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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blackcomb-Currie Traverse

Note: I've described this trip taking the exit out the Gravell Creek, via the upper roads and NOT the cutblock. A better option now would be to take the new trail on the west side of Currie that drops down to the Green River Bridge. You will end up hiking down barely snow covered boulder fields, but that is better than a long snow-free valley bushwhack. 

The days are getting shorter, it's wet and rainy outside. The high alpine is covered in a dusting of snow. It's ski movie season, real skiing is just around the corner. Here's a throwback to a trip that I did back in February 2013 with Bram, where we headed off on skis from Blackcomb to Mount Currie, and down to Pemberton. Summer and winter are chaotic for me, I've saved this one for a rainy Fall night to write out. I can't wait for more fun adventures this winter on the South Coast. 

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"Hi, is this Whistler taxi? Can you pick us up from the Green River bridge?" Bram and I drop our packs by the side of the road in the fading daylight, and wait for the taxi to arrive. Three days earlier, we left Blackcomb on skis, heading away from the crowds and into some lesser travelled terrain. Crowded is a relative term around here. Some places are always busy, like Whistler and Paul Ridge. But going one valley further, over the next pass, and suddenly it's just you.

The Blackcomb-Currie traverse takes a high line through the northern section of Garibaldi Provincial Park. The start of the journey is the easy part, with a ride up the chairlifts on a one-way backcountry lift ticket. Beyond the gates, it's pure alpine bliss. Leaving the crowds on the Decker glacier, the route continues down into Wedge Pass, around Lesser Wedge, down the Weart Glacier, over to the Mystery Glacier and into the basin south of Mount Currie.

The crux of the traverse lies in the exit, a long descent out Gravell Creek, complete with flat valley bottoms, creek crossings, and steep cutblocks. The alternative? A steep ski descent of one of the couloirs on the 2300m north face of Mount Currie.

The ski conditions were prime for a traverse. January was a dry month, with some rare sunny days. The drought extended into February, with a three-day window centered over the new Family day long weekend. Time to spend it in the mountains.

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Descending into Decker Creek.

Skiing down into Wedge Pass, it was just the two of us. Greg and his other friend were following our tracks behind us, but we wouldn't see them until the end of the first day. Bram has done the traverse once before. I was happy to have his knowledge of the route, and the exit.

The first night's campsite was on the Weart Glacier. We tried to ski up Eureka Mountain after reaching the 2400m pass east of Lesser Wedge Mountain. But the early February sunset and the slow travel conditions on the barely-snow covered south ridge turn us around. We race down the Weart Glacier, following two ski tracks to Greg's snow-tarp camp on the Weart Glacier.

They were planning to sleep, then leave early to ski the Pencil Couloir on Currie. This plan worked for us. I could sleep in, and then follow their tracks to the base of Currie. I curl up into my lightweight sleeping bag, under the tarp-covered snow pit, with a belly full of couscous, bacon and blue cheese.

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View towards the Mcbride Range, with Nivalis at left, and Mount Sir Richard at centre. Endless mountains to explore.

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Shatter and Shudder Glacier. Tremor Mountain, at centre right, is the highest peak on the Spearhead Rang.

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Lesser Wedge and Wedge Mountain stand tall across the Weart Glacier.

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Starry night on the Weart Glacier. My new camera does a much better job with low-light high ISO exposures. All the images here were taken with my old Nikon D50. 

The highlight of traverse was the second day, covering new terrain towards Mount Currie. We leave camp shortly before sunrise. I was awe-struck with the alpenglow painted over the north face of the Owls and Weart. It was a skier's dream. Couloirs and steep face. A blank canvas waiting for a ski stroke. I gaze up at them, wishing I was up there. But not today. There was a crown line on the central line. Barely bridged bergshrund on the left couloir. And blue ice on Weart's north face. There will always be next time.

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North face of the Owls.

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The top half of the North face of Weart is visible on the right.

