Given the lack of snow from Red Heather right now, I highly recommend going from Brohm Ridge if you have access to a four wheel drive high clearance vehicle. Lots of parties having been driving up to the snowline at 1300m, making the Brohm Ridge approach significantly faster. Parking that high, and with fast travel conditions, a trip to the top and back can be done by a reasonably fit party in eight to nine hours. But Davey and Regan had just used that approach a week earlier, and were keen to try something different.
I found myself in the Red Heather parking lot in situation that's recurring this winter, snow-free, with skis and boots strapped to my pack. We hiked up the road for 2.5km, until hitting one snow patch just below the waterfall at 1200m. Around the corner, I took off my skis again to get around some rock patches, but it was smooth and fast the rest of the way to Elfin Lakes. The snow was frozen solid, capped with a thick sheet of rain crust from torrential rains in the week past. Later, we would see spectacular textures created from the rain, lines and lines of rain runnels across the Garibaldi Neve up to 1700m.
Getting stoked next to the outhouse.
Tantalus ranging poking out of the morning fog.
After stopping at Elfin Lakes for a late lunch, we continued up the slippery sidehill up to the Columnar-Gargoyle col. It was foggy all morning and the clouds cleared as we neared the col. It' is possible to continue towards Little Diamond Head, and then contour across steep slopes and crevasses below the base of Atwell and then along bench towards Mount Garibaldi. I have heard that it's unpleasant this year, with a small cornice to negotiate and firm steep snow to traverse. We skied east down into Ring Creek, skiing hard snow, mixed with a rib of slushy snow that would catch the tails of my skis on every turn.
Davey and Regan head up to the Gargoyle col.
Davey at the Columnar-Gargoyles col.
All the steep faces had slid with the warm precipitation from the past week.
Davey drops a knee in some very firm snow.
Back down in the valley, we were faced with two creeks crossings. The first one was small and not bad, but the second one required taking my boots off. I'd rather have cold feet for a minute, than deal with wet boots. The first time that I skied the neve, I was on leather telemark boots, and it was a similar year with a low snowpack. I also forded Ring Creek back then, but had a misstep and ended up with heavy frozen telemark boots for the rest of the trip. At least the boots got stiffer? There is now a permanent bridge here. It was downstream of where we crossed, but looked tricky to get to between snow and rocks.
Regan crossing the west fork of Ring Creek.
Davey crossing the main fork of Ring Creek. With lower water and some searching around, you can find boulders to hop across.
Crossing Ring Creek in April 2005. That was another low snow year.
Rain runnels above Ring Creek
Skiing along Ring Creek, with Atwell Peak hiding in the clouds
Regan skiing towards the Opal Cone, with Atwell behind.
The southeast face of Atwell Peak. With the warm and wet precipitation this winter, followed by cold and clear weather, the alpine climbing conditions are all-time.
Beautiful rain runnels above Ring Creek.
We found an ice lake north of the Opal Cone, just before the flat section of the Garibaldi Neve. It seemed like a really stupid idea to go for a swim, given that it was already late afternoon, and I would spend the rest of the night in a snow trench. But the sun was poking out of the clouds, and it seemed like a great spot to go for a swim. I'm glad I did, because the next day when we retraced our path, a shift in the snowpack had drained away the lake.
After getting a nice ice bath for my legs, I continued on towards the high point of the Neve. We wanted to go as high as possible to get the best views tonight. The sun faded as we began the climb up, and we finished the last strides into our camp at 2180m under the magenta and violet hues painted over the mountains to the east.
Snowy landscape on the Garibaldi Neve
Mount Garibaldi is the pointy peak second from the left. The lower summit to the right is the Tent.
Crossing the flat section of the Garibaldi Neve
Pyramid Mountain pokes out of the clouds
Climbing up to the highpoint of the Neve, in the fading late-afternoon light
The Opal Cone, with Squamish wrapped in the valley fog behind
Alpenglow on the Spire Peaks
Mount Pitt catches the last of the golden rays
From left to right: Castle Towers, Mount Carr, Gray Pass, Parapet Peak, Isosceles Peak
Camp was cold, really cold. There was a bitter northwest wind, which continued to howl through the night. Every so often it would stop, I would step out of the protection of the snow kitchen wall, and actually be comfortable. The wind kept up through the noise, and the ruffling of the sil-nylon tarp made it hard to sleep. I wish I had earplugs.
