A full weekend – Bridges, Pemberton Icecap, and Squamish-Cheakamus Divide

After crossing the Tantalus Range in a day last season I have been anxious to get out there and do another new long traverse in a short amount of time. A new baby (now 7 months old) has generally limited the time I wish to spend out on skis… so what better way to make the most of what time I do spend than to cover as much ground as possible?

I made numerous grand plans and drew a lot of lines on maps, but as the season wore on and the snow kept refusing to fall I realized that most ideas were not really going to fly this year. Once May began to pass by without a single sunny weekend I basically wrote off the season… but kept training and re-molding my boot liners just in case. Then, in the last week of May, it seemed I might have an opening. The bridge over Barr Creek on the VOC’s work-in-progress trail to the Harrison Hut (the construction of which I’ve been organizing, with the help of a series of access grants from MEC) was found to have been damaged by snow over the winter – I might be able to head up on Saturday, fix the bridge, and ski out on Sunday (which, although the 1st of June, is clearly still ski season). Things began to fall into place – on Wednesday I proposed the idea to my friend/supervisor/ace-of-all-trades Jeff Mottershead. By Thursday he’d completed a design and Friday at lunch he bought the parts; Nick Matwyuk and Lena Rowat were keen to join, and I was keen both to have the rad company and the help carrying to ~ 80 lbs of steel and tools to Barr Creek.

After little sleep on Friday night (very little for Jeff as he welded the last of the bridge materials together) we stashed Nick and Lena’s vehicle on the Roe Creek FSR and were heading up the Sea-to-Sky. I realized during the drive that this was actually my first overnight trip away from my new daughter (although we have done an overnight backcountry trip with her already). A little after noon we were hiking with heavy packs, a little more than 5 hours later we began repairing the bridge, taking a little under 4 hours. Lena had already left the menfolk to get some sleep; as soon as the bridge was finished Nick and I left Jeff to duct tape his feet and run to the hut. Rolling into bed a little before midnight I was relieved to hear him finally stumble through the door, and thought it was quite thoughtful how quiet he managed to be while eating dinner. His trip report for the evening makes for a far more interesting read.

Installing the repaired bridge
Installing the repaired bridge (more bridge images here)

We got up at 3:30 am, and Jeff told us of his harrowing attempts at finding the hut without a working headlamp while we ate a quick breakfast and packed our stuff. Jeff would be a hero and carry all the tools back to the car (we carried our own overnight gear) and we were clear of the hut a little after 4 am. Making good time up and over the Pemberton Icecap on a fast crust, we crossed the whole thing to the toe of the Squamish Glacier in 4h 15m. On the downhill sections I could barely keep up with Lena, who was dodging (well-filled) crevasses on a graby crust with her 3-pin tele bindings (3-pin only – no springaling heel throw) at mach 10. Well, my GPS clocked a max speed of about 45 km/h… but she was going faster.

Overlooking the Pemberton Icecap
Overlooking the Pemberton Icecap.

Nick and his Pesto
Nick showing off his jar of pesto for second breakfast, and his fancy rando-racing skis. I do have to admit a hint of jealousy at how light they are… although now that I’ve gone halfway to the darkside (tele-tech bindings) I suppose I just need lighter planks.

Lena screaming down the Squamish
Lena screaming down the Squamish in her signature party skirt and 3-pin bindings.

Filling up on water before the next climb.
Yours truly filling up on water before the next climb.

With the fast crust fading fast we started working our way around volcanic plugs above the Callaghan Valley. Shortly before we started climbing up toward Ring Peak Lena hinted she’d rather take a “more leisurely” route and finish over Cypress, rather than going all the way to the VOC’s Brew Hut. So, after skiing the first ~ 8 hours together, we decided to split up – I would ski at an accelerated pace to do the slightly longer route, Lena and Nick would stick together, and we’d just let the cards fall where they may in terms of me finding a ride back home. I think that this actually worked out perfectly – I had already gotten my stoke up for doing the trip solo before Nick and Lena decided to join me, but really like hanging out with them. This let me have an awesome trip with the two of them (Pemberton Icecap), and still get in a great solo trip (Squamish-Cheakamus Divide). It just happened both trips were on the same day (and same weekend as the bridge-fixing trip – so 3 great trips, really).

Backside of the Callaghan Valley
Behind the Callaghan Valley.

Crust fading, but still making good time.
Crust fading, but still making good time.

