You’ve no doubt heard the story by now. It’s one of overcrowding, lack of planning, and the abysmal management of a natural treasure. With all of the current controversy regarding Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, sometimes it’s hard to remember that it ‘s also one of the most idyllic places in all of southwestern British Columbia. This park, located at the summit of Cayoosh Pass, is just north of Pemberton on Highway 99. The turquoise lakes, glaciers, and towering peaks make it popular year round, but the summers are when it’s busy beyond description.
So exactly what happened to cause all the issues? Well, with the advent of social media, the expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway, and the excessive promotion of tourism, came a huge influx of visitors. When you combine that with the destruction of the old trail in favour of a wider gravel path, and a zero dollar increase in parks management funding over the last fifteen years, what you have is a recipe for disaster. Long before the ridiculous and sometimes unruly crowds, however, Joffre Lakes was a markedly different place to visit. Even if you turn back the clock a mere dozen years, the park was a far more pleasant experience, though even then there were clear signs of change. Well, if you’ve been of the mind that a place this overrun just isn’t worth seeing, then continue reading and I’ll try to illustrate why you might want to rethink that resolve!
It was in July of 2008 when I finally found my way to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. I had heard it could be a bit crazy in the sunnier months, so I’d avoided it mostly for that reason. Most of the people I knew in the hiking world had already spent plenty of time there by then. It was an overnight stay in the parking lot and a trek to the 2377m summit of Mt Tszil that served to change all of that for me. I arrived on an early July evening to meet up with Ted and Denis, who were climbing nearby Saxifrage Mountain earlier that day. Once there, I spent a lot of time rambling back and forth to Lower Joffre Lake just to photograph the mountains and glaciers as the sun began to set. The parking lot had but nine other vehicles in it, which is unimaginable by today’s standards.
The guys arrived around 10 pm, a bit tired and short a couple of pints of blood courtesy of the hordes of mosquitoes in the Spetch Creek Valley! We hung around shooting the breeze and enjoying a couple of cold beers before settling in for the night. We knew we’d be starting out very early the next morning.
Arising early to make coffee, I found the clouds had closed in and the bugs had now come out in full force. During the night the valley had chilled and we awoke to clouds of mist swirling in the parking lot. The weather was expected to clear as the day wore on, as we geared up for what was sure to be a long trek. Soon Denis and Ted were ready to go, and a short while later we were hiking the beautiful trail up the Joffre Creek Valley. Rolling fog and cooler temperatures made for fast travel, and on the way I enjoyed the Kendal Mint Cake Ted had brought up for me!
At Lower Joffre Lake the sun had been struggling to emerge, but by the time we arrived at Middle Joffre Lake half an hour later it had nearly won its battle. There was plenty of chatter to kill time, bit it was a lively discussion about the right kind of chips to eat that dominated the trail conversation. Denis is strongly against flavours, strictly preferring plain or ripple chips. Despite the fact I am of the same mind, it was fun getting him to evaluate all the other varieties. Lines like “If I wanted a dill pickle, I’d be eating a dill pickle. Why would I want my chips to taste like one!”, and “Ketchup is a condiment. If you must add it to your chips, please do so privately with packets, because I don’t want it on mine!”, or “BBQ flavoured chips don’t really taste like anything I’ve ever barbecued, so I don’t understand that idea at all!” were the order of the day. Ted had heard it all before, and seemed more concerned with where we were going next and the beer we’d be drinking later on.
In no time at all, we had reached Upper Joffre Lake and would be scouting for the somewhat obscure trail that leads you up into the alpine. It winds through the woods and eventually to the bottom of a large lateral moraine of the Tszil Glacier, where a steep and rough track follows a spine into the col between Mt Taylor and Tszil Mountain. The path was soon located, and so was a sweater lost recently by someone we knew through the Clubtread hiking website we all hung out on. The guys, uhhhh, put that to good use in their latest comedy routine of the day.
The route was well marked and reasonably straightforward, and soon we found ourselves staring down the summit block of Tszil Mountain. The line of ascent was simple to figure out, and much sooner than we had figured we were standing on the summit, in less than four hours from the cars. Not too bad, especially for Ted and Denis, who had knocked off 1500m of climbing the day before!
Originally, we had planned to climb Slalok Mountain, but the guys were pretty burned out from the previous day’s climb so, between that, and the whiteout we encountered, Tszil would be enough to content us that day. We sat high above the clouds, enjoying our lunch and the constantly changing scenery.
Soon, with snacks now consumed, we departed the summit, and were now basking in the warmth of sunshine. Along the way the guys ran into a couple who had just finished a trip to The Alps, and spent a while discussing their experiences there. Feeling the need for some solitude, for whatever reason, I decided to wander down the ridge further to take photos of the lake and mountains. I marvelled at the clusters of tiny wildflowers, and the way they take advantage of every opportunity, while the calls of pikas occasionally broke the silence.
Eventually, it was time to retrace our steps back down to the lakes, where we experienced a fairly hectic hike back down to the parking lot. Keep in mind this was a weekday in 2008, and the crowds today have increased at least twenty fold! Then, as now, there were a lot of impatient people on the trail, many spectacularly unprepared, and plenty of peculiar behaviour to go with them.
We were happy to reach the parking lot, now jammed with cars, and kick back with some cold Stella Artois and those potato chips we love so much. Plain ripple, of course, if you’re keeping score, as I had no ketchup packets! Then, as now, it was a day worth remembering, and it had me planning future visits to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
But what of today? Despite the fact that this park faces many future challenges, it is still a wilderness worth preserving. In a world where outdoor recreation has reached record demand, there will have to be some well reasoned solutions so that it thrives. I’ll discuss those potential answers in this story’s next chapter, to follow soon…
The annals of mountaineering, especially those of social media offering, are so often filled with the stories of success. That is, you plan the trek, face the adversities, and eventually stand triumphant and heroic on the summit before staring down the descent. The truth, however, is that sometimes victory eludes you, yet in defeat there is often a story worth telling. If you have the courage to look back on the bad days, you might even get a laugh or two out of the spanking you’ve taken. Whatever the case, the most important thing is to keep on going back to the mountains. They are always worth the effort!
Here then, are a few excerpts from my three and a half decades of history in the hills, some rather inglorious. The mountain has a way of finding you when you’re not having the best of days, you know. As long as your ego isn’t too closely shackled to grabbing the summit every single time, and even if it is, you can still learn a lot from your misadventures.
