Archive for the 'Backcountry' Category

Red Heather Snow

It has been a poor winter for local backcountry skiing. Recently there was some cold rain at sea level, and we hoped it would be snow above 3 thousand feet. The Diamond Head Parking Lot in Garibaldi Provincial Park is at the top of a 16 km rough mountain road that begins in the port town of Squamish. The trailhead is at 3200 feet (975 m). On Sunday, March 30, there was a couple of inches of new snow at the parking lot; and while we assembled our gear the precipitation alternated between snow and sleet. As soon as we climbed only a short distance, there was no more rain, just snowfall.

The trail was once a jeep track, so it proceeds upward at a mellow angle through high altitude old-growth forest for 4.5 km to the Red Heather Hut (1400 m). Amazingly, the depth of the new snow around the hut was over 40 cm.

Above the hut there are vast meadows and glades. And some bumps suitable for skiing. When it was time to go, we pointed our skis down the trail and skied continuously for 5 km. Well, I stopped a few times for thigh-breaks.

There isn’t much snow on the local hills

It is January 18 and we are trying to ski down Hollyburn Ridge. With so little snow, the going is tricky.

It is January 18 and we are trying to ski down Hollyburn Ridge. With so little snow, the going is tricky.

Yesterday, the Lower Mainland and Georgia Strait was blanketed in low cloud or fog. Just up the hill, on Hollyburn Ridge, it was a beautiful warm sunny day. After all the recent precipitation, we were surprised to find so little snow for skiing.

Amanita Muscaria spotted on Sunday

Amanita Muscaria family at 2310 ft elevation on Mt. Gardner, Bowen Island

Amanita Muscaria family at 2310 ft elevation on Mt. Gardner, Bowen Island

North Shore Rescue exercises in Cypress Bowl on Sunday

We thought that Sunday would be a quiet day of spring skiing on the abandoned slopes of the ski area in Cypress Bowl.

North Shore Search and Rescue Helicopters above moguls run

SAR helicopters above moguls run

Instead, as we skinned up Mt. Strachan, over on Black Mountain, North Shore Rescue was holding its third annual avalanche rescue exercises.

It was a major event. The scenario was that 12 snowshoers had been caught in a class 2 avalanche (big) and at least 6 were buried and did not have the benefit of location beacons (radio transceivers to facilitate finding someone under the snow).

About 50 search and rescue experts and volunteers participated. The miltary were there with their Cormorant helicopter, and North Shore Rescue were using their two Talon Helicopters. These machines were almost constantly in the air, often circling over our heads with stretchers and rescuers dangling from long lines.

The display of expertise and equipment was impressive. And as someone who loves to head into the backcountry, it is comforting to know that these people are well trained, dedicated, and excellently equipped to manage a rescue. (If someone who is new to our local wilderness mountains is reading this, let me add that I see a rescue as a backup to my mountain travel and avalanche training — I hope never to call on their services.)

The Canadian Military Cormorant helicopter with the cypress bowl moguls run behind

The Canadian Military Cormorant helicopter
with the moguls run — where the avalanche exercises took place — behind

Dog trained for avalanche rescue

Dog trained for avalanche rescue

One of several North Shore Rescue vehicles

One of several North Shore Rescue vehicles

For more information, here is the blog for North Shore Rescue.

Global TV coverage of Snowman Rescue Drill

Mount Callaghan – my first legacy blog on this site

Callaghan Peak and Robert Ballantyne 96Sep22

Mount Callaghan

In October 2000, after stumbling around Mt. Callaghan for four years, two of us scrambled to the top. As mountaineering goes, this was not a very impressive accomplishment; but for this old guy who’d moved from the prairies a few years previously, it was high adventure.

If I’d been writing a blog in 2000, this would have been one of my yarns. It would be another six years before I discovered blogging. I’ve learned that I can write blog entries, and post them on almost any date I want. So now that old story comes to this blog, and — as if it were written at the time — you can read about it here.

We built a 9-foot inside diameter igloo on Hollyburn Mt.

9-foot diameter igloo 2012 December 29

9-foot diameter igloo 2012 December 29

It has been years since our group wanted to build an igloo. On Saturday morning at 7:45 am we assembled at the Hollyburn parking lot, and the igloo was completed about 1:15 pm. Click the image for the Clubtread thread about how we build these wonderful snow structures (this one is mentioned lower down in the thread). If you are in the Vancouver area it is easy to visit, here is a map with directions:

We have had lots of rain at sea level, so we expected there would be plenty of snow above 3000 feet. There was. The old forest was awesome with thick fresh snow on the trees and at least a couple of metres on the ground. The day was grey and misty. It did not photograph well (at least taking snap shots), but was almost spiritual with its sound absorbing silence. A walk in those woods is a wonderful uplifting cure for anyone depressed by the short days and rain at low altitudes.

Fine print: this igloo was made with the finest materials (Canadian snow) and excellent workmanship. Nevertheless any user enters the site at his/her own risk. Snow changes its characteristics over time and with local conditions. The igloo is very heavy, and the structure will eventually fail. Use your own judgment when approaching or entering it. It is not a kids’ play structure. It is, after all, just made of snow. Please repair any damage.

Your Latitude, Longitude, and declination is easy to find

Compass - Suunto MC-1With all of the available modern tools — online and printed maps, GPS, Google Earth — it is often useful to be able to quickly determine the exact Lat. and Long. of a location. If you are going to use a compass, you’ll also need the declination of that spot. Here is how to acquire that information easily, accurately, and quickly.

