On April 20, Piotr Forysinski, Ben SP, Clemens Adolphs, Stephanie Grothe and I (Julien Renard) decided to put an end to the month long email faff that was threatening to overload my email account and finally go explore the Misty Icefield that lies about a 100km north of Vancouver, on the east side of Garibaldi park.
An alpine start and dedicated girlfriend in the form of Frances (Ben’s girlfriend, just to be clear) quickly brought us to the South end of Pitt Lake, which we needed to cross to access the logging road system on the north shore. Having a sweet spot for epics, Piotr had at some point proposed to use his custom-made raft, newly equipped with a beast of an outboard motor (4 hp). However, laziness and juicy tax returns got the best of us and we opted instead for the water taxi service, which, after switching to a 4×4 vehicle, was also used to get up to the snow line on the logging roads. This sound investment basically saved us a day of slogging.
From the end of the logging road, we went up along a ridge to gain the col between Piluk and Remote peaks, but did not make it that far. As we were getting close to the col, we discovered that clouds had beaten us to it, and after debating for 20 min the true nature of what looked like a small windlip but could potentially be a 15m drop, we just gave up and pitched our tents in the middle of our newly excavated snow castle.
The following morning revealed a stunning landscape composed of various shades of grey that we admired just long enough to persuade ourselves to crawl back into our sleeping bags. As the weather was ever so slightly improving with each passing hour, two schools of thoughts emerged: Ben was in favor of preserving our current momentum, or lack of it, while Steph wanted to haul ass and started circling around camp like an angry wolf trying devour the monument of inertia lying before her. The rest of the party prudently abstained from voicing too strong an opinion on the matter. Early afternoon, the sun finally decided to settle the matter with an unexpected apparition that quickly led us to the col and the glacier north of it. From there, we could see the imposing south face of Old Pierre, a summit that Piotr was particularly keen to try summiting. Despite Baldwin’s remark about Old Pierre being a recommended ascent, the imposing south, east and north faces were promptly categorized as suicidal. Piotr’s theory regarding the west slope was that a “hidden gully feature”, that we could not see from our campsite on the nearby glacier, would bring us to the top.
The next day, an early start and a short ski ascent toward the west face of Old Pierre quickly revealed the absence of any gully and that Piotr’s five tricams and ski boots would prove inadequate for the climb. We turned back to camp and were soon on our way to Corbol peak, our next stop before the Misty icefield. This was a hot day, and while we found comfort at the base of a very nice shady tree, it was unfortunately not dispensing beer, prompting us to keep moving. At some point, Steph decided to entertain my camera with various postures that are a testimony to the stickiness of Black Diamond skins.
From the top of Corbol peak, we enjoyed the sight of Mt Judge Howay and the ever-present Mt Baker in the background. A short run down the next glacier led us to our new campsite. At that point, we were becoming experts at building snow castles (in less than 2hrs, mind you), after Ben revealed the secrets of the mushy snow-block cutting technique and Piotr’s snow kitchen designs were honed to perfection (almost, it still lacks a dishwasher).
A short sleep and another painstaking wake-up call from our bossy president brought us to the col between Misty and Stave peaks, both of which being “recommended ascents” that Piotr was eager to try. Our previous experience with Old Pierre had left us a bit skeptical about the quality of this information and the sight of Misty from the col seemed to reinforce our pessimism. Nevertheless, Piotr was not about to let his mini trad rack oxidize in vain while getting a free ride on his back. We promptly cached most of our gear and started heading for Misty while Ben decided to stay behind to further evaluate the cushioning potential of his backpack. Having bet a beer with Steph that we would get on top of this one, failure was not an option. A 50° slope brought us to a col from which we belayed Piotr, who finally got a chance to use his gear. The way to the top is more a scramble than a climb, but fairly exposed, which led us to be on belay for two pitches. After the customary summit shots, snacks and meditation phase, a short rappel brought us back to the col. From there, we took turns skiing down the steep slope, taking small portions of it with us, as a souvenir. Many thanks to Piotr for introducing us to some alpine climbing !
Back to the bivouac area, we found Ben comfortably installed behind a snow wall. It would have been a shame to leave and let this fine piece of masonry go to waste, only to start again not so far from here. Since carrying it with us would have proved somewhat impractical we decided instead to extend it, pitch tents behind it and call it a day. Going up the higher and bigger Stave peak the next morning proved to be much easier than Misty, an easy 45min skin up from camp led us to the summit, from which we could see a fair amount of our previous route and evaluate the best way to go up Snowcap peak, on the other side of the Misty icefield. Gang skiing the icefield was quite enjoyable and we got to witness Clemens engaging in full skating mode and taking the lead to allow us a better view of those graceful curves (the ones he was tracing).