What follows here is a retrospective of some climbs on which I ended up turning around, and the variety of related reasons for those retreats. I was surprised to find, to my chagrin, that there were a few more of them than I thought there were! Most of the real epics were concentrated in a ten year period that I’d characterize as the most trying time in my life, yet those same years were crammed full of discovery and elation as well.
First up? Mt Elsay, the avalanche… It was late one spring when I finally had my first experience setback in the mountains. I was close to my 39th birthday, and was feeling pretty immortal back then. I was, after all, at the peak of fitness at the time, having finally quit destroying myself playing baseball, and freshly off successful knee surgery. In many ways I felt unstoppable! Spoiler alert, I wasn’t.
That trek basically ended for me almost before it started. No sooner had I descended Wes’s Staircase on the Elsay Lake Trail, than a haunting mist obscured the entire valley. I continued on for a spell, knowing the route well, but almost immediately I froze in my tracks. There was a deep rumbling off the eastern slopes of Mt Seymour. It sounded powerful, so I stood and waited a minute or two to see what had happened. When the clouds drifted away momentarily, I could see a massive runout of wet snow that had carried with it the twisted limbs of small trees and continued on well over the trail I had intended to walk! This was an omen, had I been five minutes faster it’s possible I might not be telling this tale right now! It was a timely reminder that nature couldn’t care less how much you want to reach a summit. Though my wife sometimes begs to differ, I can sometimes take a hint! I turned around, and didn’t return again until over eight years later to climb the mountain.
In 2006, I only missed out one summit, and that was the rock tower of Ben Lomond in the Britannia Range. Simon, Alan, Denis, Chris, and I had planned on climbing Ben More, Ben Lomond and Red Mountain in one long day. On our way up Ben More, I felt something pop in my left hip, which I had injured the year before on Mt Price. I knew right away it was going to be serious, but I badly wanted to stand atop the high point of the Seymour Valley. Though I did manage to summit Ben More, by the time we reached the base of Ben Lomond, I could not move my leg high enough to kick steps into the precipitous snow slope. Frustrated, I sat down with Chris, then chipped off a piece of snow with my ice axe to stuff in my pants. Chris, meanwhile, was suffering with a painful foot injury. We were not happy campers! This was the first time I ever had to sit idly and watch other people climb a mountain and I didn’t like it.
It made me kind of nervous to be a spectator, but of course Alan, Denis, and Simon pretty much pulled it off without a hitch. When they came down, it was time to climb the less technical Red Mountain, which I had decided I was going to do come hell or high water. It hurt like hell, but I did it.
Meanwhile, we watched from afar, cheered, and celebrated as Chris got up off the snow and proceeded to climb Ben Lomond! After that, we all walked out, and I returned the next summer with Denis to finally climb this peak. It was all I had hoped for! It was, however, the start of a ten year battle with that serious hip injury. Hip flexors are difficult, as they may heal, but in the process, they often tear again frequently. It took me a decade to properly rehabilitate from the injury, but then, I never stopped hiking, so maybe that is why. I resorted to taking up yoga to help the healing process, and it worked better than anything else I had tried.
July of 2008 on Cayoosh Mountain was the best of times. Ted, Denis, and I spent the night camped out having more than a few beers before starting out the next morning for the summit. The conditions were ideal, but we were going to have to move fast to avoid the high temperatures of midday.
It had been a big snow year and we knew the route could become dangerous if we tarried. As it turned out, I basically managed to louse that up by getting us off the right path. We passed the correct gully and instead I led us to a ridge we cliffed out on. That meant we had to double back before ascending the correct line, which we did, eventually.
Once we reached a steep bowl below the sub summit, however, I knew our day was done. The snow had become too isothermic, and was now too unsafe to cross. The only sane decision was to walk away. We haven’t returned yet, but maybe someday we will. That one’s on me, boys!
Later in 2008, Chris and I were attempting Tulameen Mountain in the Cascades. We began, sans helmets, by climbing a very sketchy gully and veritable shooting gallery of falling rock that I began calling the Jingfest Couloir. With that bit of Russian Roulette out of the way, it was a question of digging in and making our way through a big field of shifting rock and up the southwest ridge of the mountain.
On that day, the weather had looked unsettled, and then suddenly we could see a storm moving very quickly up the Fraser Valley. This was not good! We were only another hour from the summit of Tulameen but our position was much too exposed. The next thing we knew there was lightning, and more threatening clouds, and we were scampering back to the cover of the woods below! It took a while, but we struggled back to the truck in one piece, none the worse for wear. Chris often tells me he’s a magnet for bad weather. I’m not sure about that, but on that day it was a funny enough explanation!
A different fate struck on Castle Towers in 2009, where Doug battled vertigo gamely and scrapped his way up to the west summit on a perfect summer day. The week before he’d been down with the flu and an ear infection. Climbing the true summit, just a half hour away, just wasn’t going to happen. While I took summit photos, Doug took a seat just below the cairn trying to gather his bearings.
He offered to wait while I attempted it alone, but we were a long way from civilization and if anything had happened to me I was not sure he was in the right shape to walk out alone. I made the only decision that I felt right about, and we enjoyed the west summit for a good thirty minutes more before beginning the long walk back. In the end, this trip was among the finest we have ever done together, and over a decade later I still talk about it!
The year 2009 also brings to mind one of the more strange and happy days of my life. In September, Chris and I drove up to the North Creek Valley near Pemberton to have a go at Hemionus Mountain. As we hiked up the south ridge on that cold and sunny day, we were treated to some phenomenal scenery. Just as we reached a high sub summit with a commanding view, we made the mistake of sitting down.
I had slept only an hour and a half the night before and Chris had been doing a lot of trekking the weeks before as well. Though we might have had the summit, instead we just kicked back, relaxed, and let it all sink in. This was the first time I’d ever done that on a mountain trip, and it was outstanding! We laughed a lot, and then strolled back down after a while. Some of my friends were a little incredulous, wondering why we would drive all that way and not at least try a little harder. I just shrugged, to us it had seemed right. Still does.
