When a season hits you like this one, motivation can be difficult to muster. In the Sea to Sky Corridor and much of coastal British Columbia this winter, snow has receded closer and closer towards the alpine elevations. Spring conditions are upon us, powder is scarce (in many cases non-existent) and the only consolation we have is that the sun has been out a lot.
It’s so easy just to write it all off and try again next year. In Whistler, locals on mountain bikes seem to be just as common as those shouldering skis around town. Whistler Blackcomb has great grooming and great terrain parks (if you’re into that) but for backcountry missions, conditions are pretty solid everywhere right now. So how does one get their backcountry kicks during such a weak season?
The climbers already know this, but spending hours on an approach, laboring up a steep ascent and then standing on a panoramic peak gives you an unequivocal sense of accomplishment. The higher and more technical the peak, the greater sense of accomplishment.
Take Mt. Garibaldi (2,678 m) for example, which I climbed and skied this week with two friends. The peak is popular with summer mountaineers and winter ski tourers with the quickest access being from Brohm Ridge, a popular snowmobile destination. The low snow levels gave our party two advantages; we could drive a 4×4 vehicle almost the entire way up the access road, and a normally busy snowmobile zone was pretty much empty. The only engines we heard the entire day were from small aircraft flying overhead.
Rolling out of Whistler at around 6 a.m., and only stopping for gas and a brief viewpoint while driving up Cheekeye Road, we managed to drive about 100m on snow before we were risking getting stuck. This is not the type of drive you can do without a truck or 4×4 with adequate clearance over the water bars.
We were skinning by around 8 a.m. and made quick work of the groomed road to the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club Chalet. From there it was an easy skin over the rolling terrain of Brohm Ridge before entering Garibaldi Park and crossing the Warren Glacier. We ate lunch at the foot of the north east face, the final leg before reaching the summit of Garibaldi. Ski crampons got us up within sight of the bergschrunds, after that it was tie to break out the ice axes and boot crampons.
Weaving our way through the bergschrunds, calves began to cramp on the final 45 degree pitch to the summit ridge. Topping out with all the associated photo ops and high fives, we descended back down the NE face on boiler plate snow, each turn above the exposure calculated and conservative. Once off the crux we still had to skip over a couple of the bergschrunds on our skis, but the worst was behind us.
So was a nine-hour round trip to the car – skiing nothing but solid crust – worth it? Of course. When we’re out seeking powder in the backcountry 90 per cent of the time, it’s hard to imagine a trip like this as being fun. The approach was long, the crux was stressful, the skiing sucked and the exit was arduous, but coming home with another summit under your belt is all the reward you need.