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Bridge Headwaters Ski Traverse #4773 by Robin Tivy

Dataset Used: 300M
  Subject Mountain: Mount Binkert
Ranges: North America Ranges / Pacific Cordillera Range / Coast Mountains / Pacific Ranges / Lillooet Icefield

Closest Town:
Trip Date: 2003.05.15   (8 days) Calculated Length: 83 km
Abstract: A horseshoe shaped ski traverse around the Bridge River headwaters. Up Torrent Creek, onto the icefield, and down the main Bridge glacier.
Difficulty: 3: Easy glacier terrain, lots of easy peaks. Probable whiteouts for some days. Fording the Bridge R. could become difficult once past May.
Participants: Robin Tivy, Betsy Waddington, Laurent Mingo, Gwen Flowers

Access: From Goldbridge, drive west up the Bridge River FSR  
Access Level: 2 = Low Clearance 4WD  

The general plan was to ski some sort of horseshoe encircling the headwaters of the Bridge River. This would be mostly on the icefields. The original plan was to get onto the icefields up Nichols Creek and come out at McParlon Creek. This route wouldn't require fording the Bridge River. However, when we found out how far you could drive up the new Bridge River FSR, we changed our plan to leave both cars as far as we could drive on the Bridge River FSR, and then ascend the next creek west of Nichols instead. (The creek at Longitude 123:25). And instead of coming out via Athelney Pass, we would shorten things by fording the north arm of the Bridge River to get back to the road directly. The only question was: Is it possible to ford the Bridge River in May, and will it still be possible after 9 days of melting? Here's the trip log. This was the first time I used the waypoint list of my GPS to mark all the waypoints. I switched the units of my GPS to match the maps we were using (NAD 27, UTM, and feet), and then used the "Mark" button for each waypoint. When I got back, I just switched the GPS to WGS84, Lat-Long, and then read out the waypoints in Bivouac format. I also conducted various tests along the way between 2 GPS units and 2 different altimeters.

Day 1 (Thursday May 15): As of 6:30 AM, intelligence reports from Ainsworth Lumber indicated that Railroad Pass had just been cleared the previous day, and the bulldozer was now at work on the Bridge River FSR. So we left Vancouver at 6:30 AM, hoping the bulldozer would be done by the time we caught up with it.

At Railroad pass, the freshly plowed road was like a tunnel, a single lane with snowbanks often 3 or 4 meters high. Once we got to the Bridge River FSR, we could see the cat tracks. An hour later we met the buldozer driver coming back from his day's work. He had cleared three or four big slides, but had not yet been past McPharlon Creek. We continued, expecting to be stopped by another snow slide at any point. However, there were no more major slides. We drove through the gate and onward. There were several places where we had to take a run to get through the snow, and at one point we had to shovel the car through about 100 meters of snow which took an hour. Finally, at 50:50.9-123:20.2 we hit deep snow on an uphill stretch, and made camp.

Day 2 (Friday May 16): From camp 1 on road, we walked along the road. Fantastic views of the unlogged Bridge River drainage. After 4 km we came to a fork in the road. We went to the end of the lower fork at 3900' and then started hiking up through the trees. At 4200' we were surprised to once again hit the upper fork. From here on, the road was continuously skiable to its end at 4800'. From the end of the road, we continued up through the trees. Main obstacles were two gulleys. Once we got into the trees, it was continuous snow. After several hours we camped at 5140', on a bench above the Creek.

Day 3 (Saturday May 17): Lots of large bear tracks just below our camp. The bears apparently use the ravine as a corridor. We skied up the ravine and gradually it opened out above treeline. There were several tricky little steep slopes to be negotiated on the frozen snow. At one point Betsy came to the end of the bench she was on, and we either had to go up across a steep frozen sidehill or climb down into the ravine. I boldly charged forward up across the sidehill, but soon froze in terror of slipping. The others were in the ravine. Eventually I had to take my skis and Laurent came up and we cut steps to get down off the slope. After lunch, we continued up the glacier and soon hit a whiteout. For the next two hours we used the GPS and altimiter to get over the pass and part way down the other side, where we made camp in a whiteout.

