Mt. Taylor Traverse

Date: March 2, 2019

Participants: Julie, Jeremy, Alex Le, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 3

Report: It’s been years since the idea of doing a day traverse of Mt. Taylor, to ascend via Joffre Lakes and descend via the NW was first put in my head. I can’t remember who first suggested it to me, but after an unsuccessful attempt on Mt. Taylor back in early 2012 (due to fog), I knew I had no interest in once again ascending via the forest on the NW.

As luck would have it, my family was out of town for the weekend and I was able to talk Alex into a trip up to the Duffey, and he roped a couple others into joining us for our adventure.

After meeting at Mt. Currie Coffee in Pemberton, we dropped off my XTerra at the Saxifrage pull out and piled into Julie’s Forester and continued on to the Joffre Lakes parking lot. Amazingly, despite it being 9:30am and completely clear skies, there were only two other cars in the lot! Not complaining about the lack of crowds, we suited up and quickly got going, and with a well packed trail ahead of us we made good time and found ourselves standing on Upper Joffre Lake by 10:50am.

From the lake, we worked our way up the easy slopes towards the Tszil-Taylor col. As we passed the turnoff for the Tszil glacier we stopped to discuss whether we should tack an ascent of Tszil on to the day. After debate, we elected not to given that there were many open crevasses visible on the Matier and Stonecrop glaciers and not knowing the condition of the Tszil glacier, chose to continue directly up towards the Tszil-Taylor col. We stopped for lunch at a quiet flat spot in the valley before reaching the col, which we reached right at 1pm.

From the col, we could see that in theory a direct ascent of Tszil would be possible on a moderate snow slope (perhaps 35 degrees), but we could also see that the ridge directly up Taylor would not be passable on skis and that we would have to traverse around to the west side of the peak and once again chose to head straight for Taylor.

Heading around the southwest side of Taylor meant spacing ourselves out and crossing a couple of moderately exposed slopes that dropped off below us. We hustled and made it to the ridge that descends directly west off of the summit.

At this point, a party of 2 others caught up to us and decided to try to skin up a very steep snow slope, but we left our skis and booted straight up the ridge. The snow was unconsolidated in places, but in retrospect we made the right decision as we later learned that the other couple had eventually had to backtrack, leave their skis, and follow our boot track up to the summit. We reached the summit at about 2:40pm to gorgeous views all around!

The descent to our skis was quick, and we skiied down an obvious opening in the ridge to the bowl NW of the summit where I’d had to turn around 7 years ago due to lack of visibility. The snow was soft and amazing, and we continued skiing down open slopes on the left hand side of the bowl and down the boulder fields below, eventually crossing the creek at around 1300m.

Here we made our big mistake of the day. There is a faint old road that comes through the old clearcut at about 1200m and that leads back to where we left the car. However, the road does not come all the way across the clearcut.

When we hit the top of the clearcut, rather than traversing due north (skiier’s right), we skiied down some open slopes and ended up too low to hit the road. We traversed without skins for a few minutes before putting our skins on and fighting for a good 45 minutes through some of the worst trees imaginable to regain the 60m needed to get onto the road. It was a very good thing we saved time and energy by not ascending Tszil.

Once on the road, we found an old skin track, removed our skins, and were back down at the Duffey Lake Road in just a few minutes. We were back at our car just a bit before 5:30, for a total trip time of 7:45.

Thank you everyone for joining me on this trip. This trip can be highly recommended for a great mix of views, adventure, and skiing. Just don’t go too low to miss the road!

Continue ReadingMt. Taylor Traverse

Flora Peak

Date: Feb 25, 2017

Participants: Nancy Zenger, Jeff Wallace, Nathan, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2

Report: A friend of mine skiied Flora peak in the Chilliwack valley a few years ago and said that it was a great ski trip, with easy access, nice fall line skiing, great views, and low avalanche hazard, and it’s been on my to do list ever since.  We all met at my house Saturday morning and set off down Highway 1, heading east, but with no particular destination in mind.  By the time we passed through Chilliwack, the sun in Coquitlam had given way to dense cloud, and we seemed to have settled on heading for a mellow day in the Coquihalla, perhaps skiing Zupjok and Iago when Nancy finally made the executive decision that we would try going somewhere new.  The drive BC webcam near Chilliwack Lake showed snow next to the road, and as we were still in the final outskirts of Chilliwack, we made a brief backtrack and headed down Chilliwack valley to the Post creek trailhead.

