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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!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Princess Louisa Inlet

One of the trips that I've wanted to do since becoming a co-owner of a Catalina 27 sailboat was to sail up into Princess Louisa Inlet. My interest in this area started a long time ago, but it wasn't until last fall when Pete and I spent two days exploring the ridges above the amazing Princess Louisa inlet. In what turned out to be the highlight of my summer, Jeff Al and I sailed from Vancouver, up the Sunshine Coast nearly to the end of Jervis Inlet, into Princess Louisa Inlet, and explored the alpine ridges over ten glorious summer days in July.


We departed our slip in False Creek, sailed out past English bay and northwards to Buccaneer Bay. The coastline between Gibsons and Sechelt is relatively barren, without any appealing or protected spots for anchorage. Timing the current, waiting for favourable winds,  choosing suitable anchorages all play into the coastal puzzle. 

Once the high pressure system sets in on the south coast in the summer, the predominant winds are light northwesterly. With light winds, it usually makes for long days of motoring. We usually cruise at five knots (1 knot = 1.85 km/hr) with the outboard engine, but that speed changes depending on the sea state and currents.  

Sunset over Vancouver Island 

Business Time anchored between Nelson Island and East Point Islet, looking up into Jervis Inlet. The BC Ferries sails from Earl's Cove to Saltery Bay. From Buccaneer Bay, we motored north past Pender Harbour, up Agamemnon Channel, and then to Egmont.

We went to check out the Skookumchuck Narrows, an impressive display of flowing water. The maximum currents run up to 16 knots, complete with standing waves and whirlpools. It's quite popular with kayakers. Check out the first couple seconds of this clip showing a tugboat capsizing in the narrows. 

Planning our alpine trip. Both Jeff and Al had sailed up Jervis Inlet previously on Business Time. This marks her third trip up to Princess Louisa inlet.

We left Egmont early to catch the late afternoon slack tide at Malibu Rapids to make the 38 mile trip up the inlet. Unlike the power boats, we didn't have the luxury of speed. A trip up here is a full day ordeal, starting with a steady motor, waiting for the inflow winds to build behind us.

During the day, the solar radiation warms up the mountains, which warm up the air mass just above it. This air mass is now warmer than the air at a similar attitude around it, and rises through convection. This forms a low pressure area where air from the lower region, in this case the inlet, flows. The anabatic effect in the inlet mixed with local topography was quite pronounced. Once we rounded Patrick Point, into Queens Reach, the wind dropped from 20 knots to zero, with a very distinctive wind line. All the wind was funnelling up into Deserted Bay.

Jeff at the helm, sailing on a broad reach downwind. Wind speeds averaged between fifteen to twenty knots, average boat speed between six to seven knots. 

Calm waters in Queens Reach, the most northerly section of Jervis Inlet. The entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet is to the right of my right shoulder. Mount Albert is the glaciated peak right of centre. It's like Howe Sound, but longer, narrower, and without Squamish at the end! 

Mount Albert from the southeast.

After sailing up Jervis Inlet, with an ever growing sense of remoteness, it was a strange site to see the Malibu bible camp here while transiting Malibu Rapids. A narrow entrance between the island on the left, and the waterfront swimming pool on he right, separates the six kilometre long Princess Louisa Inlet from Jervis Inlet. Timing is critical for boaters, the rapids peak at nine knots. Even at slack tide, tidal rips can be seen. It depends on the strength of the flood/ebb, but we try to transit rapids at the predicted slack tide. Transiting at other times between slack and peak can also be possible. A very rough rule of thumb is to avoid currents more than half the maximum boat speed. In 1792, when Captain Vancouver sailed up Jervis Inlet in search of the Northwest Passage, his crew discovered the entrance, but were stopped by a strong ebbing current. 

The Princess Louisa Inlet Wall, rising above the fjord. The one and only climbing route on this wall is PLI Trail (17 pitches, ED1/2 V 5.10+) on the lower part of the wall, established by Peter Rowat and John Brodie.

