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Mt.Baker Ski Mountaineering Trip - Heliotrope Ridge and Coleman Glacier - June 2011

Mt.Baker Ski Mountaineering Trip - Heliotrope Ridge and Coleman Glacier - June 2011

Dave and I loaded his truck, caught the first ferry from Vancouver Island, and drove down to Washington State. There was a one day weather window tomorrow morning, and we planned to spend it on the top of Mt. Baker.

We drove through the small mountain town of Glacier, stopping in at the Park Ranger Station there to post a trip plan, and hear what the Park Rangers had to say about local conditions on the mountain. All seemed pretty good. The road was clear to within a mile of the Heliotrope Ridge trail head. It had been a bumper snow year this winter, so the crevasses were still pretty well filled in. There had been a huge avalanche run pretty much the full length of Grouse Creek, taking out the new footbridge at the trail head, but this provided for plenty of spring snow for us to climb up the valley. This made for minimal bush-wacking.

Skinning up Grouse Creek to the start of the ridge was quite the slog. Between the mist and the rain, saturated snow, and heavy packs, we were both very happy to gain the ridge. There were a few tents set up on the north side of the start of the ridge, and a mixed group of skiers, snow-shoers and climbers practicing ice-axe arrests and crevasse rescue techniques in the gully north of the camp.

From this camp we followed Heliotrope Ridge, with more traversing than climbing, to get to Ridge Camp. We set up our tent and dug a snow kitchen. There are spectacular views from here looking south through a key hole slot in the rocky ridge across the Thunder Glacier to Lincoln Peak and the Black Buttes. We cooked up some dinner as the sun went down below us, and hit the hay early.

Up at 2am! Cooked up a quick brew and breakfast, geared and roped up, and started up the ridge. The drop down to Alt Camp was a little interesting. Skiing on bullet proof ice while roped up will never feel particularly natural to me. It was still a little dark, and we couldn't see exactly what was below us, so we skirted the slopes to a key hole in the ridge above Alt Camp, before traversing around to the slopes just east of the camp. There was quite the little tent village in the Alt Camp hollow, and head lamps were just starting to emerge.

From Alt Camp, it's a series of steep ramps leading to benches, one after the other. We stayed a fair way climber's-left of Heliotrope Ridge. There had been a number of small wet avalanches the day before coming off the ridge, and there were still plenty of slumped over cornices above us. They were probably OK for now, but who knows what would happen when the sun hit the ridge.

Reaching the the top of Heliotrope Ridge and looking down over the Easton Glacier was a great place for a break. We could see teams of climbers navigating the well crevassed glacier on their way up. It's amazing how much more open the slots were on that side. I guess Heliotrope Ridge protects the Coleman Glacier from the worst of the sun, whereas the Easton Glacier is sun kissed almost from sun up until sun down.

The Roman Headwall is always a lot steeper than you'd think it would be, especially on tired legs. I cramponned up as fast as I could. There were a few climbers skinning up, but this looked like the hard way to do it, and I soon left them behind. There were a surprising number of people without skis or crampons, which seemed a little foolhardy. They didn't look like they were having much fun of it on the way up, and I hate to think how they went on the way back down - not to be recommended!

A quick crossing of the summit plateau got me to the Mt Baker summit. It's always a little disappointing how small the summit cone is. It would be a lot more spectacular if it were immediately above the Roman Wall, instead of on the far side of such a large flat area.

The ski back down to camp was fantastic. There was about three inches of soft "hero snow" on top of a firm base, and the skiing was effortless. We passed numerous avalanches that had slid while we had been still climbing in the morning. There had also been an impressive serac fall from Baker's north ridge during the morning, and we didn't need much persuasion to keep the speed up. We quickly broke camp, had a quick coffee and some food, and headed back down Grouse Creek through increasingly wetter snow. Legs tired, but happy to have made it back, we heading back down the mountain roads, back to Vancouver, and caught the last ferry back to the island.

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Climbing Rainbow Mountain - Late September 2009

Climbing Rainbow Mountain near Whistler, BC - September, 2009

On Friday morning, Mark and I drove to Whistler, parked at the Rainbow trail head, and hiked the couple of hours into the alpine meadows around Rainbow Lake. It was a spectacular early fall day, with blue bird skies and mountains full of the largest wild blue berries I've ever seen. There were very few people on the trail. We stashed our camping gear at the end of the lake, and hiked up to the ridge between Rainbow and Hanging Lake. From there we headed north along a small creek towards Beverly Lake. We left the trail as it started to become a little vague, heading up the boulder strewn gully towards a large flat topped bluff.

