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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, August 23, 2007

Go here - Athelney Pass

Go here, originally uploaded by RichSo.

Aug 20-22 2007

You have to go here. You start hiking in a wide open creekbed and you end up high in the alpine with expansive views of glaciated mountains.  It’s definitely one of my favourite places in the Coast Mountains.  I’ve wanted to visit this area for a long time now, and finally went there this past summer with Matt Gunn, Dora Repard, Grahame Quan, and Jan McPhee.  Unlike a week ago when I was climbing in the Salal Creek walls, the weather wasn’t very nice. Since my memory was still fresh from last week, I tried to explain the views in the area, despite everything looking like the inside of a milk bottle.

We followed vague flagging tape from the end of the road, and contoured down towards the open creek. Active logging is taking place in Salal Creek, and the logging company will probably continue pushing the blocks further up into creek. Salal Creek has wide gravel bars on both sides, so you're walking on smooth pebbles most of the time.  The exception is when the creek changes direction, and sections of high water, and in those two cases, there's flagging tape that lures you into the slide alder.  The slide alder is never bad, and is far better than getting wet feet. We didn't quite make it all the way to Athelney Pass on the first day, approx 2km before it. The valley up here is nice and wide, with lots of camping spots.  
Usually organizing food for five people is complicated, sometimes people forget items, or bringing too much of something. Somehow Matt managed to divide up the group through email so we could have a mexi dinner and a pesto pasta dinner one night.  Mexi dinner consisted for beans, cheese, salsa, peppers, avocados, and that was delicious! I highly recommend dividing food groups by email, and assigning each person to bring one item. You’ll be amazed at the results.

The weather wasn't very good the next morning. I woke up, looked outside, and it was socked in. Eventually we woke up, and had breakfast sometime around 11am. A good alpine start. To quote John Clark, you’re already in the alpine, and you’re starting, and that’s good enough. From our camp, we walked up the valley, which continued to widen as you get toward the pass. The glacier off Ethelward is quite amazing. It has a classic tongue shape, and there are successive moraines below it, with a moraine dammed lake too! This would be a great place to ski in the early season if you could time it right. You could drive up the road, hopefully ski up the creek, and the Ethelward glacier looks mellow enough to ski on without falling in a crevasse. 

From the pass, we hiked up a steep slope covered in wildflowers to gain the flatter terrain below Ochre Mountain. Along the way to the west ridge of Ochre, we saw approx 20 oil drums sitting in the meadows. I'm not sure if these were left behind by the prospecters, or if they're from heli operations. Regardless, it seems like a bad place to leave oil drums behind.
You can’t miss Ochre, the entire peak has the same name-sake colour.   Ochre Peak is basically a big scree pile, and it’s quite easy to ascend from any direction, but we followed the easy west ridge. From the summit, you can see all way to the headwaters of the Slim, the Lillooet Icefields, and the Manatees. On nice days on top of a mountain, I like to just look as far as I can, and think about all the nice places to visit. At least until it gets too cold and windy.

Afterwards,  Jan and Dora headed back to camp while Graham, Matt and I continued on towards Salal Peak. Along the way, I climbed the Elephant, while the other two waited. The Elephant is an volcanic outcrop, with a steep loose east face, similar to other choss piles like the Black Tusk, or Little Ring Peak. However, getting to the top from the west side is much easier. The summit wasn't very exciting, as it wasn't much higher than the surrounding ridge. 

We continued towards Salal Peak afterwards, hiking along the big glacier on its north face. It felt like ski touring terrain, with the hot sun, the mellow snow, the long slog, except we didn't have skis. We saw heli-ski wands near the top, so it must be good skiing. It was really nice to be high up there though.  From up there, we had really good views of the Bridge glacier. Descending back to camp was much easier. We glissaded most of the way, and then luckily choose a good gully to hike down.  It was somewhat unnerving boot glissading down the steep snow in the gully, not knowing whether it would reach the valley bottom, or end up in a waterfall.

Naturally on the third and last day, the weather was the best. Unfortunately, we had to hike out.  Mount Gunthrum looks like it would be a nice climb, maybe a steep scramble via its north ridge.  It's a bit of a long walk getting out from Athelney Pass, but the views are always great. I would definitely recommend doing this as a three day trip. We finished off the trip by taking a nice dip in the Pebble Creek hotsprings.  Matt is now thinking of doing a "Scrambles and Hotsprings in Southwestern British Columbia."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Adventures in Salal Creek

Richard below the lower buttress of Lillarete. Photo by Nick Elson. 

