Friday, June 1, 2012

Rolling Through the High Country

Phacelia Creek FSR

Staggering up a steep cutblock alternately falling hip deep in rotten snow drifts and clambering over downed trees, I thought "Getting to Battleship Lakes sure is a battle." The day before we had driven south from Lillooet and met Captain Bivouac and Betsy at the start of the now defunct Lizzie Lake FSR just before 11 am. After the usual car shuttle debate - physics and the logistics of car shuttles both leave me glassy eyed - we had driven south to Rogers Creek FSR and managed to get the $800 Bivouac-mobile - a 1993 Subaru - up to the start of the Cloudraker Spur.

Nice Alder on the road

Returning in our truck to Phacelia Creek FSR we had only managed to drive to about 800 metres before getting stopped by boulders on the rapidly deteriorating road. Of course, in the process of getting that far we had snapped our tow strap pulling a large half-uprooted tree off the road. This enabled us to drive all of 30 metres before being irrevocably halted. In the end, backing up beyond the offending tree was the only option and we ended up back where we had started. Such is progress on BC's logging roads.

Finally getting away at 3.45 pm we thrashed our way up the deteriorating logging road with skis on our packs fighting like wildcats through the dense overlapping slide alder that infested the road bed. After about two hours we reached a dilapidated bridge over the outflow stream of Battleship Lakes. A steep nasty cutblock loomed above. Deciding to put that battle off until next day, we scratched out two marginally flat tent sites among the slide alder near the bridge.

Not the most salubrious campsite

Battleship Lakes and Bellavista Ridge

We had a sprinkle of rain in the night, but the morning was dry as we packed up and prepared for the steep 500 metre climb to the first of the several Battleship Lakes. The cutblock was every bit as bad as it looked, but we did manage to claw our way up to the old growth, which, while steep, afforded easier walking on dry ground. At 1375 metres, a metre of settled snow appeared within a few paces, but the terrain was still steep and the tree wells deep so we continued kicking steps up for a further 100 metres to a flat spot at 1470 metres.

Travel was much easier with our skis on our feet instead of our backs although the terrain was still steep. After skinning up for perhaps 15 minutes I heard a series of expletives - some new and original - issuing forth from Captain Bivouac whose skins - from which he inexplicably but infallibly removes the tail attachment system - had, predictably, fallen off, followed by the roll of hockey tape he carries to secure skins to skis plummeting downhill into Phacelia Creek. 

An hour or so of steep skinning allowed us to ski out of the trees and we reached the lowest Battleship Lake. Robin, who arrived last, had managed to skin up with one skin on and one skin off, something I guess you can do if you never apply glide wax to your bases but allow season after season of skin glue to accumulate. We found a bare clump of rocks for a snack, but it was cold, breezy and cloudy and we were all anxious to start "rolling through the high country" as Robin was lyrically describing this trip.

Skiing across Battleship Lake

Easy terrain led to the broad pass to the east of Bellavista Ridge. We dumped our packs here and skied easily to the top of Bellavista Ridge site of Steve Grant's famous "So You're Not Afraid Of Cornices" photo, the location of which was easily recognizable. Some nice turns on corn snow took us back down to our packs, and then down a further 100 metres to a campsite by a tarn. While the others lounged in camp, I skinned up the southwest facing slope above camp to a viewpoint overlooking Priory Peaks, Lindisfarne and Meditation Mountains, Meadow Dome, and Bellavista Ridge. Some nice, but slightly sloppy turns on overcooked corn brought me back to camp in time for dinner.

Captain Bivouac on Bellavista Ridge

Cherry Pip Pass, Tabletop Mountain, Iceberg Lake

A clear night allowed a solid freeze and we had a somewhat icy descent into the headwaters of Rogers Creek where we intersected a logging road at 1500 metres. This descent was straight forward apart from the last 50 metres through an over-planted cutblock riddled with skier swallowing tree wells which necessitated some interesting ski techniques to avoid. The climb up the northwest facing slope to Cherry Pip Pass is straight forward but threatened by huge overhanging cornices, so we skinned up as fast as one can when carrying a big pack. At Cherry Pip Pass we had great views into all the high alpine terrain of this area including the route of the Stein ski traverse.

