Saturday January 28th Beth and I set off from Vancouver at 6.30am to go try get ourselves a summit and some nice views. The forecast was for warm and sunny without any new snow in the week preceding. Freezing level was at around 1650m, only 200m below our intended summit and Avalanche Canada was showing green with a yellow in the alpine.
Both of us had wanted to head up Cloudburst for a while and having considered the conditions in depth we decided this was a suitable objective given the day, it was likely to be a clear vis’ day and we weren’t going to have FOMO of powder laps elsewhere in the Sea-to Sky corridor.
We arrived at the trail head a little before 8.30am after coffee and gas pit-stops. Matey was out of commission (Beth’s 4WD Toyota Matrix) so we decided on approaching from the East and the Chance Creek FSR as it seemed the likely-hood of getting up the road from Squamish Valley would be very slim in my non-winterized van.
The Chance Creek Forest Service Road is 32km North of Squamish on the Highway. The pullout isn’t well signed from the highway so watch your odometer. As you turn in you see a BC provincial sign labeling it as Chance Creek so you know you’re in the right place. The main parking lot is just 1.6km up this road at the cat-ski operation but I was still a little nervous how that would go in my van. Turns out it was totally fine and no one was getting in any further on the steep logging road beyond anyway, even in their trucks, so we parked up and prepared to put the skins on.
There were a lot of people in the parking lot – skiers and snowshoers but thankfully at the first junction, just more than a kilometer up the road they all turned off to head North toward Mt Brew. We skinned in along this road in blissful solitude until the road ended around 5.3km.
The terrain on Cloudburst is quite complex and there are many ways to approach and gain the summit, with cliff bands, exposed ridge lines and various steep bowls. This not only makes it navigationally complex but also the complicated micro-terrain makes managing avalanche hazards tricky. We had read a few trip reports and figured we would try to follow the route outlined in the trail peaks page, as it seemed to pick its way through the least hazardous terrain and although not the most direct route, it seemed to make sense for us given the high winds forecast for the day too.
As we left the main road we continued traversing to the West on a narrower road for a short while whilst gaining elevation gently (under 1km). After this there was a skin track put in and soon we noticed a large party of 5 or 6 just ahead of us. As we turned more due South-West and gained some more elevation we put in a few steep and annoying kick turns made worse by the sugary sloughing snow constantly sliding out from under us. The party ahead of us – seemingly a family – continued in this manner, gaining elevation rapidly with short kick turns through steep trees. Consulting the map Beth and I decided we could avoid that nastiness by staying on a South west bearing and gaining elevation more gently through less densely gladed slopes.
We headed back into the trees due south after this (at around 900m) to put in some more steep switchbacks as we got sick of contouring. We continued on a South-ward bearing as best we could, deviating to avoid the steepest terrain where necessary. A cliff band stopped us from progressing too directly at around 1200m and we skinned west again to avoid it, breaking trail all the while.
Eventually we popped out of the trees into the sub-alpine, the sun was out and the views were pretty stunning. We had somehow been skinning for almost 4 hours. It felt warm in the sun but the added wind worked to undo any of the temperature increase. Taking shelter in a huddle of trees we threw down some food before continuing, we were both eager to keep moving as we knew we were quickly running out of time but we really needed to take on board some fuel otherwise we were certain to crash.
We carried on up through an open gully where the snow was really wind effected and began to feel a little touchy and to start to slough. Something didn’t feel quite right. We pushed on beyond our lunch spot for another 20 mins or so and could now see the ridge we needed to gain with our summit in view – finally! We both knew that it was too close to our agreed turn around time to make the summit at this point though, reluctant to give up we pushed on a little further anyway.
Gaining the apex of a small rollover I saw a crack shoot out from under my ski and suddenly the whole thing propagated and slid. Thankfully I was only uphill of a huge flat bench by a couple of metres and the consequence was nothing more than an even more heightened awareness for the touchy snow conditions.
Given our time constraints, the high winds we could see happening on the ridge ahead of us and the touchy nature of the wind affected slopes not to mention the low potential for getting to any better skiing if we ventured higher, we decided to turn back.
There had been some nice looking snow through the trees on the upper parts of our skin track that we had intentionally stayed off of on the way up in anticipation of our ski down. We ripped our skins at the edge of the bench and initially headed skiers right into a small bowl which had some nice turns if a little short and wind affected in places.
After this we headed back west to enjoy some nice mellow turns through the trees in some pockets of powder close to our skin track. Unfortunately this was a little too short lived and as we reached a cut block lower down the slope with some nice looking pillows the snow started to get crappier and heavier. We still had a fun time weaving in some turns though.
In almost no time at all we had hit the road again. We skinned on the cat track for a while before reaching the main road and ripping our skins once again. I snowplowed almost all of the 5km back to the car as thin and variable snow made it really dicey to make turns and the continued steepness also made it feel too sketch to really open up – especially with all the little bumps and dips.
The days skiing had disappointingly felt all too similar to my last weekends outing on Metal Dome where we’d come close to summit yet not close enough to pull it off and had some fun turns whilst retreating. It was a satisfying and fun day out nonetheless and I can only hope that all this ground work will add up to successful summits sometime in the near future.
Thanks to Beth for a great adventure as always!