Yak Peak

The end of June (2017) brought a very very hot weekend with it and we were hatching a plan to get out in the mountains to avoid the heat. It was a pleasant surprise that it was my boulder crusher boyfriend Honza who was the main instigator of our adventure up Yak Peak; proclaiming “I want to climb that cool looking rock slab that you drive past on the Coquihalla so that every time I go past it I can say I have done it”. This was perfectly fine by me as I love a good adventure in the mountains, I love spending time with Honza and I had also wanted to do Yak Peak for a while.

To make a weekend out of it we decided to go and explore some of the more ‘off the beaten track’ boulders in Hope on the Saturday and camp over in the van nearby so that we could sleep in a little bit before Yak in lieu of the 1.5hr drive it would be from Vancouver. We were both pretty stoked on our plan.

The boulders we sampled in the Grid area of Hunter creek were really fun and the developers did a great job of making the area’s access pretty straight-forward. We easily found some fun warm up boulders and then Honza and I both found a really classic line each to work on in our respective projecting grades. I was stoked on a really cool looking fin shaped boulder that was host to a steep V4 called the Beast of Burden. It had a good landing but I still couldn’t commit fully to the top moves, especially with my ankle still not feeling fully recovered from it’s sprain back in early spring.

Fun warm up boulder – At a guess its V2/V3.

Honza cruising the flash of the Beast of Burden, V4.

Honza got some serious stoke for a proud line on a tall boulder called the Sea of Simulation. The V10/V11 problem called New Moon starts standing and goes up a very cool looking tufa to an easier but airy top out.

Honza trying the opening moves of New Moon V10/11 on the sensational Sea of Simulation boulder.

For more information on the area check out this Squamish Climbing Magazine article and this video of Tyler Thompson making the 2nd Ascent of New Moon.

We were pleased to check out what the Grid had to offer but unfortunately we didn’t last too long in the 30 degree heat with the army of mosquitoes that were playing out in the forest too. We opted to head to Dairy Queen for a blizzard and then went to find a lake to swim in. Silver Lake; south of Hope was a great place to cool down and afterwards we parked the van on the approach road and set up our Coleman and camping table to make dinner and settle in for the night.

All set up for the nights camp with dinner on the stove.

As Honza did the dishes I started to organize our gear for an early start the next day. “Hey Honza, should I clip this Prusik cord to your harness for you” I asked as I casually sorted the kit. “Oh shit!!” replied Honza, looking pensive as he realised how he’d forgotten to take his harness out of the gear closet back in our flat in Vancouver. We giggled at the absurdity of our situation. The last time we came to Hope to boulder and then climb Yak Peak we had set the mini van up for dinner and camping on an FSR and then realised we had forgotten gas for the Coleman stove once we had already chopped all the ingredients for dinner and then when we pulled up in the parking lot to go climb Yak the next day we realised that I had forgotten the rope!

Ignoring all the signs we sent a few facebook requests out to see if anyone we knew had a spare harness we could borrow in Chilliwack and when the responses didn’t come in time we decided to drive back to Vancouver to go and get Honza’s harness.

All our attempts to negate an alpine start were moot now that we were driving back to Vancouver to pick up the harness. Thankfully we agreed that leaving the house by 6.30am would be sufficient and we were back in Hope within an hour and pulling up at the trail head by approx 7.30am. Having done the research for a previous trip we knew the approach beta pretty well, we pulled off at Junction 217 (The Zopkios rest area) and coming from Vancouver we needed to go left under the tunnel to get to the other side of the highway. We parked up on the east side of the big parking area there (east of the washrooms) at the edge of the trees as we knew we were headed up along the on ramp to toward the east anyway.

Approach map from Zopkios Rest Area at Exit 217 of the Coquihalla.

I put on my harness and half the rack at the car and back-packed one half rope, Honza carried the other rope and half the rack in my Arcteryx Alpha 30L which I’d begrudgingly agreed to climb with (I prefer not to carry a pack where possible!) We walked beyond the concrete barrier alongside the on ramp on the highway for maybe about 5-10 minutes (approx 1km from parking) looking out on the North for a path down to the swamp/creek. It was pretty easy to find the path through the grass but I remember it wasn’t quite as worn as I expected.

Approach and descent topo

We crossed some obvious logs at the swamp to keep our feet dry and headed steeply up the very easy to follow trail for about 40mins. I’d been mostly cragging in Squamish all summer up until this point where a 10 minute approach would be considered long so although this was incredibly accessible by most alpine standards, the approach was still a bit of a shock to the system!

Crossing the swamp on logs (on the way back out).

We reached the scree quickly and followed cairns until they petered out and we were deposited at the bottom of some low angle slabs. Here the beta seems to be a little loose and since we could see where we were aiming for roughly (the crack systems up to lunch ledge forming the lower pitches of the climb) we decided this was the point at which we needed to choose our own adventure. We solo’d up some easy slabs and across to reach a corner system which I recognised to be the start of the route in this picture on Mountain Project. The large flake/corner that I started up got a little wider at this point and I felt uncomfortable climbing it un-roped in approach shoes so I stopped here and made a belay and we started our roped climbing from this point (approximately where the red line starts in the photo).

My first pitch got us to the bolted belay which I believe is actually described as the starting point of the route in the latest Mountain Project pitch by pitch description – Honza had to do a couple of metres of simul-climbing to allow me to get far enough along the traverse to get to the anchor though.

