Friday, April 30, 2010

Brohm Ridge or the Chief?

TR by fellow climber Len Goff.

TR: Misadventure on Brohm Ridge

The adventure for me started at 4:30A.M Saturday, flying down Main St. on my bike with a full pack to catch the Greyhound bus. My climbing partners - Ryan, Todd , Adrien , and Bonn-Tien - had all gone to Squamish the night before to sleep at Ryan's uncle's place. Ryan's uncle has done many serious climbs in the Coast mountains and the Rockies, as well as even had a go at K2, so we like to visit him to absorb some of his alpine karma and patch up any gear lackings before a trip. I however had decided to stay in Van and settle for 3 hours of sleep Friday night.

The goal of the weekend was Mt. Garibaldi via Brohm ridge, which the same group (minus Bonn-Tien) had attempted back in late January. Our first attempt suffered from a combination of bad weather and bad-fitting boots, which ground our valiant assault up the ridge to a halt. We had camped at about 1900m only to turn around the next day. This time though, we hoped that a combination of being able to drive higher up the logging road, having well fitting boots, representation of both sexes, and the chance of good weather Sunday would make it happen. We were wrong.

I got some sleep on the bus, despite the driver's insistence on blasting 80's hits the whole way. The others picked me up in Squamish, and we quickly began taking care of business. Of course, step one was an all-star breakfast at Timmy Ho's. We then accidentally explored several of the local logging roads before getting the car parked at 900m and beginning the long slog at about 9AM. It was just below freezing and snowing steadily. Our driving had been stopped by a few cm of the new powder, so we had to carry our skis (Ryan, Todd, and I) and snowshoes (Adrien and BT) for a ways until we got a nice base to travel on. The precipitation was coming down as snow but melting on our steaming hot bods as we made our way up. We stopped for a long lunch and around noon at the Black Tusk snowmobile lodge (i.e. alpine mansion with satellite TV). We shot the **** with the few snowmobilers who were up there, and kept trucking. We quickly gained the ridge and were cruising along through what had turned into a driving snowstorm and biting wind. This was the second time we had been along this route in a whiteout, so we knew basically where to go and were making progress.

By about 2:30, we made it to the mighty Mt. Brohm, a tiny bump in the ridge. We were feeling good about our timing. While we were by no means going fast, we were in a good position to make it to the Warren glacier and maybe even cross it to the 'shrund before dark. The weather was supposed to be getting good in the morning and everything was aligned for a successful trip. I even picked up some trash so the mountain was presumably impressed by us as we lightly tickled one of its many long arms. We stood there snacking and reveling in our progress when all of a sudden there was a thunderous noise. Like a plane flying right overhead. But it didn't go away like the planes do. For no less than fifteen seconds we stood there motionless and listened to a massive avalanche coming down somewhere. Where it was we had no idea, as we could only see about 50m into the whiteout. But it sounded close,and every second I imagined it coming crashing down out of the white like a tsunami and carrying us away. Eventually after what seemed like forever the noise came to a rolling stop, and we began a period of silently exchanging nervous glances with each other.

It didn't take long for us to decide that the snow symphony we had just heard was our cue to turn around. Most likely, the avalanche wasn't anywhere along our route; maybe it came off the steep slopes of Brohm ridge, or the big south face of Garibaldi. But it just seemed unwise being up there, no less climbing a 45 degree summit cone the day after hearing that. In a sense it was no surprise, with wet snow falling on the mountain all day. The lesson was clear: the avalanche conditions had been listed as low to moderate, but that same day we heard a huge untriggered avalanche. Things can change fast.

Disappointment that Garibaldi and rationality had thwarted our attempt to climb her set in but quickly passed. We were happy that our timing had been right. If we hadn't heard the avalanche, we would have ventured on into likely unsafe terrain. If we had been farther along the climb, it would have been dangerously tempting to continue. So, we were basically happy to be alive as we made out way back down to the car. As we descended the final bit, the snow stopped and the sun began to break out. We made it back and in high spirits packed the car and lashed the skis onto the roof. Our original plan was to bivy high in the alpine, but instead we were going to go get drunk in Squamish and celebrate not dying. I took my final pre-waterbar piss and settled in cozily between Adrien and Bonn-Tien in the back seat. Ryan turned the key of his Jeep and .... nothing happened! Apparently Ryan's trunk, which is a bit misshapen from a few too many backcountry mishaps, hadn't fully closed that morning and the light had been on all day. His battery was drained and we were alone at the top of this logging road with a good six km back to the highway. It seemed like our tents might be getting used after all. The jeep was an automatic, so we couldn't get a rolling start and drop it into gear.