Salal Creek is located in the Upper Lillooet River valley, approximately 70km past Pemberton. This past summer, I had a chance to visit the area twice, once to climb on the Salal Creek walls, and another time to hike into Athelney Pass. Both of these areas are well worth visiting in the summer, whether you’re an experienced mountaineer, or a hearty hiker.


For those who don’t know me, I tend to read a lot of guidebooks, especially at social events. While flipping through Alpine Select, this route caught my eye. Lillarete, 18 pitches of 5.8 which leads to the summit of the Randy Stoltmann Tower.  Lots and lots of pitches of moderate climbing in a remote area, what else could I want? It’s somewhat of an intimidating route, especially after hearing of Arlin’s epic (see VOCJ44), and Pete Hudson’s epic more recently on the route.

After climbing in Squamish for a few days, I was longing to get into the mountains. It didn’t take too much effort to convince Nick Elson, Ian Garber, and Stefan Albrecher to go climbing. It was middle of the summer, and it was suppose to be hot. From the end of the logging road, you can see the Salal Creek walls, and realize why the route is 18 pitches long. We met a confused party on the logging road, looking for a trail to the top of Mount Athelstan. It was quite strange. We weren’t aware of any easier trail up Athelstan, and we would they just want to snipe our route. The approach to the bivy site is short but steep, but with every step you get a nicer view of Plinth Peak. This volcanic peak has a steep north face, which is all that remains of the crater wall when the peak erupted.

To save some time for the next morning, I started sorting out the rack with Stefan once we got to the bivy site.  Stefan really likes aid climbing, so he has a ton of nuts and sketchy looking gear, like offset aliens.  It turns out that he lost most of his nuts, but he brought the one carabiner which had a full set of nuts, except they were all the same size, just different manufacturers. 

The bivy site here is probably one of the best that I have experienced. There are a series of dug in platform on a pumice slope, just wide enough to fit one or two sleeping bags. It was a clear night, and the Perseids were putting up a spectacular show. I didn’t sleep much, it was too hard to close my eyes and miss out on another shooting star.  

From the base of the climb, you can see a large square flat face, which has a diagonal crack cutting across it. Apparently this is what you want to climb up to. This is the first half of the route, which takes you to a notch below the summit of the Gnomon pinnacle. I can’t say the climbing in this section was particularly enjoyable.  Most of the rock was a bit loose, and there was pitch after pitch of classic grass. Climbing with two parties can be tricky on such terrain; there is a real risk of knocking rocks down onto the lower party. This entire time we were in the shade, wondering when the sun would hit the rock. We brought a lot of water, since Pete and his partner had come close to dehydration on the route, but I think I barely drank any. Somehow we went further climbers left than we should have. After climbing through a few pitches of less than memorable gully pitches, we reached a full pitch traverse on a ledge.

At the end of this ledge, we found a bail anchor. These are never reassuring. But we knew we had to be on route, the ledge was described in the guidebook, and we could see the Gnonom pinnacle above us.

Beyond the Gnonom Pinnacle, the route got a lot nicer. We were finally in the sun, and the views of the mountains were incredible. We had trouble naming most of the mountains in the area, which meant there were more trips to do in the area. Some of the climbing in the upper parts were actually enjoyable, with some exposed moves on good rock. We even found a short hand crack near the top. Based on my limited alpine experience, it seems that the rock in the alpine around the Coast Mountain lacks the splitter features that you find in Squamish.  The entire time on the route, Stefan and I were trying to beat Nick and Ian to the summit, just so we could claim the booty Max cam that Pete left behind on his epic trip here. The other two got the top of the narrow summit first, but didn’t find a good place to belay from. I went over and down the side of the pinnacle, and tied some slings around a solid block to belay from.

The two rappels from the summit to a col are not trivial. Both rappels are at awkward angles, and there is a lot of loose rock up here. When we pulled the rope, we found a new core shot, right in the middle of the rope. At this point, you can either climb another pitch of 5.7 on what looked like very loose rock to reach the glacier descent, or you could go down a couloir on the left.  It was already late afternoon, and refrigerator size blocks were beginning to tumble down the main glacier, whereas the couloir was still in the shade and wasn’t releasing any rocks.

