Getting My Ass Kicked in the Tantalus

For full disclosure, I am mostly writing this trip report for its humorous value, and to pad the journal.

I had wanted to go to the Tantalus in general, and climb the East ridge of Alpha specifically, for a while. At the end of September, some friends were making plans to do it over two days, and I eagerly asked to join them, except I had a lot of school work to do so instead of camping at the lake the night before, I would just do it all in a day and meet them at the lake when they rolled out of bed in the morning.

Fast forward a couple days, and my friends bailed to go to Washington pass. And who could blame them? I would be there if I could be. The 5th class climbing on the East ridge is short and easily bypassed so I figured I’d just go anyways, set my alarm for 3:30 the next day, packed my stuff (including rock shoes, a harness, a single rack, and a light rope for my dream of sketchily rope soloing the 5.8 crux), and went to bed much too late given my early start.

When my alarm went off, I woke up with a sore throat and reset my alarm for 4:30. At 4:30 I still felt like trash, but I reasoned that I should make myself breakfast and see how I felt. After breakfast I felt a little bit better, so I started the drive, and after a bit of a cluster trying to find a gas station that was open in Squamish, I made it to the trailhead around 6. I was still really tired so almost bailed back to Vancouver, but that seemed lame so I took a 20 minute nap, felt a bit better, and started the hike down to the Squamish river.

For some reason, despite having friends who could confirm that the Tyrolean is definitely not the best way across the Squamish River, I decided that that was the method that I was going to employ (see VOCJ 64 – Faffalicious: The Squamish River Traverse in Eight Ways). I had been warned about how hard it was to pull myself along the cable without some sort of pulley, but it turns out that the process of getting safely myself attached to the cable without falling out of the tower was also quite cruxy, and I almost bailed several more times, however, I am stubborn, and I was safely down on the other bank by 8 am.

By this point I felt a bit better, but I was extremely behind schedule, so I started hiking pretty hard. I stopped at the beautiful lake lovelywater campsite just long enough to fill one of my water bottles, admire the view, and chat with a party of two who were just leaving camp headed for the same objective as me. They told me that they didn’t really know where they were going so they were going to follow me, which I told them wasn’t really a good idea because I didn’t either. And proved it by passing them and immediately loosing the trail, resulting in a short bushwack before I found it again. I didn’t see them again all day even looking down from high on the ridge, so I have no idea what happened to them.

Other than my short off trail excursion, the hike up was lovely, and soon I had gained the lower section of the ridge, where I stopped to admire the view, and take some photos.


Alpha from low on the ridge. The East ridge is the lefthand skyline.

I rambled up the broad lower ridge, and despite having studied the guidebook extensively, and knowing that it is very easy to gain the glacier too early and that I should avoid this, I gained the glacier too early and had to cross a sketchy moat when I got to the steep and broken section (not fun in approach shoes and flexy crampons) that I could have bypassed on the easy ridge. After a bit of unnecessary scrambling, I was back on the glacier and headed up to the notch where you’re supposed to regain the ridge.

Gaining the rock was a little interesting because the glacier was very melted out and the snow in the short couloir below the notch resembled some sort of twisted up contemporary art sculpture. The climb out of the moat was an easy 5th ramp with a hand crack at the back, and ended up being probably the hardest thing I climbed on the ridge. At the notch below the crux pitch, I took one look at the crux pitch, and one look at my watch (probably 12:30 or 1 pm, I don’t really remember), said no way, not today, and traversed left to easier ground on the South side of the ridge. After a bit of traversing on the shoulder, I head up what looked like a fun line on 4th class terrain to regain the ridge above the two technical pitches that I would have roped up for.

Isn't Tantalus beautiful?

Isn’t Tantalus beautiful?

Once on the ridge, it was a deceptively long distance to the summit, but it was really fun 4th class ridge scrambling over several sub summits, so I was pretty happy. Once on the summit, I stopped for a bit to admire the incredible views of most of the Tantalus range, as well as across to Nch’kay/Garibaldi and the surrounding peaks, and took a summit selfie with Tantalus and the rumbling glacier in the background. I was also pretty dehydrated at this point, because despite refilling my water low on the ridge, I decided to only fill one bottle, so I was almost out of water, and it was pretty hot in the sun.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

In my research prior to my trip, I had read some beta that claimed descending the Southwest ridge as described in the guidebook was a fool’s errand, and that it was better to just head back down the East ridge. However, I was worried that finding the bolts to rap the technical section could be a bit difficult, given I skipped that section, and traversing over the mountain just seemed more aesthetic, so I decided to head down the Southwest ridge. Downclimbing the ‘4th class gully” through the last rockband was quite engaging, and there was a bit of annoying talus, but for the most part the descent down to the bench at 1500 m went quite smoothly and quickly. From the bench down to Lamda lake the guidebook directs you to find a snowfield at the East end of the bench, and just descend the snow. Which would be great had there been any snow.

***Author’s note: the very late nature of my ascent probably also contributed to the lack of snow here, had I been climbing during the regular summer season, there is a good chance that there still would have been snow here.

Snow slope?

Snow slope?

This was predictable given the age of the guidebook and the late season, so I wasn’t too disappointed, but still. Eventually I figured out where the optimal point to drop down was and started shwacking through the jungle, taking care not to fall off any cliffs. Eventually I got into the slabs of the main creek gully, which was a lot better than slipping and sliding on vegetation.

Once I got down to Lambda lake, I sat on a rock for a bit, then set off in search of the trail. The trail winds above some bluffs before dropping back onto the flats next to Lambda lake for a bit. I was almost at the trees, when I was startled by something crashing off into the bushes ahead of me. I didn’t see it, but it was pretty loud and there were lots of berries, so I was pretty sure it was a bear. Now I don’t really like bears and they probably don’t like me very much either, but I pulled out my ice axe so I could hit it against rocks and trees to make noise just for good measure and kept going.

Once I got back to the campsite, I had some water and started down as fast as I could, I really didn’t want to have to use my headlamp. The trail really is very steep so, despite being on the downhill and hustling hard, going down took me exactly as long as going up, and I had to break out my headlamp for the last short section on the flats to the river. The tyrolean was definitely less epic the second time around, but it turns out my core is very weak, and I suffered just as much pulling myself back across as I did in the morning.

By the time I made it to McDonald’s in Squamish, my sore throat was back, and I was hacking up a lung into my sleeve as I tried to eat a burger with incredibly chapped lips. On the whole, I was glad I persevered, because what the fuck else was I going to do, and it was a cool climb in a beautiful place. Wouldn’t recommend the South West ridge descent without a lot more snow on the ground though.

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One Response to Getting My Ass Kicked in the Tantalus

  1. Jacob Aragones says:

    Free yolo

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