Voices in the Sound

Laura agrees to come to Bowen IslandIn 2005 Bowen Islander, Pauline Le Bel, wrote and produced a musical play that told the story of Bowen Island from cosmic history to modern times with the voices of many people, real and imagined. The musical was presented as live theatre on a stage in the open air with the forest of Crippen Park as a living backdrop. It included lots of music from a small orchestra and at least eight original songs. One of the shows was video taped, and this week (at last) it was posted on YouTube. I could embed it here, but it would be more useful if you followed this link. If you enjoy it, please click the thumbs-up button and subscribe — and maybe leave a comment. Doing that will help others to find this gem.

Watch Voices in the Sound

More recently, Pauline has written a book about Howe Sound-Alt’ka7tsem called Whale in the Door. This is a well-researched factual account of this amazing place. Read about the book here.

Fading Spring Snow

Because of operations, I have not been skinning up here since the spring of 2017. I am four years older, and I’ve lost some fitness. So, the uphill slog is a grind. But it is worth the effort to be back on the snowy slopes, surrounded by old growth trees, awesome mountain vistas, and constant booming grouse.

Looking across the Capilano Valley to Crown Mountain
Looking toward Crown Mountain 1319m /4327 ft

There is still lots of snow here, above 4000 ft., but lower down it is starting to patch out, and part of the skin trip up is planning where to ski down.

A large open patch has appeared where the snow has melted in the middle of this ski slope
This patch will soon divide this favourite cruising slope

Check back to the previous blog article and compare this view with the image from exactly two weeks ago.

The snow-free patches on the slopes are becoming larger
Lower down there are more bare patches and they are larger
Unless some new snow falls, it will become grimier

Spring Snow

The weather report predicted that Thursday would mark the end of the amazingly long bubble of cool sunny bluebird weather. This has produced ideal spring skiing conditions and at 10am I made a snap decision to head for the snow on Mount Strachan. They squeezed my Jeep onto the back of the 10:50 am ferry sailing from Bowen Island.

I stopped briefly at the look-out on the Cypress Bowl Road (elevation 427m, 1400 ft). In spite of the apparent clarity of the atmosphere the city looked grey and smoky. There are a few distant wildfires in the region, and I couldn’t decide if this low-level gloom was due to smoke or smog. Mount Baker, only 118 km away, was invisible.

A panorama of the view of the City of Vancouver from the lower lookout on the Cypress Bowl Road
Vancouver from the lookout at the 1st switchback on the Cypress Bowl Road
click to see full-size image

The top of the Cypress Bowl Road is just above the snow line at 915 m, (3000 ft). At this altitude there was no haze and a dazzling sun was shining out of a dark blue sky. Time to put on sun screen! The temperature was 9ºC and rising.

While there was lots of snow on the three mountains that make up Cypress Bowl on this day, for the first time this year, I saw that there was evidence of the end of the season.

On this huge cruising slope, there is small roll-over about 1100 m, 3600 ft). You can see it as a small dark spot in the upper right of this picture (blue arrow).

A cruising snow slope on Mount Strachan with an open patch of ground.
A patch of ground that will speed the melting of the surrounding snow (blue arrow)

Why does this small feature attract my attention? It has to do with the way the snow melts in the spring. On bright sunny cool days like this the top centimeter or two snow becomes soft, but the base stays hard. Much of the sun’s heat is reflected away by the dazzling white crystals. In fact the snow pack is constantly changing, and at ground level the temperature is just below freezing. So, even with above freezing air temperatures, on most of that slope not much melting is happening. However, wherever there is a rocky outcrop, or a tree stump, that dark feature easily becomes warmed by the sun, and melting around it is fairly rapid. So, I expect that tiny patch of exposed soil to grow rapidly on sunny days. On wet days, the water percolates down through the snowpack and that seem to cause more rapid melting than on warm sunny days.

Days like this, with a very firm base and a few inches of soft snow, allow for very easy skiing.

This is exactly what I need as I transition from years of telemarking to Alpine Touring. It is like learning to ski all over again. When I know more, I will report on my new gear and how much I like, or don’t like, the new experiences.

Bowen Island – Nexwlélexwm

The first thing you see as you depart the ferry and arrive on Bowen Island is a carved wooden sign that says, Bowen Island Welcomes you, and now there is an addition with the word, Nexwlélexwm. Nexwlélexwm is the name of this island that the people of the Squamish Nation have used since time immemorial.

