Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HBC Brigade Trail + Gate Mountain Trail Nov 27-28 2010

As we are preparing for our January Winter Expedition, myself and Dean (BC Roadtrip) were looking for something rather long, tiring but feasible. We had already failed on our last two adventures ( Slalok North Face fail and Mount Brew East face fail) so we needed something to succeed to keep morals high and passions alive.
Knowing that November was one of the worst months for hiking (dry snow and crappy weather), I picked up my 103 hikes book and seeked for something achievable and not too AVI risky. Indeed as most of us noticed, it had dumped a lot of snow the days before and the risk was considerable. Tricouni was originally my first choice, but I decided that it would have to wait for better conditions.
So my finger turned the pages towards the Fraser Canyon section. I quickly found the perfect mega combo hike for this week-end. The HBC brigade trail that I could combine with Gate mountain, hike on the next page of the guide. This combo was ideal for several reasons, it seemed it had been recently maintained based on some CT TR, the elevation was 1440 m max, no exposed slopes to avalanches, and much of the area was forested which meant less snow on the ground, well not too much...
I shared my idea with Dean, and with his constant motivation, agreed with no hesitation.
Dean picked me up at 8:00 am in Burnaby Saturday morning from where we headed to the HBC Brigade Trailhead. The weather was quite bad in Vancouver but was getting better as we were heading towards Hope. We lost a bit of time as we had too detour on Road 7 since there had been a rock slide on highway 1.
After a gas stop, we arrived at the trailhead around 10:30. Time for us to get ready and put the overalls, we were on the trail by 10:45, a bit late for the 27th of November. The fog had hit the canyon, and the views were minimal with a light drizzle. The hike starts not too steep by a series of switchbacks. Very little snow on the ground till the altitude of 500 m, but we would get a fairly good level of snow in areas bare of trees.
After 1.5 hour, we made it to the junction and we decided to go counter clockwise through some burnt forest patches. Strangely the coal black trees was extremely nice in the snow, the contrast was beautiful, especially with the bright orange fungus growing on the trunks.
So far it had been easy to follow the trail even in higher level of snow as there was plenty of new fluorescent pink tags. We quickly made it to a campground, junction with the return to the car or towards Gate Mountain, going through the Bluffs trail.
We headed north towards our objective by following the bluffs trail. Because of the poor marking on this part of the mountain, although you could simply stay above the bluffs, we decided to head east towards the logging road. We got back into the forest and made all the way to an old clear cut. From there it was easy to meet the logging road (important note: my nose was stuck to the GPS the whole time)
At the logging road, we enjoyed a quick lunch, put on the snowshoes and headed north for about 2.5 km in a dry snow, hard to break through, those km felt fairly long.
We arrived at the end of a logging road, from there it is a ridge all the way to the top.
After a few hesitations, we just went straight to the ridge. It was surprising to see some markers there but it felt like there was a trail under all that snow.
Question to you hikers: Don`t you feel like me that, even in winter time (hence the tracks) wildlife follow our hiking trails. I literally spent the week-end following animal tracks, rabbit, squirrels, dears, etc. Maybe we have made our trail on their trails...
The beginning of the ridge was clearly one of those really old small logging roads. After 400m, it was already 15:30; myself and Dean were fairly tired so we found a nice flat spot and setup camp.
After an early dinner and some talks about our dream mountains, we fell asleep in a 5 degree tent.
The night was calm and a few flurries fell on our shelter. It went down all the way to minus 3, waking me up and forcing me to add a few layers.
My work alarm woke us up at 6:30 and in was time to get to work.
We had a slow breakfast and mentally started to prepare ourselves for the long struggle.
Around 7:45, we left camp and our heavy gear and started to follow the ridge. After 30 min, we faced two splendid dears that only moved once we got just a few meters away from them. Their run hypnotized me and I blindly followed their track up a steep hill thinking it was the trail. Unfortunately it was n t and we arrived at the top of some bluffs. The weather was clear, and we were clearly on the wrong path.
Instead of heading back, we down-climbed the bluffs with the assistance of a poor pine tree, probably the sketchiest move of the week-end. Clueless on what to do afterwards, it was total crap. We were in a pond full of alder trees making movements difficult. We were in some kind of drainage. We scrambled back up the opposite bluffs and were back on track.
Afterwards there were several drainages that we had to go through, it would have not been a big deal if it had to be done in summer, but the snow made this unbearable. We had only managed to do 1 km in 2 hours, quite depressing...
However, we managed to get a clear view of the summit, normal people would have not been too excited since it s a small bump with ugly antennas but for us it meant the world, it meant overcoming the challenge.
Fortunately the mountain got a bit more clement with us from that point, no major up and down and a fairly opened forest. Route finding was not obvious but the animal tracks did their trick.
We finally arrived under the rocky summit. The mountain had one more challenge for us, a 5 meter bluff to the summit. There might have been an easier way up but we were too tired to think (not only midway our day...) I took off the snow shoes and climbed myself up the bluff. It was challenging but not impossible, finally at the summit we enjoyed our success, clouded by our worries about the lateness of the day . It was only 11 but it had taken us way too much time to get here.
We had a quick break in extremely good weather with great views of the area; I was especially attracted by Scuzzy mountain.
We headed back with a tricky downclimb of the bluffs. The way back to camp was much faster than expected. And Dean managed to have us avoid most of the alder crap and going down the sketchy bluffs. We managed to get back to camp half the time it took us to get to the summit. This was great news.
We were very dehydrated and finished all our liquids, we were not feeling the best....
Again, coming down was not a big deal. When we joined back the HBC brigade trail, we followed the western route. This time with views.
I and Dean were silent as we were counting each meter closer to the car.
About 10 min before the car, I had to stop, I had completely emptied my fuel. I couldn’t go any longer. Although Dean also exhausted by the day, he took the time to wait for me as just needed a bit of food. After the bite I was back on fire to triumphely finish my hike and call it a week-end.

We arrived around 17:00 to the car completely soaked. The week-end had been a complete success, the weather had allowed good views, we had had a good sleep and we had accomplished our goals but most od all we had a great time
About 25 km and + 2000 m total elevation gain of tough November snow. We are on the right path to our future 2011 winter expedition.

Dean, since my camera is at the shop, please illustrate with pictures to prove our accomplishment!

The Zion Narrow hike

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mount Rainier, Disappointment Cleaver

I saw Mount Rainier for the first time when I summited Mount Baker last May. I had thought I had reached the top of the world but when I saw 200 km away the size of the Seattle volcano, I realized that I had only started a mountaineering quest.

The mountain struck me again when I climbed mount Hood in July, this time I was much closer and this made me realize how much more massive this mountain is compared to its` sisters. The most astonishing view I had, was on my way back to Vancouver, on the I-5, just at the SeaTac Airport level, where I looked behind myself and saw Mount Rainier calling me.

I contacted my fellow climbing partner including my life partner Bonn-Tien. I had a week off in August, we looked at the Mount Rainier conditions blog. All the stars were in line, great snow conditions, great weather, everyone is available, we have no other option than attempt the “Mother of all Waters”

I picked up the car on Thursday at noon precisely and went back to my apartment to pick up mighty Bonn-Tien and our 100 kg of gear (including road-trip goodies), afterwards I went to pick up Len on Main and Todd at UBC. As soon as we were all four in the car, with no rear visibility at all with the 200 kg of gear stacked in the hatchback, a Washington car pulled in front of us, and our eyes just looked at the license plate, where Mount Rainier appeared to us for the first time that day…

The border crossing was smooth, and the officer was almost interested in what we were attempting, he asked us if we were professionals… which made us all laugh a bit as we consider ourselves more novices than anything else. He wished us good luck and let us go.

The trip went fairly well all the way to the national park, we quickly got our views of the Mountain on the way, which got us very excited but also slightly nervous, realizing that we were attempting something…BIG.

We were planning to sleep at Cougar Rock camping, however when we arrived there, a big sign said “Full” and we were like “Fu..”.
But with our great taste for adventure, we decided to still go inside (it was already 22:00 and pitch dark) and see what we could find. It turned out there was plenty of empty camping spots but all of them had reservation signs on them. Careless, we went by the “you snooze, you lose principle” and installed ourselves on the biggest empty lot with it s big “Reserved” sign. Because we were not too sure of what was going to happen, we decided to sleep tent free, just with the Therma-Rest, no bugs, trees to protect from the dew, we were going to be fine. We quickly fell asleep.