Indeed, there was snow next to the road at the Post creek trailhead, and the parking lot was also covered in snow.  However, despite being at 630m, the trees appeared to only have a bit of snow in them so we strapped our skis to our packs and at 9:30 began our hike up the Flora Lake trail.  The trail is in good shape, and we quickly ascended.  Little did we know that it would be a long hike up to find snow.  The trail ascends the southern slopes of Flora peak, reaching a camp/viewpoint at around 1200m that overlooks Chilliwack Lake.  Here we saw our first snow, and if it was a good snow year, from here you could skin directly up the mountain, but we elected to continue on foot, eventually reaching an open bench around 1600m.  This is where the winter route diverges from the summer route, with the summer route continuing ahead up the basin ahead to the col to the east of Flora Peak.  The winter route ascends the ridge above directly towards the summit.

We continued for about another 100m before finally electing to put our skis on around 1700m.  Finally!  From here the route is generally straightforward except for one point about 3/4 of the way up the ridge where the ridge steepens.  We kept on the ridge for as long as we could, and just below the rocks, skirted right onto the steep and mildly sketchy snow slope before reaching the comforting safety of the mellow slopes above.  From here it is easy to ascend directly to the summit.

We reached the summit at 1:30, and within a minute or two, so had a large cloud.  Engulfed in fog, the temperature plummeted and after a quick snack we started our descent in a thorough whiteout just before 2 o’clock.  The fog was dense enough that it was challenging to make out the skin track and we descended very slowly.  Only a minute or two down from the summit, Jeff called out from the back for us to wait up.  One of his skis had snapped!  Despite descending through the whiteout at a snails pace, apparently a gentle dip in the slope was all that it took to cause his new G3’s to snap about 8 inches ahead of the front binding.

Nancy volunteered to carry the broken ski, and Jeff soldiered on, skiing and side slipping down the mountain on just one ski.  Nate and I had a surprisingly good run down to the flat spot at the bottom of the basin, and amazingly, the others were only slightly behind us.  From here, rather than follow the trail we skiied straight down the mountain, and managed to hit the trail just a couple minutes walk from the 1200m viewpoint.  The trees on the descent to this point are quite open and in a good snow year would make for fantastic gladed skiing.  For us, they weren’t great, but had just enough snow to allow us to make it down to this point without significant difficulty.  From the viewpoint, the skis were put back on our packs and we hustled down the trail, reaching the car just before 4, for a total round trip of 7.5 hours.

In the right conditions, Flora Peak could be a great ski trip, but in present conditions it would have been more suitable for snowshoes.  Nonetheless, it was great to get out with good company and ski in an area I hadn’t visited before in winter.

Continue ReadingFlora Peak

Tonic Peak

Date: Jan 28, 2017

Participants: Geoff Zenger + a large BCMC party led by Bill Maurer

Difficulty: 2 (mostly easy slopes, short steep section between 21 mile creek trail and valley)

Report: Four years ago I posted a trip on the BCMC trip list for a “mid-winter two-fer”, to go up Mt. Sproatt, traverse over to Tonic Peak, and ski down the hanging valley to the Rainbow Lake trail.  Unfortunately, I was very sick the week before the trip and Bill Maurer volunteered to lead the trip in my stead.  Since then, he has organized a repeat of the same trip each year, trying a slightly different route every time, but never managing to make it to Tonic from Sproatt without running out of time.  This year, I managed to have the date free and decided to join in, and Bill decided that the route would be attempted in reverse: first ascending Tonic, then heading to Sproatt, and skiing back down to Whistler.

A couple logistical mishaps resulted in the party leaving West Van more than 30 minutes late, and so it was about 9am when we finally left the parking lot at the Whistler Cemetery and started our way up the 21-mile creek trail.  The trail towards Rainbow Lake had seen traffic since the previous snowfall, and the going was easy and quick.  Approximately 400m past the outhouses, we found some flagging to the left to the trail and started our way up towards hanging valley.

At this point we were on the left side of a gully, and we learned later from our descent that it would have been easier to ascend to the right side of this gully (but important: still to the left of the main creek flowing out of hanging valley).  Not far up this slope we encountered a cliff band and we were able to work around it to the left, but this necessitated a brief bootpack up a steep snow slope.  On top of this slope, we worked our way to the right, into broad open bottom of hanging valley.  At this point the weather started to warm up towards 0 degrees as the sun came out.  Beautiful!  This is also where we had our only real scare of the day, when we noticed that 2 members of our party had disappeared and we began to worry that they had followed some older tracks up the ridge heading directly to Mt. Sproatt.  A lengthy discussion ensued, and just as we had decided to press on and hope to be able to see them on top of Mt. Sproatt, they caught up to us as it turned out that one of them had had to stop to fasten his bindings more tightly to his skis.

The touring up hanging valley was both easy and very pleasant, and at its head we turned slightly to the left to head up towards the col between Mt. Sproatt and Tonic Peak.  In retrospect, we would have had a more direct route had we ascended through the trees at the head of the valley.  From near the col we turned right and pressed onwards to a little knob in the distance.  Many of us wondered why we were heading there rather than to the taller peak to the right, but our dear leader insisted that it was indeed Tonic Peak.  On reaching “Maurer Knob” however, the GPS was checked and sure enough we were on a minor knob and had to backtrack to begin our ascent to the real Tonic Peak, which we reached at about 1:40, for a total ascent time of 4:40.