Then there was Ring Mountain, a dormant volcano in the Squamish Valley. I set out with Doug, Denis, and Chris on a spectacular spring day in 2010 with the goal of standing atop this tuya. The year before, Doug, Chris, and I had approached it from the Callaghan Valley, and due to a lot of faffing around on the wrong side of the mountain we had already spent a fair amount of time on the objective.
I was to fail again that day, as despite Doug’s stellar efforts at breaking trail I simply did not have the strength to follow. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had previously picked up a very devious intestinal parasite which only affected me especially in times of hard physical effort. With it came chills, shuddering, fever, nausea, and sometimes the complete and random evacuation of my bowels. That day featured all of the above. While Doug and Denis reached the summit, I waited below, cursing my fortune. In fact, I was damned angry! Chris also had to turn around on that day, but it was more a matter of time constraint, not for lack of strength. Current score: Ring Mountain 2 Mick 0.
Only months later, I would make an attempt of Mt Bardean and Mt Ratney with Gerry and Sabine that turned out to be all too familiar. In those days I was pushing the envelope on every trip, and surviving on the absolute minimum of sleep.
My wife and I raise a son with autism, you see, and for the better part of about 20 years, we lived in a partial state of exhaustion. I made it to within just 150m of Bardean’s summit that day, but could go no further.
It wasn’t as bad as all that though, because I enjoyed a 90 minute nap in an idyllic alpine meadow while Sabine and Gerry climbed the two peaks. I’ve not managed a return yet, but would love to try again!
Curiously enough, since 2010, every summit I have attempted has been met with success and for the most part with far less difficulty. As time has passed, I don’t get up mountains with the quite the same speed I did in younger days. Who does? What I do is finish off the efforts with a combination of persistence and well, more persistence. I live by two important mantras: “Just put one foot in front of the other” and “Those beers down at the truck aren’t gonna drink themselves!”
Doug’s Ford Explorer rolled slowly to a stop. It was an ideal summer morning back in 2009, and there was plenty of excitement in the air. We were finally going to climb Castle Towers Mountain! The plan was simple: We would hike along the ridge lines below Helm Peak after leaving the trail, then work our way to Gentian Pass. From there, we would push on to set up camp on Polemonium Ridge and find our way to the summit the following day. You may have heard that this part of British Columbia is overcrowded and a bit too popular for your liking. While sometimes that is undeniably true, likely even more so today, I think this story might just change your mind a little. If you’ve ever had any doubt that spending a couple of days hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park is a good idea, then be prepared to dismiss those worries!
With full packs, the grunt up the Helm Creek Trail took plenty of effort, but we were still elated to be there. Doug had put a lot of planning into this trek, and now it was time to put our boots to the trail. It seemed a relatively short couple of hours for us to make it up to the Helm Creek campsite, and some overnight campers were still lingering there as we arrived at Helm Meadows. The momentary envy we felt for the coffee they had was all but extinguished when I told Doug I’d packed some beer along for the walk!
If by now you’re wondering about the catchy title to this story, well, here’s an explanation of sorts. So, exactly what is a hoser? See the actual definition below, but the word has come to mean any typical Canadian in many circles, and it’s also a nickname that got attached to the two of us by friends years ago. The flowers and Castle Towers? I’ll let the photos answer that question!
To elaborate, I offer the following:
Hoser: (n) Canadian hockey derogatory term that is similar to the American “idiot” or “loser”. It is derived from the pre-Zamboni days in hockey, where the losing team would be stuck with hosing down the ice after the game. It was popularized again by the characters Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis played on the SCTV comedy show of the late 1970s and 1980s.
The next phase of the operation was to circumvent the Helm Glacier so that we could arrive at the col above Gentian Pass. To do that, we climbed steeply toward Helm Peak and simply meandered along the ridge some 250 metres below its summit. The clouds and sunshine put on a real show for us as we walked, and although the weather looked unsettled it ended up clearing just as we had hoped. The views, at least, were a welcome distraction, as the slope we had chosen to hike up was steep and lined with heather.
Spectacular views of Gentian Peak, Black Tusk, and many of the peaks of the Garibaldi Ranges made their appearance one by one. Though we were beginning to feel the heat of the day and the weight of our carry, it hardly seemed to matter. Gazing at all of the lakes, with their varied shades of blue and green, I could not have imagined a better place to be on a summer day.
Once we reached the col, we virtually stopped in our tracks. There it was, Castle Towers! The very first time I had hiked to Garibaldi Lake I had been drawn to this high, glaciated, triple summited tower, and now we were getting a closer look. After a brief diversion examining a weather station there, we continued on.
It is here on this climb that you get an idea of the punishment you’ll endure on the return, because at that point you drop at least 250 metres in elevation to reach Gentian Pass. As per mountain terminology it isn’t strictly a pass so much as it is the Gentian – Polemonium Col, I suppose, but the name seems to have stuck. It took us another three quarters of an hour to reach the short expanse of meadow below, with its fine views of Castle Towers and the nearby Spearhead Range. By then we were in no mood for the up and coming hike up to Polemonium that was to follow, so we decided it was dinner time.
Doug broke out the stove and cooked up tasty dinner of rice and chicken with Indian spices, which was so good at the time I can still recall it a decade later! Meanwhile, I iced down some beers in a creek nearby and broke out some Snickers bars for dessert. After we ate and drank, we took ourselves a short nap, which really helped Doug as he hadn’t been feeling that well the week before the trip. Still, it was only with great reluctance that we shouldered our packs again and made for the ridge above. It seemed like every step took a minute, but eventually we reached our destination.
Polemonium Ridge was a revelation! It was a broad plain of multiple levels, and featured endless vistas of the surrounding peaks. Though I don’t remember saying much at the time, I do recall being very thankful to be there! For lodging, we had brought two lightweight bivouac shelters that were braced with our hiking poles, and of course sleeping bags. We placed camp in a carefully located position, in case the winds kicked up, then set to exploring the ridge for a spell. Garibaldi Lake loomed below us, no doubt buzzing with campers, but from our perch we heard only faint summer breezes and the calls of nearby marmots. This was a real mountaineer’s camp, complete with some aging remnants left on a previous expedition or two. I even found an old pair of aviator sunglasses that date back to the 1970s which I still have today!
