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!

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