About Me

My photo
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!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tenquille Lake Skiing

The mountains opened early for ski this year for skiing in November. There was snow falling in the mountains, and I was ready to do some late-season hiking, bringing along my skis just in case there was enough snow to ski on. Our destination was pretty top secret (as you can tell from the blog title), somewhere hidden in Pemberton, tucked away in the mountains where the only sounds in the winter are the endless brapbrapbrap sound of sledders trying to run over skiers. I mostly joke about this last part, but one of my photos ended up on the Vancity Buzz facebook page, and somebody posted a comment like that. But November was too early for that, and not many people would have driven up the Sea-to-Sky that Saturday morning, in the miserable rain.

Untitled
Figuring out the beer rations for the weekend, with Alex Cam and Maddy.

To prepare for our first day of ski touring this season, Alex Maddy Cam and I first toured the cafes on the Sea to Sky. We stopped at Cloudburst Cafe in Squamish, followed by Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton. These stops were necessary, as the Pemberton BC Liquor Store doesn't open until 10am. Even if the skiing was horrible, we could sit around and eat some very good food and drink beers in the warm hut that evening. Our timing was impeccable though. By the time we drove up the Hurley, and then the Branch 12 road, the rain had stopped. The road up to the trailhead was snow free for the last time this year.

Untitled
Hiking through the beautiful forest.

We felt like being badass ski carrying superhero hikers this weekend, so we took our snow sliding equipment for a walk in nature this weekend. The trail from Branch 12 contours at the 1500m for a few kilometres, which was also the snow line. There was just enough snow to skin, but walking was faster. Alex and I stopped for a mid-trail beer break while waiting for Cam and Maddy, who had switched to skinning earlier than we did. Beers are heavy!

Just bro-ing out on the trail. Photo by Cameron Coatta. 

Untitled
Alex going full speed towards the Tenquille Lake Cabin. We were not the only skiers here, and some more snowshoers and hikers showed up afterwards. I think there were 19 of us comfortably inside the cabin.

After the long approach (2.5 hours), we were at the Tenquille Lake Cabin. The snow line was at the freezing line, and we carried skis until there was enough snow to skin on. At the hut, there was 40cm of snow. Alex and I joined some new friends on the slopes below Fossil Pass, where we slashed epic turns in the fading light, possibly taking more photos than turns in order to post obnoxious photos on social media about how the skiing was the best day of the season so far. Early season skiing can be contrived. Usually it's a lot of work carrying skis, just to get some to milk a few turns. You then rush home, and try to post as many photos on social media to make it look like it was fun. The snow depth was rock deep, and the visibility was poor, but we skied anyways.

Untitled
Reflections of Jamie, Lauren, Cyrus and Liz heading up for some turns.

Untitled
Jamie skiing down. The snow was way better than expected (mind you, I had very low expectations).

Untitled

First turns of the season at Tenquille Lake. It felt good to be skiing again after 5 months off.

The Tenquille Lake cabin is quite comfy, and the volunteers who built it have done a great job with the interior layout. There's two big tables for food prep, a wood stove and even solar lighting. There are plates and cups, and propane stoves that take the 1lb canisters. Tonight's menu consisted of pan-fried ricotta and pea dumplings, followed by rice and beans.

After the best day ever, I went to bed, listening to the sweet lullabies of people downstairs talking about the latest outdoor fashion available from the Equipment Co-op (EC), and the gear you needed to be a backcountry skier; $3000 and an avalanche course.

Untitled
We feasted on two plates of these dumplings, stuffed with ricotta, green peas, garlic, parmeasan, and lemon zest, and fried in coconut oil. It's hard to go wrong with that combination of ingredients.

Untitled
Frying up two plates of freshly made dumplings.

Untitled
A light dusting of low-density snow fell overnight. I wandered down to the lake, catching the sunrise as I sipped on my hot chocolate and ate my granola. I was lucky this morning, catching Tenquille lake in a glassy calm state, with the perfect reflection of Sun God Mountain in the water.

Untitled
Morning light over Tenquille Mountain, on the north side of Tenquille Lake.

Untitled
What a morning that was. I'm so glad I left the hut, and wandered down to the lake to eat my breakfast outside.

Untitled
Tenquille Mountain and Finch. There are nice meadowy slopes below Finch, but we stuck to the north aspects this weekend.

Untitled
Reflection on Tenquille Lake, as we toured up to Fossil Pass.