The sunset was a grand show, as the alpenglow danced across the nearby peaks and a fiery orange glow hung over the Tantalus Range and the Squamish Cheakamus Divide. We spent the time letting all of that sink in and talking about trips past and future, and the fact we were then out of beer! Shortly after the sundown, we turned in, wanting to take advantage of the cooler morning conditions as we knew we’d be climbing in the shadows. Sleep came easily, it had been a long day!
I awoke early, as I always do in the mountains, having never been one to lie in a few extra hours when there’s a sunrise to see. I found myself thinking about my father, who had passed away the previous November. He had a lot to do with teaching me about the joys of early rising, being of the belief that it was particularly sublime to be awake while most of your corner of the world was ensconced in slumber. I will always think of him in the wee hours of the morning.
Breakfast came next, then we cached some of our gear which we’d pick up on the descent. No sense carrying too much weight, right? Cool morning air accompanied us as we climbed further up the ridge and searched for the gully that would give us passage to the west flank of Castle Towers. It turned out that it wasn’t too difficult to locate, the crux being all of the loose rock that we had to contend with. We were well distracted by the views of the hulking mass of the Garibaldi massif and it’s volcanically created lake in the valley below.
Pretty soon our objective stood before us, and next we scaled yet another pile of randomly placed rock to bring us to the foot of a snowfield. According to our information, the snow here was supposedly in decent shape for kicking steps, so we’d opted not to bring crampons and ice axes with us. Big mistake! Doug, with his sturdier footwear, was able to lead successfully up the steep pitch to make it just barely possible for us to cross the snow. I followed behind, trying to very carefully place my steps. Since there was some exposure, this took us some time, but in time we made it up intact. Lesson learned? A serious mountaineer brings ALL the necessary gear, and that way if you need it you have it with you!
All that was left to do was to finish the climb to the west summit, where we could examine the rest of the route. That consisted of a fairly large boulder field, which never gave the feeling of walking on secure and solid ground. Nearly every rock moved regardless of its size, and that made for one very nervous ascent, but we just kept on moving until we arrived at the top.
The west summit of Castle Towers is a spectacular vantage point. Not only could we see Garibaldi across the valley, but many of the more rarely ascended peaks in the park, such as The Sphinx, Isosceles, The Bookworms, Phyllis Engine, and many more. We could even see the Tantalus Range and could make the distant peaks of the Squamish Elaho Divide. Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake stood out in especially sharp relief, and seemed close enough to reach out and touch, as did the Castle Towers Glacier!
This was a day on which I was going strongly, but I could soon see that Doug was now grinding out every step. It turned out that he was dealing with a case of vertigo which was disturbing his sense of balance, despite his determination. When we finally reached the cairn of the west summit, it was time to reevaluate our situation. Doug decided it would be best if he rested for a while, while I finished the task and made my way to the central and true summit. While that looked relatively straightforward, my concern for his well being prevented me from doing that. Had I met with an accident, I could not have been sure he was going to be alright on his own, and since we were in a very isolated location, I opted to stand down. While I felt was the right decision, it wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but whatever disappointment we felt soon faded away as we focused on the incredible views!
We savoured the moment as best we could, as soon we’d be on the clock again, and heading homeward. We’d need to pick up the rest of our gear that we’d left at camp on Polemonium Ridge as well, and were expecting a long walk back to the parking lot! For a minute or two, we could hear nothing but the wind whistling through the vents in our helmets. I love that sound!
Feeling somewhat fresher than before, we now backtracked down the boulder field, with all the more caution. It may have been even more unnerving on the descent, as even car sized boulders shifted underfoot. I remember laughing uneasily, referring to it all as “geologically recent”, mostly because it was!
When we reached the hardened snowfield for the second time, I had even come up with the idea of using a sharp rock to improve the steps, but the sun had shifted, serving to slightly soften the snows. It turned out nature had helped us out somewhat, and we were soon back on the endless rubble that would lead us back to the now familiar gully, then up to Polemonium Ridge beyond. It wasn’t quite as easy to climb as when we’d descended it, mostly because we kept finding rocks to dislodge, but thankfully it was a short, sharp, section of suffrage.
Our loads would get a little heavier, and as we retrieved our gear and stopped for another snack on the ridge, Garibaldi Lake shimmered below in the distance. It was at that moment we joked about calling for a helicopter ride home, but part of earning your keep in the mountains means you’ve got to do that walk back to the truck!
As we left Polemonium Ridge behind, we turned to stare once again at Castle Towers. Would we try again for the summit? I knew I definitely wanted to. We still have not. It was one of the most ruggedly beautiful places I’ve seen in the Coast Mountains, not far as flies the crow from civilization, but it may as well have been a thousand miles from the closest human. It’s that very feeling of isolation that fuels my love of the mountains, and most of these words are but faint praise when comparing them to being there in the moment.
Next, however, came the drop into Gentian Pass, steep as it was, followed by the climb back up to those ridges above the Helm Glacier. We were trudging along so slowly at one point that I’m sure I recall some of the resident marmots mocking us! Despite their imaginary taunts, we soon found ourselves overlooking the Helm Glacier and its sprawling valley below. Turning one last time to Castle Towers, with a quick nod of respect, we were off yet again. It would be over an hour before we reached the well groomed trail at the Helm Creek campsite, and several more before we made it to the parking lot. It was Doug who rebounded strongly toward the finish line, as I began to fade, as much mentally exhausted as anything.
The hike back was something of a blur, so I’m glad I took plenty of photographs. All I really recall was that it was dark when we finally finished the trek! Here are some more looks, in no particular order, at this wonderfully scenic place.
Author’s Note: I must have been tired and delirious because I forgot that just before we reached the parking lot we stopped to retrieve some very cold Heinekens Doug had stashed from a nearby creek. Doug actually checked the GPS track he had and found a waypoint called Beer Creek. It makes me happy to know we weren’t deprived of refreshments after all that walking!
As popular as Garibaldi Park has become over the years, there is still land in the park that is as isolated as it is difficult to reach. Castle Towers Mountain is, in spirit at least, the gateway to this wilderness, so don’t pass up the opportunity to experience it. The harder you work, the greater the rewards!
The sound was as loud as it was clear! The distinctive grunt and snapping of jaws left little doubt as to its source. Motioning silently to each other, we beat a hasty retreat down the alder choked logging spur, hightailing it back to the Mamquam Forest Service Road. Chris and I had no question that we’d run into an ill tempered black bear, even though neither of us had seen it. So ended our ill fated assault on Pinecone Peak!