We debated contouring around the east side of Tabletop Mountain but the snow was dangerously soft and the terrain steep, so instead we skinned up the east ridge of Tabletop, also on mushy snow, to a broad plateau at 2100 metres. We found a deluxe lunch spot with dry rocks and heather overlooking Rogers Creek valley about 1.5 km northeast of Tabletop Mountain.

Doug skinning up to Cherry Pip Pass

After lunch, Doug and I skinned up the southeast ridge of Tabletop Mountain kicking off innumerable wet avalanches that quickly over-ran our uptrack. Captain Bivouac and Betsy wisely stayed out of the way on a rock promontory overlooking Anemome and Table until we had descended. Together again we skied easily down to Iceberg Lake and made camp near another patch of bare rocks and heather perfect for a "leisure (pronounced to rhyme with Cesar) centre".

While the others lounged about like lizards in the sun, I rolled through the high country to the long ridge leading southwest from Arrowhead Mountain where I had good views of Tynemouth Mountain, Long and Diversion Peaks and the beautiful Cloudraker Mountain. On the way back to camp, I also skinned up a ramp to the west ridge of Arrowhead and got within 40 metres (I later discovered) from the summit before collapsing snow on the ridge and the lateness of the hour turned me back.

Looking down on camp near Iceberg Lake

Arrowhead and Tynemouth Mountains, Tarn Peak and Sapphire Lake

Our fourth day started sunny but quickly clouded up and became gusty and cool. We cruised on frozen snow to the base of Moraine Pass, skinned up and through the pass and dropped our packs on a patch of dry rocks between Tynemouth and Arrowhead. We skied to the top of Arrowhead via the east ridge and lounged for a while on top planning the route up Tynemouth, before a pleasant, but too short corn snow descent back to our packs. 

After snacking, we skied up a ramp to the northeast ridge of Tynemouth. Skiing southwest along this ridge was incredibly scenic and four cameras were wildly clicking off pictures and video. Doug and I skied to the summit of Tynemouth via the southwest ridge after steep, icy traverse - ski crampons reduced made this traverse much easier - of the north face. Betsy ambled along the ridge to the northeast, while Robin got within 20 metres of the summit kicking steps up the north face close by the northeast ridge, before a steep exposed section turned him back. The corn snow descent back to our packs was excellent, but, again way too short. Clouds were thickening and the wind was increasing as we cruised the corn southwest past a series of lakes to Sapphire Lake where we hunted out a relatively sheltered campsite.

Doug skinning towards Tynemouth Mountain

Captain Bivouac and Betsy built a rudimentary wall around their tent then went for a tour to Tarn Peak - a low lying ridge with high quality views - and further west to get a view north down the valley to Lizzie Lake. I left Doug excavating snow blocks and also skied up Tarn Peak before rolling through the high country to the west towards Mount Shields. When I returned to camp an hour or so later, Doug had constructed a sturdy compound around our tent complete with kitchen and shelving units and was busy filming our estate compared to the Waddington-Tivy establishment. It was a cold windy night and people retired early to their tents.

Exit to Cloudraker Spur

Our good weather disappeared, as we feared, overnight and we woke to low lying cloud, fog and drizzle. In a dry break, we darted out of tents and packed up. We skied west through corridors between bluffs and tarns to reach a broad saddle east of Shields Peak where an easy descent down alpine terrain led into open timber. Continuing easily down through trees brought us to a prominent marsh and y staying on the west side of the creek draining the marsh on increasingly dirty snow we skied out into a cutblock above the Cloudraker spur. Cloudraker was solidly in the clouds and little of the ascent route could be seen. We skied down the spur road to 1200 metres where the snow abruptly disappeared and the trip ended, as all Coast Mountain adventures do, with the usual hike down a logging spur. 

Back at the Lizzie Creek FSR, Captain Bivouac urged the Bivouac-mobile perhaps a kilometre up Phacelia Creek FSR before being defeated by a deep water bar. With my MP3 player blasting tunes, I hiked up the road to retrieve our truck frequently hooting "yo bear" as I was following large fresh bear tracks and scat the entire distance. However, no beasties were encountered and our truck was unmolested. Driving south to Squamish, where we stopped for a curry dinner, Doug commented that he could now shave off his beard as his last ski trip of the season was now complete.

Rolling through the high country

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