From this anchor the pitch by pitch description now made sense and we were able to follow it successfully for the most part. I’ve added it below with some of our pictures and a few notes that may help to make it even easier to follow:

P1 (HK) – make 5.7ish moves left from the belay up a flake to gain the hand crack on the front face of the flake (small pro). Climb 5.6 crack to a belay out right at a slung pinnacle on the arete. ~55m

Honza making the 5.7ish moves across the flakes on the corner feature to gain the hand-crack on the face on P1 (our P2)

P2 (JL) – Climb crack to a slung block in a chimney. 5.6 60m rope stretcher. Can split this pitch in two at a slung tree half way up. We did the rope stretcher – another bit of simuling for Honzi – albeit short.

P3 (HK) – Climb crack to top of pinnacle (Lunch Ledge), belay 10 feet higher at bolts. 25m 5.6. Straight forward and obvious.

P4 (JL) – Climb sometimes crumbly rock left at first, then up and right (some pro behind flakes and a fixed piton) to a bolted stance. 35 m 5.7. (Can link 3& 4 with 60m rope and long slings on gear to avoid rope zigzags). We didn’t link because of expected drag and to keep it simpler but should be easy to do.

P5 (HK) – An obvious vertical wall can be climbed via a corner on the left side (5.8) or a series of face holds to a vague hairline crack on the right (5.8+) then follow cracks and ramps up and right to a two-piton belay (back up with cams) 5.8/5.8+ 50m. Hard to see the crack at first but head up to the face holds pictured below and trust that it is coming.

Honza leading through steep but good holds on the right face to the hairline crack of Pitch 5. Great exposure!

P6 (JL) – Move right from belay and climb a left facing 5.8 corner for about 10m then step right around arete at big hold (can also step right of corner at bottom but you miss out on the cool layback). Climb up flakes, pass tree, up to two overlaps at a roofy feature. place gear then move thru overlaps into crumbly, easy groove, climb to bolt belay. 55m 5.8+ (junction of Yak Crack and Reality Check) This sounds complicated but it was easy to follow, the initial lay-back was fun and one of the few sections of sustained solid climbing on the route.

P3 (HK)- You are now leaving Yak Crack for Reality Check. Climb up 5m from the belay on rock resembling oatmeal, then move left on a solid horizontal dyke until you encounter many flakes. undercling left, then up at end of first flake, climb more flakes to highest undercling at roof. Move left (5.9) awkward under roof, to corner “Cave”. There is a possible belay here under roof on a fixed nut and piton. HOWEVER, despite topos, it is best to go right here onto the arete of the cave and climb up about 10m (5.9 face) to a big ledge with bolted belay on the right. This avoids the spelunking tunnel through the flake done on the FA which is awkward with a pack on, and avoids belaying on sketchy fixed pin and nut tied off with a single webbing chunk. 50m 5.9 We avoided the spelunking and like many of these pitches it sounded more complicated than it was. Climb some improbable looking terrain (easier than it looks) following the ‘faint’ Dyke before reaching good flakes that are hard to spot from the belay. Head up to undercling the obvious roof  – this is probably some of the most sustained and fun climbing on the root and well protected. Some fun moves pulling out on the face of the block that forms the cave on the right lead you to a bolted ledge on the right.

Steph abeggs photo of P7 flakes

P8 (JL) – Traverse the ledge (top of through-flake) to a bolt belay on left. 30m 3rd classThis is a real short, easy and cool pitch where you walk left across the top edge of the block that makes up the tunnel, it feels exposed and precarious but you reach the belay below the corner of the next pitch in no time (I’m pretty sure you can actually see it from the previous belay).

P9 (HK) – Climb flake and ramp up and right for a pitch ~40m 5.8  After Honza got to just above where the woman in the photo below is he was unsure where to go as unlike the descriptions for the other pitches, this one was much less detailed and alludes to the pitch being both short and obvious, its neither. You head right at the top of this initial dirty lay back but at first there seems to be a lack of pro on very dirty rock – it looks improbable but it is the way to go. The cleanliness of the rock and the pro improve once you commit to this direction. You head up the shallow corner above the undercling pictured for a while before stepping left and finding a bolted belay (Check out Steph Abegg’s photo of corner pitch 11 (our pitch 9) 

Pitch #9

P10 (JL) – Supposedly one of the two 10a pitches. Face climb up 3m to a bolt, move up and right 3m to another bolt, then back left and up 5m to a corner (bolt on left arete) Climb right of the corner up the face on dishes and flakes then move up and right on a nebulous line past more bolts and gear under flakes to a bolted belay on a small right facing corner/ramp (cant see belay until 5m below it). ~45m, easy 5.9 face, total of 5 bolts on the pitch plus gear. Can easily get into 5.10a terrain with lackluster route finding as the most direct line is not the easiest one. I found this pitch to easier to route find than expected and good edges, crimps and dishes just kept coming so I followed those. The line wasn’t always the most direct as the description suggests, follow the holds and not the bolts and this pitch goes fine. I actually had quite a lot of fun! 

P11 (HK)- climb up flake above belay and either climb directly where it goes right, or move left and up good cracks on the face, to a ledge. Above this is a low angle slab with 3 bolts. Originally graded 9/10a by the FA party, subsequent ascents have cleaned holds on the slab of lichen making it more secure – now feels like an 5.8/9. Belay at bolted stance on ledge above. ~40m 5.8/9 this is where you would rap from if you planned on rappelling. I can’t remember for definite but I think Honza went left for the good cracks on the face. I remember this pitch being fun too and the climbing didn’t feel too challenging apart from the last slab moves moving up to the belay ledge which feel quite thin and a little run out. I was pleased Honza lead this!