The early summer light woke us up around 6:00. It was Friday, the day to head to camp Muir. We stashed the sleeping bags and the air mattresses in the car and headed to the trailhead at Paradise meadows.
It was a great feeling to be there early, taking advantage of the morning calmness to focus on our objective. We spread all the gear in the parking lot, taking over 4 spots. Bonn-Tien started some breakfast cooking and we were meticulously going over all our gear. With food and water we were all above the 20 kg, but we knew it would be heavy till Camp Muir, after this it would be Assault mode. We each got our $30 permit and blue bags. After a good breakfast and Gatorade in our veins, we were ready for Camp Muir. The climb started really easy on a paved road in the middle of beautiful meadows. We quickly arrived on the dirt trail and started a steeper ascent towards the Muir Snowfield. At about 2200 m we hit the snowfield and put on the gaiters. The snowfield is easy but the slog is long, with an elevation gain of 800 m gain, it was a long walk in the desert. We had left at about 8:45 and I made it to camp at 12:30, which seemed to be a good timing.
Camp Muir is very special, solar toilets, several runned down cabins and lots of tents. Since we were among the first ones to arrive, we had prime choice. At first we decided to set up camp on a big snow ledge above some Guides. After spending a good hour flattening our spot, a guide came up to us and said that the Rangers don t like people to camp there because this was where they get all their water….thanks for telling us this just now….
So we had to go to the lower stinky section with tons of sun cups. Too tired, we just set up the tent on a very uneven part. We made the mattresses even by putting the rope and gear under them.

Once camp was setup, the long process of boiling 4 litres of water each started, 2 litres to drink before going to bed and 2 litres to drink during the ascent. While the Whisperlite was full blast, Todd, Len and I went to refresh our crevasse rescue skills. This was extremely useful as we had live conditions to practice. The backpack was the victim and we worked on our 3:1 system.

After the training, a ranger came to our tent and briefed us on the mountain. He told us the dangers and gave us some recommendations. He said something that really marked me, “the way up to the summit is just a trail”, just a trail…I have done so many trails… I had a quick bite and managed to go to bed by 19:00 with the alarm set at 23:00. I went into deep sleep thinking about nothing…

At 21:30, I woke up sweating, the tent was moving all around, there was crazy winds going outside. The first thing that came through my mind is that once that we will be out of the tent, with most of our gear and water, what will hold the tent down?! So instead of trying to go back to sleep, I pulled out some pickets and started looking for rocks all around camp. The wind was brutal and it was actually very chilling. By 23:00, my tent was now bomb proof, but it was time to get ready for the climb, but I had just slept 90 min and was feeling already tired. As any Frenchman for my breakfast, I had a croissant and forced myself to drink water.

It was still very windy outside and I was getting worried about the windchill factor at higher elevations. However, the ranger told us not to be impressed by the wind at Camp Muir, because he had had terrible winds at 3000m but dead calm sea on the Cleaver.
Although it was hard to believe that it was going to get warmer and calmer, I motivated myself to get ready and ascend the beast.

It was a moonless night so we put our headlamps on. And started going up the Disappointment Cleaver Route. As soon as we hit the glacier, we started stepping above small crevasses. The first tricky part was a small rocky trail up to the Ingraham glacier. Once we hit the Ingraham flats we caught up with lots of climbers who had just spent the night there. At this point there was a train of head lamps in front and behind us. I use to be an Adventure Racer and I had a similar feeling where we are all together in this madness to make us suffer for an orgasmic result of endorphin and vanity…
After the Ingraham flats which is the high camp comes the scary part. As a horrifying entry gate, you have to literally jump a one meter wide, cold deep crevasse. Barely have you got your adrenalin down that you have to quickly walk under some threatening, unbalanced seracs. While we were running like the devil was chasing us, we could here rocks fall onto the trail from the Disappointment Cleaver ridge. When we felt that nothing above us would fall on us, or nothing under us would swallow us, we took a break in order to wait for the ones in front of us to clear the “bowling alley”. Once it was cleared, we ran to the beginning of the Cleaver. Of course we kept our crampons and got into the line to climb this long, rock loose ridge.

10 min after leaving the bowling alley, an ENORMEOUS sound shook us up. It seemed that the whole glacier was collapsing. At this point we could see lights on the Ingraham flats and lights in front of us, but no one just behind us. I was convinced people had just been taken away by a seracs fall, and that I had just “barely” cheated Death. My stomach turned around just by the thoughts. I looked at the train of lights on the glacier below and could already see people turning around. I was already thinking about how hellish it would be to turn around and go back through this death zone.
Fortunately, 10 min after the noise, a group of 2 climbers caught up behind us. I immediately asked them what happened. It was actually not that bad, a major rock fall but just a few debris making it to the trail, one climber got his ankle probably broken and those 2 climbers had just bruised their helmets and packs. More fear than pain….

This made me feel a bit better that nobody had been killed, but 2010 had already been a bad year for Mt Rainier with 2 deaths, first ones since 2005.
After a long unpleasant slog we finally made it up the Cleaver onto a safe spot. It was dark, cold but hot with all the layers, I was just feeling miserable, could not see a thing, I was not enjoying myself and questioned my climbing career 15 times…

After some mini cinnamon rolls and lots of water, we started the long route up the Glacier, we were only at 3600 m…. 800 m to go….OMG….
I actually felt better, we were just following a trail dug into the snow, we didn’t t realize at this point but we were surrounded by massive crevasses. Sometimes, a wand would warn us of something but it was too dark too actually see the huge cut we were crossing. We traversed towards the east and arrived on the Emmons Glacier. From there it was a 30 degree slope for about 300 m high; it seemed like a fast way to the summit. Around 6:00 we took a break at the summit of the slope and watched the sunrise. It felt good and warm to see some light, but the brain was not fully functioning, although not very cold, I was convinced I was going to freeze at higher elevations, however, the Ranger had been right, the wind was dead calm. We started to traverse back east and crossed some massive crevasses, perhaps 30 m deep. Their blue colours were hypnotizing and their depth terrifying.

While traversing, I felt tired, unfocused and had a bad headache. I asked to stop one more time before going on. We sat down on a safe spot; I ate a whole bunch of sweet rolls and had a good sip of very cold water. Of course that woke me up and gave me energy to continue. But I had a look at my GPS and realized we were at 4150m! My wrist altimeter had been off 200m! This gave me a boost as only 250 m remained d to climb! We packed up and continued our ascent.

At about 4300 m we arrived to this ladder crossing a major crevasse. I let Bonn-Tien cross first, ready to self arrest in case she lost her balance. She passed fine. I went for my run, it was simply amazing and terrifying. A normal human being would not want to look down, but the ladder was so narrow and it was so unnatural to be on it with crampons that you had to look where you were putting your feet. Just looking under where you could not see the bottom was shivering. Once I landed on the other side, I felt much better. We started to see some people going down and telling us the summit was around the corner.
At 7:15 we arrived at the summit crater. We unroped, unpacked and walked across those very long 750 m towards the Columbia crest, true summit of Mount Rainier. The walk was unreal, a mix of joy, stress, exhaustion lead me to the summit. The crater is full of penitents made the place look unreal.
At 7:45, we were all 4 on the summit. Most of us had pounding headaches, but we were proud of our accomplishment. We could see Baker, Glacier Peak, Adams, Hood, Saint Helen and even Jefferson from the top of the highest mountain of Washington.
Took a few summit shots and headed back down.

The way down was very hot and the snow was much softer. I almost lost my balance on the ladder and so did Len. That gave us just the right amount of adrenalin to stay awake back to camp.
It felt like we were taking a new trail going down since we could now see what was around us. I have to say, Mount Rainier landscape has nothing to envy to the Alps. Seracs tall as 20 storey buildings, massive ice falls. I was just so impressed. I was really nervous going back down the cleaver but it went much better and the run under the rock and ice fall turned out safe, although our very late return. We made it back to camp around 13:00 and that is when we could fully enjoy our summit. We collapsed in our sleeping bags and went for a 2 hour nap. We left camp around 17:30 and made it back to our car by 20:00.
We knew the only camping was full, so clueless on what to do, we decided to have dinner on the parking with the remains of our climbing food. We celebrated our victory by drinking a bottle of “Rainier Ridge” wine. Not knowing where to sleep and being in a national park, we sneaked onto the parking lot and found some benches were we set up our Therma-Rest. We watched the stars from our sleeping bags and saw at least 10 shooting stars, with one doing a flash and leaving two red tails.

We quickly fell asleep. The next morning we wrapped up and had a big fat American breakfast in a local diner. We headed to REI Flagship store to check it out, the building was beautiful but we were not impressed by the products ( I m too much of a MEC lover to say anything good about REI).

We crossed the border back to Canada and I dropped everyone home safely.