This story had its beginnings in the third week of June 2008, when we had decided to set out to climb the aforementioned mountain. Armed with some decent route descriptions and trip reports from good friend Simon, we had made our way deep into the Mamquam Valley in Chris’s trusty Ford, under deceptively clearing skies. The road was still wet from spring torrents as Chris displayed an array of evasive manoeuvres to avoid obstacles better left to four wheel drive travel. In addition to running some damn fine bookstores ( visit him at one of Vancouver’s Pulpfiction Books locations ), he can also flat out drive a logging road! Up until that ursine encounter, it had been a fairly pleasant outing. We had even taken the time to stop and look at the many creeks bursting with meltwater as the skies seemed to part above, hinting at a bluebird day. Optimistically, I felt that the weather would take a turn for the better, after all, how often does the forecast turn out to be wrong these days?
Alas, we were duped by the weather gods! It was just as well, I suppose. Ominous clouds had begun gathering above and the rain then began to fall, lightly at first, then harder, and harder still. What to do now? Well, we wandered about the valley, hiked up a few logging spurs, located the M-110 logging spur that led to the Pinecone Lakes Trail and Peak 6500, then spent a little more time perusing the area. Some considerably large stumps of Western Red Cedar were one highlight of the morning, along with several piles of shotgun shells and views of misted forest.
Clouds hung low in the morning silence, a deer hopped through an opening in the clearcut and soon disappeared. We marvelled at the endless determination of the road builders, and wondered aloud how many more piles of spent shotgun shells there might be in this valley. Good thing none of the local Leroys were around that day!
A stroll up yet another spur netted a really rare find- an old Zenith cabinet style colour television with, you guessed it, another nearby cache of shotgun shells!
As my friend Tracy later said “Wow, that TV’s seen better days!! I bet it remembers this Coke commercial, or this Big Mac commercial, and, of course, Mikey.” Televisions like these sure do bring back fond memories, don’t they? In my mind, I almost could imagine Adam West (R.I.P.) and Burt Ward in an episode of the old Batman series playing out on screen! Bam! Sock! Thwack!
From there we bushwhacked back through the clearcut, admiring the surprising biodiversity, and the general aura that showed us that the Mamquam Valley was a special place, despite the obvious human disturbances.
We finished our foray with a wander down to the banks of the Mamquam River itself, enjoying the sounds of the roaring current amid the din of the pouring rain, while I vainly attempted to keep my camera dry just to try and land a few decent photos!
It hadn’t exactly been the kind of alpine excursion we’d daydreamed about, but it had nevertheless been a memorable day! I’d characterize it as unexpectedly eventful, at minimum.
Soon enough we were enjoying our lunch in a Squamish cafe, drinking coffee and telling more tales, a little wet but certainly none the worse for wear. An ironic denouement, at least for Chris, considering his profession. We’d come to buy, but settled for browsing, in the end, though we enjoyed it well!
The weeks rolled by swiftly, and soon, summer was almost over. Doug and I seized the opportunity to head up the Mamquam Valley again, before the days began to shorten. On this occasion, not only was it not raining, but the chance of precipitation was basically nonexistent! We were determined to find the M110 logging spur and hike up to Peak 6500, sometimes known as Seed Peak. The mountain sits in the same cirque as Mt Gillespie, in an alpine playground full of tarns, beautiful granite blocks. There are even remnants of a pocket glacier, whose demise seems inevitable.
Here are a couple of views from the road as we drove up the M 110 spur….
After winding our way up all those logging roads, finally we managed to reach the trailhead to Peak 6500. Both the road and the trail had been brushed out and reflagged, making our passage somewhat easier. The track began with a beautiful walk through subalpine forest to a plateau, then followed with a steep scramble up to Peak 5700, which has an outstanding view of the surrounding Coast Mountains!
Getting to Peak 6500 involves dropping down 150m or so in elevation and then climbing up again to another alpine bench. We surely realized this was a superb wilderness area that is highly underrated, and were happy to have the place to ourselves. I recall there was a great sense of relief in the air, as life had been quite stressful of late for us at that time. There is something undeniably therapeutic about the rhythm of time in the mountains, so far away and above the twisted routines of human lives. If only everyday life could measure up to those standards more often!
The spectacular alpine views made this trip worthwhile, from beginning to end. This part of Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park still does not see that much traffic, so you truly get that wilderness feel. It would be a great area to camp in and explore for several days!
The ascent of Peak 6500, which is actually 6580 feet in elevation if you’re a stickler for details, is relatively straightforward. For the most part, it’s what I would call an alpine stroll, with very little technical difficulty or exposure. We explored the basin below at leisure, with its colourful tarns, fast eroding pocket glaciers and sweeping views of the mountains in all directions.
The more we meandered, the greater was my affinity for this place. Should you decide to visit it yourself, please remember to treat it with the utmost respect. Be sure to leave no trace by packing out what you pack in, and take great care not to damage the fragile environment!
Reaching the summit, we settled in for an uncharacteristically long rest, even though neither of us was particularly tired. We’re both of the mind that climbing mountains is best part of peak bagging, as neither of us is all that fond of descents, unless of course there’s beer waiting at the truck!
Peak 6500 boasts some enviable views! One can see the entire Britannia Range, and many of the peaks within Garibaldi Provincial Park, just to name a few, but pictures always speak louder than words, so here are a few more images…
I remember thinking that if I had to choose a mountain to live on every day, this just might be the one. I think Doug agreed with me on that score. Of the many treks we have made together on Fridays just like this one, the Pinecone Lakes area is definitely a standout. There is very little the region lacks. I could even make a strong case for lugging a pack raft up there just to enjoy some paddling on the glacially formed lakes.
As day trips go, this wasn’t a long one by my standards. It was about seven hours car to car including all the alpine sauntering, but the drive up will take you at least a couple of hours, so an early start is recommended. One thing I can assure you is that you won’t be disappointed!
Regrettably, we realized it was time to make our way home, as we were mindful of that long drive ahead of us. While this required a reasonable pace, by no means did we need to rush, and so we savoured the trip home as much as the climb. The magic of this valley lingers on for days, if not weeks. When I was assembling photos for this story, culling them down to a reasonable number was no easy feat!
