Unadulterated Type 1 Fun on The Spearhead
March 7th-8th, 2015
Participants: Caroline Jung, Clemens Adolphs, Derry Lappin, Elliott Skierszkan, Ian Johnston
Written by Ian
As per usual for this year, this trip was conceived while crying about lack of snow and drowning our sorrows with plenty of beer. The thought was that instead of bushwhacking for hours on end (which some of us have done too much of this season), we could simply take the Whistler lifts into the alpine. Email faff started. It grew. The trip was publicly posted. It grew even more. At the pre-trip on Wednesday evening, many people found themselves in the club room. Plans were made: three independent groups and plans to camp on the Naden glacier, a spot recommended by John Baldwin due to morning and evening sun, as well as great views.
Saturday rolled around and we found ourselves at Whistler with blue bird skies and excessive amounts of stoke. Elliott and I purchased backcountry passes at guest services in the village, where we bumped into Jannu, Cassandra, and Pawel from the other VOC party. They had waited in line only to discover they could not get passes unless they could show their avalanche kits. Not having had their packs on them, Jannu and Cassandra had to run back to the car and get back in line. Due to this head start, this was the last time Elliott and I would get to see them on the weekend.
Aside: A backcountry pass is available from Whistler Guest Services for ~60$ after tax. When purchasing the pass, you must sign a liability release, show ID, and that you have avalanche gear and left your trip plans with a responsible contact.
Minor hiccups along the way included Clemens dropping his ice ax while on the lift and getting his backpack stuck on another lift. Caroline and I laughed a little bit too much at this. Negotiating lifts with heavy packs turned out to be just as much of a challenge as travelling in the backcountry! Caroline felt that staying on the Showcase T-bar was the crux of the trip.
Anyway, no harm was done and we were skiing up the Blackcomb glacier along with a long train of ski tourers who also caught the early lift to the alpine. Pretty quickly we bumped into the other group (Clemens L., Isabel, Mike C. and Andrew) at the base of the Decker Glacier. From there, we leapfrogged each other all day until we reached the Naden near sunset, stopping for a great lunch together under the sun near Mt Pattison.
The route is pretty obvious if you look at the Baldwin map, so I won’t bore you with a super detailed description of the route. Suffice to say, travel was spectacular! Views were amazing, especially skiing onto the Platform glacier. Derry and I also got some nice turns in on the Ripsaw glacier retrieving Elliott’s dropped helmet, which slid a ways down the glacier before luckily stopping in a flat area. In fact, dropping gear and bad falls were a bigger concern for us this weekend, with avalanches and crevasses a very distant third.
Camping on the Naden glacier was fantastic. We were treated to memorable views of the McBride range with alpenglow while setting up camp. The moon was almost full and incredibly red as well, making headlamps unnecessary. It was also Derry’s birthday, so we secretly brought along a chocolate cake that Caro made, I brought berries-turned-pulp/sauce, scotch, and a watermelon car air-freshener as birthday presents (absolutely necessary for the drive home).
The next day we got up early, watched sunrise, and headed off. Many mountains and glaciers clicked by over the day. Macbeth, Diavolo, Fitzsimmons, Overlord all grew and receded from our vision. Just like the previous day, we constantly played tag with the other VOC group of Clemens L., Isabel, Andrew and Mike C (Team Punk Rockeros, TPR). It should be mentioned that getting around Overlord and onto the Overlord glacier involved a slightly spicy downclimb through a rock band, which we all navigated through safely thanks in part to a hand line anchored by a boulder. We debated for a while whether that boulder would budge and if it would tumble down on us while down-climbing. As the downclimbing involved ice-covered rock, it was very tempting to use the hand line for extra security. After Elliott gave a solid push on the boulder with his legs and it did not budge, we figured it would be safe.
We had an extended lunch in the sun on the Overlord Glacier, watching TPR downclimb the aforementioned icy section in the distance. We exited via Whirlwind pass and the Musical Bumps. Skiing down the Fissile-Whirlwind col, we got some nice corn which was the first of the traverse, as all previous runs were too high to experience any significant thawing. We got to the summit of Flute by the time Whistler lifts had closed, allowing us peace and quiet on the long ski to the valley. Its a sad comment on the season when the most continuous skiing done in a run is skiing down Whistler. At the base, we got watered up and promptly headed to Splitz for some (veggi)burgers, where we bumped into TPR again on our way out. Seems like after 2 days of long travel, we all had the same ideas about what to do once we go back into civilization-burgers and beers!
I’m not sure how the other people feel, but this was likely one of the best weekends on skis that I’ve had in a long time. It’s really a shame that the VOC shuns this area as much as they do; its simply fantastic. I’d recommend this trip for skiers who are confident at skinning and skiing. There are a couple spots where falling would not be a great life choice. Glacier skills are necessary – we carried ropes, but didn’t use them. An ice axe was probably the most useful and necessary piece of ‘extra’ gear, and we were glad to have them at some of the trickier sections. Ski crampons also made our lives much easier, although Caroline broke hers early on and demonstrated some excellent skinning skills by doing most of the traverse on the icy crusty snow without them.
Crew 2 – Team Punk Rockeros
Andrew Cavers, Clemens Langmeyer, Isabel Verse, Michael Cancilla
To be honest, the Spearhead wasn’t really on my list this winter. This was one of those things where I saw a simple message board post from Roland, and the light switched on.