It has now been 4 days since I climbed Mount Rainier, the feeling I get from it is indescribable, I will definitely keep on climbing and live on the mountain… I m already planning a climb for after tomorrow…

Climbing Mount Rainer from AdrienHD on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mont Blanc-Canada Day 2010

I m French…. And to be more specific, I am Lyonnais (from the city of Lyon) which means I am from the region of Rhone-Alp, where the mighty Mont Blanc resides. My family has strong attachments to Chamonix Mont-Blanc. My Grand -Pa use to hike there when he was a young gentleman and bought an apartment there in the 1960s. My father fell in love with the valley during his young years, became a mountaineer with the French “Chasseurs Alpins” and purchased us a flat in 1997 in Chamonix so he could come as often as possible, although 800 km away from his home. Since I was born, I have spent every summer in Chamonix looking at the peaks, wondering what it felt like being up there. I always admired the climbers coming down the mountains, with all their complicated gear, their burnt faces but with that glow in their eyes that they had accomplished something that most of us could never do.
I started mountaineering when I was 16, with UCPA (an equivalent of the YMCA in France). For about 500 French Francs (1997, was about $100 Cad), I spent a week learning the basics of mountaineering, School of snow, School of Rock, School of Ice and a final Climb  Eperon des Cosmiques + Arete des Cosmiques ( A south face of l Aiguille du Midi with a traverse that ends on an observation deck).
After this week of training, my father started to take me on some climbs with him (Belvedere from the Aiguilles Rouges, La Tour Ronde in the Massif du Mt Blanc  must do if you’re going to Chamonix !) . However nobody ever invited me to do Mt Blanc, too expensive, too high and too long.

When my father text me happy New Year 2010 from France on the 1st of January, I replied to him “ Happy New year to you too, lets climb Mt Blanc this year!” and he replied, “Ok, let’s do it”. From that point, I knew I was going to climb the highest summit of France and Western Europe this summer.

Unfortunately, in April my father called me and told me he realized he would not be fit enough to climb, he was mostly worried about the altitude which he is not a big fan of. I knew my partner Bonn-Tien would be fit enough as she was planning to climb by herself Mt El Toub Kal (4 167 m) in early June. My father said that we could use the services of the family Guide (Yes I have no family doctor but I do have a family guide) and since he was not coming he would pay half of the climb. A bit disappointed that I was not climbing this with him but I looked at the bright side that I would now be able to bring Bonn-Tien on this peak that I have looked at since I could walk.

In order to acclimatize, we spent a week hiking the Swiss Haute-Route which included a 3300 m peak and several nights above 2500 m. We also carried 25 kg packs on 12 hour days going up almost 2000m per day, we were fit for this climb.

Lionel is our family guide and has been for about 10 years. He has brought my father and looked after his safety on many climbs such as the Matterhorn. I had climbed with Lionel before and his experience and knowledge is simply immense, over 60 years old, he has climbed every single summit of the massif du Mt Blanc and many around the world.

Originally we had planned to do Mt Blanc in a day, but the current conditions did not allow it, beautiful weather in the morning, thunderstorms in the afternoon and clear in the evenings. This would force us to spend a ½ night in the refuge, wake up at 1 Am summit by 7 and be off the mountain as fast as possible.

We met Lionel at his chalet at 11 am on the 30th of June 2010, we had met the day before to discuss about the logistics and the food. How it works in Chamonix is that you pay a flat rate for the guides and you have to buy their food (and carry it), pay for their nights in huts but not pay for their lifts as they have special passes. Although we were going for two days, our packs did not weigh more than 10 kg, and the guides `bag with all his gear was also under the 10 kilograms. We headed towards the Aiguille du Midi lift which starts at about 1030 m and brings us to the modest altitude of 3840 m ! The one way ticket to the aiguilles, which is packed with tourists, cost me about 37 Euros, about $45, thank God the loonie was so strong. It took us less than 20 min to ascend the 2800m, a real turbo too the alpine. Once we arrived at the top, you go through a tunnel and arrive on a tiny platform, the entrance to “La Haute Montagne”. There we put on the crampons and roped up. To get off l aiguilles du Midi you go down a steep ridge. As soon as I stepped on snow, I pushed of a small pack that started going down the south face. It quickly grew to a size 1 wet slab and went tumbling down at least 200m. It was about 13:00 so the sun was hitting hard. It was a bit embarrassing for me to have started this wet slab since I had just arrived on the mountain. But this did not seem a concern at all for my guide. Going down the ridge was fun but exposed as the north side is a 1000m drop, but the rope and the guide made us feel safe and comfortable. Once we arrived at the plateau or Mer de Glace, my guide stopped and started talking with another guide about the conditions. Meanwhile I started talking to some other clients, they felt miserable, they had just done what we were planning to do, they felt tired and they had felt the altitude. They admitted to me that they had not been exercising at all lately.
I had been in this area several times during my life as a climber, but this time I had a whole new vision since I have been mountaineering in the remote coastal mountains. I felt that I was in a giant temple of alpinism as there were climbers everywhere. There was several team on the South face of aiguilles du Midi, others on the ArĂȘtes des Cosmiques , a tent village not far from refuge des Cosmiques. We traversed the area roped up, it was really a quick walk no more than 15 min. However the sun was extremely bright, although we had our Julbos Level 3 on, we felt the brightness deep in the retinas.

The refuge was splendid; the rooms were cosy with giant bunk beds. We enjoyed a late lunch with Lionel and went for a nap at 3300m high. The nap was interrupted by people going in and out of the room but we still managed to get some rest. We woke up around 19:00 for dinner and enjoyed some amazing skies from the observation deck. It was cool but not cold.
The dinner was ok but with a delicious apple crumble. I spoke to a Swedish Aspi Guide who used to be just like me a banker; he had quit everything to follow his passion of climbing. It was an inspiring story, from finances to freedom…

We went to bed around 21:00 but with much rawkus around, people hoping into the bunk beds, getting out, fixing their gear. It was not very easy to close an eye, especially when you know you will be climbing a mountain you have looked at since you were born. With my few power naps, the clock finally rang at 1:00. We took our packs and put on the climbing clothes and headed downstairs for breakfast. I think the whole refuge opted for the 1am breakfast as there was some risk of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

As I walked among the crowd, I noticed some worried faces. It turns out it was slightly raining outside!!! A total surprise for everyone! I went up to Lionel and ask him what he thought; he was a bit concerned but tried to stay optimistic. “we are not in a hurry, we are not in a hurry” What he kept saying to me.

Lionel asked about the conditions to other guides, and went out on the refuge patio. Around 2 am, everything had cleared up and we were good to go.
We put on all our gear and roped up immediately. We were actually the last rope team to leave camp. But that was fine as we had a cool vision of a train of head lamps going up the first part of the climb “Mont Blanc du Tacul”. We were going at a slower pace than usual but this was a good thing as I usually go too fast and end up too tired at the summits. We were short roped and Lionel was leading. Although the early weather had been rather bad, now it was simply amazing, very clear sky with almost a full moon.
The first part is Mont Blanc du Tacul which is a 30 degree slope with a good trail broken into the mountain. It is not exposed and is not considered technical but the seracs above are constantly threatening to fall. Lionel told me that last year, two Swiss guides and their customers were blown away and that their bodies will only come out of the glacier in 40 years…. chilling thoughts.
There was a small Bergshrund to cross but it was still very closed and did not represent any danger. At the top of the Mont Blanc du Tacul slope, two climbers were coming down, Lionel yelled at one of them since he had inverted his crampons, a huge risk when this increase the chances to get a strap caught in one of the claws. At the top, of the slope we took our first break, beautiful views, L Aiguille du Midi seemed so below and the valley was still sleeping, 3000 m below me, it was just extraordinary. At this point of the night, it was still very dark but the moonshine led the whole mountain up. From there we had a long traverse to go all the way under Mont Maudit. Mont Maudit starts with the crossing under some crazy huge ice blocks. Once that is passed you have to go up a 30 degree slope through several zig zags. At the top of the slope there was a steep section (45 degrees) with some fixed rope. The snow was very hard but the conditions felt right and being roped up with a guide made me feel very comfortable.
Once we arrived at the Mont Maudit Col, the sun was almost out and the views were spectacular. Towards the North East we could see Mont Blanc du Combin, Weisshorn, Matterhorn, Dom etc. And of course our South view was a beautiful close up of Mont Blanc. From this col, it was another traverse to a col and then the final ascent to the summit. We traversed and could see the climbers from refuge du Gouter making it to the summit. Although I was at 4400m at this point, I felt just great no signs of altitude sickness or short breathed, the Haute Route Trek was paying off. However we did take a final break just before the final ascent which is just a long 400m ascent 20 degree slope. I would have thought that this would have been easy but it was not. It was just a long painful slog. At this point, I felt the altitude hit hard, the good was that we were in the sun and we were quickly warming up. Sadly, the summit was completely clouded up, and I was hoping for it to clear up as we were ascending the final meters. Unfortunately, as we arrived on the last 50m, we got into the fog and it was a complete white out… However, we quickly arrived at the summit of Mt Blanc, I was overwhelmed with joy and emotion. I took Bonn-Tien in my arms and hugged her tight. I was on the top of Mt Blanc, the mountain that I had been looking at since I was a little boy.
We took a few shots, it was not cold but we had to rush down as we arrived around 8 am, a bit late on schedule. Instead of heading back the way we came, I asked to do the traverse. I was a bit disappointed to have arrived on a clouded summit, but since we got to be on both sides of the mountain and the fog was only at the top, we didn’t t really miss any views. The south route towards refuge du Gouter was very different than what he just had done. It consisted in a ridge with some fair exposure. I still felt comfortable on this part of the route although we were still in the fog for the first 15 min. I was surprised to cross a few solo climbers towards the summit as a bad fall would mean deadly consequences. After the ridge it was a succession of nice easy snow slopes all the way down to refuge. Once we arrived at the refuge, I thought the hard part was done…. I was so wrong. The worst part had yet to come… Under the refuge there is a 400 m slope, a mix of rock, ice and snow. In the beginning there was a fair amount of ice and I appreciated the fact that we kept our crampons on, however, Lionel made us keep the crampons on the whole way, where most of it was large rocks. The terrible grinding noise was almost unbearable. I asked 3 times to remove the crampons but Lionel knew we would have to put them back on a small snowy traverse (le couloir). I believed that this was slowing us down way too much and would have made us save some time. Not only was it difficult to go down the slope but we had to be roped up and being short roped on this kind of scramble was just hell. It was important to stay high on the trail as rocks were falling on the side, pushed by other climbers going up or down. After 2 ½ miserable hours going down, we made it to the “couloirs” a notorious deadly zone of the climb. It is a traverse of about 75 m where you are a pin and the mountain in the bowler. The goal is to traverse as fast as possible so you don’t get hit by a flying rock. Bonn-Tien and I prepared ourselves, and we basically ran through the death zone. After that we finally made to a giant snowfield where hundreds of climbers were preparing themselves for the “Sh..tty” part. However, it was a good thing we had roped up, as a week later I found out a polish climber had just killed himself in this section.

