January 7, 2016
Pemberton / Duffey Lake Road, BC
Not to be confused with Mt. Joffre in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country which I bagged a few years ago in late June, this one is the second highest peak in its namesake group up the Duffey Lake Road in the Coast Mountains. Although not as mighty as the Rockies’ Joffre, this one still stands out and appears like a formidable fortress from all angles. From my limited research this is probably the hardest summit in Joffre Group (by easiest route) and among the dozen routes it boasts, only two are within my technical ability – the route described in Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in SW British Columbia guidebook (one of the most difficult in that book and goes “semi-technical”), and the southwest gully (or commonly known as Aussie Couloir) that goes at 40-45 degree snow climb for 400 vertical meters.
Either of the two would work for me but since I just ascended Mt. Matier a few days ago and had the Aussie Couloir in sight for hours I knew I had to climb it as soon as the condition’s in. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to wait for long. The supposed low pressure system didn’t dump much snow to the mountains and the condition stayed M/L/L for Thursday and L/L/L afterwards. I knew something would have come down over the weekend so Thursday worked better for me, but as usual for a week-day trip a solo ascent was in the order.
A 2 am wake-up call, a familiar drive up the Sea-to-Sky Corridor and the Duffey Road and by 5:40 am I was already plodding up the Cerise Creek approach route.. Unlike a few days ago, I opted for snowshoes this time and I have to say that after a full month of skiing it felt a bit strange to strap the ‘shoes on again. The motion felt entirely different. Due to the (much lighter) gears I could plod at a faster frequency but then there’s no glide for every step forward. But nonetheless I made good progress following the highway of tracks. Again, there’s lots of post-holes created by hikers although I wouldn’t complain this time. For snowshoeing the “lower glacier” route offers the better approach option (versus the Keith Hut and Motel 66), as it avoids side-hilling for as much as possible. But unfortunately for me, the skin tracks all went towards the hut leaving me breaking trail alone starting pretty much from the bottom of the moraine. I plodded up through the “gate” of the two big lateral moraines and then up the lower glacial tongue. Towards the obvious rock outcrop I veered right up a gully feature and joined the other route just after “Motel 66”.
Very much like a few days ago, the sky had become brighter at this stage and I took a short break switching headlamp for camera. The difference was that there’s a layer of clouds rolling in from the north. The lighting was still good at this point but a few hours later I wasn’t so sure. Still no track as I ascended onto the upper Anniversary Glacier and being on snowshoes I just broke a set of tracks aiming straight up the slope towards Joffre/Matier col. This section of the plod was very foreshortening and took me a good while. I felt tired probably due to the trail-breaking but as I timed myself I managed to make to the col actually slightly faster than my Mt. Matier’s trip, so apparently I was doing good.
Around the col I dropped into a depression zone and plodded down to the entrance of Aussie Couloir (losing some elevation along the way). The couloir appeared insanely steep but I knew it’s always not as bad as appeared. I spotted a protected place about 50 m up the couloir so kept my ‘shoes on till that point. Ditching the shoes, switching to ice axe and crampons and then taking a short energy break I immediately focused on the climb ahead. A small moat was easily crossed and the lower couloir went at 40 degree or less. The middle section felt flatter than 40 degrees but as I approaching “the funnel” the grade steepened again.
Unfortunately for me the cloud layered rolled in and I entered the world of white. No wind nor precipitation but I lost all the views. The funnel involved some sort of front-pointing on hardpacked snow up to 45 degrees and I cleared it soon. The summit ridge didn’t have massive cornices as described by other trip reports nor did I have to do a tricky traverse. I managed to stay almost entirely on the ridge crest (scrambling with crampons on) and made to the summit in short time. I waited for about 20 minutes but there’s no sign of improvement in weather…
The summit ridge was easily descended and just before dropping into the couloir I spent some time tightening my shoe lace and taking out the ice tool. I brought it up so might as well use it anyway. With the ice tool the funnel was an easy down-climb with a bit of front-pointing here and there, and once into the main couloir it’s a fast plunge (albeit facing inwards) all the way down to where I ditched gears. Another minute or two was spent switching gears and then the couloir was cleared. The plodding back up to Joffre/Matier col felt tiring but once there I knew the rest would be a simply putting one front in front of another.
The soft powder on top of the hard old surface had created the ideal down-hill snowshoeing conditions especially for not-so-steep grade, as for each step down I could slide a feet or so forward without impacting too much on the knees. The best way to do it was plunging down side-by-side with my uptracks (not using the uptracks) and in no time I was off the upper glacier. The gully feature was easily descended and then the lower glacier was easily plunged and the next thing I realized I was already down by the moraine. The rest of the return along Cerise Creek wasn’t as fun as skiing but then I didn’t have to curse those uphill rolls.
Back to the car my round trip time was just under 9 hours. Despite the overcast sky the visibility was good on Anniversary Glacier and the lighting was okay (no flat light) so on hindsight I should have ski’d it. Timing wise I believe it’s about the same but skiing would have been more fun, although it’s only 4 days after my Matier’s trip so it’s also good to experience the same approach in a different way. And now, with the 1st and 2nd highest peaks in Joffre Group down in a roll, you get the pattern of what’s going to happen next…