Tag Archives: mountains

Hosers, Flowers, and Castle Towers

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!

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Castle Towers at 2676m in elevation, is one of the more beautiful summits in the Garibaldi Ranges. It can be seen from Garibaldi Lake on a clear day

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!

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The beautiful ancient forest on the Helm Creek Trail
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Western Red Cedar
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Rugged Helm Creek greets the morning sunshine

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!

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Hosers? You decide

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.

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They even made an album! Copyright SCTV, using only to explain genre, eh!

 

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Lupines in bloom, Helm Meadows

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.

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Helm Peak, notorious for its crumbling rock and exposure, especially near the summit!

 

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Pyroclastic Peak and Mt Cayley on the distant Squamish Cheakamus Divide

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.

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Cinder Cone, one of the many volcanic features in the valley
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Gentian Peak and Panorama Ridge behind Helm Glacier, Mt Price at centre
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Panorama Ridge
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Black Tusk
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The Garibaldi massif behind Gentian Peak, with Helm Glacier in the foreground
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One cold looking swimming pool!
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Guard Peak and Garibaldi

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.

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Castle Towers is an imposing sight!
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Weather station
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Gentian Peak, Garibaldi behind

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.

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Dropping down into Gentian Pass
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Local marmot offers greeting
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We weren’t looking forward to this climb on the way home

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.

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Dinner is served!

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!

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Sardines, anyone?
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Polemonium Ridge
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Gentian Peak looks very different from Polemonium Ridge
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Garibaldi and Guard Peak from camp

 

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Camp on the ridge!

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!

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Garibaldi and The Table
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Garibaldi Lake
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Sunset over Tricouni Peak

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.

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Sunrise
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Castle Towers and its namesake glacier
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First light
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The Table is a tuya, which is a volcano formed under thick layers of glacial ice
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Good morning, Castle Towers
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Getting ready to leave camp

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.

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The loose gully you descend off the summit of Polemonium Ridge
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Looking toward the route up to the west summit
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Garibaldi!
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The land of ice and snow!

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.

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Ascending the loose boulder field
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A most spectacular view! Keep scrolling, you’ll see it again in a moment
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Our blurry entry in the west summit logbook

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!

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Mt Price and Tantalus Range behind Polemonium Ridge and Garibaldi Lake

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!

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Phyllis Engine, Mt Carr and more. Sky Pilot flowers growing in the foreground
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Garibaldi from the boulder field
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Castle Towers Glacier

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!

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Phyllis Engine and Mt Carr again, plus more rarely explored territory!
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Mt Price and Garibaldi Lake. The Burton Hut is right near the lakeshore but not visible here

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!

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On the boulder field!
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Wedge Mountain zoom

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!

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I still miss this campsite, a decade later!
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Gentian Peak

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.

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See you later, my friend

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.

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Spearhead Range
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Rugged territory in Gentian Pass
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Polemonium Ridge from Gentian Pass

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!

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Black Tusk in all its glory!
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Summit block of Black Tusk
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Wide open spaces
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Panorama Ridge
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We really enjoyed all the colourful lakes and tarns!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area

 

When discussion turns to the great remaining stands of ancient Western Red Cedar, most people are referring to the trees found on the western coasts of British Columbia and Washington. Even among those interested in hunting down those fast disappearing giants, precious little attention is paid to the few surviving rainforests of British Columbia’s interior. If you have never been to one of these rare and beautiful sanctuaries, then this story might just pique your interest!

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Inland temperate rainforest is becoming increasingly hard to find in British Columbia

High in the upper Fraser River Valley, about 110 kms southeast of Prince George and 93 kms northwest of McBride is a surprising grove of trees just off Highway 16, near the outpost of Dome Creek. Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area ,close to Sugarbowl Grizzly Den Provincial Park and Protected Area, is also host to a most unusual climate. Here, all of the right conditions have combined to create something truly magical. You see, this cedar and hemlock forest has somehow managed to exist without any natural disturbance, including a complete lack of fires, for at least a thousand years. It has the added distinction of being further from an ocean than any of this planet’s other inland temperate rainforests.

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A giant reaches for the misty sky

The quest for the conservation of these trees was a determined one. It was a University of Northern British Columbia graduate student named Dave Radies who first brought wider attention to this incredible place. The forest had already been been marked and surveyed for logging at that time. This story, thankfully, was to have a different ending! After consistent lobbying and a barrage of media publicity, the provincial government agreed not only to preserve the trees, but to designate the land as a provincial park! Thanks to the efforts of the Caledonia Ramblers, an extremely dedicated local hiking club, trails were built, and later interpretive signs were posted so that future generations could appreciate these cedars for years to come. Substantial parking space was also created to accommodate the expected increase in visitors. Cooperation between local First Nations and British Columbia finally led to the official opening of Ancient Forest/ Chun T’oh Whudjut Provincial Park and Protected Area in 2016.