From the snow field it was great glissades all the way down to the snow free alpine. We went down 600m in less than 30 min, a huge contrast with our earlier hours. From the grassy alpine it was a short walk to the nid d aigles train, a small touristy train that bought us to a lift all the way back down to the valley. While we were waiting for the train to pick us up, the glacier spat a huge about of ice and water which generated a huge amount of noise, a good reminder of the forces of the mountain.

We finally made it back home by 4 pm, it had been a very long day but myself and Bonn-Tien where extremely happy by what we had just accomplished. I called my parents to let them know what we had just done and went to sleep with my childhood smile.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mount Hood July 18th 2010


2 very motivated climbers with a bit a of non-sense
A car
A whole bunch of gear you won t need
48 h
Lots of gas
An appetite for Fast Food
About $100

After climbing Mont Blanc 2 weeks ago (with Bonn-Tien), I felt I still needed some high elevations as I always love to be high. I had already climbed Baker so it felt like a natural transition to attempt Mount Hood. The weather has been fantastic these last weeks and the reports about the South Route of Mount Hood were excellent. It was necessary to take the Old Chute variation but the level of difficulty seemed to still be in my range.

Looking for a partner (rare at this time of the year since everyone is out of town), I posted a thread on the VOC trip board, and after 24 h got a response from Mohammed, which I had met on my February Sphinx trip. He was even more motivated than I was to climb this summit as this was his first American volcano. We talked about the dates and the logistics and set the departure for Saturday morning at 6:30 am. Unfortunately Bonn-Tien was going to miss out on this one as she decided to ditch me and go tubing near Princeton. I understood as she has been climbing all spring and summer and was probably tired of snow and ice. But I just can t get enough of that white stuff!

Mohammed arrived exactly on time Saturday morning. We had a very smoothed border crossing and were in the USA at 8 AM. Once we arrived at Seattle, the weather got clouded which got me a bit nervous but also surprised as the weather forecast was excellent. Fortunately as soon as we arrived in Oregon the weather was super sunny and we had great views on Mount Hood, hopefully we would get to see Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helen on our way back. There was a lot of traffic but we still managed to make it to camp by 16:30, roughly 10 hours after our departure, including breaks and border crossing. We went to the tacky touristy Timberline Lodge which was fairly dirty and crowded. In the summer lodge, there is a climber’s registration room, where we put in all our information and picked up our free permits. Those permits are to be put on your pack. They have all your information and reminded me as a body tag, something that would allow them to identify me if I were to fall off the North face of Mount Hood.

We found a cool camp ground about 1 km under the Timberline lodge, quite small but very convenient, although we had to pay $16 for the night. We setup camp and skipped dinner as we were still full from a late all you can eat Chinese buffet lunch. We roughly went to bed at 19:00, a bit late since I spent an hour speaking with a Washington climber to plan a trip to Mount Olympia.

As soon as I hit my sleeping bag, I collapsed, dreaming about my morning peak.

I naturally woke up at 23:30, ready to attack the ascent of Mount Hood. I woke Mohammed up and we both start putting on our climbing clothes. It felt cool and I was worried to get too hot, but the coldest part of the night is usually around 6 and we were going to climb 1800m. We left our tent and sleeping gear and drove to the Timberline parking lot. We put on the harness and the helmets, while leaving the crampons in the bag packs. To be safe we had brought the AVI gear (as I had done on Mt Blanc) and also a 30 m rope. I don t know where the moon was but to me it was a moonless night. In the beginning you walk up this ski slope that has no interest at all, going through some snowboarding ramps. The really annoying thing about this part is all the CAT machines working around and having a hard time to follow the climbers trail. The CAT machines are annoying because they are super bright and just blind you while you are climbing.

After about 2 hours we made to the top of the ski resort, where people can actually get dropped off with a CAT machine… We were glad to be here, it was still pitch dark but the snow was just perfect, not too hard and not too soft. At this point we put on the crampons and we were heading into the backcountry. I had heard that this was the second most climbed mountain in the world, but I was very surprised to see how little people were around. We could only see three groups in front of us. We surely didn’t complain as this was a pleasant surprise. From the top of the ski resort, it was basically a long gentle slope all the way to the hogsback where the “mountaineering” part actually starts. On our way up, the smell of sulphur is actually very strong, there was lots of wind but it really didn’t help. It was almost an annoyance the smell was so strong, and I use to take the Parisian metro everyday so you can imagine….

Our timing was perfect as we were starting to get some light at the hogsback, we could see the bergshrund, and it was at least 10 meters wide. Luckily, there was an easy way on the left towards the Old Chute wall. We had to pass through some avalanche debris that had fallen a week before, the slab was quite big and I was glad it had fallen late in the afternoon when the top is empty of any climber. We started the final slope following some good boot steps. The ascent was very gradual and getting steeper and steeper. I took some picture mid way but unfortunately drop my camera cap lens down the hill… As it got steeper, the crampons and ice axe were getting more and more handy. I would say the steepness got to about 45 degrees but the boot steps made it feel like climbing a ladder. I had decided not to rope up as there was no risk for crevasses and the fact that we were not going to use any snow protection, it was a bit risky but not that bad. I finally made it to the ridge and the view just blew my mind.

On the North, Mount Saint Helen, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, on the south Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters. But the most mind blowing view was the huge pyramidal shadow of Mount Hood. When Mohammed joined me on the ridge, we started our small traverse towards the summit. We knew the ridge was very narrow at one part so we were mentally prepared for some exposure. Indeed the ridge at one point gets as wide as 50 cm, we still didn’t rope up… and got lots of adrenalin going through us as there was a 700 m drop on the north side and a 200 m drop on the south side. However the narrow part is very short and we quickly made it to the wide summit slope. After climbing for about 5:15 min we finally made it to the top. Again the views were fantastic and the feeling of accomplishment was incredible since we had left Vancouver less than 24h ago. We were fairly lucky as we had the summit to ourselves for about 10 min, but only a few climbers joined us. After taking some shots, enjoying life, we started heading down. We went back through the narrow ridge and made it to the top of the Old Chutes. I had to put my camera bag in my bag pack as it was very inconvenient to see my steps down.
Going down the Old Chute was probably the mort nerve wrecking part of this climb. The snow was still very hard which made it difficult to stick the ice axe. The beginning was extremely steep and therefore took a lot of time to go down. When I started feeling comfortable I used the pick of the ice axe which seemed to hold quite well. Once we hit the bottom of the slope it was an easy way back to the car. We made it back to the ski resort and gently went down all the way back to Timberline Lodge. The heat was back and we were glad to have summited early. We were back to our camp at about 11:30 and went for a 90 min nap. We woke up and drove straight back to Vancouver. Luckily we didn’t feel too tired but dreamt all the way back about our accomplishment. When we arrived in Seattle, we were blown away by Mount Rainier, just sticking out of nowhere, saying “Climb me....if you dare”
I thought to myself “Let me work on that...”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It had been a while that I hadn`t climbed with Russ. We finally found a day where were both available and the weather was looking gorgeous. This would be my last preparation trip before my trekking in Switzerland and my Mt Blanc ascent, I had to do get the best out of this hike.