February 19, 2015 07:25PM
The Spearhead is classic. You should do it before the huts get built and they start requiring that you bring guides, and start charging for using the huts. I’d be keen if I wasn’t so used up.
So I thought, OK lets do this. And for the record, I don’t think Roland’s used up, I believe he did the Neve the same weekend.
I’m glad we did, its going to be my most memorable time on skis this winter. Ian has already gave a beautiful description, so I’ll just add a few stories and thoughts. The Spearhead truly is a classic. The group ahead of us most of the weekend (Ian, Clemens, Caroline, Elliott, Derry) were excellent pace setters for us. We maintained just enough contact to have the feeling that we had friends in the neighbourhood but not enough that we globbed into a large unwieldly supergroup.
Particularly memorable for me was skiing up to the Iago-Fitzsimmons col after crossing Couloir Ridge above the Macbeth Glacier. The sense of skinning up this very mellow slope on the top of the whole range was quite incredible.
Other highlights of excitement for our team was seeing the moonrise from camp on the Naden Glacier, team high fives after successfully downclimbing the notch below Overlord (I was happy to have boot crampons for this), and skiing out down the empty whistler runs.
The trip wasn’t all fun and games, Isabel showed excellent variety in spanish cursing on a few of the downclimb sections, and I was experiencing dizziness and headaches at a few points. I wonder if it is possible to have altitude sickness when you take lifts up 2000m and then bust yourself trying to keep up to Clemens L all day. If not, then it is likely I was simply dehydrated. Also, my summer sleeping mat isn’t enough insulation for sleeping on glaciers, no matter how much other junk I shove under myself. Regardless, this trip was another reminder how sweet this club is. Great company and great adventure. I’m grateful for it.
Participants: Jannú Casanova, Tobias Klenze, Zac Zabawa, Paweł Mirski, Cassandra Elphinstone
This trip began with my first ever gondola ride, second ski chair lift and first ever T-Bar. I was amazed that you could just sit or stand and be pulled up the snow! I had never experienced anything like this before. My pack seemed to enjoy the ski lift though and tried to stay on forcing me to sort of jump off dragging it along. Before I knew it we were standing on the Blackcomb glacier. It was gorgeous but I have to say, being in the mountains did not feel as special when you had been carried up all the elevation.
Zac and I started skinning up the first main hill when we realized we could not see anyone else in our group. It turned out Pawel’s split board was not working and Jannu had gone back to see what had happened. After a while Jannu began to head back towards us with the second rope and we realized Pawel had decided to head down the ski runs and skip the Spearhead this time around.
On the Circle glacier the views were spectacular and we could see across to where we would ‘hopefully’ be skiing the next day. I have to admit that at the rate we were going it did not seem likely we would make it. However, we were quite efficient skinning for the rest of the day and slowly made up for lost time. Tobias quickly learned how to side hill on the icy snow by kicking his edges in and managed well without ski crampons. In the afternoon we reached a section of the Spearhead I had done last May on a longer traverse through the area. This section of the Spearhead that we skied on that traverse had been done in a whiteout making the spectacular views mean so much more.
We enjoyed the views and reached the Ripsaw glacier at sunset. Zac had brought a great cook tent and a four season tent. I enjoyed one of the most relaxed evenings I have had on a ski traverse. We were warm and had lots of excess food and fuel. This was great because I had been feeling slightly nauseous and dehydrated all day as a result of getting food poisoning on Thursday. In the evening, we spent a while looking at the route for the next day.
Around 6AM the next morning we started with a boot pack down onto the Naden glacier. The views were again amazing all day and some of the snow was even quite pleasant. We got gorgeous views from the ridge between the Macbeth and Iago glaciers and could see two parties ahead of us skinning up the Iago glacier. Skinning up to the top of the Diavolo glacier we met another party and skied just behind them to the Overlord notch. Right when we reached the notch we saw Andrew skiing across the Overlord glacier. However, we waited about fifteen minutes for the group ahead of us to down climb the notch and quickly lost sight of Andrew and his group.
I have been trying to learn how to ski downhill for almost two years now. Everyone always made it look like it was so easy to turn and control their skis but I had never found this. However, at some point on the trip, Zac started talking about the ski mode on his boots. I asked what “ski mode” was, thinking it was some AT technology. Zac replied that he thought tele boots also had some kind of ski mode. I began to think about it and realized that it was probably the setting that had almost destroyed the back of my calves traversing the Neve last year (going uphill in that mode). Zac insisted on setting my boots into ski mode, and I (what a surprise) discovered it is tremendously helpful (going downhill). Muscles that usually were working to balance my weight, could relax and I found that by turning my foot I could actually turn the ski. For the rest of the trip I actually enjoyed skiing downhill! Thank you Zac!
Revelation: Beginners on tele skis should definitely be informed about ski/walk mode in the future. This might seem obvious to people who grew up skiing but small things like this can make a huge difference to people still learning about skiing.
The rest of the trip went smoothly as we reached the ski runs (semi- logging roads) as the sun was setting. We got to ski down freshly groomed runs in the dark and only encountered one ‘groomer machine’ going up. I had only skied on a groomed run once before (at Tele school last year) but in the dark the run seemed a lot like very smooth logging road with nice snow.
Overall, this was a beautiful (educational) trip with great people! It made me excited to try skiing in ski mode again. I might even be tempted to try AT but I think it would be strange to not be able to lift up my heel.
Thanks for a great trip!