So we were pretty much down to walking all the way out, or trying to descend as much of the road as we could without power steering or power brakes. Both steering and brakes are pretty desirable on a switchbacking 15 degree slope. But, we decided to try. We said our prayers and started rolling down the hill in neutral. The e-brake got a lot of use, but Ryan handled the car well. On a few of those steep hills we maxed out our braking capability and weren't exactly slowing down, but they were short and my screaming wasn't too distracting to keep us on the road. When we made it back to the level of Cat Lake the road flattened out and we had to push the jeep along a few sections. By dusk we finally made it to within sight of the highway. Just then, a man in a big truck who was headed to a backcountry bonfire beerfest turned onto the road and we flagged him down. He gladly gave us a jump start and even left his cigarette on the ground as a token of friendship.

Our big Garibaldi attempt had turned into a minorly epic daytrip, and we were knackered. I think I got to use about 10% of the things that I hauled up that ridge in my backpack, but that's life. We went and got some well deserved beers at the Watershed, crashed at Ryan's uncle's place, and spent Sunday drinking coffee and hiking up The Cheif. Sometimes trips don't work out as you plan, but we played it safe and we get to live to see the next weekend. Stay tuned for attempt number three.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Campbell Lake

When you think it s easy that it might be difficult, what my farther always says. Well this illustrates well what happened that day. This was a middle of the week hike and we didn t feel like going to crazy so we decided to head to Harrison Hotsprings for this 5hour hike. As you see on the pictures, really nothing extraordinary but we had our moment of drama. After 90 min of hiking, we came up to this creek, very easy to go pass and nowhere the need of a bridge. However there was a bridge. Bonn-Tien was in front of me and started on this bridge which is an actual log with some old rotten hand rail. I guess that the area was very humid and the log was also very rotten, and very slippery...

Almost at the middle of the log, 3 m high from the rocky creek, Bonn-Tien slipped and barely made it by grabbing this beloved hand-rail. My heart pounded, I think BT could have seriously wounded herself, on this very easy hike!! Never underestimate the mountain.

We had one good viewpoint of Harrison lake and the Campbell lake in question was spoiled by the local rednecks, beers, trash, you name it. At least an extra day of adventure and 1 more hike of the 103 hikes (45 hikes already done from that book!).

Smoke Bluffs

This was just an actual rock climbing day. We managed to do 4 climbs and test my new rope. The toughest we did was only a 5.8 crack. As usual Bonn-Tien was a real monkey and impressed the crowd.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mount Rohr

Last fall I had the chance to go to glacier school with the VOC. The week-end was happening at Anniversary Glacier where you need to take the Cerise Creek trail in order to get there. The Saturday had been miserable but we had a great sunny Sunday, and on our way back to highway 99, we had a great view on Mt Rohr. I had never read any reports on Rohr but new about the scramble because of Matt Gunn`s book, my favorite night shelf book… I found this mountain very impressive by it s mass and prominence. From there, she was on the hit list..

For scrambles I usually prefer waiting for less snow because of so many failed winter attempts, but this year I was so surprised to read to great TR about winter ascents of Mt Rohr, the BCMC and Spectrum trip reports, awesome ascents, I wanted to follow their steps.

As early as Tuesday I started sending the emails to my usual partners in crime, the plan was that we would rent a car leave early on Saturday and spend the night at the Chief ( we wanted to go rock climbing at Smoke Bluffs on Sunday).

I woke up at 4:30 am on Saturday morning, prepared my AVI gear (conditions were considerable…) and took off with my car to pick up Len the American, Todd the Canadian and a new partner, Ben, intern at UBC, who has just arrived from France a few weeks ago. Ben was definitely going to get a taste of the BC mountains today!

We quickly made it to highway 99 and got passed at about 6:30 by about 35 Porsches, I guessed they left early because they were doing the Duffey lakes road circuit in one day, but it was just a guess.
We had almost a 45 min hour pit stop at Tim Hortons in Squamish before we set to Pemberton.

At about 9:30 we made it to the trailhead, and the parking lot was simply packed. Of course we immediately saw other VOC members, I guess we are really the mafia of the mountains, we are just everywhere, with or without sun. Quick notice, the parking to Cayoosh mountain was also packed. One of the other VOC members (who were going to Marriott meadows) asked where we were headed too, we told her Mount Rohr and she responded we were ambitious… These kind of comments are well taken but it always brings the doubt back to me, did I drive today for 7 hours for a failed summit… I get nervous about it.. But I keep motivated.

We quickly put on our gear, and started heading on the trail. We didn’t t feel like thinking too much so we actually just followed some well marked tracks, through the forest. I knew that we were way up east the actual summer trail, but I had a good feeling about those tracks, I felt that the skiers in front of us knew what they were doing… not the smartest feeling as you should only trust yourself on the mountain and not people you have never met.

