January 15, 2017
Pemberton / Duffey Lake Road, BC
Cayoosh Mountain is an attractive glaciated massif in the heart of Duffey area and boasts quite a few different routes. The peak can be scrambled via the south ridge as documented in Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia, while for those knowledgeable in winter travel the Armchair Glacier on the east side offers a more aesthetic and efficient way to tag the summit. The nearby North-East Glacier has also seen some increasing amount of traffics although it’s a bit longer and more involved. The downside is the crowds as starting from Cayoosh Pass pretty much means the access is short and effortless comparing to what’s generally expected in the west coast adventures.
For many reasons I’d been eyeing on this objective for more than a year already and things eventually lined up nicely towards the mid-January of this year. The downside was my work commitment in the evening so all together I only had a bit more than half a day to make anything happen. For me that’s not a huge deal considering the many “all-nighter” practices I’ve been doing. Given the amount of traffics this area received in the past few days I’d expect a highway of skin tracks, so timing it I’d say 7 hours should be sufficient enough for me to tag the summit and get back, on snowshoes. Leaving home at 2 am in the morning I made some quick work driving up the winding Sea-to-Sky Highway and then the slippery Duffey Lake Road, and before 5:30 am I had started the logging road plod.
The first 3 km or so was following a well-defined logging road northwards. Snowshoes on right from the start this section was fairly flat and very heavily packed. On hindsight I could have just packed the ‘shoes for this part but given the slight incline I did appreciate that extra bit of traction. Onwards from the end of this logging road I followed a mixed set of skin and snowshoe tracks diagonally up a cut-block. It’s confusing at places as which set of tracks should I follow but using GPS to maintain a general bearing it’s pretty straightforward to stay on route, and the next thing I had arrived at a large avalanche path and all tracks seemed to go up the path. Up the path I went I initially stayed on a skin track but soon pointed my bearing straight uphill as it’s much more efficient that way than side-hilling. After a long while I left the path and briefly entered the forest on the climber’s right side, traversing around a forested bench and then I had arrived at the hanging valley separating the main peak of Cayoosh and Cayoosh S2.
It’s still pitch dark at this point and I went into the valley for a bit before picking up the correct set of tracks rightwards into the forest. Unfortunately the snowshoe tracks had stopped here and staying on top of the skin tracks had made some annoying side-hilling. At a couple places where I could clearly see them making switchbacks I just went straight uphill as it’s more pleasant despite the post-holing required. The forest was steep for a while but then I came to a bench and followed the previous parties traversing a long ways due north-east. This had dumped me close to the edge of the first moraine and it seemed like the other guys got quite confused here. I ended up having to descend a bit before able to cut into the broad bowl on the east side of my objective under Armchair Glacier.
Keeping a traversing mode the initial section into the bowl involved some very steep treeline country but soon terrain mellowed out as I gradually approached the alpine. There are quite a few ways to navigate this section but the general trend is to keep a diagonal traverse line across a few large moraines before hitting the toe of Armchair Glacier. It seemed like the previous skiers went for a route on the far left (south) side. This worked nonetheless but in the end I had to cut a steep traverse to hit the glacier. By this stage it had taken me just over 2 hours and the sky was finally bright enough to see some colours on the horizon.
Traversing onto Armchair Glacier I soon lost the tracks thank to the recent wind activities. That’s not a big deal as I just had to break my own trail then, and just as other typical glacier plod the views were very foreshortening. It appeared only 30 min away but actually far more than that with quite a few steeper rises. On the upside I got treated by some incredible morning colours. The few pieces of clouds surely added in some variety. Near the top I picked up their tracks again and followed them cutting a steeper traverse to the right to hit a saddle feature.
The next stage was that steep boot-pack just before the summit block. I managed to wear the snowshoes for about halfway up until the grade steepened. The snow conditions also became firm so the ‘shoes were ditched soon. That boot-pack wasn’t particularly steep, but did take a while especially considering there’s one part that I had to post-hole past my knees. Once topping out on the summit ridge that cold wind had picked up and then some clouds rolled in. Strapping the crampons on I had no further issue making to the summit, although by now I was in a complete white-out. I waited for about half an hour on the summit and the weather did briefly clear up for a short while. Quickly snapping some photos I had to start the descent as it’s simply too windy and cold to stay any longer.
Going down the summit ridge was nice and easy and then I turned my face inwards for the initial bits into the steep east face. Once I reached that post-holing section I turned my face outwards again and had a nice plunge. Grabbing the ‘shoes I kept plunging down on foot/crampons and the ‘shoes didn’t get strapped on until the upper section of Armchair Glacier. Then it’s a fast plunge down the entire length of Armchair Glacier. There’s some nice powder on top of a firm base layer and this had made some ideal downhill snowshoeing conditions and I got down in literally no time. Cutting back across that few traverses on the moraines was a bit painful on the ‘shoes but at least went by fast, and the next thing I was down at treeline already.
There’s a big group of skiers going up and they seemed very surprised to see me showing up out of nowhere. Oh well.. Resuming the descent I more-or-less reversed my uptracks across the steep treeline country, ascended a little bit in that confusing part and then had another fun plunge down into the valley separating Cayoosh with the sub-peak to its south. Passing more skiers on their way up I then quickly made my way over to the lower avalanche path where I had lots of fun plunging and jumping the various snow mushrooms. I passed a huge group of snowshoeers at this stage and it really looked like they didn’t know how to enjoy down-hill snowshoeing as they were following that firm uptrack which was the worst choice. Once onto the final logging road plod the fun part was over. I removed the ‘shoes and leisurely walked back to the car.
My round trip time was exactly 6.5 hours. It’s not even noon when I got back to the parking lot so I had plenty of time to drive back home for work. For some reasons I wasn’t even feeling tired so knocked off the entire drive back home in one single shot and that concluded another awesome day in the mountains.