Tag Archives: Squamish

Remember the Elaho

It survived for nearly a thousand years. Think about that. Ten centuries. The Elaho Giant, one of the largest and oldest Douglas firs ever to live in British Columbia, lived at least nine and a half of those centuries in complete solitude. After all that, it managed to escape being cut down in the 1990s, when the Elaho Valley was the site of bitter conflict over proposed logging.  Additionally, the building of a route which traversed the Elaho to the Meager Creek Valley was forged, which later helped lead to the designation of the area as the Stoltmann Wilderness, named after noted conservationist Randy Stoltmann.

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The spectacular Elaho Giant in 2007

Years later, in June of 2015, a dry spring season took its toll, as a wildfire tore through the upper end of the valley. Though the grove of firs at the Elaho-Meager trailhead was spared, the Elaho Giant was caught in the midst of the tragedy, and rumour had that it  was burned beyond recognition. When a group of fire fighters who had battled the blaze reached the tree, they declared that it had miraculously been saved! Some limbs and branches were alive and green, they said, and though the trunk was charred, that seemed to be the only real damage.

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A look at the area, showing our ultimate destination. This is taken from an old Western Canada Wilderness Committee map. Due to a washout at Cesna Creek, the trail still remains inaccessible and has been for a very long time

Now, turn back your clocks to November of 2007. My only visit to the Elaho Valley was a brief one, featuring a lengthy day that featured enough torrential rain to put any set of windshield wipers to the ultimate test. The principals? Two guys willing to hunt trees in any given deluge, and that would be Chris, and me. We really wanted to see the Elaho Giant, and besides, what else would we be doing on such an inhospitable day? Armed with Chris’s trusty Jeep Cherokee, raingear, salty snacks, and a Backroads Mapbook, we were off!

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Of all the day’s views, this would become the most familiar of all. It’s a long drive from North Vancouver to the Elaho Valley!

You must reach the Elaho Valley by making your way up to Squamish via Highway 99, then by following the Squamish FSR to its junction with the Elaho FSR. From there, it’s a question of driving about as far north as the rough roads take you! Even on an unpleasant day, the valley’s character somehow shines brightly. It is the gateway to an endless, rugged wilderness that few people choose to explore. It’s also remote enough that help is a long way away, and should you venture there you should be prepared and self sufficient.

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As rainy an autumn day as you will see in the Squamish Valley!

The drive is more than long enough to immerse yourself in all manner of thoughts and conversation. What’s more, it’s male time to hone your imitation of nearly every Simpsons character, if that’s your thing! There was much to see, from shrouded views of jagged mountains and swiftly rushing creeks, to glimpses of glaciers and trees turned brilliant autumn colours in the icy November rain.

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We did make one brief stop in the Squamish Valley to check out Huberts Creek, of particular interest to Chris and his love of canyoneering. Among my aspirations were spotting one of the transplanted herds of elk, or perhaps even one of the many grizzlies that call the Elaho home!

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Huberts Creek. I don’t think Chris ever did descend its canyon, but come to think of it I never did ask him that!
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The mighty Elaho River, very popular with rafters and white water kayakers
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The roadside waterfall of Maude Frickert Creek
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I took a photo of this sign so I would never forget the name Blakeney Creek
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Blakeney Creek. Beautiful, mysterious, and fed by the glaciers high above on Exodus Peak and the Pemberton Icefield
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Clendinning Provincial Park and its rugged wilderness is also accessed from the Elaho roads

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As we bounced further up the valley, it was decided we’d first check out the Elaho- Meager Trail and its grove of ancient Douglas firs before doubling back to see the Elaho Giant on our return trip. Other than the rain, the trip was relatively uneventful, and we rolled quietly to a stop, right beside the trailhead. The view from the nearby bridge over Sundown Creek is something everyone should see!

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Sundown Creek roaring down its canyon

 

Even by then, the trail had become pretty much inaccessible. A major flood had destroyed a makeshift crossing over Cesna Creek, making it impassable, and as a consequence the trail fell into disuse. With the limited time we had, the plan was to explore the grove and see how far we could get along the main trail before turning around. The first thing we did was to walk the Douglas Fir Route, which is a 2 km loop through an extraordinary and venerable forest. There has been some conjecture about the age of this stand, but some core samples taken from other trees in the area suggest some may be as old as 1300 years. In any event, we weren’t disappointed, as the firs were inspiring to see!

