Spearhead Traverse (by Phil Roberts)
May 13th and 14th, 2011
Alarm goes off at 4:45. On the road before 5 for a short (so I thought) drive from Bellingham up to Whistler. I thought it a little strange when I pulled up to the border and saw a giant stop sign. Little did I know the border at Linden doesn't open 'til 8am. Shit. Over to Sumas and up to the Canadian Highway just in time to hit the morning rush in Vancouver. Once through the city it was smooth sailing through the majestic Howe Sound and up to Whistler by 8.
I'd never been to Whistler; first time at the largest ski resort in North America. Navigating the parking lots and Whistler Village was a reminder that I was not at Mt. Baker Ski Area anymore, todo. This was further confirmed when I got to the designated meeting place, Starbucks, and realized nobody there looked like there were going on a ski tour today. After asking the barista, I found out whistler village has three Starbucks and found the rest of the group from PGS literally 100 yards away at the next one.
Once we geared up and got our single ride lift tickets we were on the gondola heading up to Blackcomb. After a minor delay due to route finding (inbounds) we were all assembled at the base of the T-bar by 11:30. Since it wasn't operating we got to skin up to the first col and through the gates into the backcountry. Skies were clear with only high wisps of clouds. Lots of sunshine and expansive views.
Skinned up to the col between Blackcomb and the Spearhead and changed over for a mellow descent onto the Decker Glacier. At this point our group of seven was reduced to five. 2 clients did not feel up to the challenge and returned to the ski area. This left us with a group of 5 total, Martin and Dave guiding and three clients, Doug, Lynn and myself. Dave helped Scott and Mike get back inbounds while the rest of us began climbing up the Decker.
Dropped through a fun chute onto the Trorey Gl. Skinned across the Trorey up to the col on Pattison's north ridge. This was typical of the day's travels; mellow descent, ski across a flat glacier, ski up to the next ridge/col, and repeat. The descent onto the Tremor glacier led down a windblown spine, but better snow was found just off the ridge. In general the snow was soft in shaded north aspects, and corn/slush on sun-exposed slopes with a dose of wind crust mixed in.
After a long ascent up the Tremor Gl., we skied down the Platform Gl. and around the large windlip to our camp just south of Quiver Peak. We got into camp around 7:30 after what was a pretty long day in the sun. Tents went up and everyone disappeared for the night. Lots of wind and blowing snow, but no real precip to speak of.
We woke up before 5 to increasing clouds and deteriorating weather. Ate, packed and were on the move around 6:30. By this time the clouds rolled in and visibility was almost zero. Props to Martin for navigating the Ripsaw, Naden and Macbeth Glaciers in zero vis conditions. As we descended the Macbeth and onto the Fitzsimmons Gl., we droped below the clouds and regained some sense of where we were. Everyone commented on what a nice run that would have been if we could see anything. A nice long descent with good snow conditions up high, turning to wet and heavy mashed potatoes at the bottom.
Changed over for a ski up to the Overlord Glacier, which we gained at around 7200 ft in a light rain. The ascent was steep and we saw a small sluff release and slide over a minor cliff band, although nothing propagated. Once on the Overlord, we were treated to another long, mellow descent below the north side of Fissile.
A quick skin up had us at the Russet Lake hut by 10:30. We got some food and drink in and decided to push on. It was early in the day and the snow in the vicinity was pretty heavy. These factors led us to choose to head for Whistler before the weather got any worse. After a nice break at the hut, we had a quick skin before a lovely descent through glades down to Singing Pass.
We ascended from the pass up to Oboe in open, low angle slopes in a light rain. This is where I was really drained. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "first I'll puke to my left, the lay down and take a nap on the right." Even though this climb wasn't as steep as what we had done earlier, I was pretty worked and really started to feel it.
From Oboe, we descended gentle slopes before the last significant climb to Flute. From Flute we dropped into the Whistler Ski area and made our way back to the village.
But Wait!!! We only thought we were home free. Skiing down the Olympic run at Whistler, we notice a road had been cut through the ski run. This forced us to take off our gear, hop down a 4 to 6 foot snow bank to the road bed, and then back up to the ski run. This happened about ten times before we got all the way down. We walked the final slopes into the village since they had already melted out by this time. At the cars we ditched our gear and changed close before enjoying a well deserved IPA and cheeseburger.
All in all a great trip. Excellent work out (thanks everyone for tolerating my slow pace).
Still plenty of snow so get after it! Great company and amazing scenery. Learned a lot of ski mountaineering info that can best be taught through experience. I'm already planning my next trip!!