The day was clear and beautiful, and from the summit we had great views of the Spearhead Range, Rainbow Mountain, and all of the peaks south of Callaghan Valley.  A quick glance at the time combined with some participants expressing concern about the difficulty of skiing on the descent led to an easy decision to not try to summit Sproatt as well and so we could relax a while on top.  We left the summit after 30 minutes, quickly skinned across the summit plateau, and had a fantastic run straight down into the head of hanging valley on wonderful powder.  Here we decided to stick just to skiier’s right of the main creek, and soon found ourselves at the end of the valley.  Here things got dicey for some of our less experienced skiiers, as descending to the Rainbow Lake trail was essentially a side-slipping clinic.  Nonetheless, everyone made it down to the trail without mishap.  The trail itself resembled a luge track, with many ups and downs, causing headaches for our splitboarder and our newer skiiers, but we persevered, and by 4:30 we were back at the cars.

Many thanks to Bill for organizing, and thank you to everyone else for a great day out in the mountains!  Since having a baby my days out are limited, and it’s wonderful to have days like this with great company and great skiing on those days I do manage to get out.  The route is certainly not a classic, but it is close to home, had great snow, and got us all to a summit that we hadn’t visited before!

Continue ReadingTonic Peak

Coleman Pinnacle

Date: March 17, 2016

Participants: Rob Janousek, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 3.  Easy skiing, but summit scramble sketchy in current conditions.

Report: It’s been a while since I’ve written a trip report.  A trip to Peru, the last few months of Brittany’s pregnancy, selling a condo & buying a house, renovating said house, surgery in December, and the birth of my daughter in January all conspired to limit the number of peaks ascended in recent months.  Nonetheless, a look at the forecast earlier in the week spurred me to book a vacation day and hunt for someone to go on a mid-week trip with me.  I’ve hardly done any uphill in recent months and expected to go for a short tour in the Mt. Baker ski area backcountry, but conditions were good, one thing kept leading to to another, and by early afternoon I found myself standing with Rob atop Coleman Pinnacle.

We set off in Rob’s Delica from my place in Coquitlam just past 6:20am, and after a quick stop at Tim Horton’s we crossed the border at Sumas where there was no line up to speak of and we quickly made our way to the Mt. Baker ski area.  We started skinning from the Heather Meadows base area at about 9am, and made our way up towards Artist Point.  We had been expecting soft powder but to our amazement the whole trip up to Artist Point was atop a thick crust that must have developed on the previous day due to the sun.  Our weather was perfect all day, cool (hovering around or just below zero and nary a cloud in the sky)

The crust combined with an existing track meant that the climb to Artist Point was quick (just under an hour), and from there we reached our main decision for the day, whether to descend to the bowl below us to the east and make an attempt on Mt. Ann or whether to head around Table Mountain and see where we ended up.  Due to the crust we chose the latter and hustled around Table Mountain as quickly as possible in order to minimize our time spent under the south facing avi slopes that had apparently spent their previous afternoon sloughing prolifically.  By 11 o’clock we were on the backside of Table Mountain, where after a few peeks at the map and surrounding terrain to determine that we would be able to return to the car in the evening via Herman Saddle, we decided to ski down the slopes below us and make our way up Ptarmigan Ridge.  Amazingly, behind Table Mountain there was no more crust and the snow from there on was a perfect powder on top of a good base.

The ascent of Ptarmigan ridge from the basin below Table Mountain to Coleman Pinnacle is a superb tour.  It is varied but never overly challenging, at times requiring some routefinding, such as one steep step that was avoided by ducking onto snow slopes on the right and regaining the ridge a little later by skinning up through a gap in the cornice.  A couple hours after leaving Table Mountain behind we were standing on the ridge below the pinnacle with a conundrum on our hands.  On one hand, the summit was so close, but temperatures had risen throughout the day and the direct ascent of the summit from the ridge would have required kicking steps up a snow slope of very questionable stability.  Rob saved the day by noticing a gap in the cornice that we could use to tour around the west side of the peak on steep shaded slopes, which we did, and soon ended up on the ridge just to the SW of the summit.  Here we took off our skis and stopped for lunch.

The pinnacle itself holds some significance for me because it was the destination of one of the two BCMC trips that I had to cancel when I became extremely sick in the Winter of 2013, and I was extremely pleased to be so close to its summit as we finished our lunch.  In good firm snow conditions the ascent of this SW ridge would be trivial, but for us it had a bit of excitement.  The snow to the side of the ridge crest was too sugary to be any good for step kicking and so we ascended the ridge directly on a mix of snow and rock.  Nothing too hard, but slippery enough to keep the blood flowing.  Nonetheless, after a 5 or 10 minute scramble we were standing on the summit with gorgeous views all around!  We were on the summit at around 2pm.

