Friday, June 20, 2008

Who's got the stove in the North Columbias?

I received an email from a friend looking for adventure in the North Columbia mountains of B.C. The invite was the only motivation I needed. So, I jumped in the truck and was in Blue River, B.C. by Sunday Evening. (Blue River is home to the infamous Mike Wiegle Heli Skiing outfit) We then started heading up a forest service road (FSR) towards Mt. Cheadle and the Serpentine Ice field. Beta on this area is limited to say the least. I was grateful for my friend Dana’s local knowledge of the area. We got to the end of the road and sorted group gear. An interesting conversation started up:

G: Which stove did you bring B?

B: I didn’t bring a stove, I thought you were bringing it.

G: I thought you were bringing it?

B,G & D: Oh $h!t…..

Ever the optimist we started hiking up the cut block towards the ice, hoping we’d find running water somewhere. We saw one sub-adult black bear on the way.

We setup the shelters on a nice little dry spot in an alpine meadow. Waking at 3:30am, we tried to find water, and were unsuccessful.

Time to regroup. Dana’s husband ended up bringing us a stove Clearwater. While we waited, we schemed up a new destination. We were to attempt Mt. Duffey, the 9200’ peak with glaciers on the N and E aspects visible from Hwy 5. So, we regrouped. We began exploring some of the newer longing roads for optimal access. We finally parked the truck @ 5300’. 4 hours of bushwacking brought us up to 6500’ and stellar view of the Monashee Mountains. A quick super, a bit of snow melting, and then we all crawled in our sleeping bags at about 8:00pm. We were back up at 3:30am. The light was amazing, and it looked like a great day for steep snow climbing. We were soon on our way, slogging up the snow covered slopes.

At about 9:00am we reached the bergshrund at 8700’. The snow was already feeling pretty sloppy. I was beginning to think that we would not summit. I volunteered for the first technical pitch and started up across the ‘schrund. Above the slot, I managed to find some good rock to build a anchor with some rock pro. I brought both seconds up.

All of us were now at the anchor, 500’ below the summit. It was a tough decision, but in the end we decided to bail. None of us wanted to go for a ride in a ground slide that day.

We did get some top notch shovel glisse on the way down.

We packed up camp, and walked out in the rain. There is still over 6’ of snow in the mountains of the North Columbia in the middle of June! Wow!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Garibaldi Neve Traverse

In mid April I wrapped up my work with the Utah Avalanche Center for the season. My friend Jim Harris and I were headed North to tackle the big peaks of British Columbia & Alberta. We made one last stop at for 4 boxes of probars, and then drove 20+ hours to Canuckistan.

Original objectives included the Wapta Traverse (on the B.C/Alberta border) as well as the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse but, discussion of remoting size 3 avalanches on slopes less than 30 degrees scared us further west. Thus we began consulting the bible of coastal BC ski mountaineering, "Exploring The Coast Mountains on Skis," by John Baldwin. After an epic amount of driving we finally found ourselves in the Diamond Head parking lot for Garibaldi Provincial Park in the Coast Range of British Columbia. We made it into the Elfin Lakes hut Thursday evening in a nice blizzard. Little did I know that poor/little visibility would be the theme of our trip.

We set off the next morning skinning through a 5 inches of powder sitting on a melt freeze crust. We peeled skins and began the first decent. Tensions were high, as the new snow was incredibly unstable and wet. I ski cut the first gully, and released a nice size 1 that ran for 1000' or so. These weren't your light density Wasatch sluffs, these were heavy wet slides that the skier MUST avoid. After a few miles of dicey gully side hilling, we were on the Neve.

Prior to this trip, I'd been on quite a few glaciers, but, always with partners that were more experienced than I. This marked the first time that I'd truly be responsible for decision making. To make things a little more interesting, we were skiing in a near whiteout. Skiing in a whiteout is a very disorienting experience akin to being inside of a ping pong ball. You have no perception of what is ahead of you, your inner-ear is mystified with regard to your current position, and the only way to Navigate is with a GPS (I've been using the Garmin eTrex legend for years and I love it's simplicity. Combine this with a good 1:50,000 scale map and you're in great shape!) Whiteout isn't too bad if you're out for a little slack country day trip, but when bobbing between seracs and crevasses, it's a bit un-nerving. (Photo: Jim Harris )We made it to a feature known as, "The Tent" and elected to call it a day here. This would put us in position for an attempt on Mt. Garibaldi the next morning. We busied ourselves with all the camp chores associated with sleeping in a GoLite Hex in the middle of an Icefield. (Stomping out a spot for the tarp, melting snow into water, cooking supper, etc.) We were tired and the sleep felt great.

We slept well and awoke early to more poor visibility:

We quickly packed up our rucksacks and set off for Mt. Garibaldi via the NE face. We worked our way up to the bench just below the bergshrund. We'd been preforming various stability test during the ascent, and the information we were getting was not favorable. The upper 3 feet of the pack had been wind hammered into a slab that was strong in compression and weak in shear, the recipe for big hard slab avalanches. We elected not to ascend the peak, but lapped the lower 2/3 instead.

Jim skiing the lower Garabaldi Ramp. Garibaldi Lake in the background.

After a few laps, it was time to go down to camp and pack up. We looked back on Garabaldi and our tracks had already been swept away by the wind!

As we dropped elevation, we got into some great breakable death crust skiing. Good stuff with the full mountaineering pack on. We got to Garibaldi lake safely, and then skated miles across the lake. Eventually we reached the Battleship islands and it was time to start dropping elevation back down to the nearest trail head. We got through some 3000 vert of sketchy iced out trail skiing without incident, and we were soon at the trail head.

A few folks were kind enough to give us a ride down to Highway 99 (the highway that runs from Vancouver to Whistler.) At this point, we needed to hitchhike. I walked across the road in my Gore tex suit and Mega rides, and stuck out my thumb while Jim stayed with the gear. A strange car pulled over almost immediately. I told the driver my destination was Squamish and he was sure he could get me there.

At first I thought the car was a VW Beetle, but I was mistaken
. It was a 2 cylinder Citroen of French make, imported from Japan, driven by a Slovenian ex-pat. The man behind the wheel was incredibly generous, driving me the full 45 km's to Squamish, and then an additional 30 minutes up the Diamond head road to my Jeep. I was very thankful!

Another hour of driving brought me back to Jim and the gear. We threw everything in the Jeep, gave each other a congratulatory hand shakes, and set off to Whistler to find a shower, beer & a non dehydrated meal. Before long we were planning our next objective, the Spearhead Traverse.