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This sign welcomes visitors
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Every inch of this forest serves its ideal purpose

There are a variety of hiking choices in the park. You can choose a boardwalk section that is wheelchair accessible that can be seen in half an hour, the forty five minute Big Tree Loop, a sixty minute trek to Tree Beard Falls, the ninety minute Ancient Forest Loop, and even a 15 km hike along the more rugged Driscoll Ridge Trail, whose western trailhead is  five kilometres west of the park on Highway 16. Not having an entire day to work with, I experienced a good combination of all but the last option! I took a great deal of photographs, and have arranged them, for once, in no particular order. Should you ever visit this park, I think you’d enjoy the opportunity to discover it yourself, as I did!

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Sunshine and splendour near the Driscoll Ridge Trailhead
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The sound of running water was a constant companion, and yes, so were the mosquitoes!

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I can only ponder what it must have been like for First Nations people to discover this woodland paradise. Everything about it seems as venerable as it is verdant. The understory is alive with mosses, lichens, ferns, and many other plants. Rising above the forest floor are tall groves of spiny Devil’s Club, always a challenge to the forest explorer, and a look skyward reveals not only the spiked tops of the ancient cedars, but also their ever present coastal companions, the Western Hemlocks. This forest, being inland, is subject to winters that are colder and lengthier than seen on the coast, thus growing seasons are shorter and trees take longer to reach larger girth. Other than the man made structures that have been constructed to preserve the fertile and fragile ground, not much has changed here in the last twenty centuries or so!

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Beautiful scenes around every corner. This is forest as it’s meant to be!
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The base of Treebeard

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The largest tree in the grove reaches nearly sixteen feet in diameter and is well over a millennium old!
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Wondrous biodiversity!

Wildlife in the area is considerably varied. At lower elevation, black bear and deer are commonly sighted, as are moose. Above the forest, high on the Driscoll Ridge Trail, you’ll find Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir growing, where grizzly bears, mountain caribou, and even wolverines can sometimes be sighted.

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Black bear sightings are common in the area. They are generally peaceful, but be sure to take all the normal precautions should you encounter one

When I hear logging companies talking about trees like these, they speak in terms that confound me, focusing only on harvesting them for cash value before they reach the end of their lives. What they fail to understand is that aging trees, and those that fall to the ground, are the life blood of the ecosystem, allowing for maximum biodiversity and wildlife habitat. That is why what little remains of apex old growth forest needs to be preserved, not cut down! Surely there is room in our resource based society to at least protect the finest of old growth stands that still remain. If not, they will exist only as posts and beams in some grand architectural design, or worse, be shipped off as raw logs to some foreign land to be processed.

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Many of the trees still display paint from when the cut block was surveyed. It’s an important reminder that other forests are not so lucky

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Every once in a while, a superb place like this gets discovered and then preserved in its intact state. While most would agree that it doesn’t happen often enough, at least when it does, I believe it sets an inspirational example of what we should be striving for as a society. We need to preserve nature in its intended state and save its very best for all, instead of destroying it for our own purposes. That’s a vision that I know that I can embrace.

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These forests deserve to be celebrated and respected
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I hope you enjoy seeing this forest as much as I did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fissile Peak: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


“Whose idea was this anyway?” The question was Ted’s, as we traipsed up the old road to Singing Pass. The answer from Denis came quickly: “I believe this was your idea. You getting old or something?” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I know it included some pretty good back and forth! That was unsurprising, considering the two have been hiking and climbing together for decades and were into their sixties at that time. As funny as I found the banter,  I just wasn’t awake enough to laugh, though I wryly kept asking “Are we there yet?”

It may have been a lengthy approach, but I was still more than curious about the destination. Fissile Peak, part of the Overlord Group, boasted volcanic rock and fine views of the Overlord Glacier. It was also quite close to Russet Lake. Surprisingly, this part of Garibaldi Provincial Park is relatively quiet once the snows recede and the skiers pack it in for the season. You’re unlikely to meet too many other hikers on most days. The previous year, Ted had climbed Whirlwind Peak and Overlord Mountain, so he was keen to complete the trifecta by ascending Fissile.

Soon enough,  but not soon enough, we were passing the old mine adit at trailside and Cowboy Ridge was now within our sights. Just like that, we were out of the trees and following easy switchbacks to the broad plain above. Some of Garibaldi’s grander summits were already front and center, and the icefield of the Cheakamus Glacier shone brightly in the morning light.

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Two Summer Days in the Mamquam Valley


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!

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Actual black bear, possibly similar to what was heard. The sound was enough to get rid of us!

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?

Rushing waters were the order of the day!

 

The M-22 Spur, bear not included!

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.

Wandering a cut block above the Mamquam River

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!

 

A moody day
Colourful array of spent shell casings

 

A misty forest scene
Is this thing on?

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!

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The only real Batman (the late Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) ***Not for profit, All rights reserved***

 

Alive with greenery!
Chris heading for one of those big cedar stumps
Bearberry

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!