Back at our skis we took off at around 2:30 and we decided to make a slightly traversing descent down the bowl below the pinnacle to the west, making our way down to the basin below Table Mountain, from which we would ascend to Iceberg Lake and up to Herman Saddle.  The ski down was superb with many of the best turns I can ever remember, and with only a couple minor annoyances due to descending a bit too low at a couple points, we made quick time to our low point.  From the low point it is straightforward to ascend up to Iceberg Lake, but was extraordinarily exhausting for me because I was accumulating snow on my skins and I’d forgotten to pack skin wax.  Eventually it hit me that maybe Rob would have some and I borrowed some of his, but by that point my thighs were pumped.  From Iceberg Lake we found a skin track up to Herman Saddle (thank you!), and the route was straightforward yet slow due to my tiredness.

In good conditions, you could probably make it from Herman Saddle to the parking lot in about 5 minutes, but it took us a little longer than that because the horrible crust that we’d encountered in the morning was found once again.  The ski down to the valley bottom was simply terrible and not really any fun at all, but we made it back to the van at 5:30 sharp for a total round trip time of 8 hours, 30 minutes.   Coleman pinnacle is one of the best tours I’ve done and it was only made better by the perfect weather.  Many thanks to Rob for heading down and being great company for a mid-week adventure!

Continue ReadingColeman Pinnacle

Mt. Chief Pascall 2015

Date: Jan 11, 2015

Participants: Brittany Zenger, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger, + 4 other BCMC members

Difficulty: 3

Report: Just over three years since my previous trip to Mt. Chief Pascall, I joined Brittany on a BCMC trip that she organized to make a ski ascent and descent of the peak.  We’ve had a bad snow year so far, but the trip was scheduled for a month later in the season than my previous trip and so I was optimistic that there’d be enough snow to avoid any alder bashing and have a decent run down the mountain.  Luckily, someone removed the alder on the lower logging road in the past few years, but as it turned out, there was no good run down to be had.

We met up at 8:15 in Pemberton at the Mt. Currie Coffee Company and headed up to the weather station pull out on the Duffey Lake road and set out from the cars at around 9:30am.  So far, so good.  There wasn’t much snow in the trees and the initial creek crossing was a little interesting, but we made it up to the logging road on the opposite side of the valley without too much drama.  From here we followed the logging road to the east to the far edge of the clearcut and made our way up through the trees on the far side of it as there wasn’t quite enough snow to make it up through the clearcut itself.  The going was slow due to the lack of snow, but we made steady progress up to the ridge.  Unlike last time, we stuck a bit too far to the right of the route indicated on Baldwin’s map, but luckily it worked out in the end.  There is a bit of exposure higher up if you stick too far right and it’s definitely easier to stick to the mellow terrain to the left (i.e. if you hit some cliff bands, you should traverse left, not right), but it turns out that either way works.

Higher up the skinning became decent, and at the top of the run labelled “Equinox” on Baldwin’s map we left our skis behind and booted up to the summit.  We were on the summit some time between 2 and 2:15, which means that the ascent took about 45 minutes longer than on my previous trip to the peak, but conditions were much more challenging this time around.  The views to the north were great but unfortunately the view to the summit of Joffre was clouded in.    Interestingly, this was the same day that 3 deaths occurred in the central couloir Joffre (partly visible from the summit of Chief Pascall) but in the winter silence nothing seemed amiss.

Now… the descent.  The last time I skiied Chief Pascall the descent took approximately 2 hours (perhaps a bit less) and would’ve been much shorter than that except for a group member going off route at one point and everyone having to wait for him to reascend to the correct path.  This time was another story.  The snow was wet heavy cement in places, and icy with fluff underneath in others.  The common element between both conditions was the simple lack of snow all around.  Given the lack of snow on the ascent route we chose to descend via “Equinox” in the hopes that it would save us from some nasty conditions in the trees lower down.  It didn’t.  It probably wouldn’t have been better on the ascent route but the descent down to the logging road was literally the worst skiing I’ve had in my life.  Hard to turn, obstacles everywhere, and impossible to ski in places due to lack of snow, it took us well past dark to make it down to the road, and we didn’t make it to the cars until about 7:20.  The descent took us just shy of 5 hours and we were all exhausted!  Anyways, thank you to everyone for the trip, I’m glad to have been in the area again and for the great company, but I really hope that ski conditions improve soon so that other trips this year actually have some quality skiing, unlike this one.

