Regular text by Scott Nelson
Italics text by Sandra Nicol
All photos by Sandra Nicol
Day 1 - The Drive - April 14
Like most trips, this one began with us realizing what we had forgotten. I couldn't find my good fleece gloves when packing up, so my only pair had holes in the fingers. Tim also couldn't find his fleece gloves (but he didn't know it yet). The first aid kit was short on ibuprofen and Benadryl, and we needed new batteries for headlamps, cameras and avalanche transceivers.
Fortunately, the 15-hour drive up meant we had an opportunity to go shopping in 100 Mile House on the way. When we pulled into town it was snowing hard, and a bit windy. We didn't count on it being Easter Friday, so we couldn't get any of the good drugs as there wasn't a pharmacist on duty. I found some leftover stretchy gloves, and we loaded up on batteries. For some reason we also went to an all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet Restaurant for lunch, which meant that we couldn't finish our dinner later that night.
Anyway, we eventually started west from Williams Lake at 3:30 with full tanks of gas, and Tim had a full jerry can in the back of his truck. The drive to Tatla Lake and then on to Whitesaddle Air was uneventful enough. We left Tim's truck by the hangar and piled into our Pathfinder. The gas station in Tatla Lake was closed for the holiday, and it was beginning to look like we'd have to go all the way back to Williams Lake for more gas. Fortunately a gas station was still open at the Redstone Indian Reserve and we topped up the tank at 8:30pm and headed for Taseko Lake.
The signs towards Taseko Lakes were marked well enough, but navigating unfamiliar roads at night is always tricky. The last 25 km was snow covered, a lot rougher and with big ice covered puddles to drive through. Eventually we made it to the Taseko Lake Lodge around 10:30 p. m. We were about to get out and pitch the tents when I saw a man up ahead in the headlights. He started walking towards us so I pulled ahead.
"Are you Sigfried Reuter?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I'm Scott Nelson," I said, "We talked over email."
"I didn't realize you were actually coming," he said. "Come on in."
Sigfried offered us a cabin for the night, and some firewood. We were too tired to bother with the fire, so we laid out our sleeping bags on the beds and drifted off to sleep.
Day 2-4 - The Tchaikazan Valley - April 15-17
On our first day of skiing we decided to go along the road on the west side of Taseko Lake rather than along the ice. It looked frozen enough, but Sig had warned us that the far end of the lake had been open water for much of the winter. We crossed the lake on ice near the mouth, and then quickly gained the road on the other side where it was only a few meters from the shore. After a bit of walking the skis came out as we neared Lastman Lake. The recent new snow meant that we could use kick wax instead of skins, which made our progress quick. We covered about 22 km on the first day, setting up camp on the road somewhere above the south end of Fishem Lake. As Sebastian stepped out of his borrowed skis to set up camp, he snapped the heel piece of his bindings in half. Ooops. Perhaps not the best way to start a trip.
At dinner that night the three engineers got together to create a fix for the problem. Sandra cooked. Tim joked that this kind of thing happens all the time. "Fred Touche would start a trip like this knowing he had broken bindings," he said. I was less optimistic.
Version 1.0 of Sebastian's new AT binding used his ski leash strap to hold the remaining part of the heel piece up. It was good while it lasted - the buckle failed after 2 km of skiing (175 km to go). For version 1.1 we used the remains of the buckle and tied a knot. Version 1.1 lasted a bit longer - the strap failed over a sharp edge at lunchtime about 5 km further just after we had dropped down to the Tchaikazan River. For version 2.0 we wrapped all the sharp edges of the binding with duct tape, and tied the strap into a loop with a square knot. The hardest part was tying the knot tight enough - a process which took two people. As a result, Sebastian ended up leaving his skis on at lunch for a few days before he figured out how to slide the loop over the heal piece, leaving it tied around his boot.
The Tchaikazan Valley is probably the most beautiful valley I've visited in many years of hiking and skiing in the Coast Mountains. It's wide open, with stunning views in every direction. Skiing along the dead flat valley bottom and crossing back and forth across the frozen river was an absolute joy. There were no bushes, tree wells or other obstacles for nearly the entire length of the valley - just a smooth, 400 m wide ski trail. It was more like traveling by boat up a deep water fjord than any kind of skiing I've done before. There wasn't much snow either - a foot or two in most places and deeper where it drifted in around the river banks. Our second night we camped in a little bay on the south side of the valley to shelter us from the wind that was continuously blowing down out of the mountains.