P12 (JL) – 4th class up low angle slab (no pro) for full pitch to trees above. 45m 4th class. Can escape into trees lower down if you want to. I totally underestimated this pitch. Its low angle but it is a friction slab without many holds and with NO PRO for a whole rope pitch I didn’t want to take my chances of a foot popping on some pine needles or crumbly rock, I got wigged out after about 20m and escaped left into the bushes. This was still pretty sketchy as the rock was loose and the brush thick but I managed to make it to a tree big enough to belay off and bring Honza up. Thankfully he was able to get us to the top via another rope length on loose scrambly terrain, I wouldn’t have wanted to be unroped for this so would say there is at least 2pitches of climbing after the last belay at the top of the 5.9pitch.

From here, hike and scramble up towards the top, pass the sub-summit on the right side on a good ledge (exposed).

From here we were able to take off our climbing shoes and pack up the ropes. We were very pleased to be off the climb and not needing to put our feet into black rubber fireballs anymore. It had been the hottest day of the year up until that point at a sizzling 33 degrees and we had spent 8 hours of it climbing a south facing slab. Our feet were on fire and we both tried hard to stop the spirits from dropping lower than they were. We had both really been struggling with our feet in the heat and this slowed us down considerably as we tried to rest them out of our shoes at each belay, which just strung out the suffering even more as we spent more time baking on the wall.

Yak peak summit

Smiles from the summit

Pleased to be back in the comfort of approach shoes and socks we headed for the way down, I was a little nervous of what this might hold since it was early in the season and we had had a heavy snow year.

We headed up and right until we were at the shoulder between the descent and the sub-summit. From here we had a good view and although there seemed to be a decent amount of snow we could spot a way down and footprints gave us a good idea of previous travel.

Descent route

Look back at the still large depth of snow after traversing exposed ledges off the sub-summit

Honzi heading down the snow keeping back from the cornice

After descending the snow we could clearly see the well defined dirt path and we headed for that. While there was still patches of snow sticking around on the path we could mostly avoid it and stick to the well worn dirt path.

Yak Peak descent

Well defined dirt path on the descent

While descending we passed some pretty fat looking marmots and made it quickly to the base of the route again where we had started that day. There was still a tonne of snow as we skirted back to the talus but the going was pretty fast as we could glissade most of it and it wasn’t very steep.

Fat marmots on the descent path

Yak peak

Back at the base of the route.

The sun wasn’t long off setting once we got back to the road and we were super glad to see the car. It had been a long day. Feeling tired, smelly, a little sun burned but ultimately successful we dragged our sorry asses to the Yellow Deli in Chilliwack for a wholesome feast before returning to Vancouver. Over an artisan sandwich we recalled the day. Honza seemed a little frustrated that he still didn’t quite see the same fun factor in this sort of stuff that I seemed too, I tried to reassure him that whilst the adventure part was still really enjoyable for me, Yak Chek hadn’t been quite the quality route that I usually love. If you’re in the vicinity its an absolute must do and certainly a worthwhile outing, but I have certainly climbed lots of other moderate classics with more solid rock, cleaner pitches and more varied climbing. All these things surmount into helping to make the moderate grade feel more serious. Heed the advice if yo are not comfortable running out 5.7 – 5.9 slab this route will be even less fun.

Its September now and both Honza and I look back on the day we climbed Yak much more fondly than when we were chugging acai smoothies in Yellow Deli that night. Having an absence of memory for all the negative things is a great way to stay motivated for alpine climbing. It seems likely now that I can convince Honza to be my partner in crime again on some more adventure style long routes, but perhaps next time i’ll use a less crumbly route on a cooler day as my bait.

 

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Arcteryx Satoro AR base layers review

I have had a set of Satoro AR base layers (zip neck shirt and bottoms) by Arc’teryx since October 2016 and have been testing them out this winter season on the ski hill and in the backcountry.

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The Satoro flaunts the use of Arc’teryx’s advanced fabric technology – Nucliex™ which wraps Merino wool around a nylon core.

 

 

For anyone who’s been living in the dark ages as far as outdoor apparel and technology is concerned, here is a quick lowdown on Merino wool; it comes from a really tough breed of sheep that live in extreme alpine conditions so not only does it have the insulative properties of normal wool but it is much more bad-ass at dealing with extreme conditions-meaning it’s breathable in summer too. Not only that but it is soft and lightweight AND very good at absorbing odours, which has been a real beat down on its synthetic competitors. Wool in general has seen a real revival in the outdoor industry especially for base layers and light weight pieces. People swear by their wool garments over synthetic for many outdoor pursuits these days. However its generally agreed that the one big flaw of wool is its durability. When Arc’teryx developed their Nucliex fabric it was with this flaw in mind. Utilizing Nylon gives the fabric a durable core which Arc’teryx say makes it  20% stronger in burst strength test and 50% more abrasion resistant.

