Tag Archives: mountains

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 B.C. 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 changing 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, rocked and rolled our way up a rough logging spur to an excellent parking spot around three kilometres in. 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.

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

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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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….

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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Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and hiking 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 whence 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 ground. 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 did 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 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!19659649148_1e18e519cb_z copy

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 got our attention.

 

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Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right

 

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.

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, 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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Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother!
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Truthful summit shot, thinking about the descent!
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What I believe to be Bedded Lake across the valley

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But, well, there was this all too familiar view…

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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Lupines

All that was left then was a  somewhat tired walk up 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 views in all directions, and on the plateau below we could see the tents from several other campers who had arrived to enjoy the meadows. Here are some of my favourite photos from sunset time…

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Trees aglow
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Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interesting clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coquihalla just plain showing off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunset over camp

 

After all the rambling about taking photos and setting up camp, darkness came quickly and the beer was gone all too soon.

 

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The plateau and Coquihalla Mountain, in October 2008

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

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The view in the general direction of Merritt

Invariably, I’m an early riser on 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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Alpenglow on Coquihalla Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunrise clouds over camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunrise glory!

 

 

 

 

 

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My favourite photo from the trek
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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

 

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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Jim Kelly and Coquihalla reflected

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fields of aster

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doug walking around another tarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 first as we were concerned there might be a lot of vehicles driving the narrow road in. That turned out to be very true, it was a veritable thoroughfare! 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 somewhat paraphrased 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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Illal Mountain October 2008… Photo by Silvia Bakovic

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! Dig this old school video!

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.

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This is what remains of the old luxury lodge, now just a mountain meadow

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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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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The glorious Selkirks!

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

 

 

 

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Eagle and Avalanche Peaks

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 by now.

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Grizzly Peak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway 1 winding through Rogers Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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 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 plant the seeds for a new adventure.

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Sun God and its neighbours as you see them from the beach at Birkenhead Lake campground

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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Doug biking up the logging road

 

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, in black and white here, though the colour version looked almost the same
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Handsome forest, elevation 1450 metres

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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Our camp, which we called Tree Island

 

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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The all important beer cooler

 

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The view from my tent door, not too shabby!
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An alpine flower comes to life in early July

 

 

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Mt Ronayne from our campsite

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 camp, with Sun God at upper right
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Seven O’Clock Mountain towering above the col

 

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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Looking toward the unnamed eastern subpeak 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 of the Birkenhead Lake 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 approaches the summit block

 

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The traverse before the final section of ridge walking

 

 

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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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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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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Birkenhead Lake
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This might be my favourite photo from this climb
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Doug enjoying the summit

 

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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Summit Panorama
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Heading for 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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Darkening skies

 

 

 

 

 

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Doug on the descent with Seven O’Clock Mountain in the background

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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Almost dusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Closer to camp
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Boulders!
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Ronayne gets last light

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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Alpenglow at camp
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Did I mention it was a cold night?

 

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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Conifer branch buried in the snows

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.

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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A last look at Mt Ronayne

 

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. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burwell Ridge Rocks!

As you examine the peaks of the North Shore Mountains from the north shore of Burrard Inlet, the highest mountain visible is one that very few actually know the name of. That mountain, and its broad, accompanying ridge, is called Mt. Burwell.

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Mt. Burwell, 1541 m in elevation, as seen from Crown Pass. At left is Cathedral Mountain, 1737 m, one of the the tallest of the North Shore Mountains yet not visible from the North Shore unless you climb high. The flat, snowy end of the ridge at right ic Coliseum Mountain, 1446 m

Once named White Mountain, by a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club who was in the first ascent party, it was renamed in 1927, as follows:

“Named by Greater Vancouver Water Board, after Herbert Mahlon Burwell (1863 – 1925). Born and educated in London, Ontario, where he received a commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor and an Ontario Land Surveyor . Arrived in Vancouver in the fall of 1887, and in the spring of 1888 joined the firm of Gardener & Hermon, which had been established in late 1886. In the spring of 1906 Mr. Burwell’s firm were employed by the City of Vancouver to take charge of their water supply. Mr. Burwell had personal charge of the new joint main on Capilano Creek, from the intake to the first narrows (sic), and built the intake and settling basins. In 1913 Mr. Burwell retired from the firm of Hermon & Burwell, but continued to practise as a consulting engineer until his death 30 July 1925, age 62. A great lover of the outdoors, Mr. Burwell wrote many articles about fishing on the streams and lakes of BC; he was an authority on that branch of sport.”