First, to accurately pinpoint the Latitude and Longitude, begin at this site: iTouchMap.Coordinates for Pemberton, BC, Canada It opens with a map of the world and a pointer. Move the pointer close to point that interests you and zoom in. Carefully position the pointer exactly to the location of the coordinates you need. In this example, I picked the junction of highway 99 with the town of Pemberton — this location is central to lots of my local hiking and skiing (Click the thumbs for full-size images). It instantly shows the lat. and long. as both a decimal and in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

Current declination of Pemberton BCNext, if you will be adjusting the declination of your compass, head over to the  NOAA Magnetic Field Calculators and enter those numbers for the lat. and long. When you click on the Calculate button a popup will appear with a map of your location with a compass rose pointing to Magnetic North (the vertical axis of the map is aligned north-south with True North at the top) over your exact position. The information will display the current declination in degrees plus the rate of change per year.

I find that many people do usually carry a compass in their backpack as part of their essential gear. It is such a simple device that I also find that few people practice using it with a map. That’s too bad because trying to figure out where you are, and exactly what bearing should you use is surprisingly difficult in an emergency.

Walk to St. Marks Summit — Howe Sound Crest Trail

Saint Marks Summit is a great day-destination on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. The viewpoint near the summit is about half the distance from the ski slopes in Cypress Bowl to The Lions. This is the hike that provides the most spectacular views of my home, Bowen Island, yet I hadn’t walked here in over a decade. Since the Olympics at Cypress Mountain (name of the ski resort — there is no hill or slope nearby with the name Cypress) in Cypress Provincial Park, there have been many changes to this trail. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago when I spoke to BC Parks Area Supervisor, Larry Fyroishko, that I learned what was happening to this trail.

The Mouth of the fjord called Howe Sound

The mouth of the fjord called Howe Sound; Bowen Island; in the distance Georgia Strait and Vancouver Island. Bowyer Island is in the foreground. The point on the right is the Sunshine Coast and the town of Gibsons. Below is the Sea-To-Sky highway and a glimpse of West Vancouver on the left. This is from The Balcony on St. Marks Summit

(If you don’t see the rest of this story, click Continue Reading)

Continue reading ‘Walk to St. Marks Summit — Howe Sound Crest Trail’

Ramble on Brohm Ridge

The summer is slipping away, and we haven’t been out in the hills since ski-season ended. We needed exercise, and we probably were limited to locations that are inspiring, but didn’t have epic altitude gain. Yesterday, we chose Brohm Ridge. It is not frequented by the muscle-powered wilderness travellers (hikers and skiers) because tenure for this area, adjacent to Garibaldi Provincial Park, is held by the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club. I’ve always found these motorized folks to be friendly, and I was under the impression that they maintained the road. Actually the road was in very rough shape, and our trip up and down the hill was very slow with several stops to move stones out of the way. It required a 4×4 with low range. All day, we saw only 3 other people, all on motorcycles.

The location is spectacular. Brohm is long high ridge that extends westward from the north-side glaciers of Mt. Garibaldi for about 4-1/2 kilometers into the Whistler Corridor. The top of the broad ridge rises from about 5 thousand feet to just over 6 thousand feet at the glaciers. The views in all directions are staggering.

The upper area of the road is guarded by a gate, so we parked at 4550′.

The gate guarding the upper section of Brohm Ridge, Mt Garibaldi

The gate guarding the upper section of Brohm Ridge, Mt Garibaldi. Our ridge-walk will be along the ridge that is the horizon-line on the left

On the drive up the hill (we took the road that passes Cat Lake — just north of Squamish) the aspect is west, so we had views of the Tantalus Range, but never saw Mt. Garibaldi. Moments after we left the car, we rounded a corner and an IMAX moment  — we reached the gate and could see that we were acutally on a ridge of the great volcano.

From there the road wanders down and up for about 2-3/4 km to the lodges of the snowmobile club. You can see it and the view toward Tantalus if their web cam is up and the weather is clear at: BTSC Web Cam.

It is another 2 km or so up to the main ridge. After that, we simply marched along looking at the views.

If you have a copy of Google Earth, You can view exactly what we saw.

Mt Garibaldi and Brohm Ridge in Google Earth. Looking West.

Mt Garibaldi and Brohm Ridge in Google Earth.
Looking West. Camera shows where I took the picture.

Download this file << to take you to the exact location where I took a picture of Mt. Garibaldi and it will superimpose my image over the mountain. You can then control the opacity to compare the image with the virtual image in GE. If you explore the region in GE, you will see that Brohm Ridge provides the fastest access to Garibaldi for climbers heading for the summit.

Click any of my images to see a larger version. It was a hazy day, so the distant hills have a dreamy quality.

Looking South. the peaks on the left are the Sky Pilot group. The depression between the two knolls is Howesound - lost in the haze.

Looking South. the peaks on the left are the Sky Pilot group. The depression between the two knolls is Howe Sound – lost in the haze.

In the distance, to the west, the Tantalus Range

In the distance, to the west, the Tantalus Range. The highest peak is Mt. Tantalus at 8540′.

The Black Tusk and Mt Price

To the north: 7598′ Black Tusk, and 6721′ Mt Price. Mt Price always looks like paint is slopping down its sides from the rim.

Mt Garibaldi from Brohm Ridge

Mt Garibaldi, 8787′ (we are too close to see the summit) from Brohm Ridge – this is the same image that is included in the file that will superimpose this picture in Google Earth (file posted above)

It is a beautiful July 8, and I am not skiing

In the old days (when did those days become old?) I would just go off skiing myself. At my age, I feel vulnerable when I leave the trail and I am out there by myself. Today, although the conditions are close to perfect, there was no one who’d agreed that this was a day to ski and would accompany me. Maybe I’ll mow the lawn. :(

Robert's professional sites:
Ballantyne and Associates

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