Thuja Plicata, the Western Red Cedar
The Mamquam River

 

Another raging creek

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!

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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….

The Mt Garibaldi massif, as seen from the M-110 logging spur. It’s the closest volcano to the Greater Vancouver area, and it’s right on the doorstep of Squamish!
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!

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!
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One of the sections of fast melting glacier in the basin
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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!

A view from the summit cairn

 

 

In Search of the Cabin Lake Fir

You can see it on a signboard at Cypress Provincial Park, where it’s featured as one of the trees discovered by Randy and Greg Stoltmann. There’s a a picture of a magnificent Amabilis Fir deep in a snow filled gully, with one of the brothers posing beside it back in the late 1980s. Randy, who passed away in a skiing accident in 1994, is even today a legendary tree hunter and conservationist. It would have been interesting to have met him, indeed, his legacy still burns brightly.

Randy Stoltmann (1962-1994). Without his efforts there might not be a Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park. Now it's time to finish the job and protect the entire Walbran Valley
The late Randy Stoltmann, who, along with brother Greg, discovered the Cabin Lake Fir

I’ll admit that I’d been hunting old growth trees for many years before I ever went looking for a record Pacific Silver Fir ( the other namesake of the Amabilis Fir ). The tree occurs in cool forest glades at lower elevations, often less conspicuous in the company of the larger Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar. True giants of the species, however, are generally found at higher elevations where they are similarly overshadowed by Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar. In a sense, they sometimes seem to be hiding in plain sight!

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Typical stand of Pacific Silver Fir ( Abies Amabilis ) which you’d often find at elevations of 300-500 meters in Southwest B.C.
The cones of Amabilis Firs are very distinctive and aromatic.

It was actually in 2004 that I first heard about the Cabin Lake Fir, when talking to Ralf Kelman, B.C.’s preeminent big tree hunter. Over a decent cup of coffee, he told me, among other things, a tale of a November trek to see the tree back in the late 1990s. Accompanying Ralf on that excursion was Washington state tree expert Robert Van Pelt,  who was hoping to measure the crown spread of the tree with then state of the art laser technology. Typically for Ralf, not known for preferring early starts, the trip began a bit late in the day. While they did manage to locate, photograph and measure the tree, there were some adventurous moments extricating themselves from the steep approach gully and subsequently, hiking back to the parking lot in Cypress Provincial Park. Darkness, sleet, and poor visibility didn’t help them much either. The day ended with more than a few beers at an east end Vancouver drinking establishment where all finished the day both dry and more than a little happy!

It was my frequent partner in exploration Doug who finally convinced me that we had to rediscover this tree some eight years later. He reasoned that we ought to approach it by following a direct contour line off of one of the Black Mountain ski runs. Doug also thought that we might just have the chance to find some of the large Mountain Hemlocks he’d also seen marked on some maps. It didn’t take too much effort to get me hooked on his plan. I later learned, years later, that due to the destruction of Washington’s Goodman Creek Fir, the Cabin Lake Fir had since become the largest known of its species. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were now hunting for the world champion Amabilis Fir!

A rocky gully behind the northeast end of Cabin Lake leads you to the tree, not recommended for inexperienced hikers

We chose a decent spring day for the hike, and though the terrain was steep and time consuming, travel was reasonable. The forest was well spaced, and indeed, full of the beautiful Mountain Hemlocks the park is well known for!

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One of the larger Mountain Hemlocks I have seen in Cypress Provincial Park
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These were not the Mountain Hemlocks on Doug’s map, but nevertheless they were great finds
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Untouched and unlogged, just the way I like to see a forest!
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As we approached the couloir we were looking for, the forest opened up somewhat

We soon managed to work our way close to a broad chute fortified with high walls on the side we found ourselves on . It was first necessary to climb safely into the chute so that we could explore the area, which was at roughly the elevation we expected to find the Cabin Lake tree. The light soon began to shine more brightly as we kicked our way into the snow slope and gradually worked our way down. We were glad to have brought our ice axes for the descent.

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Doug using his ice axe to dig in on a steep traverse we made to get down into the gully

We didn’t see it at first. Curiously, the next thing we noted was that the snows below us were covered with a fine layer of fallen moss and lichens – the kind you often see draping trees in the high mountains. I’ve heard it called Old Man’s Beard.

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Where had all of this come from?

While we were both pondering exactly where that carpet of foliage had come from, a towering spire appeared almost right in front of us, just downslope. It was clear we had found the source of all that fallen plant life, it was the Cabin Lake Fir itself! In its company were a number of young Silver Firs, perhaps seeded from the cones of their parent nearby.