Continue ReadingMt. Chief Pascall 2015

Anif Peak & Mt. Mulligan

Trip Date: March 23, 2014

Participants: Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2/3 (steep near the top of Anif)

Report: With a few trips to Alpen Mountain under my belt in the last few years, the time finally came last Sunday for a trip to nearby Anif Peak and Mt. Mulligan, both just SE of Squamish.  A small storm had rolled through town on Saturday and so we were hoping to do a short day trip to explore a new area and get some good turns.  All requirements would be satisfied.

We left New Westminster around 8:30 and made our way up towards Squamish and turned at the apron parking lot to head up the Mamquam FSR.  The turn off for Mt. Mulligan is about 6.8km from the highway, and can be identified by some concrete blocks from an old gate on either side about 10m up the road along with a small sign saying that the road is deactivated (note: there is another turn off to the right a couple hundred metres earlier on the Mamquam FSR.  Ignore this one).  We were able to drive about 1.8km up this road to a branch in the road where active logging is under way and where there was too much snow for us to continue.  We parked here and headed up the left hand branch, which would in turn lead us up towards Anif and Mulligan.

Not more than 10m up the road, however, we encountered a young couple putting chains on their 4-runner who offered to give us a lift up as far as their truck could make it!  We helped them sort out their chains, get them on the tires, loaded everything into the truck, and drove up the road another 100m before the road became impassible due to deep snow, thus saving us approximately 30m of climbing in exchange for only 45 minutes of effort.  Not quite worth it, but we appreciated the thought nonetheless.

We started up the road at 11am, and by sticking to the main road and not taking any branches, an hour and a half later found ourselves heading into the valley that divides Mt. Mulligan (to the north / left) and Anif Peak (to the south / right).  The snow in here was really sticky from the sun and I had forgot my skin wax at home.  There are some great looking runs off of the shoulder of Anif Peak back into the valley, but we wouldn’t be tackling them today.  At the end of the valley we zig-zagged up to the col between Anif and Mulligan and turned to the right to ascend Anif Peak.  The ridge up Anif Peak consists of a number of benches with surprisingly steep steps (45 degree+) in between.  They aren’t particularly long, and there isn’t any significant exposure, but it is something to keep in mind.  Finally, just a few minutes after 2 we climbed to the top of the last step and made the quick jaunt over to the true peak, just a minute or two south of the false summit.

The views from the summit of Anif were great for the first few minutes, with excellent views of Habrich, Alpen, the Sky Pilot group, Watersprite and Mamquam areas, and so on.  Unfortunately, a few minutes later clouds rolled in over Sky Pilot and Garibaldi and the views disappeared.  So, after a break for lunch, it was time to ski back down to the Anif-Mulligan col and head up Mulligan as well.  The skiing on the ridge was just fantastic!  Great powder, great angle (unfortunately not very long).

We found ourselves putting our skins back on just before 3 o’clock and headed up the south ridge of Mulligan.  The ridge has quite dense trees low down which made trail breaking tiring, and it was here that the fact that I was out at a friend’s stag the previous night hit me… the ridge seemed to go on forever even though the total elevation gain is less than 200m.  We finally reached the summit of Mulligan a bit before 4 o’clock and both agreed that we were really happy that we went up Anif first because the summit of Mulligan isn’t much more than a rounded forested bump.  Luckily, it has a good ski run down its Northwest ridge, which we followed to a large clearing (with mega sun crust) that led us back down to the road.  The road was fast and we made it down in one piece for a total round trip time of 5:45.  Not bad for two peaks and around 1200-1300m total elevation gain!

The route ended up being a lot more interesting than I imagined it would be ahead of time and would definitely recommend it for people looking for a good day out not far from Vancouver.  You won’t see many crowds, and there are enough runs off of the side of Anif to keep someone with sufficient energy interested for a few laps.


Continue ReadingAnif Peak & Mt. Mulligan

Alpen Mountain 2013

Trip Date: Dec 7, 2013

Participants: Chris Barton, Michele Cohen, Alison Coolican, Jaine Hnik, Rob Kay, Jana Kralikova, Alex Le, Dave Robertson, Pavel Stech, Goran Vranic, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2

Report: Another December, another trip to Alpen Mountain.  Alpen is one of my favourite early season trips due to the first part being entirely on logging road and so you can always drive right to the point where you can start skinning.  For a detailed description of the route, please see one of my trip report from 2011 here.

The Whistler alpine forecast for the date of the trip was for temperatures down to -21 in the alpine and it hadn’t snowed in weeks, so we were all a bit nervous about we would encounter on the route but headed up towards the mountain nonetheless.  I went to Alpen in December 2011 and December 2012 and in those years we were able to start skinning from around 550m and 450m, respectively.  This year however, we were able to drive up to 1050m, shaving at least 4.5km off of the distance that I had to cover in previous years.  This would make for a short day.