Lenas not the only one who looks good in a skirt.
Lena’s not the only one who looks good in a skirt.

Now solo I started the slog up around Ring Peak and onward to Banner Pass. At 1000 m combined it would be the last big climb of the day. Pulling up onto the flat expanse of Powder Mountain (which used to be called Boiler Plate Mountain – a much better description) I could see the remains of numerous snowmobile tracks, some of them quite recent. In the winter this whole area is covered in sleds, so the only good time to ski it is late spring. I watched in awe when Mt. Cayley appeared slowly over the horizon as I crested the icecap, and began to realize just how little effort I’d put into route-finding ahead of time on this now “familiar” terrain (having been there once before a few years ago). Also how I was starting to run out of food. I took the high route out onto the Alcoholic Divide and was very happy to find the lake by Mt. Fee offering easy water – the previous lakes near the edge of Powder Mountain were well buried and I did not slow down. Past Fee I was actually on more familiar terrain, and made good time to the connecting ridge to Brew. That ridge seemed to have a lot more ups and downs than I remembered from my previous visits…

Mt. Cayley, with Fee in the distance.

And then, 16h 40m after leaving the VOC’s Harrison Hut, I stepped into our Brew Hut (it should be noted that this is not the longest time spent getting to Brew III – a beginner party in Dec 2006 took 17.5 h from the Cat Shed due to extreme trailbreaking). A couple quick phone calls, pit stop at the outhouse, and logbook signing later I was skiing down the Roe Creek ski route, and then carrying my skis down the logging road to the car. I reached it about 10 minutes before Nick and Lena, and we got to the highway about 5 minutes before Jeff who was returning from Harrison with my car. Perfect timing somehow – I’ve waited longer for people to buy their breakfast on the drive up.

Brew Hut
The Brew Hut never looked so good.


Day 1 (fixing the bridge and to the Harrison Hut): +1308 m, -528 m

Day 2: + 4120 m (by altimeter, 4600 m by noisy GPS), – 5119 m, ~80 km. 19:02 hut to car.

The Route
The route.

Elevation Profile
Elevation profile.

Photos photos and more photos.

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11 Responses to A full weekend – Bridges, Pemberton Icecap, and Squamish-Cheakamus Divide

  1. Roland Burton says:

    Awesome! Definitely not in the same class as most of us, who haven’t even been to any of our huts

  2. Amin Aziznia says:

    This was an awesome weekend Veesntra. I hope I become capable of doing something similar soon!

  3. Scott Nelson says:

    Were all 3 of you on fish scale skis? How much did you use the scales (vs skins) for climbs.

  4. Christian Veenstra says:

    I had fishscale skis, Nick and Lena did not. It didn’t make too much difference, except on the gradual uphills. I’d waxed them, and have used a planer to remove the fishscales near the edges, so they don’t really climb anything steep. They are great for “uphill both ways”, or saving energy when you are stubbornly refusing to put your skins back on. They slowed me down a bit skating, but were great once the snow started to get soft and skating wasn’t good anymore.

  5. Clemens Adolphs says:

    This is epic on so many levels. Thanks heaps for repairing the bridge, and for writing up this entertaining TR.

  6. Todd MacKenzie says:

    Good job!

  7. Skyler Des Roches says:

    I can’t think of a time I’ve been so excited about a trip I had no part in! That you had overnight gear in your packs is an inspiring and exciting detail. The fast and light (and hungry) mode can and will be scaled up to even bigger traverses!

    I also enjoy how Lena’s skirt and 3-pin style serves to metaphorically stick her tongue out at spandex-clad rando racing dudes.

  8. Nicholas Gobin says:

    Amazing! I haven’t been to Harrison and Brew in the same season, let alone the same day! This is an “epic” in all the good ways.

  9. Christian Veenstra says:

    Glad to hear it Skyler. Next season, assuming you’re not in some far off corner of the world and we get a decent snowpack, we’ll have to see if we can scale it up and cover these sorts of distances a few days in a row…

  10. Piotr Forysinski says:

    Hats off. The most impressive feat I have heard of in long time, Veenstra. Shweeet! I hope you added an entry in the Brew logbook to complement mine from a couple of years back, in which I describe my Harrison to Brew trip, which took a mere 12 days… :-)

  11. Charlie Beard says:

    Well done Veenstra, and well written too. Glad to see you’re still eating up the kilometers. Inspiring stuff!

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