I organized a two day traverse of the Garibaldi Neve which ended up attracting 14 people with a good mix of experience and speed. We set out on Saturday morning, in a minivan that we had borrowed from the car coop. The road up to the Diamondhead Trailhead is notoriously dangerous in winter, but in spring it is often bare. We drove up to the chain up area, and from there noticed that the road had some white fluffy stuff on it. Ben suggested putting on the chains, but there is always that voice that tells you that you might be able to go a bit farther without the chains… We tried, and the inevitable happened – we were stuck in the middle of the road, unable to go up any farther. Then we discovered that the chains from our dead car didn’t fit the co-op minivan, not a huge surprise. Dean’s car ahead of us was in the same situation. We hastily emptied out the cars of passengers and gear and carefully drove down in reverse, back to the chain up area. We huffed up the hill, an unexpected half an hour hike to the trailhead. There we met our third car, which had no trouble getting to the top and were wondering what took us so long. Here we discovered that a BCMC group of 16 had started up the trail before us, and had a similar plan to our own. Both groups had to shuttle a car to the other end of the traverse, so they were nice enough to help us out by driving Marius back after he had taken his car to the other end.
From the trailhead it is a short and pleasant ski up to the Red Heather shelter. We stopped to rest and enjoy the sun. The shelter and outhouse were covered almost completely by snow – it’s been a good snow year. No VOC trip is complete without an improvised fix for something, be it skis, bindings or feet, usually involving Voile straps and duct tape. In this case Frances was using Ben’s rock skis, since she had broken her skis recently at Phelix. Since Ben is rather large, and Frances is rather small, her feet didn’t quite reach far enough, so Ben applied a Voile strap, and later sawed a piece of wood in case the strap didn’t do a good enough job. I don’t think the piece of wood ended up being of any use, but I suspect Frances ended up carrying it across the Neve…
On the way to Elfin Lakes we admired the views of Mamquam and Atwell, made even more dramatic by the shifting clouds, and complained about the “intense heat” (it wasn’t that bad…). At the Elfin Lakes shelter we had a prolonged lunch while lazing in the sun, at which point some clouds came around, cooling the air considerably and bringing a few flakes of snow. The rapid changes continued for the next few hours. The large BCMC group had stopped before us, but they lingered, admittedly waiting for us to go first so that they wouldn’t have to break trail.
We crossed a few small and annoying creeks and then dropped down steeply into Ring Creek. The snow consisted of a breakable death crust. To the uninitiated, this is a crust thick enough to almost support your weight – the crust gives way in an unpredictable way, so skiing down typically consists of stopping and starting repeatedly, with lots of falls in between. The BCMC group was basically at the exact same speed as us, so they kept on half bypassing us. The fast people would pass us, and then wait for the slower ones. As an organizer, this was somewhat frustrating, since it made it all that much more difficult to keep track of where the VOC’ers were.
From there things only got better: the ski up Ring Creek was easy, and we then skirted by Opal Cone, an extinct volcano, and then on to the flat and easy glacier. The sun was out again in full force, so I found myself surrounded by cameras and smiles. We had a great view of the steep East side of Atwell Peak.
Finally, people were starting to run out of steam, so we decided to camp at the end of the flat part, where we had some protection from the wind. The BCMC group saw us stop and made camp just 100m away – we joked that they didn’t go farther since they wanted us to show them the way the next day. We set up camp, dug out a large kitchen and an outhouse, and settled in for a long dinner, crowned by two rounds of Maya’s amazing triple chocolate cookies. A few people had elected to sleep in a “snow coffin”, I must say I like the name, since usually people wouldn’t choose to associate themselves with coffins, at least not while they are young. The idea is to dig a hole in the snow, roughly of a size and shape of a coffin, and then place a tarp on top. The rest of us slept in tents: boring!
We awoke to a beautiful sunny and clear morning – the weather seemed to be showing great promise. After breakfast and packing up, just as we left camp, the whiteout set in and visibility was very low. Our two “fastshoers” (= fast snowshoers) had set out earlier to attempt to climb the Tent (a nearby peak supposedly shaped like a tent), so we followed their tracks in the beginning. Later we followed our maps, and made good use of GPS. At one stage we hit a steep-ish slope, which wasn’t quite expected. In a whiteout, getting into steep terrain is bad news, so we started moving really really slow to figure out what was happening. After a bit of thinking it turned out we were slightly higher than we wanted to be, and from there and on it was mellow skiing to the Sharkfin. This peak would have indeed looked like a Sharkfin jutting out from the snow, if only we could see it….
We skied down beside the Sharkfin, commenting that the skiing was pretty good, except for the first person who stumbled down in the fog, as if blindfolded. Looking back, I could see about 30 odd shapes skiing towards us in the fog, a very ethereal image. We reached a wide saddle, put on our skins for a short section, and then skied down to Garibaldi Lake. This was a fun section of skiing. We stopped just before the steep part to ski it one by one. Every time we did this, while we patiently waited for our turn, invariably a few BCMC’ers would show up and gang ski it down, oblivious to us.
The ski across the lake, 6km or so of flat terrain, is said to be boring and mind numbing. It does have the quality that it seems much shorter than it is, so one is constantly surprised by how long it is taking. On the other side of the lake three of us set out first, in order to drive back to the other trailhead and retrieve the two cars we had left there. The ski down the Barrier Trail was very fast and exciting. I commented how this is much like downhill cycling: one goes at very high speeds down a narrow and winding trail lined with obstacles (trees) which if you crashed into them would likely involve serious injury. Top this off with a questionable ability to stop and avoid these obstacles and you get one hell of an adrenaline rush.
At the bottom we waited for a while for one of the guys, but he didn’t show up. We reasoned that he took a wrong turn at the last switchback, thereby following the creek down and past the parking lot. A snowshoer died there in a similar incident, when he kept going down on the wrong side of the creek and finally decided to try and cross and drowned. Luckily our friend was smart enough to turn around in time and head back up to the trail. We were happy to see him return, since despite my usual optimism, I had already started playing out my conversation with Search and Rescue. We rushed back to get the cars, and by the time we returned with the cars everyone was down and ready to go. We had a nice dinner at the Shady Tree and headed back home, somewhat tired, with sore feet, but happy.