The ascent took us just a bit over 3 hours, including a snack break at the snowmobile hut.  Up to the hut there was very little snow and in a few places there weren’t any great lines to ascend through the trees, but not far above the hut the snow became deeper and to our pleasant surprise, it was remarkably light powder!  No ice to be found at all despite how long it’d been since it last snowed.  Even better, the sun was beating down all day and there was no wind, and so even though it was around -10 degrees on the summit, everyone was happy to spend the better part of an hour on top before starting down.

Once we were down to where we left our skis below the summit, the next part of the descent was through really nice powder, and we found a route through the trees back to the road that only involved a couple minutes of bush-bashing.  The road was quick to descend as always, and we were packed up and heading back down the road before 3pm.  In all, it was a surprisingly good day of touring and skiing!  Thanks to everyone who came out!

Continue ReadingAlpen Mountain 2013

Watersprite Lake Skiing

Trip Date: Jan 27, 2013

Participants: Lisa Quattrocchi, Dave Scanlon, Ed Zenger, Brittany Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2

Report: The provincial government granted the BCMC (BC Mountaineering Club) a tenure to construct a hut at Watersprite Lake 3-4 years ago, but no hut has been constructed yet.  There are numerous reasons for this, including that much energy towards hut construction has been focussed lately on the Spearhead Huts project, that it requires a lot of volunteer time and energy to build a hut, and also that the Watersprite Lake area simply isn’t familiar to most outdoors enthusiasts in south west BC.  It is this last point that Dave is trying to remedy by leading numerous trips this winter into the area.

We began our day by meeting at St. David’s just before 6:30, from where we headed up towards Squamish, where we turned onto the Mamquam FSR just past the apron parking lot and headed up the nicely plowed road up to the construction site for the Skookum Power Project.  Until construction is finished, it is important to call ahead to the power project to let them know that you’re coming, and when you arrive, somebody will come down, sign you in, and escort you from the security checkpoint up to the top of the construction area (~3-4km distance), where you can park and start up the road system towards Watersprite Lake (note: 4×4 required to negotiate mud through the construction site).

We departed the cars at 8:30, and made our way up the road system.  Not far from the cars we encountered snowshoe tracks from a party that had headed up the lake a day or two before us, and these greatly eased the need to break trail for much of the ascent.  To get to the lake, you head straight up the road until reaching a flagged branch road to the left (30-40 mins from car), which is followed north as it contours around a ridge.  Once in the valley and above some obvious meadows on the flat bottom, you descend from the road to the meadows, and follow along the north side of the creek on the meadow bottom until reaching the slope at the east end of the area.  From here, instead of ascending up the steep creek bed directly to Watersprite Lake, ascend the obvious lightly-treed avalanche path just to the south (right) of the forest that the creek ascends through, and then traverse through open terrain above the trees back towards the creek.  The proposed hut location is right where you first hit the lake, near its outflow into the creek.  In all, including breaks it took us 3.5 hours to the lake.

At the lake we stopped for lunch, and then, as we had informed the crew at the power project that we wouldn’t be back at the cars until 4:30, we crossed the lake and ascended up to the next basin (to the left of the impressive Watersprite Tower) in order to get in some more exploration and some more skiing.  The lighting was a bit flat, which made for difficult skiing near our turnaround point, but we shortly encountered better visibility and had fantastic powder for our ski back down past the lake to the meadows below.  Interestingly, although the slopes didn’t show any signs of instability on our ski down, as soon as I crossed the creek down at the meadow, the snow bank on the opposite shore (perhaps 3m high) slid down into the creek on a weak layer about 30cm down all as one consolidated slab.

From reaching the meadows, it was quick and uneventful to cross them, make the short ascent back to the road, and then contour back around the ridge to the main road, which is sufficiently steep to make for a fun descent.  In all, I was impressed by the area and think it would make a great location for a hut.  It is close to Vancouver, easily accessible, and with no fewer than 6 peaks to climb as short day trips from the lake, there is plenty of terrain that could be easily enjoyed in winter or summer.  Thank you Dave for taking us up there!

Continue ReadingWatersprite Lake Skiing

Garibaldi Neve

Trip Date: April 5-7, 2012

Participants: Brittany Zenger, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2

After a couple years of ideas and cancellations, the weather and conditions aligned with our free time, and Brittany and I finally completed the classic Garibaldi Neve traverse from the Diamond Head parking lot to Rubble Creek.  As we only started making plans a couple days before the weekend, we had some difficulty in finding someone else with a vehicle to come with us, but in the end my dad decided he’d come with us as he had last done the traverse around 35 years previously.

