Participants: Aino Keinaenen, Lucas Braun, Allen Zhao, Zac Wirth, Eleanor Hsiun, Sri Chaitanya, Emi Ikemura, Quintus Zhou, Rafa Akira
This was a harrowing experience for me. I need to learn to ski or something. The views were good and I am thankful for everyone that helped me and provided moral and physical support.
The plan was for a nice beginner friendly exploration of Zoa peak, a mellow ridge area off the Coquihalla. The plan soon changed (after a chaotic exchange of What’s App messages) to exploring the sky pilot area, a decidedly less mellow, less beginner friendly destination. The avalanche danger was low all around, and the area definitely caught our interest (Zac and I had climbed Sky pilot in the fall, and were eager to see it in the winter).
There were a few hiccups in our plan. The first: all of us were pretty new to touring. The second: unless we wanted to do a nasty grouse-grind-esque bootpack for about 3.5 km with 830m of elevation gain, we’d have to fork over sixty dollars to the gondola. Most people unsurprisingly had an inclination towards the gondola and a later wake up time, but the masochistic side of me still wonders what we missed by turning down the 3 AM bootpack. A mystery for another day I suppose.
We met at the sea-to-sky parking lot at around 9:30 AM (after stopping for a quick McDonald’s run in Squamish). Most folks invested in the annual pass, allowing them access to the area for the rest of the year. I aimed for the marginally cheaper day pass. Apparently I had a week to upgrade it and put the money towards an annual pass, something that I was interested in doing. That deadline has since run out, and now I am living with the consequences of my laziness. After a scenic gondola ride up, we set off down the Habrich spur road, taking note of the loss of elevation (which I’m sure won’t come into play later in this saga).
It was a pretty scenic and uneventful road for a few kilometers, until we were just past the Habrich junction, and found a creek in the middle of the trail. It was a fun puzzle that presented us with a few options. The first: attempt to skin up the two feet of clearance on either side of the creek. A few of us did that and found ourselves on an icy and steep track, which our skins could not hold well on. The second: take off our skis and walk up the creek or along the side of it. I don’t think there was a single person who did not fall down in some capacity getting past this crux. 10/10 would do again. From there it was a tight skin up some trees, past a boulder field, across Shannon creek, and up a steep icy set of glades that led us to treeline. Many had to bootpack this section, and we weren’t all past it until around 2:30.
It was from there that some of us turned around, and some of us skied up to just under Stadium Glacier to get some lines down the gullies. Our plan was to turn around by about 3:45 and reunite with the group that were making their descent. The alpine was a beautiful and surreal place; the constant empty blanket of snow reflecting the setting sun and making it feel like an alien planet. The gullies were crusty and steep, but made for a sick ski, and the tree line became tight and icy, making for fun and involved line choices. By the time we reunited with the others, they were descending a narrow creek bed.
Before long we were back at the Habrich spur, and the obligatory Sky Pilot race for the gondola began. The creek was a bit less sketchy on the descent, and Aino and I took off our skis at the other side to help ferry other skis across. Once everyone was on the other side, it was a straight forward rip down the road, the clock ticking ever closer to 6:00 PM. It was around there that the elevation we lost on the way up came back to bite us in the ass: we had to climb to the gondola. I managed to make it a decent way skating, but eventually gave up and assembled an A-Frame, partially to just make climbing easier, and partially for the boot-pack I was near certain we’d have to do. I made it to the gondola around 5:45, and asked the staff if they could hold it ten minutes for the rest of our group. Sri came in first, and then the others all at once, just in the nick of time. The gondola ride down was terrifying, as a strong wind began to blow and rock us back and forth as we crested the steep granite cliffs. But we made it safely down and spent the car ride back solving riddles.
I think Lucas has summed up the trip pretty well from above, but here’s some points from my perspective. This was my third time ski touring and the higher elevation gain and distance (relative to red heather and Seymour) definitely made it a bit intimidating at first. Nevertheless, I packed my bags with way too many layers and headed out. The logging road was absolutely beautiful with the morning sun peeking through the trees (here’s a reminder to not forget your SUNNIES, I luckily found some in the gift shop). The creek section went relatively smoothly for me, but the icy skin track in the wood was not fun on my mohair skins. I quickly opted for an A frame as soon as we got to a clearing and boot packed up the gully with Sri and Rafa following shortly behind. It was a fun climb, although I wonder if I made the right decision as it was a little more exposed and those who stayed on the skin track made it up before us. Nearing the top, we found Allen who turned around to see if we were lost (thanks allen), and eventually Lucas and Aino who had been sitting at the lunch spot for 20 minutes and freezing their butts off. After lunch, some of us set off for the alpine. The snow of crusty and the short decent before the trees was still very fun. Besides, the view itself was 100% worth it.