Following the creek up through talus slopes to a small snow filled bowl, we headed north again onto a soggy glacier, and scrambled up left through loose rock to an exposed knife edge ridge line. A prominent rock tower guards the northern end of the ridge, and it took a few delicate moves to pass around it's eastern side. From there it was an easy scramble up a gully the rocky approach to the false south summit. A short walk north brought us to the true summit of Rainbow Mountain.

The views up there were endless, looking across at the Pemberton Icefields, the Elaho and Ashlu range, the Tantalus, and from Garibaldi past Whistler, Blackcomb and Wedgemount all the way north to Mount Curry. The Place Glacier and Joffre Groups could be seen in the distance. Flags along the ridge to the north of the summit marked the standard drop-off point for the Whistler Heli Skiing operation.

A cold brisk wind had us heading back down sooner than we would have liked, but it was 5:30pm, and there was only a short amount of light left. The way down was a lot more obvious than the way up, and we found a faster route by staying further south than we'd come up. Night fell as we descended into alpine meadows, and it took a little wandering around to locate the goat trail back to camp. The long day made dinner taste all the better, and we slept under a clear star filled sky by the lake.

The next day we got up for an early breakfast and headed back down the trail, tired from the previous days activities, pleased to have explored such a beautiful peak.

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Climbing Mt.Habrich's North-West Route - September 2009

Climbing Mt.Habrich's North-West Route - September, 2009

On Saturday, following an afternoon of climbing at Murrin Park, David and I headed up the forest services road beside the Chief near Squamish. We parked near the locked gate of the deactivated Stawamus/Indian FSR, packed camping and climbing gear into light packs, and headed up the logging road for an hour and half hiking in the dark towards the valley above Shannon Creek. A little nervous after so many cougar attacks this summer, we made lots of noise. The stars were out, the moon was not, but bright headlamps made the going easy. We camped on level ground in the middle of the road between two creek crossings, cooked up an Indian curry dinner, and washed it down with a good bottle of red.

Sunday morning, 6am. After a quick breakfast, we broke camp, and stashed our gear back from the road in the trees. A couple of hours of hiking up double track brought us to the approach trail heading up to the base of Mt. Habrich. The trail was steep and loose, overgrown to the point of being difficult to find, but after a few hours we arrived at the vertical headwall of the southern face of Habrich. We hiked up to the western col, looking out over Mt. Garibaldi. We roped up, and started climbing.

Well, scrambling really. For six or seven pitches, we traversed right, then left, then right again. Mostly we were moving around on tiny blueberry covered dirt ledges stuck very loosely to the rock. There was not much in the way of gear, mostly we slung some tape unconvincingly around the occasional alder bush, and there was rarely a technical move. It was easy to get lost up there. The guidebook we'd read described the route as "nebulous", which I assume is French for rubbish, but we eventually wandered our way to the summit. The crux of the day was finding the rappel station off the summit. After scrambling around on a lot of loose rock, and bush bashing through blueberry and alder to the right and left, we somehow managed to find the top anchor chain bolted to the rock. Five rappels later we were back at the base of the mountain, and hiked our way back out to the car.

While the route we chose was not necessarily to be recommended, there are a number of more solid routes to be done up there, and the views of Sky Pilot, the Tantalus Range, and Black Tusk and Garibaldi are truly amazing. Next time we'll probably take bikes in for a large part of the logging road, and try a less "nebulous" route.

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Mt.Baker Mountaineering Trip - Easton Glacier - August 2009

Mt.Baker Mountaineering Trip - Late August, 2009

Mark, Ryan and I drove down to Washington State on a Saturday morning, and hiked to high camp on the southern slopes of Mount Baker. We passed through Schriebers Meadow, crossing glacier fed streams, and into the high alpine meadows along Railroad Grade, a trail along a moraine wall named for it's consistent six degree gradient. Camped on a small ridge above Marmot filled and boulder strewn meadows, we could see the bare rock above us turn to the icy crevassed glacier leading up to Mount Baker's summit plateau.

After a quick reconnaissance of the next days route, and a scout for potable water, we turned in early as Venus rose in a clear star strewn sky.