(Source: United Empire Loyalists Assn. of Canada…http://www.uelac.org)

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Herbert Mahlon Burwell ( 1863-1925 )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For years I had long wanted to wander this inviting granite playground at the furthest reaches of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Thus it was that in early August of 2005 that Doug and I found ourselves stalking past the Lynn Headwaters gatehouse at the inhospitable time of 430 am and crossing over Lynn Creek. Hiking as briskly as that early hour allowed, we made swift work of the first seven kilometres, then turned uphill onto the Coliseum Mountain Trail. The plan was to ascend Coliseum and explore the ridge of Burwell to its end, then to return via the same route.

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Peering through the trees on the Coliseum Trail, below Norvan Pools

The trail, up to that point, had gained just 220 metres in elevation over seven kilometres, but was soon destined to change markedly, as over the next 5 kms we would be rising over 1100 metres more. It was time to wake up in earnest, as the sounds of Norvan Creek murmured in the background.

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Sizable Western Redcedar, eight foot diameter, below Norvan Pools

At about 650 m, we could begin to see the forest change from second growth cedar and hemlock to a rare grove of high altitude Western Hemlock. This tree, at lower climes, has a much shortened lifespan and therefore limited size, but in the ideal conditions at higher altitudes it can grow much larger. In the 1990s avid tree enthusiast Randy Stoltmann had stumbled upon a record hemlock here, and we hoped to pay it a visit ourselves. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to find, not far from Norvan Pools. We marvelled at the tree, called the Norvan Giant, which is over nine feet in diameter and hundreds of years old!

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Leaving the hemlock grove we climbed upward and across a rocky gully toward Norvan Meadows.

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Near the gully on Norvan Creek, just below the ‘meadows’
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Norvan Meadows, as seen later in the day, free of shadows

Norvan Meadows are somewhat deceptively named; they are not meadows in the true sense but rather an area razed clean by a considerable avalanche in 1998 that tore out a large section of forest. It was followed by a massive flood that took out the old Norvan Creek Bridge far below. Nature’s power can be devastating at times! The results though, are picturesque, if you ask me.

The track into the subalpine region continued, as we neared the turnoff for Norvan Pass, a familiar stop for us.

 

 

 

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Mountain hemlocks near Norvan Pass

Some of the Mountain Hemlocks near the pass were definitely in the ancient category, perhaps as old as 400 years. The sun, too, had now burst into prominence and was doing its best to slow us down on that ideal summer morning.

Nevertheless, we kept up our pace, bolstered by a snack or two, in hopes we could attain the ridge as early as possible.

 

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The Needles, from near Norvan Pass

 

 

The sight of The Needles up close and personal brought us plenty of laughter as we recalled our  scuffle of the year before. In real comparison, our hike today, though lengthier, would be nowhere near as trying.

 

Above the pass the terrain opened up considerably, giving way to great blocks of granite and far less vegetation as we approached Coliseum Mountain.

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Our alpine start had certainly paid dividends, and meant we would see the summit of Coliseum Mountain at just  930 am!

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Slabs at the head of Coliseum Creek Valley

Awaiting us was a sweeping field of etched granite slabs which dropped sharply into Coliseum Creek, well hidden below. This is the “snowfield” in the first photo I  posted in this story, and it’s visible from many places in Greater Vancouver.

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Looking up at the crest of the ridge

As a destination on its own, Coliseum is well worth the walk, with stellar views all around. To the east there are the peaks of the Fannin Range, Meslilloet, and the Five Fingers Group. You can also catch glimpses of the mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park and Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park. To the west and south are the North Shore Mountains and even distant views of Mt. Baker sometimes. A northwest glance has you looking toward the Britannia Range, where Mt Brunswick holds court, at 1786 m in elevation. The northern vista is of course, dominated by Cathedral Mountain with Sky Pilot Mountain hovering over its shoulder. Here are some of my favourite images from on and around the summit of Coliseum Mountain.

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Summiteers, chilling on Coliseum summit

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Studying maps: Doug makes his own customized version for almost every trek. He is now a search manager for North Shore Search & Rescue where he puts those considerable skills to work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Britannia Range, with Mt Brunswick at right and Crown / Burwell Divide in front

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ground level shot across the slabs with Goat and Crown in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alpine tarn near the summit, ideal for swimming on those really hot summer days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon enough, though, we decided to press on, as there was a lot of ground yet to be covered. Next up, the summit of Mt Burwell, only another 100 m or so higher but we would need to do some meandering to get there.

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Me, searching for a ramp up some rocky walls….. Photo by Doug

 

We opted to try descending a bit off  the east side and contouring up some beautiful blocks that would yield the next plateau. The rock here ranks among the best anywhere for scrambling, in my opinion. Routes are numerous, and you can make things as simple or as complicated as you like, really.

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This was certainly the highlight of the day. I think I would have appreciated bringing overnight gear there so we could spend more time rock climbing but camping is not actually permitted there.

