January 3, 2016
Pemberton / Duffey Lake Road, BC
The Joffre Group is one area that’s concentrated with rugged glaciated peaks and at the same time, fairly easy to access thank to the Duffey Lake Road, and these two factors combing together have made the Joffre Group home of some of the classic mountaineering in SW BC. Most of the peaks here are better accessed and climbed in winter or spring when the avalanche condition is low, and that includes Mt. Matier – the highest in the group. Towards the end of this extended New Year high pressure system the avalanche condition had dropped to L/L/L for a couple days in a roll, and Alex and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to get this one knocked off.
The approach via Anniversary Glacier has some crevasses as seen per the summer photos, but thank to the recent condition update by some other local skiers (who just did the Aussie Couloir) we knew all the crevasses were filled in. The weather was calling for sunny but with the possible break-down of this high pressure by as early as the afternoon. I set my alarm at 1:50 am in the morning and by 2:30 I had picked Alex up, and from now on we knew it’s a race against the weather and every minute counted and that included the time spent in gas station/MacDonalds and at the trail-head. We did manage to be efficient and started our plod up the Cerise Creek winter approach by just after 5:30 am. There was a highway of tracks (by skiers, snowshoeers, and unfortunately, some hikers that created lots of post-holes) so it’s easy going in the dark. The first creek was crossed on a good bridge and the second creek was frozen so we just ski’d over. A bit of uphill travel later we made to that logging road section. It’s bushy and alder infested, but short-lived. Then the next few kilometers was relatively flat as we plodded up the valley under the night sky, and all the sudden the view opened up with the majestic Mt. Matier and Joffre Peak loomed in front.
We were debating between the two options – one via Keith Hut and Motel 66 and the other straight up the lower glacier. The main set of tracks led us to the right so before we knew we were already very close to the hut, so option 1.. But then we got confused soon. I had previously never been to anywhere close to Cerise Creek and Alex’s trip was a few years ago in a different season. The tracks were everywhere like in a resort and we were unable to pick the main skin tracks so got misled by a set of downhill tracks. That dumped us right “in between” the two options and in order to correct ourselves we had to ascend up a steep gully. That gully wasn’t easy to ascend with lots of steep skinning and tight kick-turns, but once through it we had already bypassed Motel 66, high on Joffre Peak’s slopes. Here it’s finally getting bright enough and we took a very short break switching headlamps for cameras.
Ascending through another depression zone beneath Joffre’s cliff faces we cut over to the upper Anniversary Glacier. The glacier plod was as easy as expected, although fairly foreshortening. I was initially planing to take an energy break at Joffre/Matier col but a strong gust welcomed us forcing us to put layers on and keep going. The lower Matier’s slope involved lots of wind affected hardpacked/icy snow which made some challenging skinning. A major crevasse was easily bypassed and we skin’d to as far as we “wanted” before switching to boot-packing.
The face looked easy and tame to me from below so I started boot-packing without even using an ice axe nor crampons. A somewhat hardpacked roll was ascended by some tip-toeing and we arrived at a “flatter bench”. The bench was probably only 30-35 degrees steep and gradually got steeper higher up. The snow was very wind affected making some very uneven surface texture, so we eventually took out the ice axe and crampons about halfway up the face. The only spot that’s steep in my book was right before intersecting the summit ridge where I’d say 40-45 degrees but elsewhere it’s an easy snow climb. The cornices on the summit were all small and easy to avoid. Alex took over the lead and we soon reached the summit, which itself was a perfect birthday gift to him.
Due to the coldness we didn’t linger too long up there. We briefly thought about doing Hartzell too but that one is often ascended together with Spetch (and Spetch’s route still needed more snow), so we didn’t bother. Down-climbing the face was easy and we got back to the skis in short time. I thought the skiing was going to be shitty but actually not that bad. Well, it’s still very bad on the face, but down from Joffre/Matier col we did manage to find powder here and there. The glacier was easily descended and lower down we took the “lower glacier” route to exit rather than retracing our ascent route. The rest of the return along Cerise Creek wasn’t the perfect for skiing thank to some rolling terrain but still, much faster than what snowshoes would do, and our round trip time was just over 7.5 hours.
Back to the car we rushed to unpack as the timing was getting close to Whistler’s horrible 4 pm traffic (especially considering it’s the end of a long weekend)… I wanted to be driving through Whistler by 3 pm if possible. I did so, but there’s still some traffics lower down on Sea to Sky Highway, and into the Lower Mainland. But that’s in my tolerable range so I wouldn’t complain. There’s some snowfall in the next two days but not much, and avalanche condition stayed M/L/L and L/L/L so guess what? Another big guy was gonna come down soon.