We catch up to Greg and his partner at the 2400m col above the Mystery Glacier. They descend first, finding good snow in this north facing slope, protected from the scouring and compacting effects of the wind. A good sign for their committing descent later this afternoon. I hoot and holler, turning my skis with ease down the slope.

We climb up again to another high col on Hibachi Ridge. From the top, we are rewarded with another run.  Another untracked powder slope with 400m's of turns.

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Tracks leading down into Mystery Creek. We skied the left edge on the south face of Mount Currie.

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We were now in the headwaters of Mystery Creek - the south face of Mount Currie beckoned me. The ski terrain around here is awesome. North and west facing runs up to 400m long on Hibachi Ridge. The south face of Currie is 600m of 35deg skiing. Another 900m run from the col east of Currie down into Gravell Creek. No big deal. It was an easy day and a half ski to this point. As of now, this area sees more access from machine-assisted users, with helicopters dropping off skiers and guides on Mount Currie, which is a kilometre and a bit north of the park boundary. This traverse can be done with a heli-drop on the summit, and then a fast ski out in a day back to Blackcomb. But you would miss out on a lot of good skiing.

On the south face of Currie, I could see all of the Whistler valley below me. The 360 degree view was phenomenal - especially of the expansive Pemberton Icefield to our west.  I waited for Bram to catch up to the summit, hoping to start the descent soon. The south face was already cooking in the sun. The south facing powder was good, but not as good as the turns earlier in the day.

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Bram is the small speck skinning up at the bottom of the photo.

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View from the summit of Mount Currie

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Hungry for more powder, we head east to a line on Hibachi Ridge late in the day. In the late afternoon, we wait until sunset for the slope to change from white to vibrant hues of orange and magenta. The descent was perfect. Smooth buttery turns down the 35deg slope. This line doesn't have a name. It's not visible from Whistler or the highway. Nobody else would blog about it. But it was awesome. It was a fantastic feeling to be out here in this wild spot, but so close to home.

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Sunset turns off Hibachi Ridge

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Home sweet home, at the head of Mystery Creek.
This was our tarp setup. It's light and works well, but takes some effort to dig out a sleeping space.

We wake up to clouds the next morning. The weather was changing for the worse. There was a fog bank down in the valley, quickly rising to blanket us and obscure our route. We rush up to the col southeast of Currie, but the clouds beat us there first. Easy travel on skis transformed into sluggish forward stumbling, wondering which way was up and down in an otherwise sensory-blocking environment of mist and fog. There are some methods, like rolling snow balls down a slope, or in our case, small rocks. The compass came in handy, and so did the rope. "Where is the col?" I wonder, as I toss the rope to get a sense of direction. "Go left, we're almost there," Bram says, looking up from his GPS.

The skins came off at the top of the snow. My skis were ready to glide over the powder below us. Unfortunately, the winds had transformed the slope into breakable crust. The descent was slow. I was cautious of going fast, nervous about what was below. The clouds linger, and I wait for a clearing window to scout the best line down. At the bottom, we continue down along Gravell Creek, now forcing a line through the bottom of avalanche paths, with deteriorating snow conditions as we travel down. The moisture from the mist was condensing into the tree-bombed covered snow pack.

Eventually we reach a major junction in Gravell Creek at 900m. John Baldwin describes the route well in his book. Cross the creek, then climb northeast out of the creek to reach a forested ridge, 1km east of the creek. Then descend north to reach the Gravell East Spur roads to reach the Green River FSR, and then west to the Green River bridge southwest of the Pemberton airport. Bram and his friends took a different route last time. They continued north down Gravell Creek, reaching a steep cutblock at the end of the Gravell Creek road. Punching through bad 20-year old second growth in thin isothermal snow was how they described the kilometre long journey through the cutblock.

We reach the end of the snow a few hours later, on the other end of the Green River bridge, ready to take off our boots. Another awesome Coast Mountain trip.