Russ picked me up early in the morning and we went in the direction of Harrison hot springs to climb the popular hike of Sollicum peak. We made it faster than expected and got to the logging road fairly quickly. We noticed on this Saturday a large amount of ATV ready to hit the FSR around. We parked the car and started our ascent, at first on active logging road through a clear cut. This section is actually accessible for 4wd. But the magic starts right after. We entered the forest and the trail was surprisingly pleasant being and old logging road free of any bush. We had a small cut towards a higher logging road, where I unfortunately got stung by some poison ivy. We continued on the trail/logging road for quite a while gaining distance and elevation a smooth pace. After 2 h of hiking, the trail leaves the easy trail to become a more generic BC trail, small, shaded and buggy. We encountered snow in a creek and starting 1200 m, it was a continuous snowfield. We lost trail and decided to navigate with my GPS. We had to contour some bluffs and crossed a large open area before getting to the ridge. Once on the ridge, the views were splendid, Mt Baker, Old Settler, Clark, Recourse, etc. However I was extremely surprised by the smog coming from Vancouver, I would have never imagined it being so thick. The snow was very wet and in some parts fairly deep. I fell in a few holes but nothing scary. We finally made it to the summit and enjoyed a well deserved lunch with magnificent views. We headed back down and on my way I fell in a hole waist deep, enough to give me cold sweats. Overall a fantastic hike, highly recommended.

The video and pictures says it all!!

Fun on Slollicum from AdrienHD on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contributor to Cairn Publishing!!

I edited a KMZ file (Google Earth) which indicates all summits and trailheads of the great Scrambles in SW BC. Matt Gunn approved it and decided to put it on his site, first page!!!

In return , he nicely accepted to link this site to his site!! Thanks Matt!!

His site HERE

Friday, June 11, 2010

Squamish Valley to Callaghan Valley Traverse

Finally, I got to do an adventure again. Since Baker I hadn`t done anything too crazy since the weather had been cloudy and rainy, what a bad end of May. I managed to do Fromme in a morning, Hollyburn (same route as the 103 hikes book) on a cloudy day and been up Cerise Creek for some mountaineering training than actual mountaineering.
I believe that the month of June is very unpredictable for the weather forecast. The week-end forecast had changed 10 times from rainy to sunny to rainy back to sunny, how can you make plans! I understand the location and why it is so hard to predict, especially with global warming changing all the weather rules our meteorologist learned at school. With my usual over optimistic predictions, I just decided that the weather was going to be great all week-end long regardless of what I would hear from the weather network. If I was wrong, I would already be outdoors anyways...
Originally, with my Supa Krew, we wanted to attempt (#3 this year) Mount Garibaldi. Unfortunately Ryan had to be on the island the week-end and Todd wanted to climb Rainier. So I and Len were stuck together. I offered to rent a car and go hang out at Elfin Lakes and perhaps attempt Little Diamond Head as we had never bagged it.
However, when I called Len, I was told that the VOC was planning a traverse. I had heard much about these traverses, and I have always been timid to be part of them as I am an unfortunate snowshoer. But Len is a great guy and easily convinced me that I should be part of the adventure. I was very motivated but a bit scared that I would not be invited since the skiers might think I would hold them back. So I posted a message on the VOC board about my situation, like “Sorry guys I m a snowshoer, but I m not too slow...”. Len, who has converted to skis, nicely commented on the board that I had never been a burden on the ski trips we had done together. Immediately the responses were very positive and I and Len got invited in a car group, we were going to be car group B, the group starting from the Squamish Valley.
It is always great to do trip with VOCers as I meet them time to time in huts, in Squamish, on the mountain, they are just every cool spot you can imagine. Our group driver (and surely leader) was Piotr who had organized the trip for everyone, his girlfriend Anne (also from France!), Ran (who I had met on several trips already) and my loyal friend Len. Bonn-Tien was meanwhile climbing solo 4000 s in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains.
They picked me up at 6:20, the kind of schedule I like, at my place. We headed to the Timmies in Squamish where all three car groups would meet up to talk about final logistics and camping spots. We were altogether at around 7:45 and with coffee, observed the Callaghan area map (BTW!! Clark Geomatics Callaghan Map is out, got just after this trip, I love it, $15 at MEC!!). After a brief discussion, group A headed towards the Callaghan lake and we headed, with group/car C towards the Squamish valley with for objective: High as possible on S-500. Pietr has a great 4x4 so the trip was really good even up S-500, there was quite a wash out that he managed perfectly. At about 900m the road seemed really decommissioned and the alder was getting thicker and thicker. Group C had a tough 4x4 and did not seem disturbed by the thickness (CT and VOC member: Jbest). We were cutting down the alder and tried to minimize the damage on the vehicle. However at about 975 m we decided to park the vehicle. We put on all our gear, the skiers had to add the skis on their backs and myself just the snowshoes and we headed in the bushes. Jbest had been here a few weeks earlier and the conditions had completly changed, they had parked further down but did not have to bushwack once. Our situation involved at least 500 m of alder fighting . Fortunately we quickly got to snow level which stuck the plants to the ground, plus the weather was actually getting really nice (it had started quite foggy in the morning). We had started our hike around 11 and by noon we were almost at the end of logging road. We put on the skis and snowshoes and headed off into the forest, parallel to the creek at the bottom of Ring Mountain. After reading several trip reports this month on Ring Mountain, we were extremely motivated to bag this mountain as the views on the summit seemed extremely promising. We crossed the creek as high as possible, beyond Ring Mountain actually, to head back west towards the tuya. When we arrived at the bottom of Ring Mountain, I realized the mission to be accomplished, 500 m slope with the slushiest snow I have ever been. Anne took the lead and found us an easy way to climb. The sun was now hitting hard and we felt like in an oven. We zig zagged our way up, me having a really hard time with my Denalis snowshoes. Sometimes I would just go straight up as I would ruin their ski tracks. At about 1950m, we emptied our bags and kept some water and AVI gear to climb the final 150m. Those 150 m were really, really long.
I was already feeling the water run out. I would walk 25 steps and would have to stop for a breather. Everyone around was suffering (well maybe just most of us). It was hot, the snow was horrible and it was steep. Finally after an hour struggle, where I felt like fainting several times, we made it to the summit plateau. Of course like many VOCers, we all looked for the true and fake summit bumped. From the top we could see 2 VOCers who were on the Callaghan-Ring Col, we waived at them and I envied them since they were much closer to camp than I was. The way down was a lot of fun though, even if I had a small scare by falling in a hole (just an odd rock formation) We picked up our stuff where we had left them and looked at what were our options. Our goal now was the Callaghan glacier, where we would sleep. It was already 5 pm and seemed miles away. But Pietr was a great leader and kept the spirits high by telling us we still had plenty of light and we would get there in no time.
We decided to stay as high as possible by traversing Ring Mountain. However, when the first skier went down he launched a significant wet slab. This reminded us to be extremely careful and to keep our distances.
At the level of the col, there were the remains of a gigantic avalanche with massive ice blocks, like the whole mountain had fallen off.
We took a rest at the col and start layering back up. We were at about 1700m and camp was at 2250, we weren’t there yet. The climb to the glacier was long but enjoyable, as we talked and joked on this long way up. When we arrived at the glacier, because I was on snowshoes, I asked Len to rope up, I had already fallen in a hole today, I didn’t want to fall in a crevasse. Once on the glacier, it was just another 15 min to camp. When we arrived (I was the last one with Len, because we had lost a bit of time because of my roping up). I noticed group A was not there. We were a bit disappointed because it is always great to be all together. I and Len quickly headed for a small peak next to camp to watch the sunset. The sky had cleared up, and not one cloud in sight. We could see from Mamquam, to Currie, Overseer, Ashlu and it s huge glacier fields, we were in paradise. The sunset was amazing and I had a thought for Bonn-Tien maybe watching the sun rise on the Atlas Mountains. As we were on the small peak, we noticed some skiers coming from the East, it was group A! Veenstras , Roland Burton, Doris and Gili! They had made it, we would have plenty to talk about. We came back to camp, set up tents and snowalls. The evening was cold for me because I was hungry and exhausted. I talked to the group A to find out what I was to expect from tomorrow. Basically a long walk on the glacier but also a 7 km walk on the Callaghan road. I went to bed with a full stomach which allowed me to have a rather warm night, which gave the good rest I needed. In the morning, we all woke up at 7, put on minimum gear and headed up to climb Mt Callaghan. I was very surprise to realize it was really a quick walk away. It took us less than 30 min from camp to summit. I took the chimney which was a lot of fun, some preferred to go on the side. We were 10 VOCers on the top, I like to be alone on summits usually, but these people are such a great company that it only makes the summit even better. Climbed a rocky tower next to camp and then We quickly headed back to camp and exchanged car keys. Packed up and on our way to finish the traverse. The way down was a bit tricky, the weather was not as good as the first day and we even had a small white out. We went down the glacier. But at one point we faced a very steep slope, we wanted to take the ridge that was going east but because of the whiteout we decided to follow the tracks of group A.
So we went down on the slope, for skiers, it was a difficult task, for me it was crap.... I took off my snowshoes and boot down in a slushy snow. As I was going down I realized I was getting myself under some big seracs, in this weather, it was a stupid idea. I tried to stay on my left as much as possible but when I ended at the bottom of the slope, there was a half buried bergshrund; I was unroped, heavily packed and already tired. My friends were waiting for me way in the front, in a safe spot. Adrien you are on your own here. I quickly traversed to end up under the seracs but where the bergshrund was fully covered. I took my ice axe with both hands, and jumped over where I supposed the bergshrund was.
Fortunately I landed far and din t fall in any crevasse. But I still had the seracs above me. So I wanted to wait no time as the only exit to those situations is move you butt fast!! And the fastest way was to slide on my brand new Gamma AR pants... Well I slid, and within 5 min, I felt my bum very wet. I was surprised because those pants are very water repellent. Well not when you completely rip them... I was pissed, but I was not going to let myself bothered, I know the repair service and I knew they would do a great job ( I don t live in Burnaby for no reason...) .
We got off the glacier and I was managing to keep up with the skiers by taking less breaks. However I really struggled on steep slopes as my Denalis would have no grip at all and I would fall directly in the snow... just a bit of a pain. When we arrived just high above Callaghan lake, we went down a cool gully, that was a highway to the lake. Not to steep, perfect for me. The group A had gone on the north side of the lake and said it was really shitty so we were going to contour it by the south, we didn’t t know what was there but “maybe shitty “ is better than “shitty”. When we arrived at the lake, we realized that there was no way we could cross it. We headed toward the south and actually, besides the beginning, stayed on the lake banks, a mix of snow ice and sand made them rather safe and convenient. We did a great timing as we managed to go from one end to the lake to the other in less than an hour.
At the tip of the lake, we realized we would have to cross the Callaghan creek, knee deep. At this point we didn’t care anymore and just crossed, my feet were already soaked. We found out the next day there was a bridge a 100 m lower...
The 7 km on the snowed up road seemed to last forever. But when we saw our car, this made us realize we had just finished an amazing trip. We were exhausted but happy, the real VOC kind of trip. We drove back to the Shady Tree, and I ate my burger with a giant whole in my pants. We exchanged the gear from one car to another...some girls took some pictures of us???
The traverse was amazing.....but I am looking now into skis..The VOCers made their point...

