Saturday, April 2nd.
Normally, when trying to do a new (to me) ski traverse as a day-trip I end up spending far more time researching/planning the trip than I do on the trip itself (I think, for Tantalus it might have been something like a factor of 3). I get a good alpine start (ie – start hiking/skiing in the dark) and am constantly watching the clock / my altimeter to make sure my pace is just right. This trip was a bit of an exception, but a great and different experience overall.
A variety of life-commitments (ie – work and toddler) had kept my planning time down, but the weather has certainly began to take a turn for the awesome if what you really like to do it travel long distances in the mountains – warm days and cold nights making for stable snow and fast travel (at least, in the morning). I’d done a bit of planning for the Wedge-Currie traverse for a trip that never happened some time ago. Since then a new trail had been constructed on the West side of Mt. Currie, making the exit seem substantially easier than before. After a look at the avalanche forecast, terrain, and a careful study of the crevasse situation on the glaciers (god bless Google-maps satellite imagery) I decided that it would be appropriate to do the trip solo. Line suggested at the last minute that I should go from Whistler village to make the trip more sporting (I think she actually said that it would make retrieving the car easier – I could just hitchhike back to Whistler – but there may have been ulterior motives to have me check out the route for her own female-only traverse planned for the following weekend. They are out there as I write this). I also liked the idea because it meant I had a good bailout option (Wedge) if things didn’t seem to be working out. It would be a good chance just to get out and also to try my newish (lighter, floppier, and unfortunately discontinued) BCX3 boots and DYI-prototype NNN-BC free-pivot adapters on a longer trip.
After a somewhat late start I’d managed to find a washroom and started skinning up the side of the runs on Blackcomb at around 7:30 am. There seemed to be some kind of downhill-oriented race going on, as there was a lot of people wearing speed-suits carrying heavy skis milling about. After a bit of a navigational error into the tube park (somehow I still don’t know my way around W-B) and some icy mogul runs I could finally begin skating the long green run around the S side of Blackcomb (Sunset Blvd?) and felt like I was getting somewhere. Adding to the general take-it-as-it-comes feel of the trip I’d intentionally left my watch/altimeter behind – it’s really quite heavy, and had been acting up lately anyway. Besides, between my GPS and InReach I already had 2 things that could tell me exactly where I was (although I guess I’d be back to map-and-compass only in a Kessler scenario). So, with no clock to watch, I just skated along at my own pace. I only ran into a single person – a ski patroller who seemed fairly amazed that I was heading for Mt. Currie… little did either of us know that Eric Carter and Nick Elson had already left Whistler village and skinned up Blackcomb hours earlier, in the dark, and were now well on their way to setting a truly amazing 15.5h new FKT for the McBride traverse.
After clearing the resort and climbing over the Blackcomb-Decker col I briefly encountered people again as I crossed through the throngs of people off to do the Spearhead. While descending the Decker Glacier towards Wedge-Pass I bailed, hard, when the icy-crust I was cruising along on suddenly made the transition from supportive to breakable… a short time later I noticed that I was actually bleeding from a multitude of very tiny cuts on my face/lips/nose from face-planting into said crust. Oops. I guess maybe that helmet came in useful after all. You can actually see my wide traverse-the-entire-bowl survival-skiing turns in the GPS track lower down after this point. Lightweight skis, and fabric boots with laces rather than buckles or straps, do have their disadvantages… After filling up on water (which would be my last fill-up of the day) in Wedge Pass I began the long skin up to the Weart Glacier.
At the top I sat down in the mostly-melted remains of an old snow kitchen to eat some lunch, check on my progress, and figure out if I was going to exit to Wedge or finish the traverse… It was almost quarter to 2 – time flies when you’re having fun! Counting the distance / elevation gain remaining, though, it seemed I was (mostly) finished. Onwards to Currie! Although clouds rolled in and prevented a total slush-fest they didn’t save the crust, but I still made good time and (after a bit more slogging and some steep-for-XC-boots skiing) found myself at the base of Mt. Currie roughly 3 hours later.
With 2.75 hours before dark, legs still feeling great, I made the tough call not to climb Currie. I still had the uncertainty of connecting with the trail down – I’d heard it was difficult to find/follow as it is intended for summer use (although I’d hiked the lower portions with my family in the summer, and had a GPS track from Bivouac). Any regrets about not trying for the summit vanished as I attempted to make a gradual downwards traverse from the alpine over to the trail… one definite shortcoming of 20m contour lines is that you can’t tell the difference between a slope and benches interspersed with short cliffs. I found plenty of the latter. Standing at the top of yet another precipice, and wondering if I was going to manage to connect with the trail before dark, I eventually gave up, put on my climbing skins, and climbed back up a ways before heading over to the trail. Even once I found it it wasn’t exactly easy-going… but I did make it all the way down to the Mt. Currie trailhead just before dark, 12h58m after I started skinning up from the village. It took me almost as long to ski down from Currie as it did to ski over from Wedge.
After hiking the logging road back to the Sea-to-Sky the lateness of the hour made hitchhiking rather difficult – although it was a good spot with nice line-of-sight and a pullout all the ski-tourers had long since driven home and the few remaining motorists weren’t really interested in picking me up. I had given up on the idea and was in the middle of texting Line to call a cab for me with my InReach when a police pickup pulled over and offered me a a much-appreciated ride (and it turns out he was a ski-tourer too).
GPS reported the total elevation gain as a little over 3900m, but I think ~3600m is probably more realistic – that’s what I get if I pin the elevation to the map and fly over the route with Google Earth… GPS elevations can be noisy, and that adds up to phantom elevation gain over a long day.
Good on you, that’s quite the achievement! Out of curiosity, how did you conclude that the crevasse situation was “good enough” for a solo traverse?
All the glaciers involved looked fairly benign (few crevasses) over the portions that I would be travelling. I did adjust my route slightly, to go around a few pockets where there were some crevasses. Since they generally form as the result of some feature of the mountain the glacier is flowing over (for example, maybe a bulge) crevasses tend to reliably show up in the same area. It’s like a river in slow motion… at any given moment the waves will be in different places, but general locations of flat-water and rapids will stay the same. You want to avoid the rapids. It’s usually also possible to go through them if necessary, but this can be dicey if you are solo (or even in a group, depending on conditions or the group).
Google maps satellite images have revolutionized glacier travel for me – when I “started” planning long glacier-intensive trips (not even that long ago) I would spend hours trying to find summer arial photographs and reading trip reports, and try to generally mark up my maps with “good” and “bad” regions. Now you can just plot a line (or shapes) online in google maps and upload it directly to a GPS. Almost seems like cheating.
In SW BC most people ski unroped anyway, even if they are travelling in a group, but do often carry a rope. The only time I’ve ever rescued somebody (on a ski trip) with a rope was after they fell into Ring Creek. Although also worth mentioning that I have fallen into a crevasse once myself, with skis on my pack… I ended up dangling from my skis/pack and was able to climb out; I was roped up at the time, which made it somewhat less scary.