Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mountain Lake

With Pam's surgical date just around the corner, we jumped at the opportunity to do a final overnight trip into the local mountains. We chose to explore the Mountain Lake area, an alpine playground just south of Squamish that sees minimal traffic due to the difficulty of the approach. Our trusty 4x4 got us to the upper end of the Furry Creek valley and then three hours of steep hiking in sweltering summer heat got us into the alpine. We eagerly plunged into Wind Lake, the first of many gorgeous alpine pools we'd encounter over the next couple of days.


A large tarn above Wind Lake was the location of our first night's camp. We pitched our tent on the granite slab and left off the fly so we could lay in bed and watch the sun set over Ben Moore, the peak in the rear of this photo. It was a gorgeous location and we saw shooting stars after dark, much to Elise's delight.

The next morning we chose to climb Ben Lomond, a prominent bell-shaped peak to the south of our camp. We rose early, had a quick breakfast and then set off on a long ridge traverse toward our objective. We got this nice view of Wind Lake as we crossed the slope above.

There was good scrambling on the lower reaches of the peak and I employed a small rope to keep Elise secure. Once on the rubble-covered summit, we lounged in the sun, had snacks and watched the mist swirl around the Sky Pilot peaks in the distance.

The destination for our second night was Mountain Lake, the location of a popular BCMC mountain hut. Once again, a swim in the lake was a refreshing treat upon our arrival. The water was beautiful and Elise had a blast jumping off "cliffs", small outcrops of rock along the shore. She declared it the "best swimming ever" and we chose to repeat the activity the following day. It's nice to see her getting comfortable swimming in deep lake water. I stay close by and she hitches a ride if she gets tired.

The BCMC hut is perched on a ridge-crest below the east side of Mt. Sheer and it was a welcome site as we dropped below the Mountain Lake basin. For some reason Elise loves these mountain huts and always wants to sleep inside in the musty, hot lofts. I might have complied if the hut had been empty, but two other hikers had already claimed the front half of the loft. We chose our tent instead.

On the morning of day two, I rose early and scrambled up Mt. Sheer by myself. I got some nice early morning light, a great view of the surrounding peaks and a chance to see the alpine flower stonecrop in full bloom.

The Sky Pilot group as seen from the south. The new Sea to Sky gondola is on the far (north) side of this cluster of peaks.

A nice view of Ben Lomond from the summit of Mt. Sheer. The valley fog was rising fast, but it never reached Mountain Lake that day, which was a relief.

A final reflection of Sky Pilot from a tarn near the hut. I got back to the hut in time for breakfast with Pam and Elise. We spent the next hour drying our dew-soaked tent before packing up and starting the 8-kilometre hike back to the truck.

The only real downside to this trip was the mosquitoes. They were thick, more so than we could have imagined. Luckily, midday saw them mellow so we could swim with minimal discomfort. Overall, we really enjoyed the beauty of this unique and pristine area, and were satisfied to get one more family outing under our belt before August 18th arrives.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Squamish Buttress

This past Monday, Elise rock climbed the entire Chief for her very first time. She'd scaled the Apron in the past, but those ascents always ended with a walk-off about halfway up the mountain. Since she'd been climbing well this summer, we decided it was time to give the entire Chief a try!

We chose The Squamish Buttress, a popular 5.10c route that many use as their first climb up the Chief. This historical line was first ascended in 1959 by the legendary Fred Beckey and follows the right-hand edge of the dramatic South Gully, a wide chasm that splices through the entire Chief. To reach the Buttress, we started on the Apron with a familiar 4-pitch slab route called Over the Rainbow. This took us to Broadway Ledge, and from there we climbed Boomstick Crack, a fantastic flake that leads into the forest above. A ten-minute hike through the trees took us to the base of The Squamish Buttress, the line that tackles the upper half of the mountain.

Click on the photo below to enlarge it for more detail.

We started quite early to allow plenty of time for the ascent and to avoid climbing in the midday sun. We also hoped to get a jump on the crowds that swarm these routes all season long. Elise was a bit nervous before we left, but we assured her she was up to the challenge!

When we arrived at the base of the Apron, sure enough there were about 10 people queued up to climb various routes, but none were waiting for Over the Rainbow. Game on!