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This tree has lived for hundreds of years! You can see the mosses hanging from every appendage
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In contrast, the mature trunk of a mature Silver Fir at right, and a relatively young tree at centre here

To some, it might seem like hyperbole to assign mythical qualities to a simple being such as a tree, but the Cabin Lake Fir most certainly had a peculiar aura. It  grows in a  location quintessential  for its survival and it’s doing exceptionally well. The tree is ideally situated to acquire all the necessary nutrients, water, and just the right amount of sunlight. Simultaneously, the steep rock walls nearby shade it from the midday sun and protect it from high winds. It is even evident that the slides and avalanches which take place in the couloir follow a path well away from the tree.

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Doug and the Cabin Lake Fir, both good friends, one a lot older!

We spent quite a while in the presence of this grand old spirit of the forest, taking ample time for photography and lunch, before packing up and climbing out of the gully to Cabin Lake, as we wanted to be certain to chart the entire route. I was certainly happy that Doug had been so insistent that we make the trek that day!

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You can see this tree is loaded with character!

 

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Towering in the mist
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Getting that all important location
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Lunch with the World Champion Cabin Lake Fir!
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The Cabin Lake Fir!
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This photo was taken on the walk out of the couloir. If you are approaching the correct gully from the lake when it is snowed in, this is what you should be looking at
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You will also see this iconic pair of Mountain Hemlocks just before descending the gully. I call them The Happy Couple

Two years later, we would return in autumn, descending that same gully downward from Cabin Lake, with the bluffs of Black Mountain looming above. Paul, who was along with us on that day, was also keen to get a look at the tree.

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The well known Cabin Lake. Most folks don’t get too far beyond its shores and the nearby summit of Black Mountain plateau
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Tour Guide. I hire only the best ones!
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The ponds were just beginning to freeze on that early November day

If you are taking notes on the approach and how it might look once the snow melts, after you leave the lake behind you should find yourself in a blocky, granite boulder field that is very distinctive looking . Just carry on downward, with bluffs on your right, as you descend toward the gully.

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Doug and Paul getting ready to head toward the gully

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A look at the boulder field. some of the rocks are huge in size
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Yep, we’re heading down there!

The tree was no less magnificent on that occasion, and the weather was about the same as it was for our first visit. Fog and mist made getting an ideal photo something of a challenge. All agreed, though, that it was a tree worth revisiting!

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A different angle shows the broken top of the Cabin Lake Fir
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Still straight and true!
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Centuries of bark

In the end, it seemed fitting once again to walk in the footprints of the Stoltmann brothers, and my only regret was all of the years I had waited before searching out the Cabin Lake Fir. To paraphrase the immortal Warren Miller: “Get out there and get it done. If you don’t do it this year, you will just be one year older when you do!”

****IMPORTANT UPDATE***

I have recently learned that the Cabin Lake Fir has died, as reported in the summer of 2015, not long after our last visit. Here is a link to the BC Big Tree Registry that documents its demise in two very telling photos. It was a privilege to have made its acquaintance and it truly magnifies my concluding paragraph in this story. Had we not made the effort to see the tree when we did, we would not have seen it alive at all. It will have to live on in memory alone, once the largest and perhaps the oldest known tree of its kind! It was, at least, the world champion for about seven years!

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Heading back to Cabin Lake on the walk home

 

 

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An artistic rendition of the Cabin Lake Fir, emphasizing the shadows. It was a grand old tree, I will miss it a lot

***In memory of Warren Miller (1924- 2018 )***

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How Callaghan Made Our Day!

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.

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Mt Callaghan, back in 2009 on a bluebird day

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…

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Dirty Harry Callahan. That’s what we called my science teacher and what Denis was calling the mountain by the end of the day

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!

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The sun attempts to rise through the smoke from BC and Washington’s many wildfires this season. This was as bright as it would get all day

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.

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Denis crosses the big bridge over Callaghan Creek
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The creek, still running pretty briskly!
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Some of the tarns were mighty dry. This is normally a very wet area
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Pond near the Journeyman Lodge with some nice reflections

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.

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Here’s a picture of the l….what the …? Photobombed by Blair yet again. This has happened to me more than a few times before
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And here is the lodge, closed until the snows return

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.

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The marshy shores of Conflict Lake
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Me, Denis, and Ted on the march through the f*****g meadows, as Ted put it. Photo by Alan

 

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This is Conflict Lake back in 2009. That’s Mt Callaghan in the background. On our trek we weren’t able to see it until we were right below its slopes
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The mountain again, from the big subalpine meadow, in 2009. Much of the upper half of this view was invisible on our hike. Summit of the mountain is at centre in this shot

 

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Nice view of the creek after you get past the big meadow. Quintessential Coast Mountain scene if you ask me

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.

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Alan tackling the ladder

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.

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Spot the marmot!

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.

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Ring Mountain and Ring Lake looking kind of sinister today
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Now here’s the glory of Ring Lake as Chris saw it here in this 2009 photo

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.

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Alan making his way toward the ascent as we head up to tackle the slopes above
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Conference before the climb, just to see if anyone has any different ideas on the route
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Great water source, I refilled twice at this spot!

 

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.