Cerise Creek Fun and Pain

I had already been twice during May in this valley, located about 3 hours from Vancouver! I guess I have just fallen in love with this place, because of the beauty but also the protection it gets from the west as Matier and Joffre tend to block the clouds. This time, I wanted to climb Joffre via the Aussie Couloir. There had been several recent trip reports about this climb therefore I assumed that it was a good time to climb it. The group was really great, Len, Ben, Sarah (a fantastic Kayaking guide) and myself. The plan was for us to leave early Saturday morning for the Cerise Creek trailhead, sleep at the col and ascend Joffre early on the Sunday morning. Well I managed to pick up everyone on time. However the weather did not look promising and would probably slow us down. We made it in a fairly quick time to the trailhead, with of course a short stop at the Squamish Timmies. Immediately I noticed that the snow level had significantly dropped. We started off taking the usual winter-summer trail, but in the forest we decided to stay west of the Cerise Creek. When we hit the logging road, we put on the snowshoes and skis and started a short slog towards the summer trail, on the west side of the creek. However, I decided to have a look at the creek junction with the logging road, since maybe we could still take the winter trail. Unfortunately the creek was way too high for us to cross it and we didn’t feel like getting wet the first 2 hours of our week-end. Len and Ben had a hard time crossing some unsnowed waterbars as the skis were not helping at all. Once we got back into the forest, we realized that the summer trail was really not ready and we would have some difficult creek crossing. We had to cross a sketchy log bridge, that Len fantastically crossed with his skis on. After about an hour in the forest, Ben broke his tele ski binding, which we believed would significantly slow us down. However we managed to fix the problem with a strap, a nice MacGyver fix. We crossed the creek on a rather good snowbridge only to find out we had to cross another one a few meters later. By then we were back on the winter trail. We got through the forest and realized that it was not possible anymore to follow the winter route as the creek had opened up under the snow. At this point of the day, we had already hiked 4 hours although we had hoped to take only 2 hours to the hut. We went back into the forest, went up a steep slope to come back again to the creek. At one point, I felt that the east side of the creek would be the better way to the moraine. I crossed on a sketchy snowbridge, and just before shore, I went right through the bridge. Luckly, I had the reflex to fall forward, wich spread my weight on the bridge and prevented a total collapse. I followed the creek bank while the rest of the group was on the other side. At sufficient altitude I crossed back to the west side. We were finally at the moraine, after almost 6 hours of hiking. We realized that the Joffre attempt was too late to start and that we were too tired to go much further. We decided to camp right at the moraine. We setup camp quickly, and although it started to rain. We took the rope and went to train our mountaineering skills on the moraines`steep slope. Trained our crevasse rescue skills, our belaying skills, rappel, anchors, snow picket placement, etc. We hadn t climbed a summit or explored new places but we had some very useful time on the mountain. I realized that the snow pickets could not take much weight if they were not very deep into the snow.
We had a lot of fun running down the 45 degrees slope, with little risk. Sarah got to train her avalanche rescue skills.
We finally got very humid and decided to head back to our tents. After a good dinner we went to bed. I had one of my coldest nights this season. The air was not that cold but it was extremely humid. I kept waking up, bothered my the humidity chilling my bones.
The morning was actually pretty nice, a lot more sun and good views from around. We packed camp and made it out. Ben decided to carry his skis on his back. The way back was a little bit better than our way in although that we tried to cross another snowbridge. Len was successful with his skis, but when Ben tried, he went right through. He also managed to not fall in the creek, but when he pulled out his legs from the hole, we could see a very deep creek running very fast, a bit scary.

The way back took us only 4 hours and we tried to stay as much as possible on the winter trail. It was though a full summer trail through the clear cuts, no snow left at all.

It was really nice to hang out with my friends this week-end. We didn t do anything crazy but it was well worth it to enjoy Cerise Creek in somewhat “winter conditions” But I would really not recommend going there for the moment, it would suck...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hollyburn Mountain- 103 Hikes Style

I had already climbed this mountain in 2008 with Bonn-Tien, but the views had been nil as it was a really foggy summer day. I decided to re-attempt it but going through the 103 hikes way. I left my place quite late at 8:20 and was downtown by 9 am, almost missing my connection for the British Properties. Usually you need a car to this hike, but I found a short trail from the bus stop to the Cypress look out. Within 15 min I was at the trailhead stated in the book. The trail I took seemed to have been the wrong one but it didn’t matter much to me because it was heading towards the summit. Once I arrived on a private road, I got a bit lost and had to go back on my steps. I finally found a trail between some cabins and soon realized there was a mini town installed at the bottom of the Cypress slopes. Dozens of cabins, most of them fairly old with outhouses, set up along this trail. Finally I made at the level of the Hollyburn lodge and from there took the cross-country ski slopes all the way till the top. At this point there was tons of snow left on the slopes. I was wearing shorts but no gaiters so my feet were getting wet. I made it to the summit and had some good views on the south. I was proud of my timing as I had taken 30 min less than expected. However the way back down was very painful since snow was getting into my boots on every step. Instead of retracing my steps, I took the Baden Powell trail, but since I wasn t too sure how to cross the British Properties, I decided to stop my adventure at the first bus stop. I managed to get home by 4:30 pm, a nice short hike that was my 35th day in the outdoors this year.

Mount Fromme in a morning.

We woke up early on Friday morning as I had to be at the office at 2pm. We managed to grab a bus at 7 am and we were at the trailhead by 8 am. It was a smooth climb up as we made it all the way to the trailhead on our bikes. This time I really wanted to make it to the top as I had failed this summit already 3 times!! The climb was again difficult because there is little marks and it is actually very steep. We had to bushwhack a few times, although with the snow it was not much of challenge. But because of the steepnees, we had a few uneasy steps. We finally made it to the summit with some nice views on lynn valley and Vancouver. We knew the best was to come, 1100 m descent back to the bus which is almost at sea level. Unfortunately, it started to shower on our way back which generated us some nasty brain freezes… We made it back to the bus station by 11:30, we enjoyed a summit in half a day.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mount Baker May 2010

This is it!!! We crossed the border, just a few km away from the trailhead to Mount Baker. A day that I have dreamt about so many times. A dream coming true! Almost too good to be true. But the beginning of this story has very deep roots. Like most Vancouverites, Baker is much more than just a volcano.