The Apron went by quickly and we soon found ourselves at the base of the Squamish Buttress where we let a guide and his two clients pass. It was the clients first time up the Chief and they took photos of Elise, the "competition" they called her.

Here, Pam and Elise scale the second pitch on the Buttress with Highway 99 far below.

An ascent of the Apron and Squamish Buttress is mostly moderate, straightforward climbing and Elise managed to do all 12 pitches up to the crux without a fall except for a quick boost on Boomstick Crack to reach the high flake. At the large ledge below the thirteenth (crux) pitch, we took off our shoes, rested and had some snacks.

The crux is rated 5.10c and follows a couple of parallel cracks up a steep headwall below the First Peak of the Chief. It's a strenuous and sustained route, and having guided many clients up it over the years I knew it was no cakewalk. However, a good anchor is positioned directly above the hardest section so if Elise (or Pam) was struggling, I knew I could rig a raising system to help them reach the top. It turned out I didn't need to! Elise stormed up the pitch on her own, stopping to rest on the rope only four times in 25 m of steep climbing. I was impressed. I never lifted her through any moves; she did the entire pitch free.

Photos of the crux pitch below. You can see Pam sitting on a rock at the base, which provides some scale.

A happy girl on the ledge beside me after climbing the crux pitch. The summit is now in the bag with only one easy pitch left.

Elise being dramatic after reaching the summit. "I'm exhausted", she claimed. She actually seemed to have tons of energy left and skipped her way down the descent trail while Pam and I gingerly descended, protecting our tired 45-year-old joints.

Treats! We asked Elise what she wanted as a reward for doing a great climb, and she asked for a play date with her friend, Eric Wild! We complied...

On the summit. It was a cloudy day, perfect temperatures for a midsummer ascent. I wonder how many eight-year-olds have rock climbed the Chief?

Another summit shot with proud father and daughter. A day to remember...

Just over three weeks left until Pam's knee surgery. We'll keep you posted.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Wild Side Trail

The stars finally aligned and we got our "window" to head to Flores Island last week. Great weather, a lack of work commitments and good midweek ferry conditions (i.e. no weekend chaos) finally fell into sync so we threw together our gear and hit the road. Flores Island is the largest island in Clayoquot Sound, about 40 minutes northwest of Tofino. It contains one of the largest tracts of continuous old-growth forest on Vancouver Island and is home to one of Canada's most beautiful beaches, the endless sands of Cow Bay. The island is inhabited by members of the Alhousat Nation, concentrated in a small community on the east shore, and this village served as our stepping off point for the Wild Side Trail, a 10-km trek we'd targeted for a 3-day coastal adventure. The trip was great - we explored vast tracts of unspoiled beach, spotted grey whales close to shore and, much to our delight, watched wolves combing the beach in front of our tent at dawn on our final day.

Marina at Alhousat, where our water taxi docked.

A "culturally modified" redcedar along the trail.

Wolf tracks were plentiful along the beach. New ones appeared each morning as the tide washed the sands clean.

Elise found a huge clam shell, perfect as a breakfast bowl.

Juvenile bald eagle hunting from the rocks.

As we broke through the forest and reached the west shore of the island, the beaches really opened up. The views were stunning.

Our tent site at Cow Bay.

Elise was obsessed with bull kelp, and kept dragging pieces up and down the beach. Her "pets", she said.

Cow Bay, voted one of Canada's top 10 beaches. Lots of whale activity and kilometers of golden sand with virtually no humans in sight.

Sunset at Cow Bay.

The sand dollar collector, complete with full pockets.

And the final haul...

Bridge across Cow Creek, the only decent water source on the entire journey.

 A pretty impressive sitka spruce complete with fishing float to mark the way.


Final night at the "dune camp".

As we unzipped the tent at 6:00 am on our final morning, intent on catching the 8:30 am water taxi, we were treated to the highlight of the trip as a pair of wolves trotted across the beach. I guess Elise had been a tad worried, because she excitedly exclaimed, "They weren't even interested in our tent!".

Getting absolutely swarmed by the "rez dogs" on the way back to the water taxi. A final cultural hit to finish a fine trip.

Bring on the summer heat!