The tracks were going straight up and in a descent zigzag, easy for snowshoers to follow but our friend Len was having a bit of a hard time with his new skies, he was loosing his skins on every turn. Since he was behind, I told him to take the lead and I would push his butt up the mountain. This actually really got him going. About 90 min later , the trees started to thin out, and we got our first good views of Joffre and Slalok (not Matier as we thought first).

The tracks were still excellent but we didn t really know what we were heading to. In the beginning I thought we were going to go as high as Rohr lake and then traverse under the ridge to meet the bowl, but as soon as I saw that we were a 100m above I kind of guessed we going to go on the ridge. I was happy about this alternative ascent but nervous as I had heard that the ridge was difficult.

When we arrived at the alpine, we decided to stop for a quick lunch/photo break, we ate our meal, happy that now it would only be great views. I appreciated the look of Vantage peak, something I would like to climb in a near future.

A group of three skiers arrived and we start following them. It seems we were quite a few on the ridge. 4 from my group, the group in front of us, 3 and another group of 5 who had gracefully broke this awesome trail for us.

We made it to the ridge and we felt on top of the world with excellent 360 degree views. Because of the proximity, we were focus on Joffre, Matier and also Marriott up North. The snow was delicious, not easy but far from exhausting us. The trees had that great frozen look, and some of them looked more like an ice cube than a pine tree. We first made it to the false summit where I realized that my silver necklace had broken and disappeared in the snow. I was pretty p…, I had been wearing it everyday for 11 years. If you see something shiny on the Rohr ridge please email me.

The false summit on the ridge had quite some preeminence, and it required us to a steep descent, butt slide way down, we lost about 200m. This kind of step made us want to go another way back down, especially that at this point we could see the group of 5 skiers going down into the bowl. We didn t have skis but we did want to do something different after our summit. We made it to the bottom to the slope that leads to Mount Rohr. Not difficult, steep but not scary, max 30 degrees. The snow was good, nothing slippery. Our friend Ben, was getting really tired and had to lay down every 5 min. We told him he was loosing tons of energy when he lays down in the snow, but he told us the wind was eating up more of it. Fine with us, what could we say, he works in thermal isolation.
I have to admit, the last steep part was tough, it was tiring, but when you wake up at 50m in Burnaby, ascending the same day a 2500 m mountain has a few effects on you. I didn’t t feel sick, just a bit short breathed, but it was one of those good feelings, that remind you that you are alive and that you are somewhere special.

Summit! After 5 hours of steep climbing. Fantastic views, We had caught up to the group of three skiers who nicely took pictures of all 4 of us. They took off and skied down and we stayed a bit to discuss our two options: Back track or the Rohr bowl?

After 2.5 seconds of deliberation the majority decided to attempt the Rohr bowl, circuit hikes are the best and we had good AVI gear. We were not the first one to go in the bowl so we thought it would be ok.
We checked our beacons and straped well our shovels and probes on us and start heading down.
What an amazing snow, our friend Len was the one really enjoying his skis now after his unpleasant ascent in the forest. The snow sounded good and felt stable although it had been in the sun for at least 4 hours. We stayed on the skiers tracks. There were some parts where the snow was shallow and I know that those are the areas that are most prone to start an avalanche. When it was not steep we just spread out. But on a few parts in went in the 40 degrees, so we went one at a time, ready to rescue someone, in case…

On our way down I noticed the steep south slopes on our right, I had a feeling that they were high avalanche risk zones and to never wonder there in those conditions. Well soon after, Todd pointed his finger towards those slopes, and in front of us a avalanche wet slab, probably a size 1 was going down the slope. Maybe 15 km/h and 40 cm deep, nothing scary, but we wer happy to be at least 400 m away from it. Actually there was a lot of avalanche debris from those slopes, a good reminder of the nature of the are. We quickly made it to Rohr lake. And enjoyed a nice lake traverse and were surprised by the steepsnees of the slope going to Marriott creek. We met with more skiers enjoying their day on that slope, doing some runs. They told us they were sleeping high up there, probably – 10 at night, more courageous people out there. We traversed towards the south trying to make it back to the trail. We made it to the debris area, an opened area that I felt was very prone to Avi risk, We ran through it although at this part of the day I was getting a bit tired. We finally made it to the logging road and we felt our adventure was coming to an end. I tried to step on Lens skis and slide behind him, it kind of worked for 20 m but his ice axe was dangerously threatening my eyeball. After 8 hours of fantastic climbing we made it back to the car. Although I had lost a precious peace of jewelry, I was happy I had lived another amazing day in my life, something I will take with me to my grave.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Elk Mountain & Mount Thurston

After 2 ascents in dreadful conditions, the sun finally came back and without hesitation, I rented a car for myself and BT to go hiking in the Chilliwack area. We left the house around 9:15, I admit a late start but the hike was only 1.5 hours away and 7 hours long. We went through the beautiful Fraser valley Bonn-Tien screaming each time she saw a farm selling organic eggs or nuts, luckily it was Sunday and everything seemed closed otherwise I would be bankrupt by now.