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Denis battling up to 2050m. This was as far as he could make it on this day

 

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!

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View of Powder Mountain across the lake in the smoke and haze
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Alan got this shot of Ted and I crossing the rock of reasonable quality below the summit block
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Working our way up the mountain was a careful process. This was just below the summit block
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And there it is, the summit block, so close and yet so far, as they say
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Alan took this photo as he got to the summit. That is Ted in front as I am coming up behind
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Just below where I was when Alan took the previous photo I was at this spot when a big rock flipped over and crashed off one of my shins and into the other. I got cut up and bruised but all things considered I got lucky. This mountain was fighting back today!
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Alan’s shot of Ted “The Hammer” Oliver just metres below the summit!

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.

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Ted and Alan happy to have made the top!
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Here are all of us on the summit, photo by Alan. One of the many subpeaks of Callaghan in behind

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.

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Alan on the move up the pinnacle
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Tricky step at the top
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Alan atop the pinnacle, with the icefield at left
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That subpeak that loomed behind us in our group shot looking somewhat ghostly
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Now Ted gives it a go and gives the thumbs up!
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Here is a nice shot Alan got of me just after I took the shot of Ted

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!

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Callaghan summit and its slightly shorter and hard to access tower, which nearly became the true summit after 3m of rock were lost off the main summit in a landslide some years ago
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So, while Denis was unable to make the top today, it should be noted that when he climbed it with Jim Sedor in the 80s (?) it was actually 2412m high, not the present 2409m
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Typical coast mountain summit rock, encrusted with good old black lichen. This could be anywhere in the range

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.

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Alan’s shot of the pinnacle and icefield as he reached the summit earlier. I loved this view!
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Rugged rock of Callaghan
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On our way down, working our way down to the lake again!
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Getting closer, but it’s slow going!
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Returning to the creek for water 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…

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It’s still watching us, we better move on, lads!

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?”

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“Go ahead, make my day.”

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!

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Shot of my cooler and its soon to be depleted contents!
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Not too often you see a pitch black tailgating shot, which Alan pulled off with the help of two headlamps

High Country for Old Men!

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.

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Good flick

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.

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Morning smoke from distant fires descends on the 11 Mile Creek Valley as our hike begins in earnest

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?

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My favourite picture of Ted and Denis (with mustache) taken some years ago near Joffre Lakes

 

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!

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Old school MacGyver! Dude had better hair and plenty of brainpower to go with it. Trivia: His show was co produced by none other than The Fonz, Henry Winkler

 

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!

 

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To understand Ted you need to read up on hard drinking, hard brawling, sarcastic English climbers, like the late Don Whillans, pictured here

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.

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Arnica amidst slide alder. You take the good with the bad
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Lupines
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Taking a break from the punishment. That’s Johnson Peak in the background

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.

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Mt Macleod is basically straight ahead as I look left from the gully to take this shot
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Much easier than side hilling low brush!
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This gully turned out to be very friendly ground to walk
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A rare moment when the sunlight managed to break the haze
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The creek we would later follow on our descent
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We are aiming for the saddle at centre right in this shot

 

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!

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Hatfield as you see it from the north, with the col we are aiming for at centre here. It’s a far more dramatic peak from the Sowaqua Creek side
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Left to right, Outram, Manson and Hatfield from high across the valley to the north
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A zoom on Kippan Lakes, which lie in the bowl beneath the cliffs of Mt Hatfield

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.

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Arriving at the col we were aiming for, and seeing our first snow patch of the day

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!

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Here it is, the south ridge of Hatfield. We begin on that dusty brown patch of dirt in the middle.

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.

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Hands on section along the ridge, exposure is to the right of Denis
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Onward and upward
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Working toward the crux above

 

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.

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Since I didn’t take a photo of the crux on the way up, here’s Ted scrambling it on the way down

 

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.

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Looking down into the Kippan Lakes basin below!

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.

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The summit horn is finally visible on the last 75m of ascent

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.

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Hammer meets Hatfield
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Hatfield summit, 2227m according to Bivouac, 2217m according to my GPS
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Recent summit log entries. Thanks for the directions, Simon!
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Our summit entry
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Summit flower
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Hanging out on Hatfield

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…

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Looking back at the summit and the smoky haze beyond
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Such a great view from up here!
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You can barely see Mt Outram through the haze
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A carpet of rock phlox
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Ever present purple penstemon
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Roaming the ridge
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Closer view of the horn of Hatfield

 

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….

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Water, giver of life
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The creek and Mt Macleod, before the hike down

…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.

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The meadow. We were back down at 1680m in elevation by now, but our work was far from done!

 

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!

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Tailgating!

 

 

 

Coquihalla Dreamin’

As everyone here in British Columbia knows, there have been numerous hot summer days to go around this year. More accurately, the midsummer weather began early in May, and southwestern British Columbia has  had one of its most active forest fire seasons.