Tina Nielsen and Marysia McGilvray unveil the Nexwlélexwm sign at a the blessing ceremony. Coral Louie, who made the sign watches from the right while Alroy “Bucky” Baker K’etximtn, speaker for the Squamish Nation, is on the left.
Photo by Len Gilday
Tina Nielsen and Marysia McGilvray unveil the Nexwlélexwm sign at a the blessing ceremony. Coral Louie, who made the sign watches from the right while Alroy “Bucky” Baker K’etximtn, speaker for the Squamish Nation, is on the left.
Photo by Len Gilday

For english-speaking people, the pronunciation of Nexwlélexwm looks difficult at first. Khelsilem teaches the language and will make is easy for you to master the sounds quickly. Try his short tutorial.

Pronounce Bowen Island in the language of the Squamish Nation

There is a description about the ceremony to bless the new sign in an article by Pauline Le Bel in the Bowen Island Undercurrent: ‘Beginning of a healing journey’: Nexwlélexwm sign blessing. Pauline also wrote about the background to the carving of this sign, Bowen’s original name.

Edited on 2020 Oct 28 to add a short video of the event:

9-Foot diameter igloo on Hollyburn Mountain

As the twenties decade approached, one of our old group championed the idea of making another igloo. The plan became to head into the forest about 9:30 AM on January 5, 2020, to build a 9-foot inside diameter igloo. We’ve done this before, but the weather, the quality of the snow, and the people assembled make each igloo unique. Because it involves several hours of teamwork, these events are somehow memorable.

9-foot diameter Igloo on Hollyburn Mountain built on 2020jan5 with the Icebox from Grandshelters
Site of 9-foot inside diameter igloo
with the entrance below the foundation of the igloo
click to see this panorama full size

It had been a wet week at sea level, but above 3000 feet in Cypress Bowl Provincial Park, above West Vancouver, BC, Canada, there was lots of new damp snow. This made for easy construction using the tool called The Icebox — a system that uses a plastic slipform for building the blocks of snow on the wall of the igloo.

We have been making igloos this way since our first one on January 23, 2000. More details about the new one are at the hikers’ forum, ClubTread. That post is part of a thread about several igloos we’ve made going back to the year 2006. The thread also includes some time-lapse movies of the construction process and a map of the location. Except for one day of rain, the temperatures up there have remained cold, and a huge amount of snow has fallen during the past two weeks. I would love a report on current condition of the igloo. If you plan to go, read that Clubtread post, and take a shovel.

Sun circles – ice crystals in the sky

At 10:27am last Tuesday I was walking to catch the 10:40 ferry sailing leaving Bowen Island. I mention the time because the sun was about 47º above the horizon. It was a sunny morning with a bit of haze in the sky. The haze must have been caused by high ice crystals because, looking up, I noticed a ring around the Sun. What made it unusual was I could distinctly see part of a second circle that seemed to have the Sun on its circumference and the zenith as its centre. I think it may be called a parhelic circle. The picture doesn’t do it justice because it is just a snapshot with a telephone-camera.

A circle around the sun, and a secondary parhelic circle, as seen from Bowen Island 2019jul09

The new approach to the Spearhead Traverse

Backcountry skiers in British Columbia all know of the Spearhead Traverse. This is Canada’s “Haute Route” — a 35km trek crossing over 13 glaciers with about 2000m of elevation gain (and loss) that most people spread over 3 days (it can be done in a single thigh-burning day). Most of the route is between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Access is easy: buy a one-way lift ticket for Blackcomb Mountain. At the end of the trip: ski down the runs on Whistler Mountain. That’s all that is easy about the Traverse. In between there are no escape routes. The steep glaciers make for breathtaking ski runs and long skin tracks up. If the weather is clement, the views everywhere are staggeringly beautiful. The coastal mountains are very rugged and dramatic.

Google Earth, Spearhead Traverse, Whistler, BC, Canada, showing significant gps waypoints
Significant GPS waypoints for the Spearhead Traverse
click for full-size

Until now, if you wanted to make the multi-day journey, you were required to carry all of your camping equipment. The fitness required, and the level of commitment has made the trip too daunting for many of us. Mountains make their own weather, and while it might be benign in Vancouver, in the remote high wilderness behind Mount Macbeth, the skier might be blinded by a whiteout and driving snow. An error in wayfinding would be tragic.

Now, the Alpine Club of Canada has envisioned 3 backcountry huts strategically and dramatically located along the Spearhead Traverse. More about this plan: 

The first of the huts is almost complete. On June 14, 15, and 16, I was part of the team helicoptered into the Kees And Claire Hut to assemble Barbara’s kitchen. More about the kitchen here. http://www.spearheadhuts.org/barbaras-kitchen/

Over the years, I’ve explored the fringes of this region. Some years ago a group of us camped at 2200m on the flank of Mount Trorey after crossing several glaciers from the lifts at the top of Blackcomb. In the summer we’ve hiked from Whistler up to Russet Lake, the location of the Kees And Claire Hut. This weekend I found there was something special about being able to linger in one place for a few days, and experience the vistas at different times of the day and  in different weather. 