3:30 AM, we crawled out of warm sleeping bags, rushed down breakfast, and started up the trail. An hour later we donned crampons and ice axes, roped up, and stepped out onto the Easton Glacier. For hours we slogged up an ever steepening glacier, navigating through crevasses and seracs until we gained the summit plateau. A short hike further and we climbed the pimple of rock that is the Mount Baker summit. A couple of pictures, a stare at the steaming pit of Mt. Baker's only active vent, and we turned around to head back down the glacier that never ends.

After a quick snooze back at camp, we ate the rest of our food, and hiked back to the car. Hard to believe how much you can pack into a couple of days, eh!

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Mountain Biking in Downieville, California - September 2008

Downieville Mountain Biking Trip - Mid September, 2008

Natasha, Brent and I headed east from San Francisco towards Lake Tahoe, turning off on the I-49 to follow the Yuba River into the small mountain town of Downieville. We camped next a giant air-stream motor home owned by a guy gold prospecting nearby river.

On our first day, we'd organized two shuttle drops to the top of Packer Saddle. Yuba Expeditions, a bike outfitter in Downieville drove us to the the top of the Sunrise trail. Dropping down the Sunrise Trail, our morning trail was the straight shot, hitting the Butcher Ranch Trail to Paul Creek, then upping the speed as we fast tracked down the Third Divide Trail to Lavezzola Rd, before diving down the First Divide Trail back to town. After lunch and a caffeine injection, we shuttled back up to the Saddle. This time we took the 4x4 road, and dropped into the slightly less travelled Pauley Creek Trail. This joined up with the Butcher Ranch Trail halfway down, but this time we stayed left, and dropped into the slightly more technical Second Divide Trail. A short cut right at Lavezzola Rd, and we flew back down the First Divide Trail to town, hitting camp after dark.

The second day we drove ourselves up to just below the Packer Lake Saddle, and rode the Deer Lake Trail, some beautifully flowing single track that passes, not surprisingly, around Deer Lake. We then hooked that up with the Tamarack Sardine Lakes trail, a spectacular climb up to a shoulder of the Sierra Buttes and worthy views before plunging down the other side of the ridge, past Upper and Lower Sardine Lakes and back to Packer Lake Rd.

For our final day, Yuba shuttled us back up to the saddle. We dropped down Sunrise Trail, then headed further north past the Empire Mine out to Big Boulder Trail. Dodging baby heads and climbing steep switch backs the Big Boulder Trail then plunges down the shoulder, hitting the Pauley Creek trail just above the foot Bridge. We finished the ride down Third and First Divide Trails, packed up camp quickly, and drove back to San Francisco.

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Spruce Lake Mountain Bike Tour - Southern Chilcotins - August 2008

Seven guys and their bikes flew in to Lorna Lake. From there we climbed Lorna Pass, then dropped down to Tyaughton Creek. After climbing Deer Pass, we dropped down to Trigger and Hummingbird lakes on Gun Creek, then rode to our camp at the north end of Spruce Lake. Our gear had been plane dropped by Dale from Tyax earlier in the day. The following day, after an extended breakfast, merging into a relaxing lunch, we did a quick circuit of Spruce Lake, taking the Upper Grasslands trail to Cowboy camp, then tracing our previous day's route back to camp. On the final day, we climbed to Windy Pass, then followed the High Trail, via its south branch, to the Lick Creek trail, then following double track back to Tyax Lodge on Tyaughton Lake. Halfway through the day we watched Dale fly past with our gear, which was waiting for us on the Tyax dock. Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

Moab Mountain Biking Trip - April 2008

Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah, April 2008

Spring time in Vancouver can be a pretty grey time of year, so I flew down to San Francisco to catch up with my friends Brent and Natasha, and we hit the road out to Moab, Utah, desert country. Camped up above town, each day we went looking for some of the best mountain biking trails the area has to offer.

The first day there, we set up camp, and hit the Slick Rock practice loop, riding until the sun started to go down. The slick rock area is the stereo-type of what people picture as Moab riding - smooth, steep, petrified sandstone, where the only limits to how steep you can climb on this grippy rock are the power in your legs and your skills on your bike. The following week we sampled a diverse range of rides, from the cliff hugging technical single track above the Golden Spike jeep trail, to the flowing downhill of Kokopelli and Porcupine Rim, to the technical downhill of Portal. Moab's got pretty much every style of riding you want to cut your teeth on. Highlights included the high speed Sovereign trail, picturesque Amasa Back, Bartlett Wash for just playing around, and Gemini Bridges for the classic arches found almost no place else.

All up an awesome trip, and one I'll no doubt repeat in the not too distant future.

Photos and maps for the trip can be found here.

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