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The thick bark of ancient firs is unmistakeable
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So much to discover!
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So what do you do when a tree falls in the forest?
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We just make it part of the trail!

The firs in the grove were immense in girth, with many over eight feet in diameter. Old growth Douglas Fir is becoming an increasingly rare sight in British Columbia, where most of it has already been logged. Growing conditions in the Elaho have certainly been ideal over the years, and as proof the forest here thrives very well.

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Pseudotsuga Menzieszi, the Douglas Fir
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There were many healthy trees that looked to be over 250 feet high, though height estimation is challenging when the rain is pouring so hard!
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Yet another giant
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After a while, we got used to the rain. That was easy, as we’ve had plenty of practice!
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If there’s one photo that sums up this day best, this just might be the one!

Though we only scratched the surface of this wilderness, it was easy to see why people worked so hard to save it. The Elaho-Meager trail had always been at nature’s mercy, inasmuch as the very forces that make it desirable have also served to caused its isolation. In recent years, the Meager Creek access has also been affected due to landslides and volcanic instability.  The long and the short of it? Now one of the most scenic trails in the province is unable to be enjoyed for the time being. There are no plans to repair the washout at Cesna Creek.

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Having seen the trees, we now moved on to the main trail, which was, surprisingly, able to be followed quite reasonably. It led us through more old growth forest and a rocky, exposed area that looked a lot like a manicured rock garden.

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It seemed as though every rock had been carefully placed, somehow
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Delicate mosses and lichens
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This clearing led to the forest beyond, but soon we began our hike back to the trailhead
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Our turnaround spot, as the rain intensified!

Once we turned around, it was a fairly short jaunt back to the Jeep, where again we studied the maps. According to the Backroads Mapbook, the Elaho Giant looked as though it was within shouting distance of the road. It took us just another twenty minutes to locate, and fortunately at the time, the forest nearby had also been spared from logging.

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The shadowy Elaho Giant was a standout on the dreariest of days

 

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We had expected quite a battle to find this tree!
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An unforgettable tree

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The bark of the Elaho Giant

Well, it’s said that all good things must come to an end. An optimist by nature, I’m always reluctant to admit that, but I do understand that life has no guarantees. Our brief sojourn into the Elaho Valley ended several hours later, jarred by the reality of returning to the all too familiar signs of civilization. The downpour persisted, as though it felt the need to escort us, and we managed a few stops on the way that almost helped ease us back into humanity, as it were.

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Squamish River
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A last look
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Cliffs below Cloudburst Mountain

The Elaho Giant, years later, was not as fortunate as we were. Its roots, thought only to be badly charred in that fire of June 2015, were later found to have incinerated, as it was  discovered in 2016 that the tree had finally died. A life of  a thousand years in such an idyllic place must certainly have been fulfilling, but I could not help wishing the tree had lived longer.  I did, however, take solace in knowing that its birthplace remains wild and untamed. Twelve years have passed since that cold and rainy November day in 2007, and though we’ve yet to return, I will always remember the Elaho.

 

******* Author’s Note *******

In my search for any kind of report on the Elaho- Meager hike, I came across but one good representation of what it’s like from a two people who managed to do it before the Cesna Creek washout. Thanks to Trudel and Andre for telling this story, which for all intents and purposes may not be duplicated for a while!

Dedicated to John Mann, lead singer of Spirit of the West, who lost his battle with dementia today, on November 20, 2019, at the age of 57. Live life well, you never know how long you’ve got! Thanks for the memories, John.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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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

 

 

The Retreads Grapple Gillespie

It was September of 2012, and a run of near perfect weather gave rise to the idea of climbing Mt Gillespie, in the Mamquam River Valley of the Coast Mountains. Sitting on a high divide in Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park, it’s a handsome summit that can be seen from afar. It’s also surrounded by several pocket glaciers whose days may well be numbered. So it was that Ted, Denis- also known as “The Retreads”- and I were rolling up Highway 99 at the customary early hour, then turning into the shadows cast by the sheer walls of the Squamish Chief. We would need to travel quite some time on logging roads to reach our destination.

