Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 12-13-14, The Sphinx, Garibaldi Park

It was the week-end we had been waiting for…

After 2 wet and foggy winter camping trips, the weather was finally on our side. It was almost hard to believe, 5 consecutive days of pure sun and visibility! For a whole week I checked the forecast everyday, and not one cloud in sight, just too good to be true.
The magical part is that it was the week-end that the VOC (Varsity Outdoor Club) had decided to go the Burton hut and bag some peaks (most of them also doing the nevee traverse).
Because of our skills and our timing we decided to do the Sphinx, the 12th highest summit (2405m) of the park and probably the easiest of the 20 highest peaks.

With my super crew, we set up departure at 2:30 pm Friday from Burnaby, I had managed to leave two hours early thanks to my manager who seems to have a real interest in my adventures, I always give her a good summary of my trips on Mondays.
So our objective for Friday was to make it to the hut ( on the other side of Garibaldi lake) by midnight, so you would expect us to rush to the Black Tusk parking lot, well no…
My super crew has a way of managing time very different than most of us. First we had a nice pitt stop at burger king ( 40 min) then they had to do groceries and buy liquor to keep themselves warm…another 30 min. I kind of wondered that begging to get 2 hours early was really worth it, but the weather was great and we were already having lots of fun.

We had a sea to sky pass so we passed Alice lake at about 5 PM. We made it to the parking lot, checked all our gear, some of us turned on the beacon, I turned on the GPS and away we went, departure time 5:30 pm, 6 min of sunlight left…

We steadily went up the trail, start meeting the serious snow at about KM 2. We put up the head lamps and were thinking about KM 6 which would be the end of the first mental stage. The climb was cold and dark, crossed 3 skiers who had just done the nevee, I decided to go with no snowshoes or crampons as I was comfortable on the soft snow.

At about 8:30 we made it to the junction and we knew we had gone through the hardest part, especially when you pack is about 45 pounds. We had a quick night look at the Barrier but nothing too impressive as it was not even a quarter moon.

We crossed directly on Barrier lake and I put my snowshoes from there. We went through the frozen creek between Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake. Now from there it got a bit tricky. The lake is actually not completely frozen so we had to go on the side and go through some sketchy passages. The water was going very fast just under us, I don t think there was a risk of falling in but we did slow down the pace. Finally at the most eastern part of the lake where it becomes a creek, we had to go into the forest and climb some steep sections back to the summer trail. About a KM later we went back towards the creek and crossed it on a beautiful snow bridge about 100m before the summer bridge. We were finally in front of the majestic Garibaldi lake, from there we knew we had almost made it…wait, it was about midnight, cold and dark and we had another 5 km to do with heavy packs, nope we were not in our sleeping bags yet.

We decided to break up, all 6 of us crossed the lake light free and at our own pace as some of us are faster than others. I had my gps on and I knew exactly how much more I had to walk. It was a straight line towards the hut.
Although tired, there is something magic about crossing a huge lake in the middle of the night, there was winds and it was tough but being in the middle of these mountain by myself ( my crew was way in front or way behind) was so incredible, I felt so tiny and yet so strong to do this kind of adventure.

After an hour and a half, I made it to the hut, we quickly set up our tent because there was no room in the hut (filled with 20 skiers). I jumped into my sleeping bag with my tights and primaloft vest and fell asleep. However the night was cold in our MEC 3 season tent .I kept waking up between dreams about the new Mountain 25 TNF I have just ordered.

But the morning came and so did the excitement, we got woken up by some early climbers chatting about how crazy we were to come in so late, and also telling us that we had just set up our tent on the trail to the creek, did not matter, today we were climbing!

We got out of bed around 7 am and quickly put on our frozen pants. We checked all our AVI gear, made sure we had ice axe, crampons, rope, prussic, snow anchors, water, sun lotion and gummy bears… we were ready.

We first headed east towards Sphinx glacier a smooth path already well traced because we were the last to leave camp. We hit the glacier about an hour later, we could see other groups heading towards the Bookworms or Mount Carr, there was a large party heading towards the Sphinx, all on skis not roped up and going very fast.
We quickly roped up with a 30 m , 8mm Beal. However our prussic were quite thick (7 mm) so they seemed quite useless… The slope towards Sphinx pass was very gentle about 20 degrees and there were no crevasses in sight, all filled in. We had the sun in our faces and the temperatures was just perfect. The snow was wind slabbed which made it ideal for snow shoes. The climb was very pleasant and very easy. At about 200 m from the pass we headed east to a short steep slope (40 degrees). We followed the zigzagy tracks all the way to a platform.
Wow at the platform our views were already stunning. Prime view on Mamquam mountain and Mt Garibaldi and just amazing views of the coastal mountains.
But we also realized we were facing a very steep slope, about 55 degrees. Some of the team members got nervous but our most wreck less and experienced teammate just took his ice axe and ski boots and start climbing the 50 m slope as it was a latter. The previous team had done some good steps. Looking up the slope I was sure I would get very impressed looking down but I told myself the conditions were perfect for this ascent and just to stay aware and focused.

I was actually very surprise on how fast I was able to climb this, you might laugh but a week before on Elphinstone I had a few snow walls I had to climb that required the same skills. Being the second on the slope, I quickly caught up with the leader of the group. I was very comfortable on the slope and could see my buddies 40 m under me starting to climb. I was very happy that I brought my ice axe and my crampons, essential on those trips. I finally made it to the ridge with about another 700 m to the summit. The other group was going down after their lunch on the summit. We needed to hurry as the slope we had just been on was getting very heavy snow (facing south)
After another 15 min, we finally made it to the summit with unbelievable 360 degrees views, discovering mountains I had never seen ( Mostly East of the Sphinx).

We only stayed on the top for 10 min, ( at the cost of 20 hours of hiking, lol) We headed down fast and at the seep slope we went a bit on the east which is not as steep but a lot more exposed, a fall would have involved a very, very long slide. However, it felt safe as our feet were 40 cm into stable snow. Some rocks did make it hard for us to deeply stick our ice axes.

Our way down to the hut was much faster as we decided not to rope up feeling that all crevasses were full of snow. We took our time and even walked apart, proud of our accomplishment.

That night , we ate inside the hut talking to other VOC members who had bagged new peaks, such as Deception or Mt Carr. The night was extremely cold and I had a hard time to keep my sleep. Luckily I had met a French compatriot who let me use his heavy down jacket for the night. It was so cold that when I let my eye lids exposed while I slept and I woke up because they were burning me. The next morning, all our gear was completely frozen but was awesome for a photo shoot.

I had promised my girlfriend to be back home early so I could be at her family dinner but my friends were nowhere in a hurry. So I told them I would just hitchhike back home. I quickly made my way across the lake and had lunch at the Barrier viewpoint. I had left at 11 AM from the East side of the lake and made it back to the parking lot at 2:15 PM. I walked back to the road and got quickly picked up by a VANOC driver who dropped me off in Squamish. A young fisherman picked me up after waiting almost an hour and we talked about how to rebuild the world all the way back to my home in Burnaby where he generously dropped me off.

My girlfriend was happy as I made it back before 6 pm and I got to have dinner with my in-laws just after climbing the beautiful Sphinx…

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