Now before we go much further with this review I have to confess that I am not much of a strong advocate either way on the whole wool vs synthetic divide – I know its supposed to be a Marmite type of argument (you either love it or you hate it) but its just not like that for me. I have owned garments from both categories that I have really liked and disliked for their respective pro’s and cons. Synthetics were always a durable and economic choice but they would almost always start to smell bad after a while, merino wool pieces I’ve owned were always a nice feel, breathed well and were warm, they didn’t have the same smell problem as synthetics but were typically more expensive and way less durable.

If Arc’teryx really have solved the durability  issues with wool though the Satoro could be the first apparel line to give me reason to have a stronger bias towards it.

FIT:

In more recent years I think Arc’teryx have changed their women’s fit a little and I have to say that 90% of products seem to fit me really well. I’m typically a medium in Arcteryx stuff – top and bottom, the Satoro base layers do not stray from my typical. The top feels really great, it cuts down low enough at the bum to not feel like it would ride up with an overhead reach, yet it is slim fitting and figure hugging enough to feel like a true snug fit base layer. The sleeves also feel the right length for me and the arm seams are cut into the armpits at just the right place. I used to find – with Arcteryx shells at least – that the jackets would come up too high on my waist and back and this short fit was exaggerated with the arm-pits and sleeves being ill-fitting so that when I would reach over head it would ride up further. Thankfully, they seem to now base their clothing patterns on a person just my size – lucky for me!

frontal-view-full

The bottoms seem to fit great when I first put them on, they are long enough (I am 5’7″ and my inseam is 31″) and they don’t sit too low at the back or front either – in fact they come high enough that you feel you can comfortably tuck the top into them which I personally really enjoy on a blustery winter day – no gaps of exposed skin please! The same as the top the bottoms have just the right amount of a ‘hugging’ fit so that you feel they are a true base layer and sit right next to the skin but are not too tight. For my body shape I find this is not always as easy as it sounds. Having an athletic start by playing soccer for 15 years I have pretty meaty quads – disproportionate to my waist, so I often find pants to be either too tight in the legs or too baggy in the waist. Perhaps this good fit can be attributed to the Elastane Arcteryx use in this fabric.

pants

One thing I found when I actually started moving in the bottoms though, mostly within the first 1km of the skin track is that somehow the waistband of the bottoms rides down in the back and does end up leaving me with that unwanted cold gap of skin – which is disappointing and also surprising given how well they seem to fit when I put them on at home in the morning. This is particularly annoying skiing as I wear the Arcteryx Theta SV bib shell pants and digging out my long-johns to pull them up is not a task that you can do subtly or even very effectively on the hill!

FEEL:

Apart from the pants riding down which is pretty annoying the overall good fit means the base layers feel really comfortable to wear. I took them both on a 4 day back-country ski trip and I felt just as happy sitting around the lodge in the evening drinking a beer in the nice merino top as I did wearing them both as technical pieces out on the mountain. The merino wool feels really nice and soft and the Elastane helps to move with your body.

DETAILS:

Neck zipper:_I don’t own many base layers with a zip neck collar, typically I prefer the simpler the better, but in this case I like the half zip and collar on the Satoro. Its not noticeable at all when its up (i.e. the zipper doesn’t catch my skin or anything) and the extra material on the neck makes it a little warmer for playing out in winter but allows effective cooling when you get too hot.

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Neck zipper on Satoro base layer top.

 

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Zipper pulled open for more ventilation

Arm pocket:_Again usually I wouldn’t be sold on something like this and I haven’t yet had much reason to use it, I guess I haven’t worn it as the outermost layer yet so it doesn’t make it so handy to get to. Perhaps when it comes around to climbing season and I can wear it in the mountains or on a multi-pitch it would be handy for keeping my car key or a chap-stick in, but the main thing is that the pocket isn’t annoying and doesn’t add any bulk. On a totally aesthetic level I really like the excuse it gives to highlight the accent color!

 

Arm pocket

 

Seams:_Arc’teryx uses what they call a ‘Merrow’ stitch which keeps the seams smaller and narrower. This is something I wouldn’t have noticed until it was pointed out to me, but the fact that I don’t notice these things means they are not catching my attention in a bad way, they are not scratchy or annoying which is a real testament to Arc’teryx’s time honored attention to detail. Even just looking at the stitching it looks like a quality product.

seams

 

Logos:_I really appreciate when a product has the company logo placed in a position where it has been well thought out. For some reason I really like the use of the subtle logo on the back of the pants on the waistband, its considerate and although a small, purely aesthetic detail, it exudes quality to me.

logo

 

SMELL:

I have only worn a few wool items before and one was a sleeveless ice breaker vest which I wore all the time in hot conditions climbing and approaching long alpine climbs in the height of summer. I was really impressed by the lack of smell even when I wore it multiple days in a row on trips. The same can be said with a wool t-shirt I bought a few years ago. I always thought the whole odorless wool thing was a bit of a myth or an exaggeration, but I was pleased to find otherwise. However, unfortunately I can’t quite say the same for the Satoro shirt. Even after a day of sweating it out on the skin track on a ski trip I could detect a subtle odor and I wouldn’t say I consider myself a heavy sweater or anything typically. Don’t get me wrong it didn’t reek or anything and it was probably only a smell I could personally detect but I was surprised after my previous experiences with Merino wool garments that there was anything at all. After four days in the backcountry there was definitely a detectable smell but admittedly not nearly as bad as I would have expected from a synthetic piece.