The wilderness protected by Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park is a beautiful legacy for the province of British Columbia. It may not be far from civilization as the crow flies, but it’s an eternity away in the mind’s eye. I have much gratitude for having had the privilege of sharing it with friends, and now with readers. May it always be the refuge that it is today, wild, free, and undeveloped!
Mt Callaghan, a worthy destination in a scenic valley beside a beautiful lake. I’d been that way before, so why not again? As much as you plan a nice, easy trek on a well walked trail and a pleasant scramble to a summit with panoramic views followed by some tailgating and a refreshing swim in a lake, sometimes, you know, the mountain gods have other ideas.
On Wednesday, Alan, Denis, Ted, and I met up in the pre morning darkness to head up Mt Callaghan. After a quick stop for breakfast in Squamish, it was off up the Callaghan Valley Road and then on to the Callaghan FSR for the trip up to Callaghan Lake, where the trail begins.
I should have known it wasn’t going to be an easy day. I once had a high school teacher named Callaghan who was a pretty tough guy that kind of helped straighten me out back in those days. We called him Dirty Harry! That was back when when discipline was, how do you say, a lot more rampant. On several occasions he threw me up against lockers, a blackboard, and he cured me of leaning back constantly on my chair by kicking it out from under me. Yes, those were the days…Am I rambling? Sorry, back on point…
Our first obstacle was the logging road. Instead of bringing the truck we took Al’s car which didn’t quite have high enough ground clearance. He did a masterful job of driving much of the road but we were stopped by a waterbar over six kilometres from Callaghan Lake. That meant over an hour walking on the road that we’d be repeating later. Dirty Harry had landed the first shot!
Between catching up with Alan, with whom I’d last climbed with in 2006, and the usual array of stories from Ted and Denis, the long hike on the road and then on the lengthy trail to Ring Lake went off without a hitch for the most part. The trails were reasonably well groomed and the scenery, though muted by the thick smoke, was as pleasant as I’d remembered.
By the time we reached Journeyman Lodge we stopped for a quick break. It was locked up when we got there, obviously closed for the season.
This valley is hemmed in by some formidable mountains, but none were visible save for faded outlines on a canvas of hazy skies. It would have been an exceptionally hot day without the cloud and smoke cover, which actually served to lower temperatures somewhat while raising the humidity. We hiked onward past Conflict Lake, where you begin to cross a broad meadow and the trail begins to climb.
We pressed on past the meadow and up the ever steepening path at a pretty spirited pace, working our way up past the trail’s signature feature, a nifty wooden ladder that helps you up the slope after the creek crossing.
Once you’re up the ladder, the trail ramps up again as it works upward, heading for Ring Lake, but first you get to cross a boulder field that’s alive with the whistling of marmots. That was where we stopped for a break, and as soon as we did the hordes of insects found us again. There were plenty of bugs but not too many were biting us, luckily.
We then crossed the boulder field and headed back into the woods again, finally working our way up into the bowl where Ring Lake resides. Normally, when you arrive there, it’s one of those Sound of Music moments as it’s really a spectacular place to hang out, but on this day it was hardly visible and the smoke cast an eerie orange glow. At the time that REM tune “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was running through my head.
Ring Mountain is a tuya, which is a volcano that repeatedly erupts under cover of thick sheets of glacial ice. When that ice melts the unusual looking volcano is revealed.
Once near the lake we began angling up toward the summit of Mt Callaghan, choosing to aim for a gap in the face at the top of a steep run of rock and heather. It was slow going and shifty ground. Alan led up through the gap, followed by Ted and myself, with Denis bringing up the rear. Right about at the time Ted was moving through the gap, I looked up and heard something clatter and a nasty rock half the size of a volleyball zinged past me at waist height from above about thirty feet to my left. Right away I shouted “Rock!” to Denis below, but he barely had a chance to react before it passed just ten feet to his left while he was looking in the opposite direction! He never even saw it! Too close for my liking. It threw a scare into me for a minute or two, and also at that point I was dealing with my first ever sore back on a climb. It didn’t persist too badly and so I resolved to pace myself a bit because my legs were feeling strong and so we then moved up to join Ted and Alan who were waiting at 2050m.
Denis was also not having his best day. Sometimes when you’re not quite right the mountain finds you. Being the only one in our group who’d already climbed the peak, he just decided to walk back down to the lake and rest up while the rest of us went for the summit. We would have to go without his comedic stylings for a few hours but were sure he had made the right decision.
Before that, though, we took a bit of a respite and examined the route. Alan figured it made good sense to head up through a gap in the ridge in front of us to see if we could access the summit block from there and Ted agreed. That worked well, giving access to a cirque above, where we had a decision to make. Work up to the right on rock and snow to examine what was beyond or try a nastier looking mixed gully accessed by crossing some snow on the left? Right it would be, as Alan scouted above and reported it would go all the way to the summit block!
Not too long after that we all made it to the top, where we were glad to stop and enjoy rock which was not moving! The summit crests right at the edge of what becomes the Pemberton Icefield. Even through the smoky sky the views were pretty inspiring! We were all stoked to have earned some time at the top of Mt Callaghan.
The next half hour was spent refueling and, for me, bandaging my cuts and stretching out my lats. While I did that Alan and Ted decided to climb a nearby pinnacle for a good photo opportunity or two. It had a simple and safe approach as the guys said but looked like quite the dramatic perch, with its head shaped like a howling wolf. I resolved to call it “Coyote Ugly” or “Bark at the Moon”. Ted also had a good name for it but I’ve forgotten what it was.
There was time to enjoy the summit, but not too much time, as the days are getting shorter and we did not want to be walking the trail with headlamps later on, so a few more shots for good measure and we were away!
The descent went reasonably well, save for us getting sharp rocks stuck in our shoes and encountering plenty more of the same moving rock. It took until around 430pm before we were back in the meadow below again.
It was good to discover that Denis was feeling much better when we made it down, as now the race with daylight was on! It was going to be a long haul back to the car. But first a last look at Callaghan and a few words…
A quote from the movie Dirty Harry, because some of you may know I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s films even if he does spend too much time talking to freaking chairs these days!
