Easter long weekend. Potentially four days off work. Its too early for most rock destinations on the hit list. A crew who I’ve had some of my most awesome adventures with suggested doing the Garibaldi Neve traverse. We have a plan.
Most people take the route from the South starting at the diamond head parking lot and heading North to finish at Rubble Creek lot. Since we predicted a busy Easter weekend we decided to go against the grain and start at Rubble creek and finish 40km South at Diamond head. This gave us a net elevation gain, but for a fit group happy with the touring aspect of this trip, rather than being thirsty for steep runs down, we decided that would be just fine. Going North to South also meant we avoided the ski out down the Garibaldi lake trail switchbacks which we heard could be icy and sketchy.
We met in Squamish at a very leisurely hour of 8am on Good Friday morning and proceeded to shuffle the cars to the trail heads, leaving Paulies van at diamond head for the return (we did not need chains on the road this time!) and then heading on in Katies car to meet Chris at Rubble Creek. The sun shone at Rubble Creek and signs of winter were no where in sight as we started the boot pack up the switchbacks. We reckoned it was 4km before we hit the snowline.
We somehow made a slight accidental detour off the main path down to the barrier lakes. Apparently if these lakes are covered over this is a legit route to take toward Garibaldi and cuts out some time – they were however, not covered over and we saw this as a navigational error as we bush whacked some awkward terrain to regain the main path.
Finally we made it to the lake around midday and we stopped to admire the view and grab a quick bite to eat. It was pretty bluebird out so the views were stellar but occasionally it would cloud over so we weren’t constantly getting annihilated by the suns rays.
Garibaldi lake was fast traveling over flat snow to begin with but soon turned into a heads down slog whilst I tried to ignore the screams from my burning feet. Soon enough the peaks on the horizon came closer and closer into view until they blocked the view of our path. As the team regrouped at the end of the lake near the Glaciology huts we decided with a couple of hours of daylight left we’d push on to try to gain the glaciers before camping. Everybody was pretty tired out but keen to take in some extra elevation so we could subtract it from the next day and to find a cool spot to camp on the glacier.
We headed up around the back of the Table and deaked up on to Sentinel Glacier. We had suspected, given the reports that we would not need to rope up on the glaciers since the crevasses were fully filled in and people we passed coming the other way confirmed our beliefs – great news! Climbing up the Sentinel Glacier to gain the Warren Glacier was enough of a slog for the end of the day but we pushed on.
Gaining the Warren Glacier was breath taking as everything flattened out and opened up giving way to fantastic views of the Sharkfin, Mount Garibaldi and Atwell.
As the light drew in we started to make camp just west of the Sharkfin. Paul, Beth and I had opted to only carry bivi bags and I was hell bent on making a snow cave to sleep in. The night looked to be super calm but I was adamant we should dig the cave. We piled snow onto a flat area of about 3m x 3m and once we had a good dome Paul started digging down to what would be the entrance. I was tired and hungry after a long day, but I was too caught up in the excitement of digging a cool snowcave to notice that I was starting to crash. The digging made me hot and sweaty even as I crawled into the small cave with my limbs pressed against cold and wet snow. Everyone started to loose their enthusiasm after about an hour and Paul and I resolved to only dig out the inside to just big enough for three people while Beth continued to shovel away our excavation materials. No body had the energy to make it anything fancy.
By the time I emerged from the snow cave it was pretty much dark, Katie and Chris had set their tent up ages ago, dug out a kitchen and seating area and had already had dinner. I piled all my layers on but started to realise I’d made a grave school boy error by allowing my base layers to get so damp that I would have no chance of staying warm while sedentary. I was also acutely aware of how dehydrated and hungry I’d become, as I tried to make dinner I was creating a yard sale, leaving items everywhere because I couldn’t think straight and unable to hold any kind of sensible conversation.