From the top of Snowcap peak we could see the Garibaldi neve, which was nice since all of us had, at some time, watched the peak we were currently standing on while crossing it. It felt like being on the other side of a mirror. We also had a chance to lay our eyes on the massive Mt Pitt, which was to be the pinnacle of our trip. On our way to Snowcap lake, we made a small detour to visit Rain God mountain which also provided a closer look at Pitt. Do not try to go up the West ridge of Rain God, despite what you may read. It will provide additional cardio training but not a path to the summit. The run down the ridge between Thunderclap and Griffin glaciers proved to be really nice with good snow for half the way down. We then set up camp on the shores of Snowcap lake. While I was confident that digging a hole in the lake to get water would not be an issue, Piotr felt that this was sketchy and instead preferred to go fishing at the partially melted inlet, with a nalgene bottle strapped to his probe. He eventually had to go fishing for his nalgene with an ice axe.
Alpine start ! It was now time to see what Mt Pitt had in store for us. From camp, we started going up the icy slopes toward Tuwasus pass, from which we would get onto Roller Coaster ridge. The sun was not yet up and our ski crampons worked wonders on the melt-freeze crust. However, things changed fairly quickly once we gained the ridge and started swimming in isothermal snow. Postholing a short section of a bump, we were sinking down to our waist in a very wet snow. The ridge can be fairly steep in some places, and the slopes on either side are quite exposed. Before committing to the most impressive bump of the ridge, we sat down for a pow-wow and contemplated our options for a while. This would be our only chance at Pitt, but conditions were already quite dicey, and would get worse. It took a while to beat the human factor, but we finally decided to turn around and ski back to camp. This proved to be the right decision as we were going to witness a few avalanches all around us that day. When we reached camp, we met the only two other human beings that we saw during the entire trip. They had been following our tracks and were on their way to Wolverine pass to exit via a part of the McBride traverse.
Back at camp, without any skiing objective and plenty of time, we had to come up with some creative ways to spend the day. “Let’s excavate a beach !” Piotr said, to which we all retorted at once “Awesome ! Let’s do this!”. It turned out to be more a staircase than a beach but it still provided access to the lake as well as an opportunity to wash our body and soul. It more or less worked for the body. Drying out in the sun, we started to practice crevasse rescue and revise G1 theory, which should mention that even a 6:1 pulley system cannot drag Piotr on wet snow.
Back to sitting on our backpack, we found that the main challenge for today would be to stop eating our snacks while we still had some. It is impressive how your appetite starts growing after a few days in the backcountry. Luckily, Piotr had brought 16kg of food with him, and having a kind heart and no fear of starvation, offered to share.
The next morning, the clouds started to come in and as we were cruising on the ridge towards Icemantle glacier, we defaulted to GPS navigation for a while. The wind was moderately strong and was bringing what looked like an endless supply of clouds that, fortunately, were crossing the col behind us and let us enjoy the views from Greenmantle peak for a little while. With the prospect of bad weather coming in and only two days left before our ride would arrive on the Lillooet river road, we decided to start heading out rather than camp on the Icemantle glacier. After a quick detour by the top of Bluemantle peak (which some would call a nameless random bump) we pitched our tents for the last time and entertained ourselves with tasty dinners.
We woke up to positively disgusting weather conditions. With a full day to spare, we decided that there was no need to get miserable moving camp anywhere, go anywhere, or do anything that would require exiting the tent (with the exception of emergency bladder relief). So instead, we managed to denature the sound of silence by going through the VOC songbook that Steph had brought and reading articles form the VOC journal about people being stuck in whiteouts.
The weather had significantly improved the following morning and we managed to reach the logging road mid-afternoon without any epic, which seemed to be the theme of this entire traverse. It wasn’t long before Frances arrived in a shiny modo car with apples and beer (what a beautiful sight !). Since the flowers that Ben had picked for Frances on our way down ultimately failed to mask our collective stench (Frances excluded), we agreed on a pit stop at the Skookumchuck hot springs which proved delightful. From there, it was a classical end of trip story with a tasty dinner in Pemberton and a long drive home. The Misty traverse was decidedly a lot of fun, half of which due to its awesome participants. Many thanks to them !
Additional pictures can be found here: