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 -->

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 cordée, 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...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vantage Peak

I`m a sensitive climber….Last week we had to turn back on Brohm Ridge as we were trying to ascend Mount Garibaldi. The huge avalanche we had just heard had been a very convincing argument. We had just walked in the fog and snow for 8 hours with huge and heavy packs, just to turn around without a single view. We had a much nicer day climbing The Chief the Sunday but I just need my weekly dose of alpine. Therefore, even if I do not regret one second turning back on Brohm ridge, I was a bit frustrated about my last week-end.

This made me look at the weather forecast anxiously all week long hoping for a beautiful sunny opening on the week-end. I started looking at the weather forecast as early as Tuesday, and of course, things looked great for Saturday and Sunday. I was very optimistic because I was planning to climb Baker those days. But as the week went by, the weather was looking worst and worst. Sunday seemed to be a write off so Saturday was only good for a day hike.
Pemberton seemed to be the best option although on Saturday morning, the weather looked terrible in Vancouver and there was 70% chance of showers in the Pemberton area. Didn’t matter anymore at that point, I needed my fix, I needed a summit bad and I had 4 people counting on me to bring them in the mountains.

I woke up around 5:45 am on Saturday and looked out the window where I usually can see the North Shore Mountains, this morning it was more like the North Shore fog… However when I looked south, some patches of blue sky were reminding me that there is a world beyond the clouds.
I hopped on a bus at about 6:30 and made it to the car rental agency. I picked up a car and headed towards Main Street to pick up the super crew one after one. I picked up the last person around 8:30… Yes I left Vancouver for a Pemberton day hike at 8:30 am, an embarrassment to the early morning person I am.
However the traffic was smooth and being 5 in rather small car with a pair of skis on top of everyone makes the trip rather fun. We had our usual pit stop at Tim Hortons in Squamish, but it was already 9:20 am… still a long way till Pemberton.

After Whistler it was really clear blue skies towards the north but thick black ones on the west, I really wanted a nice day and get some good pictures, so I was getting a bit nervous about how the weather was going to be. I tried to stay optimistic in the car as I told everyone that I had looked at the Pemberton airport webcam and had seen a wonderful blue sky, also the reports said it would clear up during the day. We saw two small planes in the Pemberton valley which was also a good sign.

11:30, finally made it to the trailhead!! Such a late start but such a great area! We got excited fairly quickly because we could see Vantage Peak completely cleared.However Joffre and Matier had their summits clouded up. We quickly put on the snowshoes and the skis and took the Cerise creek summer trail full south but took a turn into the clear cut after 500m. I had taken this summer trail earlier in September but this time we stayed on the east of the creek almost the whole way. I think the winter trail is much more direct and more gradual with better views.

The snow was very soft and even with snowshoes we sunk in quite a few spots. Although it was fairly cloudy around us, it seemed we were in a bubble of blue skies, and it was just delicious. We crossed a skier who told us that the area was fantastic today and that although there was a soft layer of snow, the conditions were really nice. All of this got us pumped up to do our summit. We hit the logging road after crossing the clear cut and after 10 min went into the forest on the Cerise creek alpine access trail (such a cool name). In the forest, it was a much easier walk and we got to have some nice views on Vantage when we were going through some open areas. After 2.5 hours of walking, we arrived at the large cerise creek opening where the tree don t usually grow tall. This was very nice as you walk right next to the creek and ascend towards the moraine. We noticed some skiers at the top of Anniversary glacier and envied the accomplishment they had just done, probably Matier... When we arrived just under the moraine, we went on our left towards Vantage Peak. We knew now that it was going to be all alpine till the summit. From the bottom of the moraine we followed some other ski tracks and started to evaluate the terrain for our ascent.

I didn`t feel like taking the scramble summer route which starts on the far right of the ridge, for two reasons:
• it was a longer route
• the ascent to the ridge seemed steep and exposed to avi risk

So we basically headed for the middle of the ridge, 2 bumps under the summit. Originally I wanted to take a slope on the left of the first bump but after analyzing the steepness we decided to go right, much more gradual. We finally hit the ridge, 2 bumps to overcome and the final summit push. The first bump that I had originally feared turned out to be much easier, the hidden side was not steep and there was plenty of good holds. But I did underestimate the second bump, much steeper, and the snow on the base layer made things very slippery. At the middle of this bump, we had to take the snowshoes off and I took a hold of my ice axe, it was definitely getting trickier. However we managed to boot up all the way up to the top of this bump and had a good break. It was about quarter to 4 pm and we still had to do the last push towards the summit, we were all breathing hard but still motivated to conquer Vantage Peak. After a good break, I took the lead to find the most appropriate path to our final reach. The beginning started not too steep but fairly quickly after, there was some short steep sections, very enjoyable sections. We had to climb some short rock faces (5.5 max) and needed the ice axe on some steep section requiring a good grab. We were finally 30 m below the summit where the thin ridge started. And it was quite thin! I ascended via a rocky loose face but the rest of the team went through a snowy section. I preferred my way because the top was not as exposed, the other way led to a short step but you ended on a 1 m wide ridge with a fairly exposed left side. And the north face had quite the cornice, not a good place to hang around at this time of the year.

But we all managed to get pass this crux, at different levels of comfort but with all a huge smile as we were going to make it to the summit.

4:35 Pm, latest summit ever, but on time: Summit! And the best weather we had all day. We were just astonished by the beauty of the area. We realized that our lucky weather was mostly because it was a western wind and that all the clouds were getting stuck on Matier and Joffre. We could see that the Wedge area was under heavy rain and snow but we were just on an island of sunshine at 2235m high. We did a quick summit video and the traditional VOC summit picture.

We had a quick lunch/ dinner break and about 4:50 pm, started to head down. Lots of fun glissading on our bums or avi shovels. The weather was just getting better and better and at the end Joffre and Matier were cleared up!
As usual we went much faster on our way back, cutting through the gentle slopes.
We finally made it back to the car at 7:30 pm, 30 min before schedule. Had a quick bite at Pemberton and brought everybody back home before midnight. I had to wake up at 6 am the next day to bring back the car to not get over charged. Who cares, it was raining on Sunday so I just went to the office. (I m not crazy, I m taking sunny Thursday off -? to follow).

The video !! -->