Sky Pilot

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Introduction

Sky Pilot (PD 4th class/low-5th) is a rising star in BC mountaineering, largely due to the opening of the gondola in 2014 and the influx of ascents made in that year. This has come at a very heavy price: in the first summer the number of ascents of Sky Pilot outnumbered those of the previous decade. Amongst mountaineers and in the climbing literature, Sky Pilot had a reputation as a serious albeit "easy" peak. Combining the mountain's reputation with very easy access and an increase in popularity has lead to 2 tragic deaths on Sky Pilot in 2014. It cannot be emphasized enough that this mountain requires helmet, rope, crampons and ice axes and more importantly the proficiency to use this equipment on glacier and mountain terrain. This is not a hike, and arguably is not even a scramble, but should be treated as an alpine mountaineering objective, involving glacier travel and exposed 4th class climbing

Access

Take highway 99 from Vancouver and before entering Squamish pull out onto the Mamquam River Forest Service Road (2WD). Reset your odometer. Drive 3.8 km until fork and turn right onto Stawamus-Indian FSR. Continue straight until 4.9 km and you will cross the Stawamus River. Park here for low-clearance vehicles. Continue until 5.3 km at road fork and park here with high clearance. Follow the road for 4.5 km, the road forks to the left to reach the valley between SKy Pilot and Habrich. If you reach a bridge over Shannon Creek you are off route. Hike until the road ends at about 1225 m. Past this road there will be a gully which you continue 3/4 of the way up until the trial turns to the right through open forest. Continue on this trial until you reach a large rocky basin below the northwest face of Sky Pilot.

If you have cash to burn you can pay $32 a head and take the gondola up saving a few hours of hiking.

Routes

West Buttress (PD)

Cross the Stadium Glacier towards the west ridge of the mountain. Climb the Pink Slab (4th class/low 5th, 50 m) to reach the talus field under gray cliffs. Continue scrambling up the ridge, bypassing the large tower on the south side to reach a chimney gully. On the tower summit, walk the ridge toward a second steep tower and then drop down right and traverse on the exposed south-east side. Continue on this section until you reach a shallow gully which leads into the main gully up to the summit ramp. Descend the same route.

Following the 2014 incidents, rappel rings have been installed above both the Pink Slab and the summit itself. Note, however, that they may or may not still be there when you go up there.

Grade

There's some controversy about what grade the climbing part of this route should be. Alpine Select calls it 4th class. Some online sources call it low 5th. No matter the precise grade, this controversy should highlight that the climbing section is involved. Previous rock climbing experience does definitely come in handy. The footholds are good, but not particularly large. The descent is more difficult and more scary than the ascent. If at all unsure about your ability to downclimb, a rope should be used to rappel the pink slab.

East Face

South Ridge Class 3

The south ridge is the easiest route on Sky Pilot Mountain.

The south ridge route can be approached from Britannia Creek, Sky Pilot Creek or Furry Creek. The best current approach is via Furry Creek and the Wind Lake Trail to the Mountain Lake Hut.

Ascend the basin at the head of sky pilot creek, trending left up the highest ramp. From the col at the top of the ramp, climb 20m up the narrow ridge to reach easier ground (class 3). At this point, the route joins the West Buttress above the Pink Slab. Trend right to find a chimney leading to the top of the first tower (class 3), then bypass the second tower on the right side and climb the gully beyond to reach the summit (class 3).

Objective Dangers

  • The Stadium Glacier is a pocket glacier, and most people opt to cross it without roping up for crevasses. You should understand the meaning of this before deciding to do so for yourself.
  • Crossing the Stadium Glacier requires axes and -- depending on snow conditions -- crampons. In late summer the glacier ices over and poor self-arrest technique or inexperience using crampons can lead to fatal slips and falls
  • The Pink Slab has exposed sections of low 5th slab climbing. Footholds are there, but never big enough for your entire foot. If you have experience rock climbing, you might indeed find it reasonably easy because you'll be used to using even smaller holds, but if you come from a hiking background, you'll probably find this very unsettling.
  • The descent is more dangerous then the ascent and requires down-climbing over difficult terrain. The rock slicks over with even light precipitation and the exposure is severe. There is argument over whether the rap-bolts will remain in place or be chopped, be prepared and know how to build rappel anchors in case of emergency.