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We called this promontory “Pride Rock” after the rock in the Disney movie “Lion King”

You actually had to concentrate on the ascent, though, if only because of the distracting scenery. I really have come to love my home on the North Shore and these mountains are among the main reasons for that.

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Skateboard Bowl

 

The rock formation at right here was almost parabolic, much like a skateboard bowl or half pipe for snowboarding. There was a great variety of shapes and sizes in the differerent outcroppings.

 

 

 

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Box tarn

 

This tarn was particularly appealing too, with its view of Cathedral and a distant Mamquam Mountain

 

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Cathedral Mountain again, Burwell Lake in foreground, and the Fannin Range beyond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crown and Goat Mountains and the Hanes Creek Valley

 

 

 

 

 

The trip from Coliseum to Burwell’s summit took only half an hour, yet seemed longer, somehow. Once on the ridge, you have unobstructed views into the watershed of Capilano River and the sheer south face of Cathedral Mountain, with its rows of steep, vertical couloirs and cliffs. Were it not for my strong desire to leave places such as these unchanged as possible, I could envision building a cabin there and sequestering myself from the world.

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The summit proper of Mt Burwell, at 1541 metres in elevation
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Me, enjoying the rock… Photo by Doug
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The Crown – Burwell Divide

 

 

 

 

 

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Palisade Lake and the Palisade Creek Valley. Water, water, everywhere….

 

Since we were hoping to get as far along  the ridge as we could, we soon departed for the west summit of Burwell. At the same time, I was searching for a source of water because I knew I’d run out before we made it back to the valley below.

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Water!

 

To get to the west summit it was necessary to descend slightly to the north before scrambling back up to the ridge again. That diversion chanced to reveal a mossy creek where I was able to stock up with the refreshments I needed.

 

 

The photo below features a fascinating rock formation that really intrigued us at the time. My friend Drew, who is an accomplished geologist, was able to explain what this actually was, as per his thorough explanation  here…

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Aplite Dyke in granite

“That’s an aplite dyke in granite. Aplite is a mix of feldspars. When granite solidifies, the feldspar stays liquid the longest. The quartz, mica, etc crystallize out, and solidify, and the solid granite has a smaller volume than the liquid granite, so the solid part cracks. Then the liquid aplite runs in and fills the cracks and cools and solidifies last. The aplite, because it cools last, solidifies fairly rapidly and so has small crystals, and is most resistant to weathering as a result so the aplite dykes tend to stick out of the granite like in your photo.”

The western summit summit of Burwell, at 1499m, had long been a fixation of Doug’s, as he could see it from his driveway at home. Naturally he was pleased to finally stand atop it, but no, he was not able to see his house from there!

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Doug, on West Burwell

Some time was spent lingering here, but not a great deal, as we knew the trip back was going to be a long one. In a perfect world, it might have been ideal to complete the traverse and exit via the Lynn lake Trail but there wasn’t adequate time for that. We settled, instead, for exploring a bit more of the ridge.

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Looking toward the divide, Britannia Range in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A last glance at the west summit

 

 

 

 

 

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Cathedral Mountain

 

‘What goes up must come down’, to borrow a saying, and the hike back followed a nearly identical track, with some very familiar views. We were now in the heat of the day, and I recall our pace slowing somewhat as we trudged along the ridge.

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Granite!

 

 

I confess sometimes to being no fan of  downclimbing. I always savour the satisfaction of reaching a summit but occasionally I’d settle for a helicopter ride to get home. This was such a day, but it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and plenty of cold beer was waiting at home.

I can recall the absolute quietude of the afternoon; the silence was broken only by the calls of ravens and once the distant whine of a small plane’s engine.

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Subalpine pond

From the open land of the alpine we decended into subalpine forest as the Norvan Creek Valley welcomed our return, the trees providing some much needed shade.

 

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In deference to the not so subtle marker on the tree above, getting home took us somehow longer than it had taken to make the climb, despite the fact that it was mostly downhill.

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Greeting party

On the walk back from Norvan Falls, we encountered an eclectic folk singer on the trail, complete with guitar, then this still unidentified action figure at the signup board. You never  who or what you will meet on a hike these days!

Tired legs marked the end of our marathon trek, some 33 kms and 2000 m of elevation gain. It will be a decade this summer since this story unfolded, and it’s incredible how the time has flown by since then.

* I’d like to dedicate this tale to the late Ben Mostardi, an athletic young man (of special needs) who met with a fatal accident in the Norvan Creek drainage in 2005. He had been on his way to a meeting with his running group but somehow took a wrong turn. He was 33…

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Ben Mostardi, fine young man to all who knew him