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.