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Coquihalla Mountain, an old strato volcano, as I saw it for the first time in 2008 from Jim Kelly Peak

For several weeks, Doug and I had been planning a trip to the mountains, but the smoke from the fires had been consistently altering our plans. Finally, I came up with an idea! Seven years ago, on a cold, clear, and windblown day, I’d had the chance to visit a sweeping alpine plateau in the Bedded Range and hiked up Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain with a new group of friends. I had wanted to return for another look in warmer weather, and this July seemed the perfect opportunity.

The promise of a decent trail with relatively reasonable elevation gain to an ideal  basecamp was enough to convince Doug of the possibilities. So it was that we set off early on a Friday morning, headed for Hope.  Doug grabbed a coffee at The Blue Moose, and we made our way to the Britton Creek Rest Area on the Coquihalla Highway. There we stopped to organize our gear and eat an early lunch. Half an hour later we were driving up the Tulameen Forest Service Road, and, after crossing Illal Creek, we rocked and rolled our way up a rough logging spur to an excellent parking spot around three kilometres uphill. This was the maiden logging road voyage for Doug’s new Toyota Tacoma and it passed the test with flying colours!

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Illal Meadows and Illal Mountain, as you reach the meadows

All that settled, it was time for the hike in. Our packs were heavy with overnight gear and refreshments, and the temperature, though hot, was offset initially by adequate shade and brisk winds. Insects, sometimes more than notorious there, were few and far between, as we steadily trekked up to the plateau. Most of the wildflowers had already bloomed, which is unusual for mid July, but the meadows were still quite lush and green.

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Near camp, below Jim Kelly Peak

Soon enough, we arrived at a shining tarn beneath Jim Kelly Peak, and stashed our overnight gear. It was a relief to doff the heavy packs and relax for a while. There was at least some, no, wait, plenty of temptation to sprawl out and take a nap, but we’d come there to hike and so instead began analyzing our options for the route up Coquihalla Mountain.

Conditions were ideal , and contrasted sharply with the frigid day on which I’d climbed Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain.

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Illal Mountain, 2020 m, in October 2008. That’s Yak peak n the Coquihalla highway in the background

The route we had chosen was the south flank, which involved a long traverse around the mountain, over half of a circumnavigation, one way. There were limited reports about the route but rumour had it that at one time, in the boom days of Coalmont, there was even a once popular trail there that had now fallen into disuse. To begin, we needed to drop from the Illal Meadows into the col between Jim Kelly Peak and Coquihalla Mountain and follow a well worn path that supposedly accesses a popular lake below the pass. Here, on the way in, we spotted several of the biggest marmots we’d ever seen, and on the way back also saw a weasel hunting among the rocks. The next series of photos illustrate the approach step by step…

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Coquihalla Mountain. We would be going around to the left and into the valley beyond. Why? Probably because we thought it was the hardest way….
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Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and swinging toward the left here…
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Looking up at Coquihalla from the pass, at the beginning of the “Endless Traverse”
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You must then lose elevation from the pass. No worries, it’ll just hurt more on the way back!
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Getting closer. Travel is deceptively tough beyond here and it’s best to lose elevation and travel just beneath unstable rock fields
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Looking back from where we came. That’s Jim Kelly Peak and the col/pass. Easiest line to follow here on the way back is at the base of this rockfall then through krummholz, which was roughly what we did
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When you see this aspect you can begin to gain all the elevation back and head for the south flank, out of shot at left…

 

That traverse proved to be as endless as its reputation, and you had to be creative in order to avoid difficult terrain. We did that by losing elevation and following easier ground through bands of stunted trees, also known as krummholz. It was a lot like finding one’s way through a maze, and on more than one occasion we did find remnants of that old trail, albeit accidentally. There was plenty of scenery to enjoy, especially as the towers of the Coquihalla massif loomed high above us.

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What you need to do now is find your way onto the low end of the rock at left then pass through the shoulder where you will see your next obstacle….

With more than a little persistence, we just kept on scuffling, and finally the south flank came into view. It was a welcome sight, to be sure!

We knew that the summit was  close at hand now, and that all we needed to do was find a way up the flank. This we managed to do by walking an obvious path through fields of scree right to left in second photo below, then clawing our way almost directly up several partially loose sections of rock, including a chimney or two, and then struggling through a lot more krummholz.

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Our view as we ascended, just below the last 100 metres of climbing
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Final countdown!
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But not before we check the summit waypoint, which showed that we were only fifty metres away….

Finally, we broke through and topped out on yet another band of rock, but from this one the summit cairn could be seen off to our right. Success was near!

Immediately, however, my eyes were drawn to to the left, where the slopes dropped sharply off the other side of the mountain. You can never really relax in the mountains! This hazard was easily avoided, of course, but it sure captured our attention!

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As we walked to the summit cairn I felt compelled to holler “Oh yeah! Earned!” Normally, I’m not given to that kind of expression the mountains, but on that day we were both pretty stoked to be there. It had been almost seven years since I had seen this mountain, and it was compelling to see the other side of that view ( see the first picture in this tale).