Vistas! Yes, the views in all directions are amazing.

A panorama including the Kees And Clair Hut
Kees And Claire Hut
Please open full-size. It is the only way the mountain-images will achieve their grandeur

This hut is scheduled to open in the fall for the ski season. The easiest approach will be from the lifts on Whistler Mountain, then ski down the Musical Bumps to Singing Pass, and finally over Cowboy Ridge to Russet Lake. Edit: See the first comment to this post to find out how to make a booking for the Kees And Claire Hut.

Update — my Lisfranc foot injury

A short update on the consequences of my Lisfranc foot injury.

  • I injured the foot in March, 2018. The first operation was later that month. See my previous post about that.
  • In August, 2018 there was a second operation to remove the plate and screws and replace one screw with a ‘tightrope’ to hold the bones together.
  • After a month or so, X-rays showed some continuing collapse of the foot’s arch and I was tentatively scheduled for a third operation to fuze the bones to arrest the collapse.
  • Fortunately, over the following months there was no further collapse, and eventually the surgeon prescribed an orthotic insoles/inserts for my shoes, and insisted I buy a stiffer boot. If this works, I’ll not need the third operation.
  • In March 2019, the surgeon examined my X-rays and said that there has been no movement of my foot bones (no further deterioration) so no operation (for now). But if there is pain, I should call her. “May I walk and hike?” “Yes.” “May I run?” “No! No high impact activities for that foot.” “What about skiing?” “You can ski.” “What about telemark skiing (which is what I know)?” “No telemarking!” So, at 76 I will be learning how to use AT equipment and not raising my heel. I’m told that “AT” stands for “After Telemark.”

The worst part of those operations was maintaining my foot elevated ‘above the heart’ for several weeks. My inactivity has resulted in a huge loss of fitness, and an inexcusable amount of weight gain. So, I’m on new hiking boots, with expensive orthotics, and trying to exercise a few times each week.

Upgrade to our Mountain Weather Forecasting Resources

The Earth showing wind patterns
Link to Salish Sea Weather Forecasting Resources

It’s been three years since our Mountain Weather Resources web page has been updated. During this time some links have vanished and new resources have arrived. We maintain this information because there are few useful forecasts for mountain travellers.

Public forecasts are designed for urban areas and airports. It may be a benign rainy day in downtown Vancouver, but above 5,000 feet in the hills north of Squamish, backcountry skiers could be navigating the sub-alpine forests or high ridges and glaciers in a blizzard with fierce winds. With some thought, planning, and the amazing forecasting tools available, this is not a surprise.

Here, on the Canadian west coast the weather usually arrives from the Pacific Ocean and performs a dance with the mighty hills, valleys and fjords. Part of planning a trip into the mountains is knowing the land forms and anticipating how the weather systems will behave. Click here for Salish Sea Mountain Weather Resources.

Lisfranc foot injury — Hiking, chasing the mastodon

On Saturday, March 10, a small group of us were on a local mountain to visit the spectacular land sculpture of a life-sized mastodon.

Life-size mastodon at a wilderness location in Southern BC, Canada

Life-size mastodon at a wilderness location in Southern BC, Canada

Click here for more information on this amazing sculpture. Please follow that link because it is a wonderful story — but this article is about what happened to me that day. And no, I’m not going to reveal its location.

It was a lovely day, and after some time with the mastodon, we felt like doing a bit more off-piste exploring. And I made a serious error. In this blog you’ve read about my trading hiking boots for trail runners — that’s what I was wearing. Was it because I was on a familiar mountain, and not deep in the backcountry that made me careless? Whatever the reason, I found myself moving far too quickly through the thick underbrush. I must have put my foot in a hole, or slipped off a branch, but something hurt. By the time we regained the trail, I knew the foot was in trouble. Leaning on a ski pole, I limped off the hill. The next morning I took the foot to St Paul’s Hospital Emergency. First there were x-rays, then a CT scan, and the verdict was that this was a Lisfranc foot injury. Essentially the bones between the ankle and the toes which are normally held in position by tendons and ligaments, were pulled apart and out of alignment. I was provided with a mighty boot to support the foot, and a pair of crutches — and told not to put any weight on the foot. I was given the name of a specialist.

For my friends, and for the curious, I am prepared to show you what they did to me. If don’t like seeing the consequences of an operation, you may not want to continue with this article.

Continue reading ‘Lisfranc foot injury — Hiking, chasing the mastodon’


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