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Ted and Denis, clowning it up on the trail, on one of our other trips!

But… “Whoa now, wait a minute!” You’re thinking. “What the heck is a retread?” Well, it’s a term that is, as far as I know anyway, coined by my longtime trail companions for this day. Denis explains a retread as a grizzled, old school, experienced mountain man who drinks beer, likes to joke, and never gives up till the job is done. There’s also an aspect of style to the term: retreads do not resemble today’s metrosexual genre, per se.  As I’m fourteen years their junior, I sometimes get called a “pretread”, a retread in training, of sorts. Also, I get to be the expedition photographer, because, you know, I wouldn’t just do that anyway!

These guys have known each other almost as long as I’ve been alive, and their long history makes for a wealth of experience and about as much laughter and tall tales as you can imagine. The stories were flowing freely that morning, so much so that we managed to miss the proper junction for the road we needed. It ended up that we inadvertently explored some newly cut logging spurs. An idle distraction that was, but we then had to double back to cross the bridge we passed, thus wasting about half an hour altogether. I was unperturbed by the delay or by our short attention spans, because it just gave me more time to hear more stories.

At some point on the long drive it occurred to me to ask Ted what the heck the clinking sounds coming from the back seat were. He informed us insistently that some of the beer he’d brought had to be consumed  from “proper glasses”. This was a first for our trips, though we later discovered that glass and logging roads would make uneasy partners. When I kidded him about whether he’d next be bringing limes on trips he assured me that would not be happening. “Old school climbers don’t put lime in beers, and they don’t stretch before the hike either!”

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Tom Fyles

Tom Fyles, above, was an old school hardscrabble B.C. climber also known as The Climbing Postman, and one of Ted’s all time favourites. He assures me Tom neither stretched nor did he ever put limes in beer!

What was about two hours sped by as though it were half of that before we reached the trailhead. I had been there several years before and immediately noticed that the alder had reclaimed some sections of the road, but the water bars were still only a mild deterrent. After taking some time to gear up, we began forging our way up the rough route through the lower cutblock.

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The Mt Garibaldi massif, 2687 metres high, as seen from above the cutblock

To my chagrin, I noted that it had now been marked as a logging boundary, but to my knowledge it has not been harvested yet. If so, it would be a shame, as the old growth mountain hemlock forest makes for a scenic walk enroute to the meadows.

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Sky Pilot Mountain, 2031 metres in elevation, highest in the Britannia Range

The way to Gillespie is relatively straightforward. First you must attain Peak 5700 from the top of the proposed cutblock, and then you need to lose elevation into a gap before ascending to the alpine basin below Peak 6500 (sometimes known as Seed Peak). From there you wind your way through the ancient glacier that will yield the ridge  that leads to Gillespie’s summit, at 2018 metres in elevation. There are amazing sights in all directions as soon as you gain the plateau below Peak 5700.

You’ll note in this tale I  sometimes refer to elevations in both feet and metres, so I apologize for the confusion. Ted and Denis are only reluctant converts to the metric system, and would be quite happy sticking to English measures. Being typically Canadian, I try to appease all parties!

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Mt Judge Howay in the Stave River drainage
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Ted geared and ready for the alpine
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Meslilloet Mountain, 2000 metres tall, and home to the closest glacier to Metro Vancouver

After a mere half hour of trekking, we climbed a steep hillock that gave us access to the summit of Peak 5700. It was an ideal vantage point, from which we caught our first glimpse of our objective.

This valley has become a welcome place to me, even though my indoctrination to the region some years back with my good friend Chris B. It had been a day of foul weather and fleeing from bears, to exaggerate only mildly on both accounts. The previous excursions I had made there had given me a sense of familiarity, but more than that, the area has always seemed pleasant in nature to me. It’s hard to explain, almost as though there are good vibes there, or something like that. Mt Gillespie now took center stage as it appeared across the ridges.

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Mt Gillespie
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Sharp drop into an adjacent valley. We would be weaving our way down into a gap, then up to the basin at upper right

There were only mild technical difficulties on the next leg of the trip. The trail, if you can call it that, simply uses a high connecting bench that leads you to slopes below Seed Peak.  Then, once you manage to arrive in the high alpine bowl above, you can plot your route to Gillespie.