On the third day, after more easy valley skiing, we had to negotiate a small canyon section of the Tchaikazan River. At first it looked like we might be able to make it through the bottom of the canyon, but we were cut off pretty quickly. Backtracking, we entered the forest on the east side of the river and the thrash was on. With only 1-2 feet of snow, we negotiated fallen logs and sharp tree branches for the better part of a kilometer before we were able to rejoin the river. A few more easy kilometers brought us to the base of the Tchaikazan Glacier where we started out first big climb. Skiing conditions were good, so we made quick progress going up. The snow pack depth was only 120 cm at 7000 ft, but increased rapidly. We camped at about 8000 feet below Mt. Monmouth and Fluted. The snow depth at camp was deeper than our 320 cm probe.
Day 5 - Mount Monmouth - April 18
After we go to bed the wind picks up and rattles the tents all night It's only an 800 m climb from our camp high on the Tchaikazan Glacier to the summit of Monmouth, so we don't exactly get up for an alpine start. It's a beautiful clear day, but during breakfast we can see the SW wind blowing spindrift off Fluted Mountain. At camp the gusts are hitting about 50 or 60 km/h, and it looks like double that up high so we wait. I spend some time building the wall higher around camp and staking out the tent better. Finally at 10:30 or so we get tired of waiting for the wind to die down. May as well go up to the 9500 ft col at the base of the SE ridge and see what it's like. I fully expect that we may not be able to stand.
We set out from camp getting blasted by wind gusts and climb past a few well-filled crevasses on the lower part of the glacier. Soon we get some nice views of the east face of Monmouth, and the wind isn't getting that much worse.
By the time Sandra and I reach the 9500 ft col, Tim has already gone up the ridge to take a look. Sebastian, Sandra and I cram behind the only big rock at the col for shelter from the wind. It's blowing steady at about 80 km/h and we're getting cold as Tim disappears out of sight. Finally Tim comes back down - the snow conditions are hard-packed from the wind on the SE ridge and we may not be able to make the summit without crampons (which we don't have). After some debate, Tim and I decide to try for the summit and Sebastian and Sandra ski down because they don't want to climb in the wind.
Tim and I start up the SE ridge, along the line that he scouted. We go up the lower part of the ridge on the south side of the crest, up a little chimney and then along the ridge crest. The section above the chimney looks considerably more technical and the snow is getting very hard. We managed to climb up one more section on hard snow before getting stumped at a short rock step. Under good conditions it would be Class 3 but today it's covered in a thin coat of icy snow, and we're wearing telemark boots. I make a move or two up, but quickly run out of options. The ridge above looks to be quite challenging and I'm ready to throw in the towel and head down. We downclimb a bit and then decide to try descending down the big couloir that goes up the middle of the south face. I had figured that the snow in the couloir would be icy and impossible to climb without crampons, but we had lots of time to check it out, so we may as well try, right?
Going down into the couloir, the snow got progressively softer. The wind died down too, and soon we were climbing up the mountain with nearly perfect snow for kicking steps. At one point the couloir steepened and there was a pillow of soft snow so Tim went to the side while I climbed up the short avalanche prone section. Above the snow was hard again, so I waved him up and we kept climbing. A few sections above had harder snow, but solid ice axe placement meant that we didn't ever have to rope up and we climbed quickly. As we climbed, some clouds started blowing in from the west, but visibility was still ok in the couloir. Soon we reached the top of the couloir which put us right between the two summits. I insisted on hitting both peaks (since they were so close) and Tim was satisfied with the eastern one, since it seems to be a few meters higher.
Down we went, retracing our steps down the couloir, back up to the ridge and then down to the col to pick up skis. Tim was ahead, but when I reached the top of the chimney I couldn't find him. I was fairly certain he would wait for me here, but you never know with Tim. I looked at the footprints in the snow and found none going down, so I must have passed him. I went back uphill and soon found Tim on the east side of the ridge at the top of a steep snow slope. We plunge stepped down to the col, which was a lot easier than downclimbing the chimney. With skis on, we followed Sandra and Sebastian's tracks back to camp. A few turns were attempted on the slabby snow, but they were not graceful and only a little bit fun. We pulled into camp an hour ahead of schedule, and spent the afternoon hanging around camp. Around dinner time it started to snow.
Day 6,7,8 - The Storm - April 19-21
It snowed all night and all day so we just hung around reading, eating, and maintaining the snow fortress around camp. Sometime the next night the wind died down and changed direction, so it was now coming from the north or northeast. We took this as a sign that the weather was going to break so we packed up camp and headed for the col east of Fluted Mountain. We could just barely see the col, which was about two km away so we knew the visibility would be ok.