The descent down the couloirs was equally, if not more terrifying than climbing down the route. We were going light and fast, and didn’t have the best glacier equipment. For example, Stefan had a combination of approach shoes and new-matic crampons. He used climbing tape to hold it all together, and a glove to pad his feet against the metal. If we all had proper gear, we could have down climbed most of the gully. I was glad Stefan and Nick were here, since it took a full bag of alpine rappel tricks to get down the gully. This included a hex and tied blocks, multiple v-threads, one snow bollard, and a single #2 knifeblade. We bootied the pin from higher up, and Stefan thought the placement was so good that he rappelled last on it.

Rocks were still tumbling down the main glacier, so we had to move fast to avoid being a human bowling pin. The sun began to set as we arrived back at camp. It didn’t feel right to go back to the city when the surroundings were so beautiful, so we spent another night watching the meteor shower. 

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mount Urquhart

At 10:30pm on Saturday night, Matt Gunn asked me if I was interested in a short day up to Mount Urquhart with Andre Zimmermann. Urquhart is one of those slightly obscure peaks that not a lot of people go to, or know of. It's a granite dome east of Harrison Lake, north, with an overhanging east face.

We left Vancouver at 6:30am, drove a long ways east, and then a long time on the bumpy East Harrison FSR. I think we woke up some of the yahoos camped by the lake. We drove past the Bear Creek logging camp, and then approx 10km up Cogburn creek, passing some minor washouts. We turned left onto Charles Creek, expecting to drive another 5km to the base of Urquhart. However, at approx 500m up the road, we encountered another washout. It took us a while to clear it up, cut down some slide alder, and then Matt managed to get through it, only bottoming once. We drove another 100m, only to find a massive debris flow. This one would require a bulldozer to fix, so we drove back and parked before the first washout. It looked like our short day was actually going to turn into a full day, with more exercise than I really need.

Mountain bikes would be great for this road, since it's mostly flat, with some switchbacks. We bashed through a cutblock at the end of the road, and then followed game trails up the steep ridge. It was quite nice (and buggy) once we broke out of the trees, and into the nice sub-alpine meadows. We traversed underneath the south face (there are some 4th-low 5th routes on this face), and then onto the southwest ridge. From below, this ridge looks really hard, but its actually quite fun and easy once you're on it. The rock is also quite solid, none of the loose volcanic stuff. It's quite similar to the west ridge of Needle Peak, except with a bit more exposure, slightly steeper, and more scrambling. Andre forgot his camera, so it was up to me and Matt to play mountain paparazzi. The summit is quite spacious, and would make for great naps if the weather was nice and warm. Unfortunately it was quite windy and we couldn't see too much, so we didn't hang around too long. I went over to check out the east face, but its quite overhanging, so I didn't go too close to it. 

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Elusive Peak

DSC_9001, originally uploaded by RichSo.
Matt Gunn and I wanted to go out into the mountains, originally for two full days. However, the weather seemed to just keep getting crappier and crappier, so we decided to drive somewhere far (and hopefully dry) on Thursday and climb something on Friday. Matt warned me that he's a weather optimistic. Thursday afternoon, Matt showed up at my house, and we checked the weather forecast, realizing that it was calling for thundershowers and rain on Friday, even in Lillooet! After browsing through some topo maps, we decided to go to Gott Creek, and try to climb Elusive Peak. Gotta love the names.

As we were driving north, we kept telling ourselves that the blue breaks in the sky were not sucker holes. Our weather optimism reached a low point in Whistler, when it started raining ridiculously hard, and I couldn't even see Wedge! Bad sign. We were almost about to turn around at this point, but its hard to do, even when its foggy, and raining hard.

We reached Pemberton, and it was looking better! We could see blue skies over the Duffy! So we kept on driving, for a long time, until we reached the Gott Creek turnoff. There were blue skies over the Gott Creek and Blowdown area, good sign! It's quite a drive, almost near the Downton Creek area. We drove for 3km along the road, and saw a couple with a big truck, their ATVs, and a trailer. It looked like they were going to have a romantic weekend of ATVing with the dog.

We kept on driving for another 7.7km, taking the left branch of Gott Creek (not the main one). This road had two minor washouts (doable in a 4wd HC), and some pretty smooth waterbars. Apparently the other road up Gott Creek is in better condition. We saw another truck at the end of the road, and decided to park there also.