Business Time tied up at the BC parks dock at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet. We arrived too late to get a dock spot and anchored instead. Because we would be away from the boat for two nights, it was important to get a secure spot next to the dock. Anticipating a steep climb up from the water, I tried to keep my pack as light as I could. I went without a tent. I regretted this later while fighting off the mosquitoes in my sleeping bag.

Jeff hiking up the Loquilts trail, a steep climb from sea level to alpine. The trail is rough and steep, a typical no-nonsense, switchback free, coastal trail, but generally obvious and flagged. The trail is marked by BC Parks markers for the first 800m vertical metres to the Trapper's Cabin, a relict from the past. Beyond here, the trail is more rugged, Two tricky sections include crossing a creek at the Trapper's Cabin and a less obvious section where the trail crosses a gully before another steep climb to the alpine.

Crossing the creek. This might be challenging during a spring freshet.

A well worn groove up a cliff band.

As yacht owners, our fitness has taken a serious turn for the worse. Beer consumption (and Palm Bays) has reached a record high not seen since my engineering days on campus. When we arrived at Loquilts lake, we were content to spend the rest of the afternoon here. It's hard to go from sitting on my bum on a boat, floating around and pulling on lines, to actually climbing up steep trails to be in the mountains.

 I'm easily restless when the weather is good, so I went for a ramble around Loquits Lake and up to the Contact Lakes, in search of the best view of Princess Louisa Inlet, and the nicest granite tarn to take a dip in.

The awesome waterfall pool that I found while exploring the slopes around Loquilts Lake. Not bad, but the water was cold.

Ah.... much better. Mount Albert on the left, with the Bon Bon glacier below.

The ridges around here are amazing, endless granite scrambling.

Can you spot Jeff's tent?

Playing with my camera the next morning, while waiting for Jeff and Al to wake up.

Loquilts Lake reflection. When we returned in afternoon, the icebergs drifted close enough towards us to stand on them.

Jeff hiking above Loquilts Lake. We were following goat paths most of the way.

Looking south towards Mount Pearkes. One of John Clarke's many fine trips, started one summer day from Jervis Inlet, up to Mount Pearkes and then south along the Ashlu-Elaho divide to Squamish.

Summit register on Mount John Clarke. It's not often that I get to write two consecutive entries ninth months apart. A few days later, my friends Lena, Nick, and Michal also came by here, on an impressive trip to Mount Tinniswood and around the Clendenning to Elaho Mountain. 

Al scrambling along the ridges above Loquilts Lake, just one of the incredible view up here. The peaks on the far right are part of the Powell-Jervis divide and the Eldred Valley, high on my list of places to go. 

We continued down the rocky ridge, across the snowy ridge, and down the far right skyline back to Loquilts Lake.

The Princess Louisa Wall and Mount Albert. The cut block on the far left are part of the rough trail from tidewater up to Mount Albert.

Five star camp site. They don't get much better than this. It didn't take long to finish the loop around the lake, not in comparison to the time taken to get here, and to sail back. Instead of hiking back down to the boat, to be confined to the cramp quarters on the boat and a busy dock, we spent the rest of the late afternoon lounging in the sun up here. 

A quick shower in the waterfall along the Loquilts trail on the way down the next morning. 

Big trees along the Loquilts trail.

Chocolate banana pancakes after a short but very rewarding trip in the alpine. I'm still waiting to get the photos from Al. Just as Al arrived at the boat, he removed his boots and dove off the bow in the unexpectedly warm water. There are signs at the dock warning of large jellyfish, which we did not see. Unfortunately, his camera was still in his short pockets. The camera spent the rest of the trip in a ziplock bag surrounded by rice. 

A starry night over the inlet.

Another early departure the next morning to catch the slack tide at Malibu rapids. We motored south to Patrick Point before finding the inflow winds. They started off light but continued to build as we tacked endlessly down Princess Royal Reach.