We easily found the trailhead, unfortunately people have been dumping their trash in the area and they have some fresh new clear cuts.

The start of the trail was really easy but BT felt some horrible pains with her shoes. Several time we had to stop so she could re adjust or add some inefficient mole skin. The trail makes you do some really large turns adding, quite some distance but the forest is really nice and the trail is so well maintained that each step is delightful (when you are not wearing BT`s shoes). We arrived at the beginning of the steep section. I was happy to see it was not that steep and no gear was required, although some previous hikers had scared me by asking us if we were equipped with ice gear. It was a smooth climb through the forest. We quickly got out of the trees and saw this hikes main appeal, it`s amazing views of the North Cascade and the Fraser Valley. We were very impressed.
We followed the summit ridge for another half hour and made it to the gentle summit of Elk mountain. We were lucky to meet another couple who took pictures of us.
Although the pain, BT was motivated to go further. So we continued and had to go back into the forest. I really like this trail that is relatively flat, going along a summit ridge. This insured us a good view every 5 min. The snow was soft but not too deep. Some steep sections on our left but nothing technical on the trail, a pure pleasure. A few times we got completely in the forest and we enjoyed much deeper snow in a very calm atmosphere. Once again we got out of the forest and we just needed to walk another 5 min before getting to the Thurston Cairn about 1 km from Mt Thurston. We finally made it to the cairn and the views were astonishing. But I wanted to do the trail in full, but BT did not want to and nobody had gone further than the cairn. The snow was virgin, no tracks, I would have had to break trail, which was fine with me. BTs heart wanted to go further but her feet were saying no. However, she has an amazing source of energy, and accepted my invitation to go further!, I broke trail, at first going downhill but then going up hill again. It was hard to break trail but the beauty of the untouched alpine and the isolation kept us going. We made it to the Thurston look out, and BT was giving up. But when I said that the actual summit was another 400 m, she did not give up and followed me through the scenery. We were at 1600 m high, and the snow was much deeper. It was hard but the we were almost there. After a last steep, knee high snow, slope we made it to the summit. BT was tired but proud of our accomplishment. It turned out that it was not the best view that we had that day, but we were on the top!
After a sweet chocolate bar and a few pictures, we headed back. Although of her feet pain, BT was quick and carful. We were going back at great speed. After the cairn, me met Elkaholic and his beautiful dog, an active Clubtread member, that I had read much about. It was a pleasure to meet someone who has hiked so much in the area, he had so many great recommendations for the area, this was his 207th time climbing the mountain, a number that made me dizzy. He was very kind and we would meet again on Clubtread.
The way back was great, passed a group of winter/early spring campers, the weather was holding good. We thought we could cut through the new clear cut on our way back to save some time. It was not that great of an idea. The cut was steep and I grabbed some kind of super prickly root-branch, as I am writing this I still have some spines in my hand. We finally made it to the car after 8 hours of hiking. Today was a fantastic day and we were extremely happy of our adventure. BT healed her blisters. And I was already thinking of what I was going to write about this trip.

Mount Fromme (Attempt) A cold day...

Today I started work at 14:00.

I decided to attempt Mount Fromme, a summit in North Vancouver, very easily accessible. This was my third attempt…this actually is a very easy trail but I have been very unlucky.
First attempt: A year ago with Bonn-Tien, we only had one pair of snowshoes, got lost in the forest on the middle of the mountain. We made it to a nice viewpoint but turned back because of lack of time.
Second attempt: Last fall, biked up the logging road, BT got tired, I got annoyed, we just enjoyed our ride back down the hill, stayed on the logging road the whole way.
This last attempt: Made it up with my bike ¾ up the logging road. I hid the bike on the side ans snowshoed to the trailhead. Made it to the trailhead. I was very surprised that for such a popular hike the markings were so poor. Good barely see the trail, it was snowing, hailing and raining, very foggy, horrible conditions no views guaranteed. After struggling going uphill, I resigned and walked back to my bike. Cruised down in wind and rain with brakes to be embarrassed about. Got completely chilled. Luckily it took me very little time to get back to Phibbs Exchange and take a bus back home so I could be on time for work.