The film crew never showed up, but we decided to go skiing anyways. Back in the summer while hiking in the area, Cam and I were buzzed by a helicopter dropping off bikers on the ridge near Mount McLeod. I was also expecting a helicopter to be dropping off skiers today too! We left the cabin, the only group of skiers in the area today. We skied up to the base of the northwest ridge of Mount McLeod, which looked too rocky to continue further on skis.

Untitled
Winter wonderland at Tenquille Lake.

Untitled
Cam an Alex, with Goat Mountain to their right.

Untitled
Alex high above Tenquille Lake. The fastest access in the summer is from the east side, via the Birkenhead FSR. In early season, you can drive to snowline on the Tenquille FSR, but you'll need a snowmobile to get up here in mid-winter via that route.

Untitled
Copper Mound

Untitled
Heading up to the ridge, getting up into some nice snow. We were skiing between 1700-2000m.

UntitledShort days and the low angle of the sun makes for interesting photography when the sunshine comes out at this time of the year. 

Untitled

We lucked out with the weather today. We had blue skies, and valley clouds below us. Having low expectations leads to happiness. If I had high expectations for every ski day last year, I don't think I would have left my couch. Instead, I was able to get out for forty days of skiing, having a blast in the mountains. When you have low expectations for skiing, it's pretty easy to have fun, whether it's powder, crust, ice, windcrust, sastrugi, elephant snot, or no snow.

Untitled
Stoked.

Untitled
High above the Pemberton Valley.

Untitled
Cam ski touring in a winter wonderland, with Mount McLeod behind him. It was only 3 months ago when we were here on our Owl-Tenquille Lake traverse. 

Untitled
Ski time!

Untitled
Nice skiing, and not many rocks were injured today.

Untitled
Heading up for another lap

Untitled
Rocky northwest ridge of Mount McLeod.

Untitled
Looking across at Sun God Mountain.

Untitled
Ski time with Maddy.

Untitled
Alex getting a bit of air above Tenquille Lake

Untitled
Cam with questionable powder farming techniques. Fortunately the powder conservation officer was not around, as we did not follow any standard practice for powder harvesting on this opening day of the season. We were stopped by the Conservation Officer on the drive down, who inquired if we had gone hunting. "No officer, no animals, just powder" "Any guns?" "Nope, not the kind that you're thinking of" *flexes arms and legs

Untitled
Alex harvesting the first crop of the season

Untitled

Untitled
Early season is great here, and I love the contrast between the snowy slopes, and the open lake.

Untitled
Maddy ripping down to Tenquille Lake.

Untitled
With three laps done, we dropped down to the lake. At -1.7C, it was pretty tropical out, so I jumped into the lake for a cool-down. The season for polar-bear dips has begun!


The mountains are open, and so are the lakes! Photo by Alex Gibbs.



Untitled
We went back up for one last lap and found more good snow.

Untitled
Maddy skiing back down to the hut.

Untitled
Glassy reflection of Birkenhead Mountain.

Untitled
Afternoon light on the hike out

Untitled
Cam and Maddy high above the Pemberton Valley. What a great way to start the ski season. Thanks for the awesome weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Meslilloet Mountain

After a long dry summer, the week leading up to the long weekend left a foot of snow in the high mountains, above 2000m. Tyler Nick and I bailed on our 3-day plan. I was scrambling to find a place to go, that had some climbing interest to suit Nick, a place that I hadn't visited before, and not too high to get into the snow. I stared at my map wall, and remembered Meslilloet Mountain, a big massif far from anywhere, with less visitors than it deserves. 


You could spend 3 days exploring the area around Meslilloet, wandering along the granite ridges and finding all the hidden lakes, or planning a more ambitious traverse through the area. This time, it would just be one long day trip, accessed from the north. A 4x4 HC is required for the drive up the Mamquam FSR. It's a long drive from Squamish, nearly an hour on rough logging roads. The condition of the Mamquam Main deteriorates after passing the Skookum Dam area. The clearance on my Chevy Tracker was the bare minimum to get past the washout at Bridge 5, 25.8km up the Mamquam Main. Beyond this washout, I was able to drive to the S-100 turnoff (27.7km from the highway), and then drove another 1.3km up that branch to a major washout, impassable to all vehicles. Bikes would work well too. The entire Mamquam valley has been logged, with numerous old logging roads branching off from the "main road." 