I moved to Canada in January 2006, one of the rainiest months Vancouver had ever seen. I had been told to be prepared; nobody can be prepared for that kind of weather. I started to live at 500 Dunsmuir Street, a hostel for travelers on a low budget, a few steps away from E-Hastings. Coming from the Alps, my first impression of the most liveable city in the world was not that great. The first 10 days had been extremely tough as I was not finding a job as quickly as I hoped. But one day, the bank I currently work for, gave me a call and asked me to come in for an interview. I remember it was on a Friday, and the weather was a cold sunny February sky, the first sunny day I had seen in Vancouver. The office was located at central city so I was going to take the Skytrain for the first time to Surrey. Of course I was focused on what I was going to say during the interview, and reading over and over my resume. When the train passed Edmonds station, and started curving towards 22ndstreet station, I had my first glimpse ever of the beautiful mountain. I could not believe my eyes. This reminded me immediately of Mt Fuji. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard about this mountain before. It seemed so majestic and so huge but at the same time in the backyard of this city that I considered quite big. It was like having Mont Blanc a stone throw away from Paris. I think it is on that day that I fell in love with Vancouver (my love got deeper and deeper as I discovered the North shores and the Sea to Sky Mountains). I got the job that day, and I am still part of that company which also allowed me to become permanent resident therefore climb this mountain last week-end.

Fast forward to 2010. I had monitored the weather forecast all week long, and on Thursday I sent to my expedition team the green light that this week-end was offering good perspectives of summiting on Saturday. The crew was composed of me, mighty Bonn-Tien, Todd (Garibaldi attempts, Rohr, Mt Burwell) and Ben (Rohr, Vantage). I was confident that this was going to be a great team for what I thought was a big challenge. Todd had excellent alpine skills, Bonn-Tien is a steam-engine and Ben (who was on a mountain the first time of his life last January) has balls of steel…

We all slept at my place on Thursday night, so we could get some kind of early start on Friday morning. I picked up my very small rental car at Enteprise who doesn’t over charge when you travel to the States. We left my place at 8:30 am, made the Sumas border crossing at 9:25, had of course go through the border office since the car was super packed and the passengers were 2 French, 2 Canadians and a Millet red backpack. But everything went fine, and the border agent was relatively nice with us.

And then we were on our way, the road towards Glacier was straight forward but I wanted to use my handheld GPS just to be sure. For some stupid reason it took over 20 min to get a signal, we laughed that it was maybe not compatible in the US (yes we are gear geeks…).
We made to Glacier around 10:30 and had two stops; one at the grocery store to eat some tasty bagels and another one at the visitor center to pick up poo bags (Leave no trace! Pick up your poo when alpine or glacier travelling)

We were almost there, took the small backcountry road and went almost all the way to the trailhead. We stopped at the last intersection before the trailhead, a good elevation. It took us some time to get ready, spoke to a guide and his client; they were getting prepared for Denali in a few weeks. The weather was gorgeous and the view on Baker was amazing. At about 12:30, we left the car and headed towards the forest. Fairly quickly we met some climbers and skiers coming down. As a BC climber (like many of you) it is hard to resist talking to someone on the trail, so I had to ask some questions about the conditions, and tips on climbing. People were really nice, but all those Americans seemed so equipped, wands, plastic boots, double ice axes, I was impressed.
Originally, I wanted to wake up at 4 am and summit early in the morning to avoid any spring Avi risk. But after talking to several climbers, we decided that midnight would be a good wake up time, with a summit around sunrise.

We got out of the forest, and the Mt Baker magic started. We started off with a gentle, but tiring,slushy slope where we caught up with a group. We quickly passed them and caught up to a second group, at the last slope before the glacier. Lots of traces of wet slap avalanches in the area which was a good reminder about the reality of this warm beautiful weather. Before we knew it, around 16:30, we were the first ones on the glacier so we could choose our prime spot for camping. We found the remains of a camp with good snow walls and relatively flat ground. We knew this area was free of crevasses so we set up our 4-season tents. We enjoyed the views and the sun, while melting our snow and preparing dinner. Suddenly we heard a loud crack, and a huge avalanche started on the north side of Baker, far from any of us. The noise was impressive but the vision was amazing. The avalanche was least a size 3 and lasted well 20 seconds. I tried to film it, but nothing turned out of it. Because of the location of where this had just happened, we did not feel too worried about it. Especially that we were now planning to climb at night.

We got to bed at 18:30 and tried to get some sleep. I managed to close my eyes for a couple of hours, but had to wake up to see the sunset on Vancouver. I took some amazing shots and I was very happy to see that it had completely cleared up since had been a bit cloudy earlier in the evening.

My Suunto beeped at 00:00, and it was now dark in the tent as it was a moonless night. I felt a bit drowsy but the cold got me quickly back on my feet. I rushed to cover up myself and got out my tent to set up all the gear. Bonn-Tien quickly followed behind, and Todd and Ben were ready to attack the summit. We had some coffee and banana bread which warmed us up. The other camps were also waking up as we could see little lights afar. However no one was yet on the route. After an hour of gear preparation, knotting, layering, un-layering, eating, snoozing, peeing, etc, we were all roped up and ready to go. We started up the glacier with our powerful headlamps, put on powerless mode so we didn’t t suck up all the juice. The beginning started rough with a 30 degree slope and the tracks seemed all messed up. I and Bonn-Tien had decided to take the snowshoes, which seemed to have been a good idea. We passed the last camp and wished them luck and safety. We were two ropes of 2, a safe solution since one team good help if the other had a member fall in a crevasse. It was really dark, but that was fine since we could see the lights from Vancouver. I was surprised to see the contrast of lights between the Canadian and the American side. After walking for 2 hours, we took a quick snack break at 2700 m. I think we were gaining about a 100m every 15 min, a fairly good speed. At about 4:30 am, there was enough light for us to turn off the headlamps. This is also the time we made it to the ridge. So far, it had been an easy walk, with ropes and snowshoes but nothing technical. The ridge was a bit steeper, but not enough to take off the snowshoes. We were all exhausted but so excited about the ascent. We finally made it right under the Roman wall. We had heard so much about the “crux” of the climb. Luckily the conditions were perfect and the steepness was not that great. Todd and Ben unroped but we just put on the crampons, as Bonn-Tien s safety is my priority. Although technically very easy, doing the Roman wall was physically challenging. Bonn-Tien and I took a long time to go up this wall that seemed to go on forever. However our reward was to see the pyramidal shadow going all the way up to Vancouver Island as the sun was rising. An amazing view. I was a little bit nerved out by the huge blocks of ice and rock above us, but not seeing any recent debris, and because of the shadowed cold temperatures, I felt reassured. As the sun hit the summit, we put our first step on this beautiful nipple of Earth. We knew we would have to walk another 500 m before the actual summit, but the clear views gave us wings for the final push. We almost ran to the small peak and celebrated our success by embracing each other.

Took many shots and a video and away we went ; now it was a long way down towards the base camp. We had been very lucky as we had the summit for ourselves, and the Baker crowd was only an hour behind us. On the way down, we met an amazing individual, Kurt, an American from Bellingham who hitchhiked all the way from Bellingham to Glacier, got dropped off 12 km from the trail head at 10 pm the night before, after work, and climbed straight to the summit till 8 am. And as we were speaking, he was on his way back with no intention of stopping, all of this solo!! I told him to contact me through CT as he wants to climb more in BC, so Kurt if you read this, please send me a private message, and let’s go climbing!
At about 12 pm, we made it to the tent, I crashed inside but the rest of the group tanned in the sun, it was beach mood on the Coleman glacier. After 2 hours of well deserved sleep, we headed back down in a slushy snow. A small village was forming on the glacier, it had been a wise idea to climb on a Saturday morning, we had avoided the mass.

We safely made it back to the car, had a stop in Glacier again and left the USA to go back home...
For some reason I have been feeling bittersweet these pass days. The climb had been perfect; I actually did not wreck or lose any of my gear, which is becoming rare... I think I had dreamt so much about this summit (which is amazing), maybe feared it a lot (less than a year ago I would have taken a guide for sure) and simply starred at it for so long. Knowing that I had done it without much of a battle (compared to my previous one with Matier), made me feel a bit nostalgic. I m climbing Mt Blanc this summer and I hope I will get a challenge. The conditions on Baker were great and perfect for a summit ascent. It was also a shock to see so many souls on a mountain, making me feel almost in an amusement park... Sorry for killing the myth, they are just the feelings of a BC hiker, who is use to bushwhacking, remoteness and summit uncertainties.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mt Matier- May 2010