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Scanning about, one could now see the other summits of Coquihalla as well. Views of the Hidden Creek Valley, Tulameen, Needle and Markhor Peaks were especially rewarding.

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Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right
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Looking over at all the other subpeaks of Coquihalla. Friends of mine have traversed this route, highly recommended
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Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! Perfect for social media post
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Me, with reality setting in, as the beer is hours away still. This hasn’t donned on Doug just yet!
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Bedded Lake
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A view of what I call the Illal Plateau, with Illal Mountain at centre and Spiral Peak in behind

Taking more than our usual twenty minutes on the summit, at 2157 metres in elevation, we snacked for a while and then left for camp, almost reluctantly.

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Starting back for camp, bring it on!

The way back was almost as lengthy, but we were able to make somewhat quicker work of it.

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Doug descending toward the boulder field, where the traverse home will begin

We did, as on the hike in, have to gain and lose elevation frequently but before long we were grinding up to the col we had left a couple of hours before.

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Oh yeah, i posted this one already, but now we have to do it all over again, so…
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Lupines

All that was left then was a somewhat tired ramble to the meadows, dinner, and icing down some beer in a snow cooler we had built. About as good as it gets, if you’re asking me.

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Back at camp, under Jim Kelly Peak again!

The evening hours featured fine sunset vistas in all directions, and on the plateau below we could see the tents of several other campers who had arrived to enjoy the meadows. Here are some of my favourite photos from sunset time…

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Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

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Coquihalla, just plain showing off now!

Soon darkness fell, and we turned in for the evening at last. it had been one fine day!

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Sun sets over the tents

The night turned out to be reasonably warm, and we slept well. I was even happier, in retrospect, that I had not tried camping here on that first excursion some seven years back!

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This would have been a bit chillier, from October 2008

Inevitably, I’m an early riser on most mountain trips, and I was up before five in the morning wandering around the plateau. Here are a few shots of the sunrise, which was well worth waking up for!

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Toward Merritt and Nicola Valley in the distance
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Morning glow on Coquihalla

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Fun fact: If you don’t know what krummholz is, it’s stunted groves of tightly growing conifer typical to cold alpine regions. Growing low and densely helps it to thrive in snows, wind, and other such harsh conditions

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Krummholz

Soon enough, Doug emerged from his tent. All that remained was to break camp, enjoy some coffee and breakfast, and talk about our return to a place where one visit is simply not enough!

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Paintbrush

The walk back was leisurely, with plenty of time for more photography and to closely examine the geology of the region as well as the plant life.

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Not sure what this is, but it thrives near water

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Aster!

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Conglomerate
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One last glance at the meadows and this cool boulder

Back at the truck, we decided to drive out immediately, as we were concerned there might be a lot of vehicles driving the narrow road in on a weekend. That turned out to be very true, it was a veritable thoroughfare on this Saturday morning! As we exited the logging road there was a group of backpackers milling about, and I later found out that one of them was someone I knew, though not until later on. Small world, as they say!

Credit the 1966 song ” California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas and The Papas, for the borrowed title of this tale. All day that tune had happened to be running through my mind, for whatever reason. This was, to sum it up, one the more enjoyable trips I’ve been on the last few years, and highly recommended.

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My first visit to Illal Mountain, and Jim Kelly Peak in October 2008… Photo by Silvia B

Thanks also to my good friend Gerry, whose indomitable spirit and determination to get people into the mountains to discover new friends and experiences was largely responsible for my introduction to this part of the world seven years ago. This one’s for you, buddy!

 

An Ode to the Glacier Crest Trail

In British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, steep slopes, sharp rock, avalanche fans and fields of ice abound. That is typical terrain in Glacier National Park, not far, as the crow flies, from the mountain town of Revelstoke.

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Glacier National Park, as you enter from the west
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The massive pyramid of Mt Sir Donald towering above Rogers Pass

A lot of folks know of this park, but all too often roll through Rogers Pass on their way to the Rocky Mountain parks such as Yoho, Banff, or Jasper. It is a place in which I’ve felt at home since the very first time I visited, and it’s become an unforgettable part of my summers over the years. Once you have taken the time to experience this park, it somehow takes  hold of your senses.

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The Illlecillewaet Valley

Among my favourite tracks to hike is the Glacier Crest Trail, so join me if you like for a look at what it has to offer.

A quick stroll from the trailhead soon brings you to the site of the old Glacier House Hotel. Once a worthy destination for travellers, now all that remains of it are remnants of the foundation and some of the massive boilers that were used to heat the establishment. It’s hard to imagine the throngs of high society that once milled about there. The challenges of dealing with harsh winters wrought by avalanches and heavy snows eventually won out in the end.