COLOUR:

Arc’teryx have done well here and there is actually quite a good choice for  what I would expect from base layers. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised or particularly upset if it was just black and black. I mean, usually I’m the one advocating for women’s colors to be bright and bold not wishy-washy pastels and baby pink, but these are base layers. The fact that there is any choice at all is good and although the colors for women are black, blues and pinks, the hues are not those that say ‘I’m just here to look cute’ they say ‘I mean business’. I like the dusky maroon for the top that I have especially with the accented brighter zip and laminated pocket and the blue hues (navy and turquoise) are nice if you prefer a more subtle color. I would always vote brighter though and would be thrilled to start seeing more oranges, yellows and greens in Arcteryx’s women’s lines.

Ripping skins at the summit of Mt Mulligan after hours of skinning in the sun.

Ripping skins at the summit of Mt Mulligan after hours of skinning in the sun.

CONS:

There really isn’t too many. I already mentioned that it is annoying that the bottoms seem to ride down but another small thing that irks me is that although the bottoms are described as ‘midweight’ base layers, they seem to be much more thin and more see-through that the upper body counter part, this is not a huge deal, but it would be nice to be lounging around the lodge or throwing on a big sweater and stripping off your shell layer on the way to the pub for apres and not feel like you are baring more than you should to the world – small thing I know!

SUMMARY:

In summary I am really happy with the Satoro base layers and there is definitely some considered details gone into the design and the manufacture of the products but I can’t say that I have discovered anything about them yet that decidedly sets them apart from any other base layers that I have owned.

I own a very similar pair of wool bottoms by Patagonia that I really like and the only difference so far is that the Patagonia bottoms fit me a touch better (they don’t ride down) and after three years of owning them they are beginning to fall apart with lots of holes and many areas looking very threadbare and thin. I also own an MEC synthetic long sleeved shirt, it fits well and it very comfortable, it does smell pretty bad after a couple of days on the go though and doesn’t have any of the nice features the Satoro has like the zipper and pocket.

I think it is a little too early to tell if the Satoro has something special because for me the selling point would be if the top and bottom are holding up in 2 years time after a bunch of abuse from a few climbing seasons being abraded against rock and pushed and pulled around as well as serving as temperature control through more ski seasons. I would like to find out how the odor control changes over the years and months, if it gets significantly worse then that won’t be great. But they don’t start falling apart in a few years time like the Patagonia bottoms (which to be honest lasted longer than I thought being wool) then I think the Satoro will go up hugely in my estimation.

Bouldering in Leavenworth in late October

Bouldering in Leavenworth in late October

Perhaps the current unremarkable opinion I have of the Satoro peices currently actually points to the fact that they are utterly nailing their jobs as base layers; excellence through understated simplicity and comfort that doesn’t bring things to my attention because base layer don’t need to be all singing all dancing with gimmicky features? I could totally buy this theory I proposed to myself.

If the way I feel about the Satoro now was compounded with some serious durability that contended with that of a thin synthetic as well as the fact that they smell better, then I would say they had something that would make me spend $170 and $140 respectively on them. Otherwise it would be hard to justify. I will update this and let you know how that durability goes a little way down the line.

Cloudburst Mountain from Chance Creek FSR

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.

Overview of Route

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.

Skinning in on the initial road that continues 5km beyond the parking lot.

Skinning in on the initial road that continues 5km beyond the parking lot.

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.

Beth enjoying the views as we skin up the smaller Cat roads

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.

Facets forming? The surface snow was perplexing for the temperatures but the large structures were like ball bearings or the next layer.

Facets forming? The surface snow was perplexing for the temperatures but the large structures were like ball bearings for the next layer.

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.

Eventually some views again as we reach the Alpine

Eventually some views again as we reach the Alpine

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.

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Beth checking out the area I had triggered while skinning up the corner of the roll over

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.

Checking out the view of the summit we didn't have time to tag.

Checking out the view of the summit we didn’t have time to tag.

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.

Headed into the trees for some mellow and fun slopes

Headed into the trees for some mellow and fun slopes

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.

Beth leading the way home along the cat track with views of the Black Tusk

Beth leading the way home along the cat track with views of the Black Tusk

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!

 

Metal Dome from the North

On Sunday 22nd January there had been a storm that passed through the few days leading up and the Avalanche Canada report was showing as Considerable for the Sea to Sky area. Kate and I were looking for some tree skiing or mellow slopes to hit up given the current snowpack. She’d recently been to Gin Peak and we weren’t keen on driving as far as the Duffey given the decent base further South, we’d both spent an early season day on Metal Dome back in late November but we’d approached from the South since the road was clearer and in high winds and heavy snow we’d fallen short of the summit but found some fun terrain to ski. We decided to explore Metal Dome but approaching from the North to see what we could find in the trees and perhaps some lower angled slopes in the alpine.

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Overview of our route approaching from Highway 99 (to the East) and skinning the North Slopes

 

Detail of the route map

Detail of the route map

Alex decided the conditions were passable to his tastes and we were fortunate to have him along for company too. We drove their Subaru to the trail head which is a turn left off Highway 99 approximately 44km beyond Squamish heading North toward Whistler. The Road is the Callaghan Valley Road and you will follow this another 6km until a turn on the left takes you up 100m or thereabouts to a parking place with an FSR road forking off to the right (this is where you skin from) If you round the corner and spot the dog facility you’ve gone too far.

We left the car around 8.30/8.45am and started skinning up the road which gains elevation gently for about 4km with great views out on a clear day to Blackcomb, Rainbow and Wedge.