It was cold in the morning while we watched the sunrise over the Misty Icefields. In the warm morning light, we caught our first view of the northeast face. The bergshrund was open on the left side, and the right side of the face had slid, leaving behind frozen avalanche debris below. Two skiers had climbed and skied the face on Saturday, and judging by the tracks, they had softer snow that what we found.
Freezing away at our camp. Going light, I went without down booties while Davey and Regan made a wiser decision to bring them.
The starry landscape to the south. The light is from Vancouver, shining through the low fog.
Star trails above Mount Garibaldi. My fingers were frozen, but it was worth it to get this shot.
This is where I slept that night. The view from the front door is hard to beat.
Davey tries to warm up, while boiling water for oatmeal and tea in the morning.
Morning colours over the Diamond Glacier, with Sky Pilot mountain behind. The morning colours were incredible, with a full spectrum of reds pinks and orange.
Alpenglow on Mount Garibaldi.
Sun rays catching on the icy surface, with patches of wind blown powder between.
Ski crampons would be handy to get up to the bergshrund. I left mine behind since neither Davey or Regan owned any, and it's always awkward for group travel when only one person brings them. We changed to crampons below the shrund, and continued across it, roped up. The bootpack from yesterday was filled in higher up from overnight winds, but I could see that one of the guys punched through the shrund. Above the shrund, the snow was firm, crampons were useful, and we continued up unroped. After traversing left above the shrund, we climbed up on firm snow to the summit, steeper and further right than what we skied.
The route climbs above the shrund, just below the rock, and then traverses left and climbs straight up into the sun kissed slope above.
The Table and Garibaldi Lake. Most of Garibaldi Lake looked frozen, but I could see an open patch by Sphinx Bay. Since then, it continued to freeze with cold weather, but recently it has been breaking up with eerie cracks and associated sounds.
Firm skinning up to the base of the northeast face
Bootpacking up the northeast face. At the top, the slope is a solid 45 degrees.
The view was pretty good from the top, as expected on such a clear bluebird day. The views have been amazing all winter long. It was uncomfortable on the summit with the wind, and we made a quick transition into skis. We carefully skied off the top, down the exposed face on the far left side. The snow was edgeable and chalky, and with a little sideslipping and traverse, we were safely below the shrund. Below that, the skiing felt like an obstacle course, dodging the large avalanche debris while skittering across frozen sastrugi.
Spire Peaks, and the southern Misty Icefields behind
Atwell Peak and Squamish to the right. Can you spot the two climbers downclimbing the north ridge? With good winter climbing conditions, there have been several ascents of Atwell Peak this year.
Rich, bundled up in down.
This is us goofing off in the summit, just before getting serious about the ski down.
Another view of Atwell Peak.
Dropping drops in. The snow was chalky and edgeable, but not a place to fall.
Regan skis the steep snow on the northeast face.
|Rich skiing on the northeast face. Thanks for the photo Davey!|
Some of the ice that we skied lower down on the northeast face.
It was still early, so we headed off to climb the Tent, a small summit resembling it's namesake from a certain angle. Mount Garibaldi dwarfs this smaller summit, and we found a sheltered calm spot on top, perfect for lunch out of the wind. The turns were good back to camp, firm and edgable. Below camp, we even found corn. This changed to frozen rain runnels below 1800m. It was a challenge to ski, with chattering ski tips and burning quads. But the texture was amazing, and so was the scenery so I didn't mind. The skiing improved below 1600m, and it was soft corn down to Ring Creek.
A reflection of Garibaldi, Rich and Regan in Davey's goggles.
Big avalanches and crowns on the northeast face of Atwell and east face of Garibaldi.
Davey skiing windpacked powder off the Tent
Regan gets in the whiteroom off the Tent
Smooth buttery turns below Mount Garibaldi. So much fun!
Dropping a knee down onto the Neve.
Chattering skis on the frozen rain runnels. They did not soften up at all.
Traversing the rain runnels on the Garibaldi Neve. Tough skiing, but beautiful.
Once again, ski boots came off for the crossing, and we hung out by the river in the warm sunshine. This was not winter-like at all. This time, we skied back up the old road up to Elfin Lakes. I thought it would be bare, or covered with debris. But because there was so little snow at low elevations this year, the road surface was just covered in frozen snow, and the slopes above the road were below threshold for sliding. The only thing left was the ski back along Paul Ridge, and the walk down the road in the last moments of daylight.