Day 4 (Sunday May 18): Snow had stopped overnight and weather was clear. Below us was the pass between the Bridge River and the Lord River, with scattered trees. From our ridge we could pick out various animal trails going through the pass. This pass is the lowest route between the Lord and Bridge River drainages, and thus is probably a major wildlife corridor. From the pass, we had two choices of route - either to go directly up toward Mount Perry, or go further south and go up the Wheatley Glacier. We chose the longer route up the Wheatley glacier because it was more gentle. We made camp about 300 feet below the crest of the ridge, just below Mount Wheatley.

Day 5: (Monday May 19): Since the weather was still clear, we decided to climb Mount Wheatley before breaking camp. So we headed directly up toward the peak from the east. The snow slopes were a bit steep, and in one place a minor crack formed. However we continued, and soon we were only a 100 m below the peak, on the final ridge (the North Ridge). Above us was a knife edged ridge, with big cornices. At that point, I had given up trying to get to the peak, but Laurent went up the ridge, and hacked away at the cornices so he was astride the ridge. It then didn't look so fearsome, so I followed. Once on the ridge I it actually turned out to be quite easy, since the west slope is not as steep. Soon we were on the summit, overlooking the entire Bridge River headwaters to our east. We then descended, and broke camp and skied thru the pass 1 km north of Mount Wheatley and then across the north arm of the North Bridge glacier and crossed the pass onto the Lord Glacier, about 1 km north of Mount Dodds. Here we made a camp which lasted for the next 3 days. Camp 5,6,7 with Snow Wall.

Day 6 (Tuesday May 20): (Camp 5,5,7) We awoke to a strong cold wind and driving fresh snow, with the nearby peaks just barely visible. Despite the marginal visibility, I was able to convince the others to go for Mount Binkert, which although distant, was supposed to be easy, according to the Bivouac guidebook. The attraction was that the west peak of Mount Binkert is the "Triple Point" between the Chilko River, Lord River and Bishop River. So I set out on waxed skis for the 16 km round trip to the peak. At the first pass we encountered an enormous wind cirque on the south side of Mount Porter. In the flat light,it was difficult to tell what it did. Once clear of the pass, I headed across the Frank Smith Glacier, and soon there was no land in sight in any direction. However, the visibility was good enough that you could still see the terrain immediately in front of where you were ski-ing, so we kept skiing. After about an hour, the lower flanks of Mount Binkert hove into view. Land Ho! We had lunch at the foot of the peak, then skied up the glacier and scrambled to the top. The wind was howling across the peak, carrying driving snow which bit into your face. Our tracks were almost immediately filled in, but on our return parts of our route could be detected by means of lumps of snow.

Day 7 Wed May 21: (From Camp 5-7): This morning we awoke to a heavier whiteout than the previous day, with only the southern ridge of Mount Tait visible. After lunch we decided to try Mount Henderson, since it was the triple point for the Bridge-Lord and Bishop rivers. It was completely whited out, but by means of the GPS and altimeter, we were able to find the summit. On our return, we crossed over the ridge between Henderson and Dodds, and skied down into an enormous wind cirque, and around. From here a rocky route up the south ridge of Dodds was accessable. However, we left that for another day, and climbed back up over the ridge and back to camp.

Day 8 Thursday May 22 (from Camp 5-7): Today we have no choice but to break camp and head south, since we only have 1 dinner left, and it will take 2 full days. There was a complete whiteout, just below freezing. So we set out in the whiteout, armed with the GPS, altimeter and compass. Because we couldn't see anything, our route was to go from point to point by compass bearing, and check our position with the GPS. First we went over the Henderson - Mills pass and into the Stanley Smith drainage. From here we set the compass bearing for the nearest of the four small islands of rock, the first of which is at 530340. We called these islands Supreme, Ultra, Max and Top, with "Top" of course being the lowest according to marketing theory. The whole group was called the "Octane Islands".