Views out to Blackcomb from the Road we skinned in on.

Views out to Black-tusk from the Road we skinned in on.

Once we got to the end of the road we cut up into the trees but continued contouring a long and gradually gaining traverse. There was one party of two behind us who cut up much earlier than us on a steep skin track that gained elevation quickly. From the maps we had we were confident in our way finding and carried on breaking trail on our  traverse North West. We crossed the creek around 960m and continued on in the same direction until 1100m approx. Here we cut back and tried to gain more elevation quickly.

Kate testing the snow coverage of the creek before crossing

Kate testing the snow coverage of the creek before crossing

We had been breaking trail for a long time when we eventually popped out into the Alpine around 1.30pm – slightly frustrated at how long it seemed to take us and how far away the summit of metal dome still looked to be.

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The route I assume we would take to gain the summit. traversing into a bowl beyond the shoulder in the horizonline and into the gulley to go around the back of the peak

We had given ourselves a turn-around time of 3pm so still had some time to continue on but knowing we wouldn’t make it to the summit  in the time left and not seeing any desirable or indeed safe terrain worth pushing on for, we traversed over to a small shoulder above some trees to transition.

As we contoured over to our ripping spot we saw what we thought were other skin tracks over to our East which was surprising as we hadn’t seen anybody all day since the two guys who left us for a steep skin track not long into the trees.

As we mosied on over Alex shouted ‘Wolverine!’ and we all stopped dead in our tracks. I was disappointed not to spot the magical beast but Alex was adamant it had popped behind some trees less that a 100ft in front of us. We paused for a few seconds trying to spot it again until we realised that wasn’t the greatest idea and we carried on our way with a bit more haste in our steps.

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Wolverine track!

It wasn’t until we got closer to what we thought were the skin tracks right in front of us that we realised they were actually one singular track about the width of a snowboarders down-track – similar to the width of a Wolverine dragging its hind legs and bushy tail through deep powdery snow!!

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Alex enjoying a powdery run through nicely spaced trees

Alex enjoying a powdery run through nicely spaced trees

We ripped our skins and headed for the trees. The reward for all our patience was some really awesome light and deep snow in amongst some nicely spaced trees. It was a good long run through the trees that planted us right at the start of the road but we all agreed that it would have been nice to get a couple of laps in like that.

I kept my skins on for the road back out as there was mixed ascents and descents and I couldn’t be bothered with all the extra energy that shuffling and skating would cost me. Kate and Alex went in ski mode and whilst they were a little slower than me on the ups they beat me to the car by a few minutes. Kate said it was kinda sketchy and I was happy with my method.

We avoided the Whistler traffic by stopping off in Squamish for a beer and a burger at the Copper Coil which is becoming a bit of a regular hit for post ski adventures.

With hindsight we realised we probably contoured for much longer than we needed to and could have taken a much more direct route to at least the point where we transitioned so that tree laps would have been possible. It was a fun adventure non the less and nice to know there is the option of some great tree skiing here for another day when Avalanche chances are higher than would allow for other alpine objectives.

I’d also like to come back for the summit at some point, perhaps with a quicker/more direct up-track and longer daylight hours though!

Thanks Kate and Alex for a great day! can’t wait for the next.

(To see a fancy 3-D video that my watch produced from our GPS track click here)

 

A long weekend of antics in the Enchantments and Icicle Creek – Solid Gold and Iconoclast

It was September long weekend and apart from an ultimately successful trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables in July the summer had been a bit of a wash. As a weekend warrior in Vancouver I had been rained off my staple Squamish granite all too often and the weather had even conspired against me being able to climb in many of my go to weekend trip destinations. I was getting a little tired of going all in on a full commitment plan to escape the rain based on a less than ideal forecast, just to be foiled by rain at the last minute.

Although like a giddy puppy chasing its tail I still amazed myself at how I never failed to be lured back into a hair-brained adventure plan based off of a few yellow circles on the weather website. Even the small hope that there could be a chance of climbing something cool in a cool location with a psyched partner would get me too excited to stop my brain from exploring all the options that could make a cool climbing mission happen.
That is exactly what happened when Dave and I realised we were both free for the long weekend and keen to go climb. Someone turned the tap on in Squamish again, the Nesakwatch Spires area that we’d been hoping to hit all summer was off the table for weather reasons, but the Leavenworth forecast looked promising. Unfortunately Dave and I both felt similarly lacklustre about what was left for us of the trad cragging in Leavenworth to fill 3 days and left to our own devices neither of us would put bouldering there as a priority, however the forecast gave us enough that we could latch onto a plan that involved a day climbing on Snow Creek wall (sub-alpine multi-pitching in Icicle Creek), hopefully a big day mission into the Enchantments  (which is where the real prizes were in both our eyes) and realistically a filler day doing some low key cragging around Icicle Creek Canyon, which wasn’t really much of a concession relatively speaking!

Peaks, permit zones and approach trails.

