sun God/Seven O’Clock col. The road above, apparently, was blocked by deadfall and impassable even for high clearance vehicles.

It took three hours to complete the drive. Almost unwillingly, we geared up, with about as much enthusiasm as you’d expect after waking up at 4 00 am and after, in my case, roughly four hours of sleep. Now it was time to grind our way up the logging road and its ninety two waterbars!

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Heading uphill with a lot of gear!

The ride uphill was torturous, and by far the hardest part of our trek . We arrived at road’s end by about 12 30 pm, later than we’d hoped but still on good time. After a brief stop spent devouring sandwiches and eating jelly beans, we took care to cache our bikes carefully in the woods nearby. The weather still seemed ominous as dark clouds drifted about the Tenas Creek Valley. Mt Ronayne and its subpeaks were the dominant views, as we contemplated our chances.

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Mt Ronayne, looking very black and white here

Onward and upward! It was time to take to the forest. With a useful GPS track from our friend Ryan, and descriptions from Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in Southwest B.C. in hand, we battled our way uphill. If you keep left of the creek on your ascent, you’ll pick up the occasional marker that helps blaze the way. Snow patches were still evident once we hit 1450 metres in elevation and going was slow as we clambered over fallen timber and occasionally sank in the snow.

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Handsome forest, elevation 1450m

The primary concern was still the weather, however, as those black clouds now hung menacingly above us.  For some reason I jokingly decided they were going to clear, which they did, miraculously. At roughly 3 30 pm the col was reached, and it was a relief to throw off our heavy packs for a spell. We chose to set up camp  on a dry, rocky island of krummholz with its own personal creek for water supply, and a huge boulder we hoped might serve as serve as a windbreak.

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We set up the tents at what we called Tree Island Camp
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All important beer cooler!
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The view from my tent door. This is why I love the mountains!
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First signs of spring life!
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Mt Ronayne from camp

Next it was decided we’d get in an early dinner then shoot for climbing Sun God soon after. Once we had set up the tents, Doug fired up the stove and we feasted on tortellini,  and I buried six Granville Island IPAs in the snow nearby. Life was improving all the time, as the Sun God cleared the skies and afforded us incredible views.

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The tarn just above our tents, where many people set up camp
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Seven O’Clock Mountain

It was about 5 pm when we set off for Sun God, about 500m more in elevation gain and some distance away along the ridge. We were refreshed and optimistic as we climbed ever higher.

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The eastern summit of Ronayne

The shadows were shifting in the sky, and the light put on a fine evening display in all directions. As we gained elevation, we also encountered softening snow, which meant sinking in up to two feet even with lighter packs.

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Peaks above the Birkenhead Valley

This also meant, though, that we would not need to break out our crampons and could just kick steps in the snow on the steeper parts of the climb. The temperature was about 10 degrees Celsius, so not too hot, and with brisk winds, just the way I like it.

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Doug approaching Sun God Mountain
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On the traverse, probably the most technical part of this climb

The summit was reached after  a careful traverse on snow, and then by following what amounted to a compacted scree path that is easily picked up once you reach the ridge line’s cornices. Once there, you simply bear right toward the summit.

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Me, contemplating the ascent or more likely thinking about beer

The crux, if there is one, is one simple unexposed step with hands on, or hands in pockets if you like, up a short scree gully. The summit of Sun God Mountain is 2421 metres high.

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Getting closer to the summit

There are commanding views in all directions. I had read that even  Mt. Waddington could be seen but I had no idea where we should to look to find it. In the distance we could see many mountains that we knew well, and scores of others we had never seen before. This was a very wild place that sees perhaps not more than a couple of dozen people per year, but only the summit cairn suggested any prior human presence.

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One of my favourite photos of all time!
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Birkenhead Lake
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Doug enjoying the views

After spending our usual twenty minute maximum on the apex we turned away reluctantly and headed back to the tents. The sun was dropping on the horizon as we strode toward the plateau, retracing our steps, which were now beginning to harden with the icy winds that had now returned to the ridge.

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Sun God summit panorama, 2421m
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Heading back to camp

Knowing that darkness would set in before too long, we also tried to pick up the pace just a little. Initially, we had also hoped to climb Seven O’Clock Mountain across the col, but that would have to wait for another time, perhaps the morning.

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Incredible light
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Doug and Seven O’Clock Mountain

Had we known how many photos would be taken on the way down we might have layered up our clothing a bit more quickly! In the ever fading light, the skies were changing colours by the minute.

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Gathering Dusk
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Those ever changing skies
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Boulders!
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Last light on Ronayne

 

It was 9 pm by the time we rolled into camp. The time had gone by swiftly, as it often seems to do when you are enjoying the day. I’d almost say it was too cold to drink the beer we had stashed in the snow, but of course that would be far from the truth!

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What a way to end the day!

Soon after, we settled in for the night. I was much more spent than usual after a hike, and it wasn’t long before I dozed off to a peaceful sleep. It was a very cold night, and neither of us was keen to wake the next morning. I’m a notoriously early riser on most trips like this but not even I stirred until 7 am. That meant Seven O’Clock Mountain would have to wait till another day.

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Did I mention it was a cold night?

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The tents had a layer of frost on the outer flies and breakfast was made in a hurry to help warm us up. Soon enough, the sun rose and made its welcome appearance as we drank coffee and ate some oatmeal.

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Remembering the day before

Since Doug was to be back in Whistler to meet family, we packed up camp then carefully made our way down to the bikes, which was a dicier task on the now hardened snow. Next came a glorious ride down to the truck on our bikes, so much easier on the downhill! It was only once interrupted when we had to discharge a bear banger to clear a big and curious black bear off the road. Then it was lunch back at the truck and back on the road to civilization, weaving our way through the hordes of bike riders competing in the Sea to Sky Challenge, a local bike race taking place on the roads near Pemberton.

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An excellent trip, and I understand that now the road can be driven to where we rode, which saves a lot of wear and tear on the body. Still, highly recommended, however you manage to get up there!

 

*******Author’s Note*******

Thanks to friends Chris, Ryan, and Simon for information provided on the area.

As well, an honourable mention to Matt for his fine description in his fine book Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “In the Throne Room of the Sun God”

  1. A beautiful scenery to hike in! The sunset you captured over the mountains is truly spectacular. What a spectacular camp site. I am surprised with the amount of snow still present despite being July. Funny how you only mention the black bear encounter in a bi sentence as if that is normal stuff, I would be terrified…hehe:)

    Like

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