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The bowl below Seed Peak aka Peak 6500

For a number of years I have wanted to make a point of camping here, as it has all the amenities of the finest wilderness campsites. There is abundant drinking water, and a few icy tarns to cool you off on those hot summer days too. The retreads, though, abhor overnight missions, preferring marathon marches, if necessary, to finish in a single day.

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Denis and Ted reaching the basin, Gillespie at right

Challenges would soon begin in earnest, however. Crossing the bench proved simple enough, but meandering down the granite slabs into the belly of the pocket glacier was next on the agenda.

The photo below illustrates the task well. The glacier is an ancient one that has receded considerably, so we did not have to contend with any crevasses. There were dangerous moats where ice had melted away from the rock faces though, so those had to be walked with care.

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The guys heading down to the glacier
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Walking the glacier

I am pretty sure this is the friendliest glacier I have ever hiked. The snow was in ideal condition and was never steep enough to require crampons. We simply strolled across it.

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Afternoon sun on the granite

In the now approaching midday sun, the rock took on different tones, changing from pollished greys to browns and pinks.

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Concentric patterns

The glacial ice, too, was fascinating. In this photo you can see it has formed concentric patterns over the years. I’m not totally sure how that process would have occurred, but I guessed it had something to do with melting patterns.

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The ledge that leads onto the ridge

I had first heard of this mountain years before from good friend Simon, who had climbed it back in 2005. His description of the way up was quite accurate. We just climbed up to a broad ledge that gave way to a steep and somewhat loose section of scrambling. This was the key to the ridge. We marked our exit point with a cairn so as to make the trip back less complicated.

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Denis on the ridge, where the walking got easier for a while

The bottom of the ridge consisted of fairly simple hiking, with the odd bit of boulder hopping thrown in.

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Me, with the summit now in sight

Once through the large rock garden at the bottom of the ridge, we broke into the clear and were able to see the summit block. It was hard to evaluate the crux from where we stood, but as Denis often says “You’ve got to get a closer look, it never looks easy from afar.”

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In the home stretch now!

What next? Eyeing the summit from the clearing, I figured a short walk on snows and then stick to the rock from there, to start with.

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In the rock garden getting nearer to the summit block

The rocky field of boulders below the buttress above posed no issues at all. It wasn’t long after that we found ourselves gazing at the last of the obstacles that kept us from the summit.

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Incredible mountain views!

What was even better was that the views were opening up more with every step we took. The Mamquam Vallley is a sight to behold, highlighted by glacier clad Mamquam Mountain, which lies within Garibaldi Provincial Park.When we crested the boulder slope, we could see a very nice line up a snowfield that had remained hidden until then. Denis led the way, with the rays of the sun all the warmer.

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One final snowfield

The crux turned out to be a short, narrow slot with almost no exposure which could be scrambled with ease. This completed, all that was left was to tag the summit.

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The final crux, Denis leads and Ted follows

It was time to break for lunch and enjoy the fine views afforded by the summit. But first, a bit of historical banter…

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Ted, as it turned out, had worked with John Gillespie, whose father had been instrumental in lobbying for Pinecone-Burke to be set aside as parkland. The elder Gillespie had passed some years ago, but the mountain we stood atop had been named in his honour. A worn but well made little sign lay nearby as well. Here are some summit views!

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Gillespie Glacier

There was a large snowfield and a glacier on the other side of the mountain as well.

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Five Fingers Group

Haze from recent forest fires hung over the mountains, but of course the views were still grand.

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Meslilloet Mountain again
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Mamquam and Pinecone Lake peaks
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A glacial lake forming on the flanks of Gillespie
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The guys on Gillespie summit, 2018 metres high

Of course, we couldn’t stay there forever. Lingering on mountaintops much more than thirty minutes is frowned upon in the retread culture. I suspect this is mainly because the cold beer is back at the truck and, well, that reason’s good enough for me!

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Well, maybe one last summit shot before we head home!
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Amid the haze

The idea was, of course, to retrace our steps from whence we came. On the way back we missed the cairn that marked the way and ended up casting about for alternative routes down to the glacier.

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Denis reversing the crux
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The end of the summit ridge with Peak 6580 behind
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On the descent
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Mt Gillespie

The sight of November Lake brought to mind my friend Martin. He has a burning desire to pack inflatable rafts to alpine lakes, and I think he has his eye on this lake too.