Video is now available --> http://www.vimeo.com/11654399

So far 2010 has been a great outdoor year. As always I try to check off some of the 103 hikes, some of the Matt Gunn scrambles (much harder to do with all that snow) and now I am looking at the Alpine Select book.
After two failed attempts of Mt Garibaldi this winter, we had decided to look for something different, not easier, just different. 5 days earlier I had gone to the Cerise Creek area with Bonn-Tien, Len, Ben and James, we had had an awesome day climbing Vantage peak, and like the name says it all, we had gotten an incredible view on Matier and Joffre. Since I worked on the following Sunday, this allowed me to take Thursday off and attempt something big, something like Mt Matier.
Weather forecast looked great so it was easy for me to convince Bonn-Tien and my friend Ryan (The Sphinx, Garibaldi attempts, Mt Crickmer…) to attempt the famous Mt Matier.
Although I had two days of availability, we could only do this in one day, Bonn-Tien had to work at the hospital on Friday and Ryan had other things to do. So I left the office around 15:45 on Wednesday, rushed to the rental agency (the mighty Jeep Cherokee is in for repairs), picked up a super fuel efficient Subaru ( $32 of gas for Vancouver- Cerise Creek return!), went back home to pick up all the gear, then traversed all Vancouver to Pick up Ryan and Bonn-Tien and another beacon…I was hoping to leave Vancouver around 17:30 (completely unrealistic) but we were over the Lions Gate bridge almost at 19:00!! In my unrealistic plans, I was hoping to be by the trailhead at 20:30 and get an hour of slim light, sometimes I m a bit too much in lala land. At 20:00 we were eating a burger in Squamish, all three of us getting mentally prepared for a late night hike, second one this year.
After an easy drive passed Pemberton, we crossed tons of dears and stopped on the road to watch a big black bear on the side. It was quite frightening to see how passive he was in front of us. I wondered if he would react the same way if we would have been on snowshoes.
It was 22:30 and we were finally at the Cerise Creek parking lot. We quickly packed and strapped, started heading our way towards Keith`s hut. I was very excited as I had seen the hut in September from the outside but never had the chance to go inside. Since I had done this hike a few days before, I had all the gps track in case we got lost. But we followed some well marked tracks and it was quite easy through the forest although we got a bit lost when we hit the large creek bed. Overall it took us two hours to get to the hut. It had been a nice and easy night hike and the fact I knew the distance already made it ok to deal with. At the hut, we saw a few mice run around which was a great reminder to hang our stuff. As I knew the next day was going to be a big day, I rushed to bed while Bonn-Tien and Ryan were checking out the stove and all the amenities of the hut.
The night was cold…. Although we had started a small fire, it didn’t t last long. I tried this new technique to keep warm (new to me). I simply opened my sleeping bag and let Bonn-Tien with her bag closed go inside mine, this immediately heated her feet, I felt quite warm after 5 min. However, my therma rest slipped under me and ended up sleeping on the floor, too drowsy to notice it. However I did notice it in the morning when my back was killing me. I finally woke up at 7 (instead of planned 6) and started preparing the packs while Bonn-Tien and Ryan were finishing their night. I peaked outside and was thrilled to see an amazing blue sky just above Joffre and Matier, today was going to be a good day…

I packed up the food and the gear, prepared the crampons, but the hardest thing was trying to get Bonn-Tien out of the sleeping bag. The “wow! Amazing weather” “It s a summit day!” shouts did not do much, finally she came out when I threatened her we would climb without her, she doesn’t like missing out on those things…
After a quick and warm breakfast, we started our epic climb. We started climbing on the easy ridge north of the cabin. At first the snow was extremely hard and crunchy so we couldn’t even sink in it. But it got hot really fast, and we quickly had to remove our layers to the point we were all in t-shirts within 1 hour. However this resulted in a much heavier snow, a play dough snow. We finished the ridge on a bump that seemed the top of the world. We took a good break and analyzed where we were heading to. The beginning was not good, right under the south face of Joffre, with already tons of avalanche debris. This is the traditional route, so we looked at the face, there was very little snow left, the rock was bare. We descended under the face and accelerated the pace, our short term objective was a big rock at the beginning of the glacier where we would rope up unexposed from falling debris.
We quickly made it to the rocky platform and I got my 30 m, 8 mm rope out of my bag. While we were roping up, we started hearing and seeing large amount of snow falling from Joffre onto the slope we had just passed, sketchy… At first Ryan was part of the cordĂ©e, but since he was on skis and we were on snowshoes, it didn’t t work to well as we were going more direct and he had to zig zag. So he unroped and me and Bonn-Tien stayed together. I wasn’t too worried about him falling in crevasse as the glacier was really full. I was happy to be roped simply for the principle. Anniversary glacier is a steep glacier, and we were getting so hot. Surprisingly, it clouded up late in the morning and the shade was welcomed. This gave us some extra confidence since the air was cooling and reducing the risk of a wet slab avalanche. But going up the glacier was tough, I was counting my steps, I could do about 50 in a row. Bonn-Tien was doing great but I had to break trail in this play dough and it was exhausting. We finally made it to the col by 13:00, fairly late. Immediately it got chilli and we put all our layers back, Ryan was a bit behind, so we settled for lunch. It was amazing to see Joffre from so close and Slalok on the side. I understand why so many parties camp of there, a place of choice!
Ryan finally joined us, he had a quick break and we started heading up Matier. The climb at first was very similar to what we had just done but after 45 min we had to stop and put on the crampons, the fun was about to start….
We left the snowshoes and the bags right under the North face of Matier and started kicking ourselves steps, at first it was an easy slope but it got quickly steep. Bonn-Tien had actually never done this kind of climbing before, but I never under-estimate her capabilities and was confident that her taste for adventure would overcome the difficulty of the situation. I had brought 2 snow pickets that I planted when there was tricky parts. Unfortunately the weather was getting bad, not the general weather but we were caught in a cloud, this did not worry me as I knew that it would just be temporary. We grabbed onto the north-western slope and got all the way to the ridge. Bonn-Tien was a little bit nervous but was holding good. This climb seemed forever and I was starting to get tired. Ryan was still unroped and had no crampons. At the top of the ridge, there no more climbing involved but a traverse. Most of the ridge is not steep but there is a bit of exposure on both side. At this point, there was no more exposure, no more summit, no more cold or hot or snow, it was just myself and the team and the skills. It was all the focus on each step I did, where I placed my snow pickets, be alert if one of us slips. At one point the ridge became steep again with a very nice drop 300 m below. Ryan decided to stop because he had no crampons. I was disappointed but understood him. But a minute later, he asked to rope up because he had realized the snow was softer than he had thought, I planted a snow picket and was glad he was going to make it with us. A few minutes later, we all arrived at the summit, we were on top of Mount Matier!! Such a tiny top that made us feel in a haute-montagne movie. The view was fogged up towards the south but we could still clearly see Joffre and the northern mountains. What an amazing feeling, every effort was worth it, we felt like the most privileged people in the world at this point. We did some quick summit shots with our huge smiles, Ryan had a frozen beard and Bonn-Tien had frozen hair while most people were starting to wear t-shirts in Vancouver. We decided to head quickly back to the hut, the traverse went a little bit faster but our descent of Matier was still slow as we wanted to be careful going down, alternating between facing and not facing the mountain. When we made it back to our packs, the tension eased and we took a bite as I was starving and getting really tired. We put back our snowshoes and rushed towards the cabin as it was already 17:30. Going down the glacier was a delight, although a slippery delight but was effortless. We unroped, and traversed under the sketchy south face of Joffre, it was lot colder now and we felt more confident about what was above us. However our tracks from the morning had disappeared under the debris… We made it back to our safe house, the ridge. Ryan had decided to ski down the glacier, but it seemed to take forever because of the snow condition, he was having a hard time. We observed him from our ridge bump going down. We waited till he was out of the debris zone and he decided to go back on the north of the moraine. We just took the same path we had taken in the morning. We finally made back to the hut, after 12h on the mountain; we ate a bit and waited for Ryan. An hour later Ryan made it finally back, he had to back track and gone through the initial morning trail. We made tea and hot chocolate, packed the camping gear and headed back towards the car at 22:30… Unfortunately my headlamp broke and I had no more light... So I had to orient myself on Bonn-Tien `s light coming from my back, fortunately it was the 4th time I was doing this trail this week so the orientation was rather easy. After 2 hours, we made it to the car. It was 00:30 and I had to safely drive back to Vancouver. We stopped at Pemberton and got some food, took a coke hoping it would keep me awake. By the time I made it to Whistler I was dying of tiredness after 15 h of hiking… We stopped at the Husky and I had a “Monster” energy drink that tasted like gasoline. It helped a bit, all the way to Brackendale but I started feeling bad again after, feeling that the road between Squamish and Vancouver would be worst then a naked walk in the desert. I stopped at the 7/11 and had the darkest coffee they had to offer. This worked really well, all the way back home. Bonn-Tien was raving in her half sleep but Ryan was also fighting to stay awake to keep me company. We were finally back to Vancouver and the ride back seemed to have been just a dream where time and space did not matter. We dropped off Ryan and I was back home with Bonn-Tien at 5 in the morning, we could see the first rays of sun…Felt like summer, felt like the day when I came back from a great party where I had met Bonn-Tien. We brought all the gear back to the flat laid it down in the entrance and passed out, all that caffeine just couldn’t t do it anymore and we had just climbed Matier...