Last weekend we went on a two day trip with the Varsity Outdoor Club, organized by Christian Veenstra, the head of the club. The plan was to cross the Garibaldi Glacier, making a horseshoe traverse around Mt. Garibaldi. This trip is usually done in winter, when the crevasses are covered by huge amounts of snow, making route finding much easier. In summer, finding a route through the maze of ice falls and gaping crevasses is not guaranteed. More about this below.
We met up at the Diamond Head parking lot, waited for a few straddlers, and started hiking up the wide trail to Elfin Lakes. We stopped at Red Heather Meadows for a rest and to eat the plump and delicious huckleberries that were in abundance. From there we hiked up to Paul Ridge, which had the usual beautiful view of Atwell Peak, and on to Elfin Lakes. This brought back memories of a trip to Elfin Lakes in June the previous year, when the trail was completely covered in snow and it was foggy, so we saw no views. At Elfin Lakes we had our first lunch, and hiked down to Ring Creek and past Opal Cone. Here we left the trail and headed up towards the glacier, hiking on glacial debris.
At the glacier we fiddled around with our crampons for a while, had a snack and enjoyed the views. From there we hiked on bare ice, which was actually much easier than hiking on talus and scree. There was a lot of running water on the glacier, and every now and then we came across a small waterfall going down into a hole in the ice and disappearing into the void. We also hopped over many wide crevasses, providing entertainment and food for photo op hunters.
Eventually we arrived to a part of the glacier which was covered with snow, and were stopped by Christian who said we should have roped up “way back over there”. The reason being that the snow can hide crevasses under a thin layer of snow, and a fall into one of these could cause serious injury or worse. We split up into rope teams and continued hiking along the glacier, the chaotic group transformed into a neat single file slithering up the slope. We crossed several short rocky sections where we repeatedly unroped, took off our crampons, and then put them back on. I led the second group and managed to take some good photos while walking backwards in the front, somewhat tricky at times.
Finally we reached camp, which was populated by the advance party which had come up earlier that same day. Since we were doing a one way trip, a car had to be placed at the end, and Roland and co. volunteered to go up the day before to the end of the route, hike back down, drive to the beginning and join us on the glacier. When we arrived to camp I hiked up on some rocks to get a better view, and saw three of them returning from a reconnaissance of the complex terrain we were planning to travel through the next day. Then it was time for dinner on the rocks, and some singing to Christian’s fine ukulele playing and Hans’ melodic voice. Long time favorites such as American Pie (Don Mclean) mixed with some esoteric Canadian tunes such as Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers).
The next day we woke up at 6am, had a hurried breakfast and watched the sun rise up like an orange fireball through the hazy skies from recent forest fires. A procession of people holding poo bags passed through camp – it is VOC policy on big trips to carry out even the poo. This is especially important when camping in the alpine, since it could take many years for it to break down.
We packed, donned our crampons, roped up, and followed Roland’s group on the meandering route that they had found the day before. I looked back, seeing pink lines of Watermelon Algae which had been carried by water trickles down the snow, and in the background the huge pyramid rock of Atwell. In front there was a sea of snow and ice, and more worrying, a labyrinth of crevasses and icefalls that we were going to attempt to cross. We stopped while others went ahead to look for a good route. There was talk of turning around if a route couldn’t be found in a short while. No one was looking forward to retracing our steps.
This was a good chance to appreciate the icy castles and sculptures, and the Sharkfin jutting out of the glacier, like the fin of a giant sea monster living beneath the ice. Finally the call came that we should follow the intricate route found by Roland, which involved going right through the icefall, hiking down and back up on narrow bridges of ice. Christian remarked that Roland’s route was probably the only one that would have gotten us through. Roland then said that this was the most “dinking around on a glacier” that he had ever done…
We made it through unscathed, and shortly we were beside the Shark Fin, breathing a sigh of relief, since it seemed more and more likely that we would actually succeed. We hiked down on the right of the Shark Fin, descending a hard snow patch. I attempted to glissade but the snow was too hard so I had to self arrest which was surprisingly difficult with the hard snow and heavy pack on my back. We got back on the glacier, with great views of the Table and the Guard watching over our progress from the head of the glacier. This part of the glacier was easy going, so progress was now much faster. Maya spotted a blue patch, so I headed over to check it out and discovered an old sleeping bag, sopping wet. I picked it up to carry down as payback to the glacier gods for letting us through. It joined the remains of a blue balloon that I had found earlier that day. Now I know where all those balloons that people let go of actually end up.
After passing a raging waterfall, we stopped for a lunch break, with good views of the winter route up Garibaldi. We continued on the glacier a little longer, and then a bear appeared on a small ridge up ahead, saw us and scampered off. I imagine he was quite surprised to see such a large group in this unlikely location. We reached the end of the glacier, thinking that we were right beside Brohm Ridge, which would lead us down to the road, but then discovered that we were one ridge over from the correct ridge. We hiked back up onto the glacier and around Mt. Garibaldi, and finally onto the correct ridge, and the small trail that goes along it. In front we saw what looked like a steep rocky bump from afar, and I was sure we would go around it. However, on the right side there was a steep snow patch with a long fall below, so we ended up going right over it. This was mostly hiking on a faint trail with a few easy scrambling moves.
From the top of the bump we could see the good trail which leads to the logging roads that would take us down to the road. We made fast progress down the trail and the logging road, but we were in for at least 15km and 1500m of elevation loss on the road, a lengthy ordeal. Roland took down a first load of drivers, and we continued hiking down the road. Later he came back up to take the rest of the drivers and the backpacks, and the restless good soul that he is, came back up again to take down one last load of 11 people crammed into the Sturdy Trooper. I was one of the lucky drivers to get an earlier ride down, but apparently the last group was ecstatically thankful to see Roland come up for them unexpectedly. In the meantime the drivers drove back to the Diamond Head parking lot to get the cars, so that soon enough we were all down at the bottom, with some people heading for a quick session of skinny dipping in Cat Lake. We reassembled at A&W for a quick burger dinner, and the unsurprising discovery that one burger doesn’t really cut it after a trip like this.