Dirty Harry: “Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
As we marched out along the trail, we concocted a scenario in which Alan would quickly roust us up a ride from someone camping at the lake so that we would not have to walk the logging road again. Well, for all his charms it was not to be. As he returned to us on the road we asked what happened and he replied “Arrghh, they told me to f**k off”, followed by “Nahh, there was nobody there!” and roars of laughter ensued. Somehow or other, mostly because I had not turned on my GPS right away on the walk up, we had duped ourselves into thinking it was only three kilometres to the car, not six plus.
No such luck on that score, so we walked the road as dusk fell quietly. On the stroll back we discussed some of the unusual phenomenons of modern day Japanese culture, courtesy of Ted, and a tale of young Nazis being forced to recover two million land mines off the beaches of Denmark, I think it was, as Denis described. Numerous times Ted, ever the fatalist, wondered whether the car had been stolen and how it wouldn’t be so bad walking to Whistler as long as the thieves left us all the beer! Geesh! At about 845 pm we hooted and hollered joyously at the sight of Alan’s car and cracked open some Stellas as we celebrated the day!
But…all those ready to beer up please step forward…not so fast retreads! You see, there was still the matter of getting Al’s car off the logging road unscathed and since it was now pitch dark we decided to do that before having a few more beers. I rode up front with Al to scout, and Ted described his ride down the road here:
“Bumping down the pitch black Callaghan FSR, sitting on a cold cooler of beer in the open trunk to provide weight to get over cross ditches. Between sips and various profundities being pondered, I asked my friend [also in his seventies]” Is this really how we should be spending our doddering old age?” My response to that later was “Hell yes it is!”
Once the danger was cleared, a few more rounds were had, with the Nacho Cheese Jalopeno Doritos and Beef Jerky that Al had remembered to bring. The beer selection was diverse, and the jokes were flying left and right. If we know you at all or have even just heard of you, you probably got mentioned, but I’m sure it was in a good way!
I’ll let Alan sum up the apres slog best, as follows:
“TNT beer, Stella, Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Alexander Keiths, Bowen Island Lager. F**k we had a great selection too bad we couldn’t have swam in the lake and drank em all. The pitch black tailgate was time well spent though!”
When it was all said and done, Callaghan had made our day, and I guess we were kind of lucky too. Thanks for the day out, lads, highly entertaining as always!
Postscript: I couldn’t resist adding these last two shots. It’s one thing to drink beer in the dark, but it’s another to post about it online. Thanks Alan for these photos and the others I used in the story. Two photographers on a trip with these guys is a bonus!
Maybe some of you have seen the movie No Country for Old Men? Well, uhhh, this is definitely not that. Not even close, really. I’m just hijacking and paraphrasing the catchy title of a fine film. Rather than a tale of intrigue over a battle for ill gotten gains, this, instead, is about a day out climbing in the Cascade Mountains of southwestern British Columbia.
High in the Eleven Mile Creek Valley lie a number of rugged peaks west of Manning Park and north of the Hope Slide. That slide, incidentally, in 1965, calved off the flanks of Johnson Peak and dammed a lake, causing a terrible loss of life and burying Highway 3 at the time. It is remembered as one of Canada’s notable natural disasters.
But I digress. Mt Hatfield, at 2227m in elevation, sits in a high bowl not too far from Johnson Peak and nearby Mt Macleod. It is at the north end of Manson Ridge, with a commanding view of Mt Outram. The mountain was named for Penticton based conservationist Harley Hatfield, who contributed mightily to preserving the Skagit Valley. The principles for this excursion? Good mates Ted and Denis. It’s worth mentioning again that these guys have known each other since high school and have hiked together in six different decades so far, going strong into their seventies now! Who does that?
At any rate, recently we had seen that our friend Simon had done a pair of hikes in the 11 Mile Creek Valley and had reported the new logging road was in decent condition. On that note, we decided to give it a go!
After picking up Ted in Vancouver at 530 am, soon we were sailing along Highway 1 toward Langley to meet up with Denis. As bad as traffic can get in B.C’s Lower Mainland, it’s never too difficult when you’re up early enough. Sometime around 730 am we arrived at the 8 Mile Creek turnoff, and then soon turned onto the 11 Mile Creek Road. This trek was nearly over before it began, however. After a few kilometres on the road, which requires high clearance 4X4 due to some very nasty waterbars, we ran into some boulders blocking the road. Right out of an episode of MacGyver, we ended up having to find ourselves a lengthy log and with the aid of that, rock wedges, and brute strength we managed to pry a four hundred pound rock off the road. We hadn’t exactly counted on that kind of workout to begin the day!
With that nonsense out of the way, we set out again on the road, driving roughly another six kilometres to where we decided to park. Ted, who prides himself on negative banter in the old British climbing tradition, offered us some Haterade, as he likes to call it, for the walk up the logging road. He says it inceases bitterness up to 20%, and Ted knows bitter! As far as I know, there’s absolutely no truth to the rumour that he sleeps on a bed of nails, at least not as far as I know!
Anyway, we were approximately four kilometres from Mt Hatfield as the crow flies according to my GPS, but our success hinged on finding the right creek valley to ascend. Well, Simon’s directions were quite accurate, but as it turned out I chose a creek about 1.5 kms west of where we needed to be. It was an excellent line of ascent had we been climbing neighbouring Mt Macleod, since it more or less led us right to the foot of its west ridge, which begins on beautiful granite. This meant that we would need to traverse over steep ground and sidehill for a while to gain the correct valley. Seeing as how there was no other alternative, on we went, because sometimes that’s just the way it goes in the hills. We distracted ourselves with a lot of obscenities, a few inane conspiracy theories, as well as keeping an eye out for marmots as their burrows were everywhere on the brushy mountainside.
Once we broke out into the open Mt Hatfield appeared in the distance. It was clear that we now needed to aim for the col that separated it from a high knoll on the adjacent ridge. Somehow we managed to find ourselves in a sizable gully strewn with immense granite boulders. We chose to follow that upward on easier ground that led to a bench near Mt Macleod. A half an hour of meandering northeast and a brief encounter with a pika brought us to a broad meadow beneath our destination. I traced the path of a stream that braided its way toward us and eased downhill. Surely this was the creek Simon and Justin had followed here! Denis suggested we ought to try that out later on the descent. It seemed a good omen at that point that he spotted a marmot shuffling across the rock debris beneath the mountain.