The slopes below the col were heavily wind loaded with about three feet of new snow. We picked the best line, traversing right on moderate slopes to a wind scoop below the huge N Face of Fluted Mountain. Then we went back left across the same slope to the col. I was worried about avalanche danger on this section but Tim charged ahead, so what can you do? We made it to the col without incident and started feeling our way down onto the Chapman Glacier in very flat light. The wind and snow had picked up since we left camp, and it was obvious that the storm was not clearing. Nevertheless we were making good progress despite the weather, so we continued. We set a high traverse across to the other side of the Chapman and reached the top of the slope above the Edmonds Glacier quite quickly.
This descent looked a little more fun, so Tim and I took our skins off. Sandra went ahead, descending with skins while Tim and I struggled to fold our skins up in the wind. Sebastian soon followed her down. A little close, I though to myself, but not too bad. I had my back turned to them when I heard it. Sandra said later it sounded like thunder but I don't remember anything other than it caught my attention. I turned around and saw Sebastian standing there as a 40 cm thick slab of snow slid off silently into the fog and disappeared. The fracture line was three or four meters below Sebastian; he look stunned.
"Oh shit!" I said, "Where's Sandra?"
We were all eager to get down to Edmonds Creek and wait out the storm there, where there would be running water and less wind. One more steep slope and we would be on the Edmonds Glacier highway. Scott always takes his skins off to go down hill, but then he can see better than me in flat light. I decided to go first down the slope rather than wait and get cold. I started to traverse and kick-turn my way down the slope, carefully feeling the snow and peering blindly ahead. I thought that over on the skier's right the slope looked less steep, so I headed that way. The snow when I started was wind-packed to a solid crust, but I quickly found a wind-pillow. I did not think that the slope was very steep, but I was sending sluffs down from my skis. These helped me see the slope a little better, so I did not worry about them too much. I soon found that the right side was not less steep, so I continued to kick-turn-traverse down the slope until I judged that I would be able to traverse out below a group of rocks in the middle of the slope. As I traversed past the rocks I heard a very loud noise above me. A quick shoulder check confirmed that I was below an avalanche. Swearing loudly, I double-poled further across the slope until I was below another outcropping, and on a low-angle slope.
Looking back up, I could see Seppel standing above the rocks, and a big crown on both sides of him. I heard Scott yell, asking if we were all right, and Seppel told him I was not buried. I think that the rest of the group was more frightened by the incident than I was, since I did not have time to get scared before I knew I was out of the way. I dropped my pack, took my skins off, and had a granola bar while waiting for the rest of them to get down the slope. Scott had a good look at the crown, and we think that Seppel set off a sluff that stepped down to a weak layer below the storm snow.
Kind of a stupid move. But we were where we wanted to be, so we carried on to Edmonds Creek, where we camped at tree line to keep waiting for the storm to end.
A call to Dale at Tyax Air for a weather forecast: we should be able to move the next day, in the afternoon. So we relaxed for the evening. Scott and I went for a walk and found a goat carcass (goats frequently get killed in avalanches, and their bodies feed the bears when the snow melts).
The morning brought more of the same snowy weather, but as promised the skies cleared around noon. We packed up, filled the water bottles and the dromedary (a great big water bladder), and set out up to the food cache. The trail breaking was difficult, as there was so much new, heavy snow. The trail was over 30 cm deep! We followed a glacier up to our food cache, which we found with no problems. We did not need the GPS, but we checked its accuracy so that we would be prepared for the next cache; the accuracy was more than good enough. The weather cooled dramatically as we dug out the cache, set up camp, and made dinner (fresh mushroom ravioli with alfredo sauce and chorizo sausage). We ate gratefully, looked at our huge new packs, and prepared for a cold night.
Day 9,10,11 - The Chilko-Southgate Divide - April 22-24
In the food cache we had French toast for breakfast, which was a little difficult to cook at -15C. I warmed up the eggs in a pot of melting snow, and it worked out beautifully, except for the batter slowly freezing to the inside of the pot it was mixed up in. We skied (slogged) west along the ridge top, dropping down to a low pass for a late lunch. Here we saw quite a few birds flying from the Southgate side over to Chilko Lake, but Tim couldn't identify them. The climb up the other side of the pass was a test of trail-breaking ability, and we ended up camping on top of one of the small bumps west of the pass when we couldn't find a way down the other side.
After a bit of scouting in the morning, we found a reasonable south facing slope to descend, but the snow conditions were terrible, so we all walked down. We crossed a big avalanche descending into the head of Ramose Creek and then climbed up onto the Ramose Glacier, where we caught the first glimpse of Mt. Good Hope. Under normal circumstances, the glacier would be an easy glide but today it was downhill trail breaking.