We had family obligations on Easter Sunday and consequently did the traverse from Thursday evening to Saturday, and in retrospect I’m glad we were forced to this schedule.  We were the only party to cross the neve on the Friday (more on this later), but from other reports it seems that 40+ people followed in our track on the Saturday, and although the traverse would be great with any number of others around, it was that much more special to have nobody else around for much of the trip.


Under thick overcast, my dad picked me up from work shortly after 2pm, and we made our way up to the Rubble Creek parking lot to pick up Brittany where she had dropped off our car.  At the Rubble Creek parking lot the skies were dark and it was hailing heavily.  By the time we reached the Diamond Head parking lot the precipitation had stopped, but the dark skies gave us some initial doubts as to whether we would be able to cross the neve on the following day.

We finally started skinning up the trail at around 5:30, and travelling at a relaxed pace so as to not tire ourselves out, we reached the high point on Paul Ridge just as the sun set.  Luckily for us, as we ascended Paul Ridge, the clouds had finally parted and the moon had risen, and we made it to the Elfin shelter by 9:30 without ever needing to put on our headlamps.

On the evening before the long weekend, the shelter was modestly busy, but there were still numerous beds free and after a quick snack we quickly settled in for the night with the intention of getting an early start in the morning.


We woke up well rested at the reasonable hour of 7:30, and got ready to set off.  A quick test of the snowpack outside the shelter revealed that there was over 1m of soft powder over the base, although it seemed that we weren’t going to sink in too far with our skis on.  Nonetheless, we decided to wait for a little while as another party in the shelter was intending to set off a bit later that morning to camp early on the neve, just above the Opal Cone.  We finally set off at around 9:30am.  The weather had closed in somewhat since the previous evening, with Garibaldi firmly ensconced in thick cloud, but the cloud was high enough for us to be fairly confident of making it across the neve without having to travel in a white out.

The first few hundred metres from the shelter were quick going as there was an established track heading up towards the Gargoyles, but as soon as we left the existing track, the going became tough.  Extremely tough.  With each step, whoever was breaking trail was sinking in 20-30cm in most places, and occasionally even a little more.  After an hour we had cleared a couple of the gullies on the traverse into Ring Creek, but really hadn’t made it very far, and the legs were already burning.  Consequently we stopped, waited, and after about 30 minutes of not seeing anybody else, made the decision to abandon our attempt on the neve, turn around, do some skiing above the shelter, and head back out to the car later in the day!

Not two minutes after turning around we saw the other party from the shelter following in our tracks, and when we met them, they were optimistic about their abilities to break a trail up to the start of the neve.  Another long discussion ensued between me, my dad, and Brittany, and we eventually concluded that it wouldn’t hurt to follow in their tracks for a while, team up with them to make it up towards the neve, and push off our decision as to whether to abandon our attempt until a bit later in the day.  By the time we got going again to head down into Ring Creek it was already around 11:30, and we knew that given the conditions it would be a long day still if we wanted to make it down to Garibaldi Lake that day.

Following the other party of 4 (and for a short while, a snowshoer who originally intended to head up to Opal Cone, before realizing that he had left his camera’s memory card at home), and occasionally helping break trail for them, it was a long slow journey down into and then up Ring Creek in very flat lighting that made terrain evaluation and routefinding difficult.  We reached the start of the neve well past 3 o’clock and sat down to have lunch.  The clouds had dissipated and we had a fantastic view of Garibaldi, Pyramid, and Mamquam.

The neve glistened in beautiful light as I set out in the late afternoon to break a trail up to the upper neve, and although from some route descriptions it sounds like you don’t have much further up to go once you reach the neve, the climbing seemed relentless.  We finally reached our high point at around 5:30pm, at which point we noticed that we had climbed about 100m higher than necessary and that we could have traversed a relatively flat bench lower down over towards the Sharkfin.  On the plus side, we had a short enjoyable run down the glacier that we otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ski.

The glacier near the Sharkfin had some large crevasses exposed but we were able to navigate a fairly direct route through them without any major difficulty and were quickly down in the saddle between the Sharkfin and Glacier Pikes.  Here we had a quick discussion of whether we should set up camp or continue on to see if we could stay in the Glaciology huts.  In the end, we figured we still had well over an hour before sun set, and it didn’t look like it would take long to climb up to the saddle next to Glacier Pikes and ski down to Garibaldi Lake.  The skin up to the saddle proved to be both much less steep than it looked and much longer than it looked.  Fortunately, as evening fell, the snow had crusted up significantly and I was no longer sinking much as a broke trail.  We reached the saddle in low evening light and had a gorgeous view of Guard mountain in front of us, and Garibaldi behind.

The ski down to the glaciology huts was easy and uneventful, and we were happy to see that although the smaller hut was somewhat buried and in need of being dug out, the larger hut was accessible and unoccupied.  We spent the remaining daylight and the early hours of darkness melting snow, rehydrating, and cooking some hot food in the hut.  We were all completely spent, but were extremely happy to have made it across the neve that day and with the knowledge that on the Sunday we would only have to ski across the lake and head down to the car.