The plan was to leave at ridiculous o’clock on Saturday morning, more my agenda than Dave’s, but given the crazy week I’d had added to the not unusual last minute affirmation we were going ahead with our plan due to flaky weather, I just wasn’t going to be packed and prepared to leave on Friday night. Once we’d gotten over the initial shock of awaking at such a ridiculous hour the Saturday morning drive was actually my preferred strategy,  the border crossing to the states is waay quieter and the drive is more enjoyable in daylight. We arrived in the already packed Snow Creek parking lot at around 9.00am and headed up the trail shortly after. Having both climbed most of the classics on this wall previously our objective was Iconoclast, a 6 pitch route to the left side of the crag that shared a few of its middle pitches with the ultra classic Hyperspace. We made good time to the base of the route and were next in line for the starting diagonal pitches of RPM. Some thoughtful and fun moves saw us at the big ledge where a few Snow creek classics merge. It was Dave’s lead and he opted for the 11a direct variation which I was secretly pleased about as the thin crack looked exquisite compared to the rambly 5.8 that would have been the alternative but I don’t think I’d have been bold enough to take it if it were my lead. Dave made a valiant effort but after getting a little too pumped fiddling a small cam in at the crux he took a small fall. After resting on the rope for a short while, he dispatched the rest of the pitch with no issues. Miraculously I managed to follow cleanly by the skin of my teeth. The climbing was delicate and balancy but well worth the effort.

Following Dave’s handy work on the 11a variation ‘Psychopath’. The regular pitch starts climbers left of this variation off the ledge

After this pitch I was supposed to have a 10c pitch but I couldn’t find a move above 5.9, I’m still a little confused about the differences in the descriptions to what we actually did, as I can’t see where we went wrong but, the end of my pitch took us into the bottom of the steep and long 10d pitch. Dave did a great effort at getting through this as I realised that he definitely had the Lions share of the leading so far. It felt like climbing a blocky sport pitch at Chekamus Canyon in Squamish or something, with good holds that were not always obvious as they were often masquerading as loose chossy blocks when in fact they actually seemed relatively solid. Not using these blocks would make the pitch pretty sandbagged so it just had to be. Next pitch was my chance to be able to pull some weight on the route, an airy and balancy 10b move around to the arete on less than ideal old bolts and then some much easier terrain but with some very hefty run outs. Thankfully I was in my element here though with practice on Snow Creek chicken heads before and experience on the Lotus Flower Tower where the chicken heads were actually less positive I could go into auto pilot and really really enjoyed moving quickly, jug to jug, up the head wall.  The fun wasn’t over yet though and at the end of the almost 30 metres of jug hauling (with about 2 bolts!) I got to a splitter hand crack in a corner, so aesthetic and fantastic climbing.

Dave following the stellar final hand crack after a wall of chicken heads on the 10b pitch

I pulled over top of this crack onto the left edge of Library Ledge to find the expected queue’s (this ledge is a bottle neck of a few routes finishing up the last head wall pitch of Snow Creek’s quintessential 5.9 ‘Outerspace’). Dave and I were making good time so we sat back and enjoyed the views on the luxury ledge while the line-up cleared. When we reached the front of the queue Dave finished up the route in great style and getting us off with plenty of daylight to tackle the somewhat sketchy descent.

Dave taking it easy on Library Ledge as we wait for the line-up to clear.

A party of other climbers on Outer Space carrying a huge backpack on their way to come join us on Library Ledge

Satisfied with the success of our first day we arrived at the car park just as it got dark and decided on a dinner in town, seeking out some bratwurst and Beer that Leavenworth is so famous for at the Munchen Haus. Here we were able to check the weather forecast and figure out a plan for the rest of the weekend. Since it was pretty late by this point and we were drinking beer and had no groceries we weren’t setting ourselves up for an alpine start and big day the next day, so we were pleased to see the forecast abetted our  strategy by looking a little touchy for the next day but clearing up for a long day in the mountains on the Sunday. We opted for a low key cragging day on Sunday, with an early finish that would allow us to prep for Monday. Our plan was to go into the Enchantments on Monday and attempt to climb Solid Gold on Prussik Peak from the Lake Stuart trail head, since we didn’t have any camping permits again, we would be leaving from and returning to the car. We also both had to be in work on Tuesday morning so there was no option to camp elsewhere.

Looking down on climbers on top of Jello Tower at Castle Rock from the lofty heights of Midnight Rock.

After some pretty chill cragging with some sunny spells interrupted by threatening showers Dave and I called it a day early and went to Safeway to pick up groceries before driving up to the trailhead where we made a hearty, veg filled dinner. Feeling well rested, fed and stoked for a mission, we turned in pretty early for some well needed sleep around 9pm in preparation for our big day starting at 3am.

Cooking up a good feast at the picnic tables at Colchuck lake trail head after an easier day cragging getting ready for our car to car mission on Prussik Peak.

When the alarm went off the chores began with getting down some breakfast calories and Dave made an impressive job of finishing off three pretty large cinnamon buns before we departed from the van. The start of the hike began by head torch as we made our way up the now familiar (at least to me) Colchuck lake trail. Perhaps I had finally gained some end of season fitness or perhaps it was just the familiarity and lack of snow, but the hike to the Lake and up the first part of Asgard Pass seemed much less traumatic than when I did it back in June with Paul to climb Acid Baby.

The hike up Asgard Pass above Colchuck Lake

Asgard Pass was still a real slog, but thankfully it wasn’t too long before we topped the steep hiking and made it out onto the plateau. When we had descended from Acid Baby earlier in the Year Paul and I had encountered a tonne of snow still up on the flat meadows and the views were very different in September with virtually no snow and Orangey hues with the first signs of changing seasons. I was now in unknown territory to me and was excited to march along the flats in anticipation of views of Prussik appearing in front.