Matt left the headlights on, so we could set up the tent. As I started setting up the tent, Matt said "The car is dead, did you see the lights dimming?" I thought he was joking. The lights weren't even on that long, maybe 5 minutes, but the battery was dead. The engine wouldn't start, and we were 10km away from the highway, and very far from Pemberton. At this point, I was thinking about the booster kit that Tim has, wishing Matt also had one.

We searched the truck nearby, hopefully to find a key under a rock so we could get to the battery. No such luck. We decided to hike out tomorrow morning, and ask the ATV couple to help us out. Otherwise we would have to ask for help on the highway. It was quite painful to think that we drove all this way from Vancouver, and couldn't climb anything! Sleeping was hard that night, since the idea of waking up at 6am to hike down a logging road is not very appealing. I kept on thinking that the noise nearby was the owner of the truck coming back from his trip. Some people say a bad weekend in the mountains is better than a good weekend in the city, but we totally disagree. This was a low point in the trip. I tried to convince Nick and Stefan to come along on this trip, but now I was glad I didn't sucker them into this mess.

It was painful to wake up the next morning, especially seeing that Elusive Peak wasn't hiding in the clouds anymore. We walked 7.7km along the logging road, with the highlights being two bridges that we crossed (one was Holy!), and picking raspberries along the way. Eventually we reached the ATV couple. It was still quite early, and we really didn't want to wake them up, so we laid down in stealth mode above their trailer. I wonder what the correct etiquette is here, if asking for help, should you wait until they get out of the trailer?

We walked towards the trailer, the dog started barking, and then we met Pete and Marilyn. They were incredibly friendly. I can't emphasize that enough. We explained our situation to Pete, and he offer to drive the ATV up the road, bringing along a generator. This guy is super prepared (he also has four spare batteries). He has this massive truck (but surprisingly won't take it up the road), with a hydraulic lift in the back for his two ATVs. With a push of a button, the platform with the two ATVs is lifted from the truck bed, and lowered to the ground. He also showed us his shotgun, and then placed it on his ATV gunrack.

We admitted to Pete that neither of us had driven an ATV before, so we doubled up with them. Secretly Matt wanted a picture of me driving the ATV, with the gunrack in the front. The dog was also on the ATV, and he looked like he really enjoyed it. We reached the car, Matt tried to start the engine again, no luck. Pete started up the generator, and it started to charge the battery. At this point, Pete explained to us several other ways to solve this problem. One method is to take the battery out, put it in the sun, and let it warm up. Another way is to get the car on a hill, put it in 2nd gear, and try to start it that way. Unfortunately we weren't on a hill. After a few minutes of charging, the car started again and we were quite happy.

Earlier we decided that if we could get the car started, we would just drive home to Vancouver and bring it to the shop to have the alternator and battery looked at. But Pete offered to leave us the generator, so that Matt and I could go and climb something. They even offered to ATV up to the end of the road. It wasn't long at all (maybe 100m), but they were quite keen on it. More ATVing!

With the early 10am alpine start, we headed into the wet cutblock and forest. It was quite short, and we reached the talus slope ahead. The weather was starting to get really good. We hiked up the talus slopes, reached a gorgeous lake, and continued up a steep north facing snow couloir to get onto the east ridge. It was quite steep at the top and the snow wasn't quite soft enough, so I went left onto the rock and scrambled to the top.

From here on, the east ridge is super casual. The sun was shining and the views were great. After some pleasant ridge rambling, we reached the summit of Elusive Peak. Not so elusive anymore. I was quite happy that we could see from the summit. From this vantage point, we could see some nice meadows below us, and on the north side of Gott Peak. Elusive Peak is quite high compared to the neighbouring peaks. I think we were in the Gott Triangle. There was blue skies above us, but the higher stuff around Joffre, Siwhe, and the Stein-Nahatlatch were all clouded in.

We decided to descend another couloir, since it was less steep, and had more snow to the bottom. While glissading down, we both thought about how soon ski season would come.

While driving down the logging road (the fourth time on it), we stopped by Pete and Marilyn again. We were trying to get back to Vancouver at a reasonable time, but Pete offered us a beer, and time started to disappear. I think if we had stayed any longer, we would have been completely trashed. We finally reached the Duffy at 7pm, to start the long drive home.