At the north end of the glacier, we started to climb up early to get into the next valley, rather than descend the glacier farther. This put us onto some unexpectedly steep slopes, but we made it around the corner into the valley without a problem. At the top of the pass, we came out onto an unnamed glacier and crossed to the other side for a beautiful camping spot with good morning and evening sun. At this camp, Sebatian constructed the first German Engineered latrine that set the gold standard for the rest of the trip. It was a good 4 feet deep, and featured a wind break and well defined areas for standing and not standing. There was even a seat, but sadly nobody used it.
First thing in the morning I break a buckle on my ski boot. Oh Shit, I thought, but then we fixed it easily with a Voile strap. First up is a north facing descent that offers some descent turns and then a very steep climb up onto the Norrington Glacier. Good Hope comes into view again at the top of the Norrington, a little closer than last time.
We break trail down the Norrington - there is a breakable crust on the surface and cold powder underneath. It's awful stuff and makes Sandra's feet cramp, so she offers to go ahead. A steeper pitch at the toe of the glacier gives a few ok turns and then we turn east up a small glacier valley. Finally the conditions become spring like with corn snow over a firm base. Near the top of the climb we get forced onto a north facing slope that punishes us with more soft sticky snow. Finally, we decide to make camp on a ridge south of Mount Dresden. Seppel stays in camp and Sandra, Tim and I go off to climb Dresden. The climb is easy enough, and the view from the top is spectacular. By the time we start down, the temperature is dropping and a crust is forming on the south facing slopes which makes the descent an excercise in patience and self control. Sandra and Tim put their skins on while I make 200m wide zig zags down the slope to avoid turning at all cost. Lower down the slope turns to the west and it isn't frozen so I squeeze off a few turns and then climb back up to camp.
Day 12 - The Goddard Glacier - April 25
We start with a short descent and then a fairly long climb up to the col between Wednesday Mountain and Mount Dresden. The snow is rock hard and Seppel is having a hard time getting his skins to stick. We drop packs at the col, scout the descent to the Goddard and then climb Wednesday up a small gully on its east face, teaching Sebastian some self arrest skills. The descent down to the Goddard Glacier is a
Day 13,14 - Valley Skiing - April 26-27
A whiteout greets us in the morning so we dispel any thoughts of climbing more peaks and pack up camp. Today's route involves skiing down Boulanger Creek and then up into the headwaters of the Southgate River. It's a nice ski through meadows and open forest. We try to camp near open water, but fail so Sandra and I dug a 2.5 m deep hole in the snow down to the creek. It took the two of us a good half hour, and it makes me wonder if we would be any faster if it was an avalanche victim at the bottom of the hole instead of just running water.
The next day we ski up over the pass into Deschamps Creek as the iffy weather continues. After traversing along a bench, the ski down to the valley bottom is a bit steeper than expected, but at least it wasn't dense forest. They valley bottom offered a mix of nice meadows and really thick bush. Soon enough we were skiing up the filled-in creek bed, and we reached the start of a narrow canyon. From the map, it looked like we would have to climb around one side of the canyon, but it fact the creek was nicely filled in with snow along the bottom. It was a surprisingly pleasant ski, and in no time we were at the base of the Stilly Glacier. Up on the Stilly we hit a whiteout, navigated by compass for a bit and then set up camp at the pass between Deschamps Creek and Allaire Creek. The snow was just perfect for wall building - very moist so you could shovel out huge blocks and then they would freeze into place on the wall. Seppel was the champion brick layer, cutting blocks that were 3 1/2 feet long, 15 inches high and 15 inches deep.
Day 15,16 - Allaire Creek - April 28-29
The morning was clear, and we were optimistic that the poor weather had passed by. From the top of the Stilly we had to get to Allaire Creek, but the direct route was far too steep. So we had to climb over a small peak to the north of our camp, then descend the ridge to where a lower-angle glacier followed by some steep slopes would take us the rest of the way to the creek. As we skied up the peak it the wind got stronger and the snow got harder. Before long we took the skis off and carried them up to the peak. The wind was so strong at the top that it was difficult to walk in a straight line, and when I let go of my pole it dangled from my wrist at a 45 degree angle. A short distance past the peak we ran into a wall of fog - so much for the nice weather - and had some disagreements about when we should start down the slope. After some messing around with a rope and an ice axe to try to see how steep the slope below us was, we decided to stick to the ridge until we were completely sure that the glacier was below us. We continued to feel our way down and eventually made it to the toe of the glacier, and then through horrible isothermal snow that soaked us to the creek bottom.
We had a break at an open spot on the creek, and tied two poles together to dip water out of the creek. I was very happy to be down the slope, as there was no technical terrain remaining between us and the next food drop. However, shortly after starting out it started raining pretty hard (and was quite windy), so we camped for the rest of the day, a mere 2 hours from the next drop.
