The Flames (Fire Spires)

May 22, 2022


Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC

The Flames is one of the few rugged towers of the Fire Spires group surrounded by Terrarosa Glacier. The highest peak in this group, Ember Mountain, is a walk-up from the south while The Flames, Spark Peak, Flash Peak and Flicker Peak all require some degrees of climbing and exposed scrambling. These peaks are rarely ascended due to the access difficulty and The Flames in particular, has seen even fewer ascents. There are three towers on The Flames with the east tower being the highest. Among the selected few groups who dared to venture this far onto Terrarosa Glacier to climb The Flames (according to ClubTread and, most ended up summitting only the west and the central towers as those two are considerably easier. Most of those trips were done in summer in dry conditions and I could not find another account of this peak to be done in winter/spring on snow.

An ascent of The Flames was not on the agenda when Alex, Phil, Francis and I forayed into the Fire Spires as we did not bring any technical climbing equipment and not even a helmet. Earlier in the trip we had snowshoed to the summits of Mt. Glendinning and Ember Mountain. We were looking to actually do the farthest spire namely Matkw Peak but the plan changed. Matkw Peak did not generate enough interest in the group but meanwhile I could see a corkscrew kind of route on The Flames’ true summit that it’s possible to climb it while staying entirely on snow. After some discussions the decision was made for me to solo The Flames while the others would slowly plod back towards Ashes Peak to wait there. I only brought my Trango Tech mountaineering boots and Petzl Irvis Hybrid crampons and such combo was far from ideal in front-pointing. Thankfully Phil had brought a pair of steel crampons so him and I swapped our crampons. I also took Francis’ ice axe so that I could have two ice axes for the climb, which was also essential. The route I planned was to climb a twisting couloir on the south face to get onto the SE Ridge midway up, followed by a traverse/climb of the continuous snow fingers on the upper SE Face. There was absolutely no beta whatsoever and the plan was formulated spontaneously based off my on-field observations.

The upper SE Face/SE Ridge of The Flames seen from the summit of Ember Mtn.
The lower twisting couloir on the S/SW Face of The Flames
A foray into Fire Spires from Sloquet FSR. GPX DL

I ditched snowshoes and some unnecessary gears and plodded easily to the base of The Flames. The couloir did not look as steep as from afar. I climbed the lower face leading into the couloir in one ice axe and then took our my second ice axe (Petzl Gully) just about to enter the couloir. The climbing was mostly 45 degrees and the snow conditions was excellent for kicking steps. There wasn’t much of front-pointing and the twisting section hidden from view offered a narrow but clean passage to avoid ice and rocks. The upper fan was a little steeper but it’s overall quite easy to get onto the ridge, where things suddenly became interesting. I was glad that I did not climb all the way to the top of the “fan” as that’s actually on a large cornice. I topped out on the far climber’s left side next to the rock and had to clean a small step (on the edge of the cornice) to descend onto the SE Face. The traverse across the lower snow passage on SE Face was straightforward but I had to be quick as this zone was threatened by an upper set of cornices.

Just about to enter the twisting couloir, looking towards Ember Mountain
Looking back down towards Ashes Peak, our next objective
At the base of the twisting couloir. The snow wasn’t as icy as I thought
Alex, Phil and Francis patiently waiting on the flats of Terrarosa Glacier
The twisting section of the couloir was less than 2 feet wide but with good snow
Popping onto the SE Ridge, looking ahead to the lower of the two bench traverses
The four summits of Flash Peak made a brief show when I traversed this bench
Looking back at the first cornice that I had to content with.
My tracks traversing the easy section on SE Face with Ember Mtn. behind

I could see a steep section on the upper SE Face that could potentially be problematic and I was correct. As I slowly made my way back across the upper snow passage I realized that the snow was not as continuous as I was hoping for. There was only about 20 cm of snow covering what seemed like class 4 rocks so that was a no-go. The only other possibility now existed on the far climber’s left side of this upper bench, right next to the upper set of cornice. I gingerly traversed to that spot and found a thin strip of snow that could potentially work. I spent at least 5 minutes to chop/clean a passage and subsequently pulled and stemmed myself onto the uppermost SE Ridge. I did not completely bypass the rock but on the ridge, the rock step was rather easy. There were a couple 3rd class moves and that’s it. I then ascended a strip of exposed snow but the very summit was blocked by a small wall of near-vertical snow. I could have just used my ice axe to pull up but I had to think about the down-climb as I did not have a rope. Instead of rushing for the top I spent another 5 to 10 minutes to chop a passage to make a 60-degrees ish ramp and subsequently climbed to the very summit. There’s not much room and I didn’t know if the entire summit was on a cornice dangling over the north face, so I snapped a few photos and immediately started the down-climb.

I had to find a way to get onto the uppermost SE Ridge right next to this cornice
Flicker Peak (L) and Flash Peak (R) from the summit of The Flames
Francis’ photo of me on the summit of The Flames
A closer look at Flash Peak. It seems by no doubt to be the hardest in Fire Spires
Looking down from the summit. Unfortunately doesn’t show my tracks
The NW Face of Ember Mountain
Looking down onto Terrarosa Glacier and Ashes Peak
Spark Peak is that dark tower in the very foreground, behind is “Stanford Peak”
Terrarosa Lake is still very frozen in the foreground, behind is Snowcap Peak
The west tower of The Flames in foreground
Me on the summit of The Flames

The down-climb always seemed to be more straightforward than the ascent as I knew exactly what to expect. Lowering myself on those steep steps was surely awkward but again I knew what exact moves I needed to commit to. In short time I was back onto the SE Face and then I down-climbed and traversed that face as humanly possible as I could as I did not have to be underneath the cornices for any longer than necessary. This aspect of the snow face had been beaten mercilessly by the warm May sun by at least 2 hours now and there was already sluffing happening. The couloir section was still in the shade. I made good steps on the way up so all I needed was to use my exact steps on the down-climb. I continued down-climbing facing into the slopes until the slope angle eased off to around 35 degrees and that was quite a bit below the couloir’s exit. I then slogged back to where I ditched the gears. I took my time taking off the long johns and donning snowshoes, and then made a quick dash to catch up with the other guys on Ashes Peak.

My small tunnel through the upper cornice
Back down onto the flat ground now, looking back
Ashes Peak would be my next objective
A review shot of The Flames’ three towers – west, central and true summit