March 17, 2016
Garibaldi Provincial Park / Squamish, BC
Mt. Garibaldi is that giant dominating the backdrop of Squamish’s skyline and certainly one of the most aesthetic peaks along the Sea-to-Sky corridor. This volcanic massive is relatively more broken and rugged compared to those down south in Washington. It’s actually a cluster of 5 named summits (Mt. Garibaldi, Atwell Peak, Dalton Dome, The Tent and Diamond Head). Among these, Atwell Peak is by no doubt the biggest prize but Mt. Garibaldi is definitely the most sought-after objective for simple reason that it’s the highest point.
The standard route via NE Face does involve some steep snow up to 45 degrees, a broken glacier and a yawing bergschrund that often creates problems later in the year, but from mountaineering perspective this is a relatively straightforward route as long as you time it in the right conditions. The easiest approach is via a system of logging roads on Brohm Ridge. The challenge for a winter ascent is the added distance on the logging road plod (if not applying snowmobiles) but for tough parties that wouldn’t be a deterring factor.
The weather had been shitty for a few weeks already but it eventually cleared up for this past Thursday and I managed to gather a last-minute group, with Al (Spectrum) on snowshoes, Alex (sandu) on skis and myself also on skis. We together only had 1 day so to make it happen we had to apply that famous “all-nighter” method which I had been practicing previously on Wedge Mountain a few weeks earlier. We left Vancouver by midnight and after getting confused briefly by the logging road branches we did correct ourselves and parked at just below 700 m elevation on Brohm River FSR. The road was in a rough shape with many water bars but Al did a great job 4×4-ing up his truck. By 2 am we all had started the plod, and apparently it’s gonna be a long day ahead…
In about 200 m up the road the snow had become continuous so I ditched hiking shoes and the long skinning plod began. And of course that gear transition took a few minutes. Alex and Al had set up a blistering pace and by the time I finished transition they were nowhere in sight. Long story short it took me close to 3 hours to catch them up at the snowmobiler’s chalet and we regrouped from there. My right foot had developed two big blisters thank to the faster-than-normal skinning pace, but I tried to not let that slow me down by much. Thankfully it didn’t seem to get worse for the rest of the day, although it was quite painful from time to time. Following the snowmobile tracks we hit the broad Brohm Ridge. There were quite a few up-and-downs and micro-terrains to choose from.
Earlier in the trip we had decided to avoid that “Brohm pinnacle” by skirting around on its left side, but as we got closer and closer we started to have some second thoughts. The snowmobile tracks had stopped at this point. The left side appeared like a massive elevation drop (at least 100 m) and none of us was keen on that, so up the pinnacle we went. Near the top Alex and I had to remove our skis and carried them up and over. There were some narrow places but nothing troublesome and soon we were back to the skinning plod. The next section to hit the edge of Warren Glacier was very foreshortening but thankfully we were rewarded by some incredible alpenglow views.
It’s apparent that Alex had led up a line higher than necessary so once onto Warren Glacier we had to lose some elevation. The plod across Warren Glacier was uneventful other than that cold head wind forcing us to keep up the pace. And then the next section was to ascend a steep headwall to gain the North Pitt Glacier. Here I led a long diagonal traverse ascending towards climber’s left before Alex taking over the lead switchbacking back to the right, and now the NE Face was finally displaced in front of us, and at the same time we finally got treated by some sunshine. The head wind was still brutally cold though so the sun didn’t help much.
It’s also apparent that the coverage on this glacier was much better than the previous year. All the crevasses including the bergschrund was nowhere to be seen. Alex had incredible energy breaking trail all the way to above the bergschrund initially up a “ramp feature” on climber’s left followed by a few large switchbacks, and then I took over the lead bootpacking up the face. Al (on snowshoes) had done a great job keeping up with us. The face climb was a brutal exercise wallowing up the waist deep powder and certainly one of the worst post-holing I’d encountered for a while. I had to “arm swap” first followed by “kneeing it down” before finally able to lift my legs up, only to sink back to waist deep… We probably spent closer an hour wallowing up that 45-degree section.
With good perseverance we eventually cleared the face and crested the summit ridge. I thought it’d be a cake walk to the summit from there but I was wrong… There’s still considerable amount of distance and the post-holing soon took over again. A creative method came across my mind and I started crawling since the ridge was relatively flat, and it actually worked fairly well. The summit was soon attained – very exhausted but very satisfied. We abandoned the idea of bagging The Tent so took a long break on the summit soaking in the views.
Plunging down the summit ridge was fast and just about to plunge down the face I accidently triggered a size 1 loose dry slide. The slide went towards our ditched skis and snowshoes but thankfully didn’t bury anything. The face was then easily descended and now it’s time for some well earned turns. The powder was in a fantastic skiing conditions and Alex and I both thoroughly enjoyed the run. It also provided a fast plunge on snowshoes for Al. Back to the flat Warren Glacier we put skins back on and aimed for a lower point on the opposite side before enjoying another run down the moraine. Now below the “Brohm pinnacle” the next few hours wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
Time to scramble up and over “Brohm Pinnacle” first and to do so we had to remove skis (most post-holing).. Down the other side the broad Brohm Ridge was too undulating to provide a fast skiing return. The solution was to keep skins on, but in short time the afternoon heat took over and the wet snow started to ball under my skins. I had to take the skis off and clean the snow in a regular basis. That was exhausting and super frustrating.. Up and over the last bump I removed the skins and enjoyed another great run down to the snowmobiler’s chalet where Alex was patiently waiting. Al showed up in about half an hour later and during which we also ran into Alan Lerchs and his brother on their way up. They were planning to 3-day Mt. Garibaldi and it’s certainly a small world out here!
After a well needed break we resumed the return. There’s still one major uphill plod just before the yellow gate (buried under the snow) and nobody was looking forward to that. But we had to face it, and at least the downhill sections was fast and fun. Back to the “connector” the road became flat with some up-and-downs. I was super exhausted already and the painful blisters didn’t help neither, but what else I could do other than sucking it up. Eventually I heard some snowmobilers sounds from behind and there was Al catching a ride zipping past me. The other snowmobiler offered me a tow but considering my tired legs and the fact I’d never been towed before I opted to resume the return on my own. It’s the final 2 km anyway but the last few hundred meters was exceptionally painful. All the snow had melted out so I had to remove the skis and walk…
Back to the truck I was completely beat. Our round trip time was about 16.5 hours which was a tad longer than expected thank to the above-average post-holing effort.. This was also my first time “all nighter” approach on skis and I did prove that I’m physically (and mentally) capable, but comparing to my performance on snowshoes (Wedge NE Arete trip a few weeks ago) I do realize that my “fitness percentile” on skinning/skiing isn’t nearly as high. But in the end I’m very glad I picked skis this time to enjoy some great run down that glacier, and I have to say that I never get tired of the views from Garibaldi Park.