We awoke to more wind and rain, but it slowed quickly so we packed up. Just before we were about to take the tents down it started raining again, so we jumped back in the tents to wait some more. Fortunately the precipitation turned to snow before long and we headed up into the fog. We had gotten a pretty good look at the glacier the day before so we felt our way up without too much trouble. The weather was still crappy but we could follow the cliffs of Cloister Peak most of the way to our food drop, so the poor visibility didn't matter. The GPS led us straight to the drop and we were soon building another big wall and anticipating dinner.
It was still early, and the sun had come out, so Scott, Tim and I set out to ski up Cloister Peak. It was a very easy ascent, but as we went up the weather fogged in again, so we did not get any views from the top. Tim was getting cold and decided not to wait for Scott and me. He would follow the ski tracks back to camp. Scott and I followed soon after and got some blind turns in on the glacier. We had the GPS so we knew we could find the food drop. When we were most of the way there we found Tim, who had gotten separated from the track in the white out and was using his compass to ski a grid through the pass where the food drop was, so that he would hit it. His method would have worked, but he was still happy to see us.
I have to applaud Tim's food drop dinner: seafood chowder (canned mussels, canned oysters, vacuum-packed fake crab, potatoes) and mango cheesecake (made from condensed milk, graham crust, and rehydrated mangoes). So tasty.
Day 17,18,19 - The Homathko Icefield - April 30 - May 2
The weather was beautiful, but our packs were heavy again. I wanted to spend a day bagging peaks around Sasquatch Pass, and then cross most of the icefield in one push to Gargoyle Peak, but the others weren't so keen. I think Tim really wanted to spend a day to climb Mt. Bute, and that an extra day here might put that at risk. Since the weather had been so-so for the past few days we figured the best action would be to press on in case the good weather didn't hold. It held.
We climbed Mist Peak that day, attempted Plateau and finally settled down a few km south of Plateau Peak. The next day we climbed Grenville, arriving at the
On May 2nd we headed out across the final section of the Homathko Icefield, the high ridge leading to Mt. Bute. Janus Peak looked like a good objective for a side trip, and it delivered with fabulous views and a stellar ski run. We followed the ridge, skiing below Incisor Peak (which is much more incisor like than the map indicated). We came along the ridge to the north of Peak 7900 above the Bute glacier, and had to negotiate our way down around some cliffs and crevasses. At 4:30 we were at the top of the huge icefall beside Mt. Bute. The conditions were just right to go - soft but not melted too deep - so we decided to proceed down to Galleon Creek. The thought of climbing Bute crossed my mind, but it looked like a long climb with a potentially hard icy slope, and we didn't have crampons.
Down we went, traversing beside the icefall on avalanche debris. You could sneak in a few turns here and there between the big frozen chunks of snow. Once we had descended past the base of the icefall, the terrain steepened. We followed a natural ramp to skier's left which took us right under the toe of the icefall. The skiing was really neat, winding our way along ribbons of snow and around clean granite slabs. There was no way off the ramp (cliffs below), so we hustled along until we were finally able to descend an avalanche track to get around the cliffs and down into the trees. The snow turned to complete isothermal mush and the skiing suddenly became much less enjoyable. We found a spot to camp in the forest on the edge of the avalanche track, and everyone washed off in the creek. It was painfully cold but worth it.
Day 20 - Galleon Creek - May 3
When we asked Jacquie Hudson about their trip to the Homathko Icefield a few years ago, she said that coming out of Galleon Creek was the worst bushwhacking of her life. It took her group 7 hours to travel 2 km through heinous slide alder, devils club and blown down logs. However, we had two key advantages - a good snow year and a one-month head start.
A bit of dense forest skiing got us down to a flat spot where multiple avalanche tracks converge in a mess of slide alder. The snow pack was just thick enough that we could ski over and around the worst of the trees, and after about an hour we had made it across to the other side. We crossed Galleon creek to the north side and picked up some grizzly bear tracks that led us right to the trail. It wasn't much of a trail - bushy, tricky to follow and steep, but it sure beat bushwhacking. After a few hours we came out onto a logging road that was starting to get overgrown. 7 km or so of hiking down the road brought us back to civilization at the Homathko River Logging Camp. We found Chuck, the camp caretaker, had a chat about the trip and then went for a swim in the river.
The next morning Dave King picked us up and flew us back across the mountains to Bluff Lake where Tim's truck was waiting. After picking up the other truck at Taseko Lake, we headed for home, arriving bleary eyed at 3am Friday morning.
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