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November Lake

We explored several routes. One was a steep gully that looked loose and unsafe, so that was ruled out, then two more that ended in cliffs. We were about to reluctantly climb up and search for the cairn we had missed when Ted noticed a rocky gully that swung down to a moraine we could cross to get closer to the glacier.

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Denis on the snowfield

 

Attaining the glacier was somewhat tricky too, as there were moats to avoid, but finally an easy avenue appeared. We crossed the glacier once again, aiming again for the basin below Peak 6580 .

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The glacier, shrouded in the pinks of “watermelon snow”, caused by an organism called Chlamydomonis Nivalis
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A final look back toward the ridge
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And now time to head back up…

Under ideal conditions, but as dictated by the objective, one of the chief designs of a retread’s day in the hills is to avoid vertical gain on the trip back. That was not to be possible on this day, as the ups and downs of these mountains meant there’d definitely be some hard work on the way home. Once at the basin we met some hikers with their dog who had climbed Peak 6500. I asked them if they had found the pair of sunglasses Doug had left there when we had hiked there three years before, but no luck there. Somewhere there’s a mountain goat strolling the hills up there with a nice pair of shades, I guess.

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One last look at Gillespie

The walk back up to Peak 5700 after descending the ridge below Peak 6500 was a bit of a chore for me. I’m not sure whether I managed to get dehydrated or what but I ended up with a sore quadricep for a week after this trip. We were all happy to make it back to the truck and down a few very cold Budweisers after roughly 7 1/2 hours on the trail. Retreads in training are also required to supply chips- plain or ripple but no flavours being preferred. A very rewarding day, good times!

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Doing what we do best!

Myriad topics of conversation on the drive home included mountains, more mountains, wine, women, song, still more mountains, barrroom brawling, the NFL, softball, old western movies, beer, chips, more beer, and still more beer.

Since the ride up had thoroughly shattered his beer glasses, Ted included one of these beers below to each of us as parting gifts. Add a total of 5 1/2 hours driving- longer still for the guys- and it made for a solid 14 hour day. If you have never visited this part of the Coast Mountains, you’re missing out on the very sublime experience that is the Mamquam Valley. Get up there soon!

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Old Cellar Dweller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traversing the Ridge of Chanter

Tucked away on a sharp divide between Cyrtina Creek and Furry Creek, the unofficially named Chanter Peak and its accompanying approach via its western subpeaks looked to be an adventurous ascent.  Simon had diligently researched the ridge and knew that it was rarely hiked and promised great views, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity! The name Chanter, assigned by the Bivouac website, refers to the pipe of a bagpipe which is provided with finger holes with which to play the melody. It was not, as we joked then, what you call those groups of friendly Hare Krishna folk you sometimes see carrying on and singing happily at the airport. The peak’s suggested name is supposed to be in keeping with the Scottish theme of names in the area, like Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond, whose names are official.

Our  immediate concern  when considering our options, was to try and avert any kind of route that crossed a potential avalanche chute. The north face of the ridge that you see in the photo below had several that were particularly dangerous looking and incredibly steep.

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Chanter Ridge: We were to approach at right and traverse to the left in this photo. The summit of Chanter Peak is 1568 metres in elevation. Our exit ramp is clearly visible at far left… Photo credit Martin O.

So it was that on a perfect tenth of May in 2006, we set out to tackle the task. Simon’s Nissan X-Trail lurched to and fro up the logging road, and we took delight in watching a big black bear cross the road at one point! It was evident that it was going to be a warm spring day, and we continued up the road to park at a washout about 8 kms from the gate. I was intrigued about this ridge, since I had seen it when climbing nearby Capilano Mountain the year before. We had packed snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes, as we weren’t sure exactly how the snow conditions might play out, and expected the trek to last a good portion of the day.

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Morning views from our parking spot
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Here is a view of the ridge, in the foreground, as I’d seen it from Capilano Mountain in August of 2005. Sky Pilot Mountain is at left, and the tower of Ben Lomond on the right

We began by crossing Cyrtina Creek to gain the forest below the western side of the ridge. This went well, at least for Simon, but I managed to end up in the drink.