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Bram deals with the navigational challenges.

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Descending into Gravell Creek

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Skiing through old growth

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alpha-Serratus Traverse

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The Approach

There used to be this guy "Marty" who lived on the Lake Lovely Water Spur, who charged people money to cross his "land." Sometimes, the owner of the vehicles would come back to a vandalized car, whether they paid or not. Things seem to have improved now, Marty is gone for now. The road is gated, but a truck can drive around on the right.

The crux of the trip, and the most often asked question to any Tantalus trip, is "how did you get across the river?" The common options are the wobbly tyrolean across the cable, a water taxi, or canoes. We choose the latter this time. We launched the canoe and two whitewater kayaks at the end of the spur road, and paddled across to a sandy beach. Well, I was sitting in the middle of the canoe, taking photos.


A rough sketch of our route that weekend with Nick M, Nick G, Tim and Piotr.

Paddling across the Squamish River

Most people fly up to the Haberl Hut at the Serratus-Dione col. This makes sense if you're short on time and just want to climb one of the routes on Tantalus or Dione. Strangely though, people also fly into Lake Lovely Water.

After crossing the Squamish River, it took us two and a half hours to hike the trail. The trail climbs through some beautiful lush forest, ascending alongside a creek with a few waterfalls, and then up a quad-busting steep section to the lake at 1165m. I've heard stories of how the approach to the lake is a grunt with an unrelenting climb. It was well marked and easy to follow after leaving the river shore. Similar to the Wedgemount Lake trail, without anybody else around.

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Priorities. Swim time in Lake Lovely Water

Alpha East Ridge

From the hut, continue along the shore of Lake Lovely Water. Shortly after leaving the beach, a trail branches off to the right, marked with flagging tape. This is the approach to the east ridge. The other trail continues west along the shore line to Lambda Lake. Don't try to bushwhack up from Lambda Lake. Continue climbing up through the forest (some sections of bluberry bushes) until breaking out into the subalpine. There has been enough traffic now that a rough footbed exists on the way up. In late summer, there is no water up here, until getting onto the east ridge proper where snow patches can be found. Follow occasional cairns through some steep heather and boulders to reach the east ridge.

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Most of the ridge is easy scrambling. The crux of the route is a single pitch at the start of the steeper part of the ridge, climbing out of an obvious notch. Climb out of the notch, on the right side, following a steep wide crack (5.7-5.8) for a few metres. Protection is limited, unless you hauled a #4 up 2100m just for the one placement. I think there was an old piton nearby too. The climbing eases above near some old rappel slings, and then through some broken rock and then another crack to a nice belay ledge.

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View from the belay ledge.

We continued along more enjoyable ridge scrambling to the summit, somewhat in awe of the view around us. I felt quite fortunate to be up here with these guys sharing the bluebird conditions. Piotr had climbed the east ridge before, but neither Tim Nick or Nick had been up this classic route before. We've been staring at it from the highway for a long time. The rope was only necessarily for the one pitch out of the notch.

Originally, we wanted to traverse over Serratus and continue on towards the Red Tusk. By the time we were on the summit of Alpha, it was already late afternoon, and we realized that continuing on meant an uncomfortable bivy somewhere ontop of Serratus, or more likely between one of the gendarmes on the east ridge.

We decided to hang out for as long as we could on the summit of Alpha, and then descended to a good bivy east of the Serratus-Alpha col. Suddenly the day felt shorter, and I stretched out on the summit, and dreamt of future trips with skis to this area. There was no longer a rush to go anywhere, just the stillness of being up high in the mountains with good friends.

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Red Tusk, and Sedgewick behind.

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Ionia, Serratus, Dione, and Tantalus.

Tim scoping out the descent down the south side of Alpha, with a view down into the Russian Army Camp
From the summit, we continued down the west side of the peak, descending scree and talus towards the base of the west ridge, where we decided to bivy for the night.