I had first seen Mt Hatfield years ago on an attempt on Tulameen Mountain from the adjacent Sowaqua Creek drainage. Below here are some photos I took of the mountain from that neighbouring valley. It had looked much more dramatic than it appeared from our vantage point, as near vertical cliffs drop precipitously off its north side into the basin below that contains Kippan Lakes. The mountain’s first ascent- it was then simply called Peak 7200- happened back in 1956 and featured some twenty more kilometres of hard bushwhacking up from Highway 3. That was one long and punishing day I am sure!
Another half an hour brought us to the foot of the south ridge of Hatfield, where we geared up. It seems like we always end up carrying some gear strictly for pack weight, usually that’s snowshoes but in this case, for Ted and I, it was ice axes.
The ridge we were to scramble was rated a steady Class 3, and its start seemed obvious as those aforementioned cliffs were to our right, and thick krummholz barred the way on our left. Krummholz, by the way, meaning “bent wood” in German, refers to tightly growing stunted trees you find near the timber line. Said trees are quite effective in slowing down climbers, especially in the Cascade Mountains. They also cause random bursts of foul language!
There seemed to be an intermittent path to follow as we worked our way upward, and we took our time negotiating a few exposed steps here where a fall would have been dangerous.
We then broke into something of a clearing below a rock face where the reported crux of this climb came into view. There was a loose gully to deal with and a narrow tree lined chimney that would give passage to the summit block above.
In my estimation, the exposed step below the crux I mentioned before was somewhat more difficult than this, but of course Simon and Justin were dealing with snow on their trek, which always changes the equation. We also encountered two spots where remaining snow overhung the Kippan Lakes Valley, and I recommend staying well back from the edge should you encounter those.
From there it was easier strolling, and Ted took the lead as I scanned the horizons. The smoke from distant fires blanketed every valley as far as one could see, and its acrid smell hung faintly in the air despite the wind.
Minutes later we were on the summit, with its crafty wooden sign, and broke for lunch. While we were there I opened up the summit register and made an entry, and read a few more. This year had quite a few more visitors, I guess because the road is so much more accessible.
On the summit, Ted was chiding me over twisting his grumbling into too much optimism, saying “You need to stop that positive stuff, I have a reputation to uphold.” I responded with “Okay, how’s this…we’re in a helluva lot of trouble here and I don’t like the way this is going. My name’s Ted and all I gotta say is now we’re f****d!” He really liked that, musing that those would be the perfect three words for his epitaph, whereas Denis figured his would be “Hold my beer!” Not sure what mine would be, probably something like “We’re really having trouble getting through to this guy.”
Now it was time for us to head down, Denis was already giving me heck about spending more than the maximum twenty minutes on the summit, as per retread rules. I’m guessing that’s to maximize beer time back at the truck! The trip down to the col went reasonably well, save for me leading us through some more annoying brush and getting off route, but no major complications. Here’s a few photos from the scramble down…
From the col it was an easy walk down to the stream, where we replenished our water supply and moved down into the basin below. Had I been thinking straight, I’d have heeded Simon’s words about keeping the creek on climber’s right on the ascent, or climber’s left on the way down…but….
…what we ended up doing was coming down the opposite side, which presented plenty of route finding challenges and an eventual crossing to the other side below a canyon. I also had to contend with an annoying leg cramp for about half an hour but that seemed to improve as we got closer and closer to the beer below! It was quite steep for a spell until some relief came in the form of a nice flat subalpine meadow.
Unfortunately, before we could make it down we still had to negotiate that tricky canyon! Dense brush and spindly trees were the order of the day until we finally emerged on the logging road below. From there it was a couple of kilometres back to the truck after retrieving some beer from the creek. By then the stoke was about as high as it gets. This had been a fine day in the mountains!
Soon we were hanging out on the tailgate of Denis’ Toyota, sorting gear, and downing a few cold ones. In the ensuing discussion, we identified most of the world’s serious problems, and solved basically none of them, but of course the banter was priceless. Another Cascades classic in the book, as Denis said, and a helluva way to spend a Monday!
In memories of Easters past, there will always be one, for me, that stands out from the rest. Most recollections of this holiday are marked by the gathering of families and friends, feasting on turkey, and catching up on everyone’s trials and tribulations. Then, however, there was Good Friday of 2006, and the day that was spent climbing Mt. Bishop in the North Shore Mountains.
Weather had been variable that week, with days of sunshine interspersed with others of torrential rain. That’s typical of life here in southwestern British Columbia, where an April day can be as unpredictable as it is breathtaking.
Doug and I had made plans to tackle the mountain with a reasonably early start, with the idea that we might have adequate time to do some required trail maintenance along the way. We arrived at the trailhead at about 8 am, and early morning cloud had given way to blue skies. It was a welcome excursion for us both, life had been stressful of late and time in the hills had been in short supply.
As winter conditions were expected in the alpine, we packed ice axes, crampons, and snowshoes just in case. The trek began with a stroll to a grove of ancient cedars, which we had both seen a number of times. I never get over the novelty of west coast hikes, truth be told, and I’m one of those hikers that enjoys a repeat visit to any location. There is always something different to accompany the familiar, so to speak.
Trail conditions were excellent, though we did remove some deadfall and rocks, repair some ropes, and improve marking in some sections. North Shore Rescue uses the Bishop Trail as an evacuation route on occasion, and so it’s important that the route stays in good condition.
No snow was encountered until reaching nearly a thousand metres and we stood on the shores of Vicar Lake in just an hour and a half. It was a cinch to walk across the still frozen lake and soon we were making for the alpine, with only four hundred metres in elevation to gain before the summit.
As we broke into the clear on the ridge, we had a chance to witness something very peculiar. Heavy rains had formed deep runnels in the surface snowpack, giving it a grooved appearance. This is something you rarely see, and when you do it is usually under spring conditions. All of that made for interesting scenery as we bore down and dug in for the summit.
In another thirty minutes we crested the high point of Mt Bishop and enjoyed some lunch, more sunshine, and tremendous views with very few clouds. It was as perfect a day in April as it gets. On the way down we took turns climbing up and down the last pitch just to do some extra glissading before hiking back to the trailhead again for beers. It really had been a good Friday on Good Friday, better than good, in fact.
Here are a few more views taken at the summit. On a clear day it’s a beautiful place to be!
Happy Easter to you all, I hope you enjoyed the read!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 certainly wished it had a beer fridge, 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!
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and treks to the mountains