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This is what remains of the old luxury lodge, now it’s just a mountain meadow
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Fireweed and fast moving water, two signature features of the park

Among the very first things that caught my eye here were the tumbling mass of the Illecillewaet Glacier and the rugged beauty of Mt Sir Donald. The power of nature is almost overwhelming in this valley, and the sound of the waters roaring through the woods is unforgettable.

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Meeting of the Waters

You get a very clear impression of that once you reach “Meeting of the Waters”, where Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet River join forces, fed by the glaciers high above. If your time is limited, a short twenty minute walk to see these rushing waters is invigorating in its own right.

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Looking back at Asulkan Brook as you take to the forest

The walk continues to a lively crossing of Asulkan Brook where the work starts in earnest. There are numerous switchbacks to climb, and while views are limited for a while, there is solitude to enjoy. The forests of the Selkirks are reminiscent of the coast, but it’s as though every quality is somehow enhanced and intensified. Waters seem to rush more quickly, the scars of avalanches are more pronounced, glaciers are larger, and the mountains, too, reach greater heights.

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When you finally break out of the trees to the ridge above, all that hard work becomes worthwhile.

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The glorious Selkirks!

Avalanche and Eagle Peaks are the first conspicuous sights, and of course Mt Sir Donald really stands out strongly! Somewhere around the 1850 metre mark in elevation there is a rocky clearing that affords these fine views. The very first time I hiked the trail, on a sweltering day in late July, this was as far as I made it, having unwittingly run out of water. Ironically, there are few water sources at higher elevations on this trail, so plan accordingly.

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Mt Sir Donald, and the boulder field with a view
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Asulkan Panorama, including Rempart, Dome and a lot of glacial ice

Gradually, as you make your way along the ridge, more views open up, and you can see into the Asulkan Valley as well as down to Highway 1 and Rogers Pass. If you happen to have forgotten your camera, you’ll be regretting that by now.

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Grizzly Peak
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Highway 1 winding through Rogers Pass

The Illecillewaet Glacier also commands your attention. Once, it reached far into the valley below, but since the turn of the twentieth century, it has receded considerably. On several occasions I have also explored the Great Glacier Trail, which gives you a closer look at its path of erosion. At the height of the last ice age, of course, most of Glacier National Park was covered in sheets of ice. That must have been quite a sight!

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The Illecillewaet Glacier as it tumbles down the valley, as you see it from the nearby Great Glacier Trail

The path continues through a boulder field, then emerges into a beautiful alpine rock garden. On a clear day, the sun is almost overwhelming here, as you round a bend in the trail heading toward the lookout. Another half hour brings you to a well built cairn atop the ridge, where you’ll be compelled to stay a while. I’ll let the views speak for themselves.

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Looking at the Asulkan Valley from near the high point on the ridge
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Looking back at Rogers through the haze
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Mt Macdonald, named after Canada’s first prime minister
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One of the best places I’ve ever eaten lunch at!
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Steep sided valleys

On this day, I spent more time at the summit just grooving on all of the views. Even at over 2300 metres in elevation, where I stood on the lookout was dwarfed by almost all the surrounding peaks. Regrettably, but at least with the knowledge that cold beer waited below, I began the hike back to camp.

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A big zoom on a huge peak beyond the Asulkan Valley
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Closeup on the Illecillewaet Glacier
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One really big cairn!

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Linger as long as you can, for as hard as the climb up was, it will still take you a while to get back to the trailhead. As much as I have enjoyed this trail, and others, over the years, I still have many more tracks in this park to explore.

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Ferns along the trail, near Asulkan Brook

 

So remember, if you can, to devote some time to this inspiring place. The rugged spirit of wilderness abounds there, and it is both powerful and compelling!

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 will not likely 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 the destination 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 then July of 2011. 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 quite a test, and certainly 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 stopover 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 around the Tenas Creek Valley. Mt Ronayne and its subpeaks were the dominant views, as we considered 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 deadfall and postholing were the norm.

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Handsome forest, elevation 1450m

We were still more concerned about the weather, however, as 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, enough trees, and a huge boulder to 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 after that. Doug fired up the stove and we feasted on tortellini, set up the tents, and buried six Granville Island IPAs in the snow nearby. Life was improving all the time, as the Sun God  cleared the skies while we took in some 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.

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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 height the sun warmed rock occasionally caused isothermic snow, which meant sinking in up to two feet even with light packs.

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Peaks above the Birkenhead Valley

This also meant, though, that we would not need to break out the crampons and could just kick steps across the steep snow sections. Temperature was about 10 degrees, so not too hot, 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 traversing some steep snow slopes and then by following what amounted to a compacted scree path that is easily picked up once you reach the ridgeline cornices, as you 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 from here 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 a bit more quickly! The ever changing light  had the skies changing colour quite often.

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Gathering Dusk
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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 quickly, 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 up. 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 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 on 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!

Thanks to friends Chris, Ryan, and Simon for information on the area, and to Matt for his fine description in the Scrambles Guide.