Bright and early Saturday morning, the Campbellmobile picked me up for my fourth VOC trip: a weekend of hiking and scrambling around Phelix Hut. It was Ross’s 40th trip, overall, but his first trip as an organizer. It got off to a somewhat uninspiring beginning- Ross couldn’t figure out how to start the car! Apparently, only stupid North American cars require you to depress the clutch before starting a car with a manual transmission. Ru had to call in backup to talk Ross through the ignition process…
Eventually the car was started, Laurent, Gaby and I picked up, and on the highway northward. There was some uncertainty about the tire pressure in the Campbellmobile, so we paused in Squamish to check it. The gas station in Squamish is home to one of the weirder air pumps I have ever seen, in that you have to PAY FOR AIR. I took one for the team and got a gas station hot chocolate, so that we could use the change to put a dollar into the nice compressor, so that we could use the gauge to check the tire pressure. It turned out that the tire pressure was fine. I got a hot chocolate out of the deal, so I was happy.
Our next stop was the coffee shop in Pemberton, where we faffed around collecting people, caffeinated beverages, and baked goods, and enjoying the last gasp of civilization before heading northwards once again. We caravanned to the FSR, which we followed to the hill just before the landslide. Ross mentioned that the landslide looked better than he remembered it being. It’s still probably only for experienced folk with 4wd, in my (admittedly inexpert) opinion. Given that we had a number of 2wd vehicles, we parked below the hill, collected ourselves, and started hiking up the logging road a whole 4 minutes ahead of schedule at 9:56 am.
The hiking was great- lovely weather and a fun group of people that made the switchbacks bearable. When we reached the hut at 2pm, the scenery was breathtaking. After Golden Ears and Brew, I kind of had this idea of the VOC as hanging out in places that are snowy in the summer. I was astonished (and relieved) to see grass and other green stuff around the hut! I didn’t use my ice axe for anything other than a walking stick for the whole entire trip. Ahh.
So we got to the hut, dropped our gear, and split into two groups: one to climb a nameless snowy ridge, and one to climb Shadowfax. Given the presence of snow on the nameless snowy ridge, and my strongly adverse reaction to hiking on steep inclines covered in the evil white stuff (what I would describe as “screaming like a girl”) my decision to join Team Shadowfax was an easy one. So Team Nameless Ridge (consisting of Jannu, Sam, Laurent, and Jim) and Team Shadowfax (consisting of Caitlin, Dmitri, Andrew, Jeff, Jasmine, Else, Levi, Michal, Gaby, Ross, Marie-Eve, Ru and I) hiked out in opposite directions. Ben had a different plan, and headed out to solo the couloir below the nameless ridgeline.
The hike up to the lakes began with just enough bushwacking to be interesting, then opened up into alpine meadow and boulder fields. We hiked a ways farther to reach the lakeshore. Some of Team Shadowfax decided that instead of summiting they would enjoy the lakes for a little while, then head back to the hut. As we all paused for a breather and some route planning, someone noticed Ben ascending the couloir. We watched for a few minutes, while Caitlin and Andrew debated the merits of taking that route to the summit of nameless ridge. As one who is new to snow travel, it was interesting to hear their take on the terrain and potential hazards. We later learned that the rest of Team Nameless Ridge found an insurmountable obstacle on the ridgeline, so they also wound up ascending to the summit via the couloir.
We didn’t see the rest of the group in the couloir, because by that time we had started our hike up Shadowfax. According to Matt Gunn, Shadowfax is a reasonably easy scramble once you find the correct route. We didn’t. What looked like a reasonable route from the perspective of the lake quickly turned into a steep slope with crumbly footing, and lots of loose rock. At some point, someone joked that you could give everyone in the hut nightmares by shouting “Rock!” in the hut that night. (Sorry not to give credit to the joker- I was busy trying not to get brained by a falling rock, and I can’t remember who you were.) (P.S. I’m pretty sure that yelling “Rock!” in hut full of sleeping VOCers is a very, very bad idea. Please do not attempt.)
The terrain slowed us considerably. We knew there was an easy (well, easier) way down, according to the guide book, so we decided to continue ascending after our turnaround time to avoid having to descend on the loose rocks. The decision paid off when we got to the summit and saw the way back down. We enjoyed a summit moment, then headed back toward the hut. The route down was a vast improvement, but it was still well after dark when the last of us made it to Phelix. We arrived to find Team Nameless Ridge relaxing by a fire that Sam built, and the frontrunners of Team Shadowfax making their dinners.
I had decided to supplement my pasta dinner with an experimental dessert: no bake cheesecake. If you would like to achieve instant popularity, it’s amazing what a bag full of cheesecake filling and a sleeve of graham crackers can accomplish. When supplemented with wine and a chocolate bar, all of the major food groups were covered. After the cheesecake was gone, some people went back out to the fire. I was in too much of a pasta/cheesecake/wine/chocolate/holy-cow-I-climbed-a-mountain-today stupor to move. Ru was rubbing Jasmine’s shoulders, and Caitlin started rubbing mine as a thank you for the cheesecake. (I’m telling you. Cheesecake=instant popularity.) Based on the sounds coming from their end of the table, Jasmine was very much enjoying her shoulder rub. After one particularly loud moan, Caitlin announced she couldn’t compete with that, and abandoned me to go to bed. Shoot. That’s what I get for not being a moaner. It was wonderful while it lasted…
We regrouped the next morning, ready for round 2. The plan for the day was to climb Gandalf and Aragorn, then get back to the cars. I will admit that at the pre-trip meeting I may have mentioned an interest in “getting on Aragorn”. (I know, I’m very mature.) So there were a number of entertaining suggestions as to what we might do in the process of getting on both Gandalf and Aragorn in the same day (not all of which came from me).