Sailing down Princess Royal Reach at 1pm, directly into a strong 20-25 knot inflow, under our "storm" jib and a reefed main. During the peak gusts, our dinghy capsized as it launched over some of the steeper waves. We all looked back in disbelief as the ten foot inflatable surfed over a wave, flipped mid-air, and capsized. This happened two more times in the next thirty minutes, until we rounded the point on the left and the wind died. In hindsight, we should have expected the winds, deflated the dinghy, and stowed it inside the boat instead of towing it.  This has been my experience for sailing. 90% of the time it's very mellow, almost boring, and then 10% of the time it's downright scary, with noise everywhere and the wind screaming through the rigging.

After a tiring sail, and a severe lack of beer, we rolled into the Backeddy Pub, ready to consume the largest burger they had. When we hiked down to the boat, we spent the rest of the afternoon finishing the rest of the beer. At least that's what Jeff and Al thought. In my careful planning, I stashed away a backup reserve that I pulled out part way down the inlet, and a backup to the backup near the entrance of Jervis Inlet once all the excitement was over. A 16oz burger with a custom bun from the local bakery. Jeff looks skeptical here, but I finished mine. They have a burger eating contest each summer here, with the fastest human time at a shocking 4 minute. The fastest non-human time (currently held by a dog) is somewhere in the 1-2 minute range.

We left Egmont, and sailed south towards Pender Harbour, then west to Jedediah Island, tucked between Lasqueti and Texada Island. This entire island is protected as a marine provincial park, accessible only by boat. It's a unique spot, complete with feral goats, sheeps, and an old homestead. I would love to come back here on a kayak.

Business Time anchored in Deep Bay. A strong northwesterly blew through this semi-protected anchorage during the night. I woke up to the boat being tossed around and a howling wind on deck. The anchor had dragged. I sat in the cockpit covered in goretex, with my flashlight trying to judge the distance between the cliff and the two boats next to us. I figured we were ok, and crawled back into my sleeping bag, cold and worried, cuddled with the GPS to make sure we weren't drifting anymore through the night. Fortunately the winds didn't get any stronger, the anchor stopped dragging and it was back to paradise the next day.

Shallow waters of Home Bay, which dries completely at low tide. An endless abundance of oysters in the warm, but closed to harvesting due to sanitary concerns. 

Business Time anchored in a small cove on the southeast corner of South Thormanby Island. Our last stop of the trip.



Motoring south towards Vancouver on the last day. After days of strong wind warnings and big northwesterlys in the Strait of Georgia, the wind changed to a light five to ten knots from the southeast. It turned into a very slow trip back to Vancouver, sailing when there was a puff of wind, and motoring otherwise.

For more photos, check out my large photo set from the trip on Flickr

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Birkenhead Avalanche

This is a story about a close call that I was involved in, a few weekends ago on the Birkenhead glacier. It might be a bit wordy, but I've tried to include as much detail as I can.

Feb 16, 2013.

It had been a dry week and the forecast for the weekend looked reasonable. A plan was made to go into the Birkenhead area in search of couloirs to ski. Paul Kristen and I started off on a slow pace, plodding along in light rains and breaking clouds, pondering if the clouds would clear for the afternoon. Another friend, Saar was planning to join us in the evening. After a short ski up a logging road and then open forest, we arrived at an open area below the Birkenhead Glacier, perfect for camping. At 2pm, we left camp and started skiing up the moraine towards the Birkenhead glacier, looking for some turns along the way. At the top of the moraine, the weather wasn't looking great, clouds were everywhere and it was windy. Kristen wasn't feeling great and decided to ski the 400m vertical back down to camp. We crested the glacier and looked around, seeing slopes of various aspects, ranging from mellow north facing glacier runs, to a striking northwest facing couloir.

Paul contemplating his ski line.

Winds from the northwest and west, loading the runout fan at the bottom of the couloir.