With Betsy in the lead, we crossed over from the Stanley Smith glacier and into the Bridge drainage, and then skied down towards "Supreme". Sure enough, after a couple of kilometers we ran into its misty shores. We then followed it along down to its southern tip. Once we hit Supreme, we decided to leave the Octane group and instead head northwest to "Easygate", another island at 557339. The bowl north of Easygate looked like it had the gentlest contours, which was important in the whiteout. When we arrived at Easygate, we put on the rope. Both Betsy and I felt quite motion sick at this point from the ski-ing in the whiteout, so Laurent took the lead. From here, we wound down the gentlest contours and onto the Bridge Glacier, north of the "Nunatuk" at 590300 (6000'). Here we emerged out of the clouds and could finally see. We soon got off the glacier and skied down the slopes on the north side. The snow was incredibly slushy and there were frequent slides of cement down the slopes which had to be crossed. Finally we got past the end of the northern arm of the main glacier, which now stops at the foot of the Nunatuk, and no longer connects with the main glacier. At first we were able to ski on various benches above the main glacier, but eventually were forced to come down to the main glacier level and negotiate dozens of tricky "ice core" sand peaks which were stranded there. This went on for several km. These ice core peaks are about 50 meters high, and at impossibly steep angles, due to their ice cores, with the occasional sink holes and crevasses between. But finally we emerged below the last of the ice and made camp on snow by a small lake. Two ducks arrived and settled on the lake. The nearby morraine had bright red stonecrop leaves on it.

Day 9 (Friday May 23): The weather was warm and overcast. From the map, we thought it would be an easy ski across the middle of the Bridge Glacier outwash. However, we were soon forced up into the trees by the main channel of the Bridge River, which flows right against the north bank. In some stretches we could walk along the river, since the water level was still low. (you could still ford the river at this point).

At the very end of the morraine section, we discovered a water measurement station with a cable car on the south west side of the river. I noted that the Bridge river could still be forded at this point, but was not trivial. Here we had lunch, then headed up into the trees and over a low ridge then down the last 4 km descent to the confluence of the North Bridge river with the South Bridge River. Our plan was to ford the North Bridge River, and thus get back on the road to our cars. We finally came upon the north Bridge canyon about 1 km upstream of the confluence. The canyon was utterly impossible - about 200 foot drop straight down, then straight up the other side. Since the point we had inspected nine days earlier was still considerably upstream of us, we stuck with our plan of trying to get across at the confluence, where the map looked hopeful. So we followed the canyon wall down toward the confluence, but no-where was there a break in the cliffs. Finally right at the end of the pie shaped piece of land between the two rivers, there was a narrow animal pathway cut down thru the side of the cliffs. The path led to a narrow rocky beach with smooth stones about 20 cm in diameter. When we got down to the river itself, we realized that the harmless looking green water was actually quite deep - just below waist depth, and really pouring out of the narrow canyon with a lot of forcem abd then into another canyon section below. I took off my pants and went out to test the force. After about only 3 meters out, and not yet in the deepest part, the force was overwhelming, and I was forced to turn back. The river had risen considerably in the 9 days. So we started looking for an alternate crossing point. Downstream of us was one isolated, eroded tower of rock which formed the wall, but beyond that was the actual confluence of the North and South branch of the Bridge. At first it didn't look like there was any way past this last rock tower, but Betsy discovered that by going over to the shore of the South Bridge, you could squeeze by on the rocks, then cross back over to the North Bridge right at the confluence. This route involved going by a genuine bear cave in the tower, in which the vegetation was trampled down, and a smell emitted. Once back on the shores of the North branch below the tower, the river looked much better. This time I thought I would tackle the river in full force, with my pack on, and trailing the 40 meter climbing rope for the others. I plunged in, and started across. I had bare feet, no pants and 2 ski poles, and my skies on the pack. The first part was relatively straightforward, the only problem was it was very difficult to force the light ski poles down in the fast current to get to the bottom, and when they were on the bottom, they shook wildly with the force of the water. When I was about 2/3 across, I stepped down into quite a deep hole, which raised the water halfway up to my waist, which as you know is about as deep as you can possibly ford deep water. However, the weight of my pack kept me on the bottom. The next step was even worse, and I really went into a hole up to my waste. The water was around the bottom of my pack, and pulling at the bottom blades of the skis. However, the force wasn't quite as great due to the depth, and I just plunged forward as if I was wading into the ocean, heading for some shallower rocks about 2 meters in front. With a couple more steps, I pulled myself up into shallower water, and completed the crossing.

We now had the rope stretched across. Betsy and Gwen were next on the schedule. We set the rope to a 45 degree angle downstream, so that with each step you could be swept downstream slightly and thus reduce the sideways force. The others each put on their climbing harness. Betsy clipped into the rope with a carribiner, and also had a prussic. Laurent was on belay at one end, and I tied my end off to a thick willow on my bank, then moved to a "rescue station" about 10 meters downstream. It was the packs I was most worried about if something went wrong, since a person would eventually flail their way to shore even if they were washed downstream. The junction of the two branch of the Bridge river was only 30 meters below the lower end of our rope, and if a pack got into that, it might be a goner.