Stopping for a quick re-fuel as we make it to the top of Asgard Pass and into the Alpine Meadows of the core camping zone in the Enchantments

Once up here there is a well worn goat path that can be followed that takes you through the core camping zone and over towards isolation lake. The terrain is now pretty flat as you meander on the path through broken boulders and beautiful alpine views just keep coming.

Goats hanging out on the way to Prussik from Asgard Pass.

After about another 1.5hrs or so of hiking along the path past Isolation Lake and perfection lake a sign points you up and left to ‘Prusik Pass’. This steeply takes you to the back-side of Prusik and the toe of the West Ridge. This is really handy if you want to climb the West Ridge, but we wanted to be on the other side on the South Face. For some reason we couldn’t find an easy way to sneak over and through to the South Face (perhaps we didn’t try hard enough and had just assumed we wrongly followed the trail blindly) so we ended up circumnavigating all the way round until we were back on slabs above the west side of Lake Viviane. From here we could drop into the talus on the right side. Later as we descended the West Ridge we realised it was pretty easy to pop around and back up to our packs at the base of the route, so it would have been totally doable to pop over the first time. I’m still not sure which is the standard/best approach but as long as you do only one you won’t waste as much time as us (We probably lost 45mins or so hiking time here so don’t make the same mistake!

The view of Prussik as approaching from the slabs to the South West of the route

Once up on the talus it was pretty obvious where the route started and we were super stoked at how impeccable the golden granite looked up close. We racked up and jammed our packs under a boulder at the base.

Dave below the start of the route

Dave took the first pitch and did exceedingly well at sending what I felt to be a very pumpy finger crack in a shallow corner with smeary feet. This was an utterly spectacular pitch though and I was super happy to second it clean even though it left me with a flash pump. We both hoped this was a sign of things to come.

Solid gold

Dave on the awesome first pitch.

 

Me, all smiles – seconding the first pitch. Such great golden granite!

Dave belayed me up in the little ledgy cave above the smooth corner and it was now my turn to get down to business.

Pitch 2 – leaves the belay to the right and traverses out to a corner capped by a roof. The crux moves come as you make delicate moves out to the edge of the roof and step up past it into the stellar hand crack above. The climbing isn’t over yet and you keep moving up some pumpy moves in the crack ahead. There is a 3inch horizontal crack higher up which you can use to exit to some belay ledges. Obviously I was enjoying  the handcracks too much as I completely missed the ledges and carried on to belay just below the 5.9 chimney section of the next pitch just as I was running out of rope. I felt a bit bad that I had stolen 20m or so of sepctacular climbing from Dave’s pitch but he didn’t seem to mind.

Pitch 3 – The chimney part of pitch 3 was full of very loose blocks and making moves without pulling on them made the climbing very awkward. We both agreed this was the hardest and most annoying climbing of the route. Thankfully it was only short though.

Pitch 4 – Another absolutely stellar looking finger crack. I let Dave take this pitch and he made it look effortless. The climbing was quite pumpy with good locks and mostly delicate feet, but the occasional rest keeps this pitch within the .10’s. We could not stop beaming – what excellent rock climbing this route had to offer!

Dave in the finger crack on the glorious pitch 4.

After this we reached a notch that met up with the the West Ridge. We could either romp a few moderate pitches to the top to reach the summit of Prusik or rappel down off the back side. Since it was getting late in the afternoon and we still had a big walk-off we opted to go down. Its always a shame to miss out on a summit but we had climbed our objective. I don’t remember the amount a rappels we had to do, it may even have only been one, perhaps two at the most, but the point is we were quickly back on the ground on the North side of the West Ridge with little fuss – a pretty easy descent. We then just needed to traverse around to get our packs. Thankfully a couple of climbers were just starting up the first pitch of the West Ridge route and they confirmed our easy down scramble to get back to the South side where we’d started. We got chatting to the couple who were planning a walk through – they’d started at Stuart Lake trail head as we did but were going to continue on and walk out to the Snow creek parking lot. We asked them about how they’d get back to their car and they look a little worried admitting that hitching back there might be a little hard on the Monday night of the long weekend. Since we would be taking our car from Stuart lake and driving out right by the Snow Creek lot we offered to shuttle their car too. They seemed bewildered that someone would be so helpful but promptly described where in their packs we could find their keys and what the vehicle looked like. “Thanks so much again” they shouted as we took off around the corner, “by the way, their is a box of beer in the passenger seat – help yourselves”.

The walk out was uneventful but long. The last couple of Km out from colchuck lake were brutal on the feet and I was soo ready to be back at the car. We held off putting our head torches on at the last flat bit of the trail as we were convinced the trail head was just  around the corner. After a few trips over invisible tree routes and still no trail head we conceded and dug out the lamps. Inevitably the trail head was for sure just around the corner this time. It was just after 8pm when we got back to the car – making for a 16 hour day all in all. We found the other couple’s truck and of course the beer! As we convoyed the two cars back through Icicle Canyon we both dreamt of all the things we would eat when we got to the gas station. It was around 9pm once we had dropped the truck off at Snow Creek and we had a long drive back to Vancouver. Fuelled up with Onion rings and fries (in leui of spending anytime to get a proper dinner) we were ready for the last push of the trip. At 1am we rolled back into Vancouver, I knew the next morning in work would be tough but I would be consoled by the memories of an incredibly satisfying  long weekend of climbing adventures.