We decided to head up Gandalf’s South Col via the Upper Lake. In order to pass the time (and excuse my slowness) I started a “who comes from the flattest place?” contest. It turns out that Western Australia is home to the Nullarbor Plain, which is an interestingly flat geological anomaly that Jim can’t remember the technical term for. (Wikipedia isn’t really helping on this one, Jim). However, Western Australia is also home to a ~1200 m peak, which put Jim out of the running. I was lobbying strongly in favor of Ohio, but once Caitlin mentioned that she was from Florida, I knew I had lost. I would like to point out that in both our home states, the highest points are hills that you can drive up to the top of. While Caitlin has overcome the flatness of her origins quite well, these giant piles of rocks are a new experience for me. It’ll probably be a while before I’m running up them like a mountain goat.
Scrambling up Gandalf was a good time, with some interesting bits toward the top. When I finally made it, it was to realize that the summit was a series of big, big rocks, surrounding a small depression. The tops of the easily accessible rocks were already occupied, and the less accessible rocks were being surmounted in entertaining ways by those who are much braver than me. It also was starting to flurry. (Snow in July. Seriously?!) So when Caitlin, Dmitri, Jeff, and Ru expressed an interest in heading directly back to the hut, I decided to join them. Getting on Aragorn will have to wait ‘til next time. Sigh. A girl’s gotta have something to look forward too, I guess.
The path back down was uneventful, with Ru and I eventually breaking off to form Team Slow. (What can I say, it’s a talent.) Meanwhile, there were lots of shenanigans on top of Aragorn that are really best conveyed pictorially.
While the shenanigans atop Aragorn were underway, Caitlin, Dmitri, and Jeff reached the hut, and Caitlin and Dmitri set off to measure the outflow creek at the other end of the lake for a new bridge. The cable bridge installed the previous year (to replace another, previous, bridge) had been sheared off by snow creep. There is presently a log jam that provides stable footing across the creek, but our team of engineers has thought of a better way. Third time’s a charm!
Meanwhile, things continued to degenerate on top of Aragorn. (I hope Arwen isn’t the jealous type.)
In a weird coincidence, Ru and I happened to find Gandalf’s crack. It was so large that we did not contemplate attempting to enter it.
Having deemed Aragorn sufficiently violated, Team Aragorn started back. Ru and I decided to enjoy our leisurely stroll through the rain, while most of Team Aragorn took a quick, sketchy slope of loose rock that shortened their route considerably. So much to our chagrin, all but two members of Team Aragorn were already at the hut by the time we arrived. Recognizing that there is a great responsibility that comes with the superpower of great slowness, Ru and I packed up as quickly as we could, and set off toward the cars ahead of the main group. We enjoyed being first all the way to the other side of the lake, where we got passed crossing the log jam. Ross and Marie-Eve (the two that had broken off from Team Aragorn) caught up on the switchbacks, and stuck with us all the way to the last creek.
We passed the time while walking speculating what it was that everyone did at the cars while waiting for us. Ross informed us that they took off their pants. After the laughter finally stopped, he felt compelled to clarify that they immediately replaced their pants with other, drier, pants. Given the intermittent rain and hail, dry pants sounded a little bit like heaven at that point. When we reached the last bridge even Ross and Marie-Eve succumbed to the lure of dry clothing, and left us. So Ru and I were the last ones back to the cars, at 8:30 pm on Sunday night. Ross was kind enough to point out that we had spent at least 24 out of the last 48 hours hiking. Actually, a little math reveals that out of the ~34.5 hours the cars were parked, Team Slow was hiking for ~25 hours. Go us!
There was the predictable amount of faff surrounding post-hike food. Seeing as it was 9:30 pm on a Sunday night when we reached the thriving metropolis of Pemberton, only McDonald’s was open for business. Some objections were raised to the Golden Arches, so we continued on to Whistler. The food options available in Whistler at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night were (not surprisingly) limited, so we eventually wound up swarming into a Domino’s pizza. The poor employees were too polite to boot our wonderfully well-groomed selves back out, so pizza was consumed while sitting on the floor in the small lobby of the Domino’s in Whistler. It must have looked like a hobo convention was in town.
During the course of waiting for pizza, I somehow got myself nominated to write the TR. (I’m incapable of thinking on my feet after 10 pm, otherwise I’m sure I could have figured out a way out of it. Or just not gotten myself into it in the first place. Duh.) When I asked for clues on the art of trip report writing, I was informed it is my job to lure other foolish beginners into the club by telling them how much I hated the trip, but that I’ll be coming back anyway. Apparently, this is an effective marketing strategy. Who knew?
So I’m sorry to defy convention, but I didn’t actually hate the trip. It was a ton of fun, with a great group of people. Ross did a great job organizing, and he and the other experienced folk did a wonderful job helping us beginners return with the same number of intact limbs that we started with. So thanks VOCers, for sharing your big piles of rocks with me. Hopefully we’ll see each other soon on the trail!