Paul and I discussed our options, and we settled on the couloir instead of the mellow untracked glacier ahead. There was 10-15cm of soft snow deposited in the past couple hours through wind and convective flurries, sitting on top of a solid crust from wind scouring and solar effects of the past week. We decided to continue skinning, making a few more solid switchbacks before transitioning to a bootpack as the couloir steepened. There had been no avalanche activity that day, and at the time, we felt ok with our decision to continue up. The wind was coming from northwest to west, blowing up into the couloir, with snow blowing off the rock walls to the side. The climb up the couloir was slow, taking nearly an hour to climb the 1000ft couloir. It was definitely what I can only describe as deep snow wallowing. The snow was mostly unconsolidated. Paul struggled a bit behind my steps, I'm sure he was cursing me for being a little lighter. We topped out with an awesome sunset, ready for some steep turns down.

Paul on the bootpack up.

Wind effect on the snow surface.

Nearing the top of the couloir.

It was really good skiing, there were genuine face shots on every turn. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily bode well for stability though. During the descent, at 4:55pm, Paul triggered a soft slab, a thin 15cm wind slab that had formed up at the bottom, further loaded by our sluffs. The slope steepness was forty degrees. Overall, the couloir was the steepest line I've skied this season. I stopped on the side (see the blue dot) to take a few photos. Paul skied past me, opening up his skis as the snow quality improved further and the angle eased slightly. All of sudden, I heard screaming and saw that he was tumbling down the bottom of the couloir. I tried to look for him, but it was hard to see him in the powder clouds that followed. I thought I saw him come onto the surface once, and then I lost him again.

Nice turns down. So far, so good.

Shit. This wasn't suppose to happen. Paul gets swept down on top of a slab avalanche in the couloir.

I stopped at the blue dot. The first green dot is where Paul triggered the slide, and the following two dots are where he stopped. 

As I skied down to find Paul, I triggered a second avalanche on the hangfire above the first crown line. I made my first two turns, and all of a sudden the snow around me was breaking apart into slabs, with shooting cracks in all directions. I skied off to the side - somehow I kept my balance on top of the slab. Paul wasn't so lucky. He saw the second avalanche that I had set off, crashing down the slope. He was swept further down, and both of his skis finally released from him at this point. Another few seconds passed, and I saw him again - I was incredibly relieved. I skied down along the firm bed surface to reach Paul, who was ok aside from a few sore spots. We were very lucky. We started traversing the slope to look for his skis - it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, the size 2 avalanche had propagated along the edge of the couloir and onto the fan, with an approximate width of 50m, a deposit thickness of 30-40cm, and length of 150m. We were only able to recover one ski. By this point it was dark and cold, and we descended back down to camp with his one ski.

The next day, Kirsten, Saar and I went back up to the glacier and enjoyed some great mellow turns in nice snow with some sunny breaks. This is a really nice area with a long glacier run down from the summit. You should expect to share the area with heli-skiers though, there were landing stakes in a few spots.

Saar on the Birkenhead Glacier.

Beautiful light and clouds.

Saar and Kristen heading up the glacier.

It's really quite nice up here.

Saar enjoying his turns down the Birkenhead glacier.

And now, a few things to reflect on: 

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 7.43.10 AM
This was the avalanche bulletin from Friday February 15, 2013.

While the windslab at the base did not seem to be an issue on the way up, it was further loaded during our hour-long bootpack up the couloir. Each turn on the way down released some of the recent storm snow in small sluffs, which accumulated at the bottom. By the time Paul made his final turns at the bottom, it was enough of a trigger for the snow to slide. We didn't give the new storm snow any time to stabilize.

It was already late in the day when we started climbing up, and we had decided not to ski the more mellow slopes on the glacier beyond. We were chasing our blue bird dreams and summit goals, picking a ski line that was more challenging. We were complacent in our decision making with regards to the snowpack. We observed that there was some fresh snow with a questionable bond to the surface below. I've ignored similar conditions in the past and have climbed up slopes without consequence - unfortunately this time we weren't so lucky. The latest bulletin called for moderate danger on Saturday, and cautioned that associated winds are likely to shift new snow into windslabs in lee terrain. It also said to be cautious and stay off recently wind loaded areas. There had been convective flurries during the day with snowfall accumulation of 15cm, and it had been windy, 20-30km/hr wind at the col.  I'm just happy this didn't happen on anything bigger. These were all observations that we had made, but didn't piece together well enough.

Stay safe out there!