Betsy was second, because she now has quite a bit of experience with these big crossings, after the Klastline River north of Edziza, and Mastedon Creek in Jasper. So she started across. Initially she had a lot of trouble with the prussic jamming as she tried to move, and in hindsight it was a bad idea. But she eventually got it sorted out before the "big hole". I kept my fingers crossed, but soon enough, she was across. Now it was Gwen's turn to clip in. Because of a fear of being swept downstream, her route came straight across the river, and thus each step was more difficult. It was also more difficult because she had her boots on, whereas Betsy and I had bare feet. Several times I thought she might stagger and fall, but eventually she was across, and quite glad of it as well. Now it was just Laurent to cross. Because he was last, he would only be belayed from our side. We moved the belay way upstream above him, such that if he slipped, the force of the current would pendulum him across the stream. First thing we had to do was send him one of my poles. We clipped it onto the rope, and it zipped across the 45 degree diagionaly, pulled by the force of the water. Finally he was ready to cross. He was also using his boots, and came tearing across the water at full speed, and was soon on our bank as well. We climbed the north bank together, and were soon back on the logging road and soon at the cars. In the previous 9 days, the snow had melted off the road, and we could now have driven to the confluence. See Fording the Bridge River

Everyone agreed that fording the Bridge River was the biggest thing yet. The main factor in determining difficulty is not water volume, it is the river bed at your crossing point. I would estimate you could cross up to ten times the water volume if you had a good gravel flat than if you are in a confined watercourse. I observed several points below the confluence of the two branches of the Bridge where the whole thing could be forded, simply because there are big gravel flats. Although the Klastline last August was certainly much bigger than the Bridge in May, it was easily crossable because of the huge gravel flats.
GPX file   KML file

Labelled Waypoints
Lat-Long Km Description
  50.8483, -123.33670.0Park cars, and camp 1. km 50 (3340'). Km are according to signposts.
  50.8500, -123.35001.0Headland with view of unlogged Bridge R Valley
  50.8617, -123.39334.3Fork in New Road (3775') just after km 51
  50.8767, -123.41506.5End of Lower Road (3880')
  50.8800, -123.41676.9Hit upper Road (4200')
  50.8833, -123.41677.3big switchback (4390')
  50.8883, -123.42338.0second fork (4640')
  50.8950, -123.42508.7End of upper branch (4810' or 4822')
  50.9367, -123.433313.4Open slope past side creek
  50.9367, -123.433313.4Half way up headwall (5700')
  50.9467, -123.443314.7Lunch (6560')
  50.9550, -123.483317.7Top of Col
  50.9567, -123.521720.3Camp 3 in whiteout (6819')
  50.9067, -123.556726.4Crest of ridge between Perry and Wheatley G (6858')
  50.9000, -123.600029.5Camp 4 (7700')
  50.8950, -123.611730.5Summit of Mount Wheatley (8900')
  50.9000, -123.600031.5Back to camp 4 (7700')
  50.8950, -123.635034.0Pass between Wheatley and Tait (7830')
  50.8917, -123.668336.4Camp 5,6,7 (8550')
  50.9050, -123.760043.0Summit of Mount Binkert (9838')
  50.8917, -123.668349.6Back at Camp
  50.8750, -123.673351.4Summit of Mount Henderson (9355')
  50.8917, -123.668353.3Back at Camp
  50.8683, -123.678356.0Pass between Mills and Henderson (8680')
  50.8650, -123.681756.4Divide between Stanley Smith and Bridge
  50.8600, -123.670057.4North end of "Supreme" island
  50.8333, -123.556765.9Junction of two glaciers which no longer join (4110')
  50.8400, -123.513369.0Camp 8 just below last ice core towers (4574')
  50.8650, -123.465073.4Along sidehill in trees, Hoodoos above (4550')
  50.8567, -123.453374.6Cable car crossing Bridge R
  50.8583, -123.441775.5Enter the forest (4575')
  50.8550, -123.390079.1Confluence of N and S arm of Bridge R (3400')
  50.8483, -123.336782.9Back at cars, and camp 1. km 50 (3340').


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Associated Photo Essays
Camp and Snow Wall on Lord Glacier Robin Tivy
Fording the Bridge River Robin Tivy