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Tantalus and Tim

Sea to Sky view from our bivy near the Alpha-Serratus col
Sea to Sky Moonscape

Moonset over the east ridge of Serratus
Moonset over the Tantalus Range

The Milky Way over Mount Tantalus and Dione
Milky Way over Tantalus

Starry skies over the Sea to Sky country
Starry skies over the Sea to Sky country. The glow is from Vancouver lights.

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The Niobe-Lydia col, with Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver Island beyond.

Serratus East Ridge

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The view from our bivy site the next morning. Tim and Nick found running water on the north side below the col. We tried to go as light on this trip. Running shoes and aluminum crampons. Lightweight ice axe. Two 60m half ropes for the two rope teams. Couscous. Thermal, wind shell, and light puffy. Sleeping Bag, no tent. DSLR...

The east ridge of Serratus lived up to it's description - classic mountaineering, route finding around gendarmes, and uninspiring rock. From our bivy, we continued over two gendarmes to reach the Serratus-Alpha col proper. In early season, or with proper crampons, the gendarmes could be bypassed to the north via glaciated slopes, saving some time.

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Nick looking around for a way down from this gendarme. There was an airy downclimb on the other side.

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Omega Mountain

Lydia, Red Tusk, Pandareus and Ionia at Sunrise
Lydia, the Red Tusk, Mount Pandareus and Ionia

Morning light on the east ridge of Serratus
Climbing the east ridge of Serratus

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Rumbling Glacier Alpenglow

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Pelion Mountain, and the Ashlu-Elaho Divide.

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Rich somewhere on the east ridge of Serratus

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From the col, we continued scrambling up towards the first rock tower. It looked intimidating, and I wondered if the rope would come out. After some more airy scrambling, we topped out at the top. I looked around and found a way down to the col with the next gendarme.

This was basically how the climb went, sometimes climbing over a gendarme, or bypassing them to the left or right if possible. We made one short rappel down a steep corner and also pitched out an airy arete.

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Scrambling on the ridge top

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Bypassing a gendarme on the north side

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Pitching it out on the airy arete.

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Serratus pack, on Serratus Mountain.

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Rich on the summit of Serratus
The stoke was high today on Serratus, and my usual smile was bigger than normal.

The Descent

Alpine Select describes descent route as the south couloir, but it was completely melted out. It's suppose to be chossy and best avoided. The shrund at the bottom has become in impassable in past years too. The south ridge looked like a possibility, but we decided to try out the west face descent, which is becoming the standard route, despite somewhat indirect to get back to the Lake Lovely Water side.

I heard that a bolted rappel line was installed on the west face, but couldn't find a topo anywhere. We descended from the summit , down to a notch with the south couloir on the left. From here, continue up and over a rock step with a cairn on top. The first rappel anchor should be here. Going right from here leads to the dotted red line in the photo below, to bypass the first station. The day after we returned from the trip, the top was sent out via the MCR reports from Ross Berg of Altus Mountain Guides. Thanks!



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Late season conditions in a dry summer. Steel crampons were the tool of choice today.

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Tim rappelling into the moat at the Serratus-Ionia col. It would be challenging to gain the col from the other direction. Only a very fragile snow bridge remained.

Rich Tim and Nick with the Crescent Glacier behind

We continued traversing below the south face of Serratus. Instead of descending south into the Russian Army camp, we continued east below Alpha, crossing two big scree gullies. We continued along this high route, until finding cairns that took us down to the trio of lakes northwest of Lambda Lake. I convinced the group to make another stop here for a swim break.

The trail from Lambda Lake to the hut seemed to go on forever, climbing up and down along the north shore of Lake Lovely Water. The descent down to the river was quick, headlamps came on halfway down. The only thing left was a moonlight paddle across the Squamish River, a car faff putting away the canoes, and a greasy burger in a parking lot.

Moonlight crossing of the Squamish River

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