I thankfully managed to get some warm food in me after more of an ordeal than should have been needed and as my brain starting to function again with the nutrition I became aware of another drama unfolding in camp other than my own. Katie had accidentally emptied a whole 1L Nalgene bottle of water onto her down sleeping bag – the cold had frozen the threads up and it didn’t lock properly. She was gutted at the prospect of spending a cold night after making the effort to lug in an extra warm sleeping bag to avoid exactly that.
Thankfully we both survived our respective nights, Katie by snuggling her feet into dry bags and me by tossing and turning all night. I was disappointed to have slept so poorly for no real reason since the snow cave was uber snug and cosy but as I squeezed my tired body out through the doorway I was cheered up by the view.
Our camping spot had been pretty spectacular and as the sun rose it was shaping up to be a pretty spectacular day also. We ate breakfast and I recovered all my belongings that had been buried by the snow piling the night before.
After a short flat blast to wake up the legs the first task in hand was to gain some elevation as we headed closer to Atwell and Mount Garibaldi. Chris and Beth were super psyched to Summit Garibaldi. Katie had done it before via Brohm ridge and whilst Paul and I loved a summit we weren’t so interested in the steep run off the top. Conditions were in and the group split as Beth and Chris went for it, leaving their packs down on the neve and taking an ice axe each in case it was required for the final steep boot-pack to the top.
Beth bootpacking to the summit of Garibaldi
Paul, Katie and I trundled on across the Neve, really enjoying the clear skies and sun and taking it all in stopping for lunch and soaking up some vitamin D. We even got some turns in as we dropped down to Opal Cone.
Paul and I enjoying some well earned turns
Crossing Ring Creek turned out to be a bit of a mission. Well actually crossing the creek was fine, there was still a very well established snow bridge despite the creek being very visible. But the slog up the hill on the other side felt pretty sketchy – we skinned up slushy snow and higher through big chunks of Avalanche debris. I put in a skin track because there was a lack of an obvious existing one but the terrain was so rough going that the others found it hard to follow. I was sure happy to pop out the other side and back into the trees for a traverse.
It was the first time we’d been in the trees for a while and my reading of the terrain seemed off a little. I knew we must be close to the Elfin lakes hut from reading the map but I thought I’d seen another party when we were back at the ring creek crossing (we had known they were heading the same way as us) high up climbing an open face above the tree line. As we kept traversing I was a little worried we were off track, or that the hut was much further than I thought. The existing tracks seemed pretty obvious though and eventually after a while of traversing we did hit a small open slope which took us up to the hut. It was pretty hard to spot until we were right upon it and it was a real relief since my feet were hurting the most they had on the trip so far.
The agreement was to meet at the hut, suss out the vacancy situation and make a call about where we would stay that night. The weather was supposed to crap out overnight that night and no one was super keen for another shiver bivi, plus the car was only about 10km away (5km of that a skins-off fast ski out) and we had talked about the possibility of pushing out that evening. To our delight there was still plenty of room to sleep in the hut, meaning no shiver bivi necessary and no final push out. Paul, Katie and I got prepared to enjoy the comforts of a heated hut for the night whilst we waited for Beth and Chris to catch up. Thankfully they were in concurrence with stoke to have a night of relaxing in the hut too and we all settled in with hot meals, drying socks, blister repair and board games for the evening.
Enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the hut
The next morning was leisurely, we only had a couple of hours ahead of us max so we took our time with breakfast before stepping out into white out conditions outside of the hut. It was hard to get the legs going but knowing that we only had to crash out a couple of km really helped. Also, the way was marked with wands from here on out which really helped as the visibility really was terrible.
White-out conditions for our last day
In no time we were turning down and past the Red Heather hut and nearly colliding with the masses on the road out to the car. Groups of hikers should really have more awareness instead of clothes-lining out across the whole path! Needless to say this annoyance couldn’t come close to denting the psyche we had when we all reached the car after a weekend with fantastic friends, amazing views and the right amount of mishaps to make for good stories. The only thing that could have added to the smiles would have been if a friend had secretly stashed a six pack in the van that you left at the trail head!