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!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

West Coast Trail

With Pam's surgery just over two weeks away, I was keen to do a short trip since I was unsure of how restricted we'd be during her initial rehabilitation weeks in July. I'd heard people speak of the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island over the years, but never paid very much attention for some odd reason. But after picking up a copy of the "Coastal Hikes" guidebook early this spring, my curiosity was immediately piqued. The hike was described as world class, and the pictures looked amazing. A quick Internet search sealed the deal. People came from all over the world to do this multiday hike and it was in my own backyard.

Initially I just threw some gear together, but after reading various trip reports I realized packing was going to take a bit more care. So, with a perfect forecast ahead, I carefully itemized what I'd need and got to the task of putting it all together. When finished, my pack weighed approximately 25 pounds without food or water. Not bad for a solo 5-day trip.

The West Coast Trail is 75 kilometers long and travels between the coastal communities of Bamfield and Port Renfrew. When my planning got serious, I realized two things: this hike wasn't going to be cheap and logistics were going to be far more complex than I'd have imagined. I ended up taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, driving two hours to Port Renfrew and spending the night in the back of my truck. The next morning I paid to park by the ranger's office then caught a shuttle bus that transported me and four other hikers through a maze of rough logging roads for three hours to the trailhead in Bamfield. We drove past one devastating cutblock after another, many very active. Over the years I'd heard stories of the extensive deforestation on Vancouver Island, but found it ironic I'd not see it first hand until I came to hike the West Coast Trail, an area of incredible beauty.

A mandatory 1.5-hour "orientation" session was required in Bamfield before we were allowed to hit the trail. The purpose of this session is to educate hikers and hopefully reduce the risk of injury and the need for rescue (four rescues had occurred this year alone), but it restricted our ability to start the day early, which seemed odd since early starts usually equate to safety on long trails. Regardless, I was able to buy their official park map and pick up a tide table, both of which proved to be indispensable for the length of the journey.

The hike did not disappoint, but it took some crafty planning to spend long periods walking on the beach. Impassible headlands and surge channels provided barriers to the coastal route, often necessitating long detours through thick, coastal forest containing some of the biggest sitka spruce I've ever seen.The forest routes were often extremely muddy and the many boardwalks were in various states of disrepair, often proving to be more hazardous than helpful. A unique feature of the trail I'd not encountered before were the many ladders. Instead of switchbacking up impossibly steep slopes and cliffsides, extensive systems of ladders have been installed and they provide a very effective means of gaining quick elevation above the beach. I though of Elise while I climbed and descended dozens of these steep ladders - she'd absolutely love them!

I'd planned to hike the trail solo, but after the first couple of days it seemed as though I was in sync, pace-wise, with a fellow from Seattle. We chatted, became friendly and eventually hiked the last couple of days together. I enjoyed camping on the beach with him and a couple of young Germans who followed our itinerary, albeit at a slower pace. We had campfires on the beach each night and enjoyed sharing stories.

The highlight of the trip, by far, occurred on the second to last day. We were resting on the beach at Walbran Creek and spotted a whale close to shore. It rolled in the bay for awhile and then started swimming around a rock shelf, which protruded from the beach. We made a quick decision to make a frigid swim out to the shelf and were treated with a truly spectacular view of the whale no more than 15 meters from us as it swam back and forth below our feet. To make this moment even more spectacular, the whale rolled onto its side and revealed a calf traveling underneath, a sight I'll never forget. We were giddy with excitement and stayed that way for hours.

I ended up spending four nights on the trail and approximately five days of hiking. There were other hikers around, but it never felt crowded and we usually had the campsites to ourselves. The wildlife and natural beauty of the area is something I'll not soon forget, and I look forward to the day when I can return with the rest of the family.

I hope you're all enjoying the spring. Pam's surgical date is June 17th, provided nothing goes awry. We'll keep you all posted on her progress.