We woke up rested Saturday morning after a comfortable night in the shelter, and set out across the lake in the mid-late morning.  Rather than make a track straight towards the Battleship Islands campground, we instead broke a trail across the lake with the intention of hitting the the track leading to the Burton (Sphinx Bay) hut, which we eventually did.  From this point we would be on a well trodden trail all the way out to our car.

After a break at the end of Garibaldi Lake, we set out for our car in the early afternoon, and although I found the trail to the 6km junction quite annoying with all of the up and down, it didn’t take too long.  Due to the intense solar effect and clear evidence of solar induced avalanche activity we elected to ski down the trail rather than the barrier.  The air was warm and the first few km of the barrier trail were slushy and easy to ski.  It was only from the 3km marker onwards that the skiing became a bit sketchy, but we were able to ski right to the 1km marker, at which point we had to take our skis off and carry them down to the trailhead as the snow was extremely patchy.

At the Rubble Creek trailhead, the air was warm, the skies sunny, and the road completely covered in snow, and we were once again able to put our skis back on.  I felt sorry for the snowshoers who had to trudge another few km out to their cars, but on skis it took only a few minutes of standing (essentially no turning required) in a track to make it down to the end of the plowed road.  We had all made it down in good spirits and without any injuries, and after changing out of our ski equipment, began our journey back to the Diamond Head parking lot to pick up my dad’s car, and then to make our way back to Vancouver.


It is easy to see why the Garibaldi Neve is considered a classic ski traverse.  The terrain is for the most part quite easy to navigate, it is easily accessible, and the views are simply phenomenal.  By doing the neve a day before everyone else, the going was much harder than it would have been had we travelled with the hordes on the following day, but the extra effort was worth it to find ourselves in such extraordinary places without others around.  You probably already know this, but every ski mountaineer in south western BC should do this trip at least once.

Continue ReadingGaribaldi Neve

The Gargoyles

Trip Date: March 24, 2012

Participants: Brittany Zenger, Alex Le, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2

Report: Obligations to friends and family kept me in town Friday and Sunday, which left us with a wonderful Saturday to make the most of.  Although we had been planning to go to Mt. Frosty (as I did on the last weekend of March last year) we made a late change of plans Friday evening after realizing that over 50cm of new snow was reported to have fallen in the Manning Park area.  Keeping things simple, we decided to head up to the Diamond Head area and just go as far as we felt like.

A reasonably early start got us up in Ed’s X-Trail to the Diamond Head parking lot at around 9am, and we were out on the trail at about 9:20, and with firm yet non-icy snow on the road, we made quick work up past the Red Heather Shelter to Paul Ridge on a well beaten track.  It was an absolutely blue bird day with not a cloud in the sky and I couldn’t help but be slightly envious of Jeff, Petr, and my other friends who were ahead of us doing a neve traverse.  Nonetheless, we had fantastic views in all directions on our way along Paul Ridge, ranging from Atwell and Pyramid to the north, the Mamquam massif to the east, and Alpen and the Sky Pilot group to our south.

Three of us reached the Elfin Lakes hut at around 12:30 (somehow my dad managed to beat us there by 30 minutes even though he was with us as we came around Round mountain…), and after eating all of my meagre supply of food (much of my lunch was left in the car) and sharing my skin wax with the grateful throng at the hut, we set out for the saddle between Columnar and the Gargoyles a bit before 1.  Within minutes of leaving the hut, the ski tracks ended, and we had to begin breaking trail.  Although the temperature was hovering around 0, the intense solar radiation was melting the snow, leaving it heavy and a real slog to break trail through.  Alex and I alternated breaking trail, which served to exhaust both of us, and we were all grateful when three locals caught up with us and broke trail for the last leg up to the saddle and from there onto the main peak of the Gargoyles, which we reached some time around 2:40.  After a short break, we descended wonderfully consistent slush and corn down to the low point below the Elfin hut, and began our skin back up Paul Ridge.

The return skin was uneventful, even with a brief detour over the sub-summits/bumps of Round mountain, but a severe lack of calories consumed left me completely exhausted by the time we came around Round mountain and were able to take off our skins for the ski down.  Luckily, Britt had half of a mushed up former sandwich in her pack that served to fuel me just enough to make it down to the car.  The road was surprisingly soft for the evening and we made a quick run down the road, reaching the car in the vicinity of 5:45pm.

In all, it was an amazing day trip with perfect weather, great views, and just enough distance and vertical to leave everybody satisfied with their accomplishments.

Rating: 3/3

(Photos by Alex Le)

Continue ReadingThe Gargoyles