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Simon shows how it’s done on the creek crossing

None the worse for wear, we continued through stands of ancient mountain hemlock, working our way to the bottom of the ridge. Plenty of stories and laughs were exchanged as we worked our way upward. We had developed quite a rapport through previous expeditions and now had that easy sense of humour that only develops through familiarity.

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The beautifully open old growth forest that we saw that day is now forever gone, according to Simon, who repeated this trek some eight years later. At the time it had been slated to be logged, and though we had hoped it would be preserved, that, unfortunately, was not to be.

We soon came upon a tree that looked as though it would be a perfect den for a bear. Simon peered inside for a quick look, finding no ursine residents, but did so with a casual air that had us both chuckling at the time.

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Hey in there, anybody home?

In short order, the forest opened up into an area of scattered trees and lighter foliage. It didn’t quite don on me at the time, but there was good reason for that which would soon become obvious to us.

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The forest begins to open up as we near the ridge above

Once we crested these slopes you could tell that avalanches had snapped trees and created substantial clearings, and possibly in the not too distant past. We soon climbed into a bowl below the ridge and could finally see a path to the ridge above. Route finding was simple – we chose a steep gully already razed right down to the earth in some spots by a recent slide.  It provided an ideal avenue to attain Chanter Ridge. Had that avalanche not already occurred we might well have shifted our plans or stood down, but luck had prevailed, in this case.

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Me ascending the steep gully below the ridge… Photo by Simon C

This trek turned out to be one of those days in the mountains that has become especially memorable to me. Perhaps it was the feeling of isolation I felt, or perhaps it was the more than ample sense of adventure. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but these photos still evoke strong recollections. I  sometimes use the photo above as an icon on social media sites.

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Simon waiting for me atop the west end of the ridge

The elevation at the west end of the ridge was about 1420 metres, I believe. It was an appealing vantage point, and we were beginning to enjoy the day immensely. The route we would be taking to move eastward toward the summit seemed straightforward. We knew only of the destination, and scarcely little of the possible obstacles, but that was perhaps the best part of it all.

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Mountain views across the valley were beginning to improve!

The sun was beginning to warm us up quite a bit, and the first thing we realized was that neither of us had brought any sunscreen. While that was no issue at the time, it certainly was to be later. We resolved to move on, trying to shade ourselves wherever possible. There were, after all, plenty of other things to focus upon at the time. Here are some of the emerging views that were enjoyed.

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The ramparts of Capilano Mountain through the trees
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The Tantalus Range over in the Squamish River drainage
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Ben Lomond, a nice looking rock tower at the head of the Seymour Valley

We now concentrated on the task at hand; the next peak on the ridge was a short but sharp ascent of less than 150 metres, elevation wise. The snow, at this point, was well consolidated and ideal for travel.

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Simon assesses the route up the next peak we must ascend

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Getting up this peak was no marathon undertaking, but it did take some determination. We had to stop on a ledge to put our crampons on, and, as we did, we noticed a huge crevice where snow met rock. It looked very deep and foreboding, and neither of us wanted to end up trapped inside. We carefully moved past the ledge then tackled the last fifty meters or so to the crest. The first crux was soon ours!

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T’is the struggle that makes the man, as Simon captures in this photo!
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Sky Pilot Mountain, from near the summit of the first subpeak

The sun had really begun roasting us by then, especially since we were now without the cover of trees. I had wrenched a knee on the steepest section of the climb, but it seemed I could manage. We stopped to eat some lunch and survey the sublime views in every direction, savouring them as much as we could. We could now see the road we’d driven up the valley on, and where we’d begun, roughly 800 metres below on the valley floor.

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Looking back at the entrance to our valley and the road on which we accessed it
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Capilano Mountain, at the head of the Capilano River, a major source of Greater Vancouver’s water supply
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Simon having a look at Ben More, Sky Pilot Mountain and Mt Sheer

We had set a good pace up to this point, or rather, I should say, Simon had set a good pace! Of all the people I’ve been with in the mountains, he is certainly the quickest when moving uphill. I’ve often wished that I could spend the number of days he does in the hills, as usually he averages ascending over fifty new peaks a year and has climbed hundreds of summits. Me? I’m just glad to have been along for a decent handful of those hikes.