From the car, we crossing several more eroded sections on the road (impassable by any vehicle). to the start of the bushwhack marked by flagging tape at 4.5km on the S-100. This is just before the clearcut at the end of the road. You want to leave the road, and then headed into the forest, following the flagging tape carefully. The critical part is just above the cutblock, where flagging tape leads to your left, and then back right through a set of bluffs. The goal is to reach the 1320m col to the south, which involves lots of steep blueberry bushes and forested travel, staying to the east of a creek. I had wet feet and hands from the morning dew, maybe 45 minutes of enjoyable bushwhacking.

Now contour south at ~1400m along a heathery bench, on the south side of the 1560m bump to the north. The goal is to reach the lake at 1300m to the east of this summit, travelling through the sub-alpine terrain. This would be a nice campsite by the lake. From the lake, climb up more heather slopes, which soon transition into clean granodiorite slabs and talus leading to the ridge crest. We continued along the crest, going up and over numerous bumps. We were right at the snow line, which made for slow going in the powder covered heather.

The Meslilloet glacier is quite spectacular, especially in it's late season condition with gaping crevasses. It is the closest glacier to Vancouver, only 38.8km in a straight line from my couch in North Vancouver. The approach is long but it's worth the effort just for this view. We didn't get to the climbing part until 8 hours after leaving my house. The east ridge climbs the left hand skyline on solid granite, 3rd to 4th class, with an easier grassy ramp splitting up the scramble. The clouds rolled in on us and it was a wet and slippery ascent with the fresh snow. 


We sat in the fog on the summit, wondering about the view.  For a brief moment, the clouds parted from the summit, and we caught a brief view of the city to the south. The forecast was spot on, with the afternoon summit whiteout. On the way back, we stayed to the west of the 1900m summit north of Meslillooet, contouring along open granite slabs and talus to the 1660m col. We worked our way back along the ridge to the lake, bushwhacking when necessary. I really wanted to go for a swim in the lake, but it was getting cloudy and late in the day. I'm sure it was nice and warm in the lake, as all BC lakes are. 

Don't go north from the lake and drop down directly into the valley where S-100 is. It leads into very steep and unpleasant bushwhacking, on 45 degree blueberry slopes. Instead, retrace your steps, and contour back around the 1560m to the col. I may have sandbagged Tyler about the terrain on this trip. I told him that it would be a nice walk in the alpine, with some blueberry slopes along the way. I also thought we could jog some of the terrain, and we convinced him to bring his runners instead of his hikers. Nick and I had trail runners, but I didn't realize Tyler's runners were basically racing flats, without any traction for the slippery heather slopes. On the way down, I would hear Tyler crashing every 50m, regretting his decision to listen to us! 

There's a vague footbed along the 400m descent to the road. It wouldn't take much to clear some of the bush, and make this into a trail. I'm not sure if it's worth the effort, given the deteriorating access along S-100, and the end of Mamquam Main. We were back at the car by 7pm, a nice 11.5 hour day. This is one of those places that you should go and visit soon, before the access becomes harder. 

Creek crossing on the Mamquam Main. Photo by Tyler Linn
Untitled
Descending down to the lake at 1320m

Rich and Nick with the Pinecone Lakes Peaks behind us. Photo by Tyler Linn. 

Untitled
Heading towards Meslillooet

Untitled
A good view of the north face of Mesilllooet Mountain

Untitled
Our route follows the rocky ridge around the glacier, and then up the left skyline

Untitled
Mesillooet Mountain with the first snowfall of the season

Untitled
The Five Fingers Group on the Pitt-Coquitlam divide

Untitled
The closest glacier to Vancouver

Untitled
Gaping crevasses on the Meslillooet Glacier

Untitled
Unnamed lake

Untitled
On the way back, we contoured around this peak

Untitled
Incoming clouds. This peak seems to attract the weather. There were only high clouds in Vancouver that day, and it was clear in the Sea to Sky area that day.

Untitled
Nick approaching the east ridge

Untitled
The summit disappearing in the fog

Untitled
Tyler scrambling up to the summit

Untitled
Life in the clouds, with Vancouver behind Nick somewhere below

Untitled

Untitled
Heading home

Untitled

Untitled
Granite country

Untitled

Untitled
We had some interesting views of familiar mountains, from an uncommon perspective. Way in the distance are the Howe Sound Crest peaks, The Lions, Brunswick and Hanover.

Untitled
Awesome day with these two guys!