Appa Peak

April 15, 2022


Pemberton Icecap, BC

“Appa Peak” is the unofficial name of a broad-shaped summit at the head of Appa Glacier on the edge of Pemberton Icecap. The other unofficial name is “Petersen Peak” due to the proximity to Peterson Creek to the north, but “Appa Peak” is definitely the more commonly-used one. This peak is more accessible compared to the deeper summits on Pemby Icecap but the term “accessible” is relative. To make a human-powered ascent of “Appa Peak” sans snowmobile and helicopter would necessitate at least 25 km round trip and the timing window is narrow. One needs the Rutherford FSR to be free of snow to the head of the valley but the glacier and “Appa Lake” to be still frozen and well-covered by snow. This narrows the window down to around mid-May. The much-simpler, and still cheap-ish way is to use a snowmobile anytime in winter or early spring. The Rutherford FSR is the primary entry point to the vast Pemby Icecap and to sled all the way onto the icefield is only considered “intermediate” in the snowmobiling world.

Eric Gilbertson had been planning a weekend trip to B.C.’s South Coast ranges and preferred to put his snowmobile to use. I immediately suggested the peaks on Pemby Icecap as I had been waiting at least 6 years for someone to take me up there on a snowmobile. I would not want to use a helicopter for areas that could be easily accessed on a sled. Eric already had about 2 years of snowmobiling experience and was confident to get us up onto the icefield, as long as there were tracks to follow. The weather for this Easter long weekend wasn’t the greatest, but fine enough to pull the trigger. There could be sun, clouds or precipitation but the general pattern was stable. The temperature would be unseasonably cold but “too cold” is always better than “too hot”. Eric left Seattle on Thursday PM and the two of us together left White Rock at 3 am Friday morning. We drove two vehicles to Squamish as Eric was also planning to solo something on the 3rd day when I needed to get back home for work. We car-pooled out of Squamish’s McDonald’s and made to Rutherford FSR another hour and half later. The beginning was already bare so we drove a few kilometers up. We drove across a short stretch of snow/ice and parked at a large area with a groomer and then unloaded Eric’s sled.

Appa, Longspur, Famine and Torah sled-and-ski. GPX DL

This would be my first time ever riding on a snowmobile so I had no idea what I signed up for. The riding was much faster than expected as my GPS had recorded maximum speed of 50 km/h. There was no seatbelt or anything and the only thing that I could hold on was a horizontal strap on the seat, so concentration was needed. The 20-ish kilometer approach to the snowmobiler’s cabin had been recently groomed so the going was extremely easy and the conditions continued to be easy beyond the cabin. There were a few short stretches of side-hilling to get around some obstacles near a creek but otherwise it was an easy cruise to the toe of the glacier. The glacier toe appeared steep from afar, but we cruised up easily. It was then a long ass ride to the base of Appa Peak. I checked the GPS multiple times to make sure we parked at the closest possible spot directly under Appa Peak’s SW slopes/Ridge.

Eric on his sled ready ready to roll
The long valley that leads onto Appa Glacier
We had driven through a period of heavy snowfall and now it’s looking clear
Eric fixing the position of our loads. We carried a lot of stuffs…
Note the width of the snowmobile “highway” just under the toe of Appa Glacier

Right off the bat we realized two problems. First was the sled’s fuel gauge showing only 50% even though we only covered under 20% of the sled’s fuel range. We had planned to sled all the way to the heart of Pemberton Icefield and we weren’t even halfway there yet. I anticipated the problem was due to mostly uphill riding but none of us had the experience to know what was actually going on. This fuel gauge thing would eventually affect our trip but we should focus on Appa Peak at the moment. And then I realized we had lost one of my trekking poles. Eric said that he definitely remembered seeing two poles while unloading gears so I spent at least 10 minutes shovelling around but to no avail. That was a major bummer as my poles were worth more than 180 dollars and hadn’t even lasted for a year. This also meant I had to ski with one pole. I had done that 7 years ago on Columbia Icefield after snapping a pole on Day 1, so I knew it was doable, but definitely far from ideal.

Eric slowing down the sled after dropping me off at Appa Peak’s foot
Eric parking the sled and ready to skin up Appa Peak

The ascent of Appa Peak from our snowmobile would be nothing but an easy stroll with under 300 m elevation gain. I led the way skinning towards a “shoulder” on the SW Ridge. The slope was quite steep so some switchbacks were needed. The snow condition was quite crusty near that shoulder making skinning with one pole a tricky fair. Thankfully the slope angle eased after getting onto the ridge. We then had no further difficulty skinning to the broad summit. The true summit appeared to be on the far side but in reality it was impossible to tell. As a result we had to skin around the summit area to tag all three “high point contenders” to absolutely make sure we could claim this peak. Eric was regretting not bringing his level-sighter for some precise measurements.

Me skinning onto that shoulder. Photo by Eric G.
Eric skinning across that SW Ridge shoulder
Looking south towards Sisqa Peak area
The morning sun behind from high up on Appa Peak’s south slopes
Eric skinning up the broad south ridge
Behind Eric are Sisqa Peak (highest) and Syaqtsa Skuza Peak (pointy tower)
Peaks to the north including “Ride Out” and “Sneak In” etc.
Longspur Peak looking gorgeous, our next objective
Looking down north into Petersen Creek valley
A zoomed-in view towards Mt. Sampson with Sessel Mountain to the left
Rhododendron Mountain is the only “P600m” in this area that I hadn’t done
The broad dome of Ipsoot Mountain that I bagged a year ago in June
Eric and I on the summit of Appa Peak

This was only my 4th trip on skis in 6 years so I wasn’t confident to ski down this crusty slopes with just one pole, so borrowed one of Eric’s pole for the descent. The skiing turned out not as bad as I thought. After traversing back across that steep shoulder the snow condition drastically improved and we had a blast skiing down to the sled. However my muscles weren’t adapted to skiing and my downhill skiing is definitely far from efficient, so I had to take many breaks along the way. Basically I had to stop to rest after 3 or 4 turns and then repeat the process. The fuel gauge was doing a little bit better after re-starting the engine, so we carried on towards Longspur Peak, the tallest objective in this trip. To get there we had to sled up and over a high pass.

Eric checking out another summit contender
Me skiing down from Appa Peak’s summit
Looking down into the valley that we sledded in from
That pointy lower peak is Syaqtsa Skuza Peak, behind is Sisqa Peak
Our tracks down the upper south slopes of Appa Peak
Eric skiing with Sisqa Peak behind
Eric dropping into the lower slopes with much better powder
Me making turns on the lower slopes. Photo by Eric G.