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Beginning the ridge walk…Photo by Simon

We were now in the kind of territory every mountaineer loves; an open stroll on a friendly expanse of snow with stunning vistas everywhere you looked. In the photo above, you see me working toward another peak on the ridge.

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Simon with the westward end of the ridge and the Tantalus Range behind him

I was in no hurry to accelerate this part of the trek, as we trudged along through snow that was fast becoming isothermic. It was also clear we’d both be sporting obvious sunburns in the days to come but that too, seemed not to matter. We had not managed to catch sight of the summit yet but according to readings Simon figured it could not be far away.

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Simon on the ridge again, one of my favourite photos!

One could easily discern that the prevailing winds had the habit of creating huge cornices, which we were very careful to keep our distance from. It was safe hiking in the middle of the ridge, but we had seen the sheer drops and avalanche chutes on the north face and so naturally wanted nothing to do with those.

Soon enough, the summit was in our sights, and Simon took the lead again as we dug in for the top. You can see (in my photo below) Simon making tracks upward and next (in Simon’s photo) me ascending the ridge with the start of our ridgewalk in the distance.

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On the last pitch to the summit!
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Almost there!

In another ten minutes, we were standing at the high point, at 1568 metres, on this unnamed ridge! It was time to break out the cameras yet again before beginning the journey back into the valley!

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On the summit…Photo by Simon
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Sky Pilot Mountain, at 2031m, tallest in the Britannia Range
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Ben Lomond. Simon was to stand on its top in about 4 weeks, and while I was present on the trip when he did so, it would take me another year later to make it back for a successful second attempt. That’s a fine tale in itself!
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Cathedral Mountain, tallest in the North Shore Mountains at 1737 m….Photo by Simon
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Britannia Range…Photo by Simon
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Simon explores the surprisingly wide summit plateau

While capturing the summit had been eventful,  now it was time to think about the day’s second crux. How were we to get down? While we had a general idea, there was some apprehension due to the snow having softened and the need to avoid avalanche prone slopes. That would take some doing, but we were confident a solution would present itself.

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Pondering our escape

The mountain hemlock, pictured below, that guards the end of ridge where we dropped down may be well over 500 years old.

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Tsuga Mertensiana, Mountain Hemlock
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Where to next?

As we reached the end of the summit block, an appealing snow bowl with reasonably safe slopes came into view. We would start our trip downward there, plunging steps as we walked.

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The bowl we descended into, with the summit looming behind
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Me, hiking down into the bowl below the ridge…..Photo by Simon
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Mountaineer’s best friend

Next came a glissade on wet snow that enabled us to lose almost a hundred metres in elevation. At the end of the slide only quick reflexes allowed Simon to avoid a nasty broken snow bridge. Had I been in the lead I would certainly have broken through if only because my greater weight would have ensured that. As we stood about considering where we should go next, a conspicuous solution leaped out at us. A perfect ramp to our left seeemed to lead to the foot of the ridge, and since we knew that the slopes above it were reasonably safe,  we walked and glissaded our way down. It had taken merely half an hour to reach the valley floor.

The end of the ramp came abruptly, and  welcomed our return to the forest, but not without warning. Some weeks before, an avalanche had ripped down the couloir immediately west of our exit point and taken out a huge expanse of forest. There was no urge to linger there, because while the danger had passed, the feeling of vulnerability had not, so we continued on toward the logging road.

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The ramp where it met the valley below. You can see the devastation a previous snowslide had wreaked on the forest here! It looked to be a week or two old
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Another view from back on the logging road. The chute at center was the one that released. Our ramp exit may have been unsafe in typical winter conditions or even a couple weeks earlier

It had taken us just under eight hours to complete our trip, and we were feeling that brimming sense of accomplishment that a fine day in the mountains typically brings.

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Well done!

On our walk down the logging road, we stopped in to have a look at Rolf Beltz’s ski cabin, which has now long fallen into disrepair. We certainly wished it had a beer fridge, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

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Simon in the ski cabin
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A decent wood stove

All told, our eight hour day featured about 9 kms of travel and 1300 metres of cumulative elevation gain. It was a day that tested not just our skill and mettle, but also our critical thinking process. It was a satisfying day in so many respects, and I suppose that is why this trek has left such an impression on me. The ridge with no name, had, to us at least, made a name for itself!