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.

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.

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’

Frosty Mountains of Cypress Provincial Park

This was the view of the sunset on wintery Mount Strachan (1454m, centre) and the Black Mountain plateau (1217m, on the right) just moments ago. St Marks Summit is the bump on the left — a worthy destination and viewpoint when hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress Bowl in Cypress Provincial Park.

The Mountains of Cypress Bowl from Snug Cove, Bowen Island

The Mountains of Cypress Bowl from Snug Cove, Bowen Island

New Years Day Igloo — 2018 on Hollyburn Mountain

A decade ago my teenage daughters and our friends loved building igloos. I was surprised when I was requested to facilitate an igloo on New Year’s Day. Eight of us worked all day to build a 9-foot inside diameter igloo on Hollyburn Mountain, at 3020 feet, just up the hill from West Vancouver. Dave took a time lapse of the construction.


In the week that has followed, the weather warmed and there was lots of precipitation. Because of a local inversion, the temperatures at the altitude of the igloo meant that it rained… and then snowed. Today, January 9, I was in town, drove to the trailhead, and walked into the site of the igloo. Here is what I found.


The igloo was a blocky mound in the snow. The catenary profile was gone.

When I arrived, all I could see of the igloo was a blocky mound in the snow. The catenary profile was gone. Had the igloo collapsed?

The top of the igloo looked very low. The door looked okay.

The door and tunnel was in good shape, and the ‘foundation’ had not sagged. But the top of the igloo looked very low

Cleaned up the igloo doorway in preparation for entering

I cleaned up the doorway in preparation for entering. Note the size of the shovel compared to the height of the igloo.

Igloo entry tunnel - the roof of the igloo had not collapsed

As I crawled through the entry tunnel, I could see that the roof of the igloo had not collapsed

The igloo is slowly collapsing, like a balloon deflating

When I tried to sit on the floor of the igloo, with my legs in the entryway, I would bump my head on the roof. When the igloo was built, the top of the roof was 170 cm above the floor. Here, I cannot stand my shovel, and it is about 40 cm long. The igloo is slowly collapsing — like a balloon deflating.

The collapsing walls are restricting the size of the floor

The collapsing walls are restricting the size of the floor

There is a post about the plan for this igloo, and reports of our earlier igloos on the local hiking forum: Clubtread. Scroll the three pages of that thread for more details. The tool we use to make the igloo is Grandshelter’s Icebox®. We’ve made many igloos since we acquired it in the year 2000.

At this low altitude site, which is only a few hundred feet above the snow line, we don’t expect the igloos to last long. In a shady spot above 5000 feet, we might expect these structures to last for weeks or months.

A marvellous cold wet spring (2017)

By late morning, Wednesday May 17, There was blue sky over Horseshoe Bay, and we thought we could see fresh snow on the local mountains. We took the rest of the day off and headed up the hill to ski. As we drove into Cypress Bowl we noted that there was plowed fresh snow along the side of the road. We parked at the top of the public paved road (3010 ft.) and marvelled at the recent dump of new snow.

Fresh Snow at ev. 3000 ft in Cypress Provincial Park parking lot

As we skinned up Mount Strachan the fresh snow became deeper. There were a few day-old tracks so the dump of snow arrived a couple of days ago.

We quickly climbed into a dense cloud. By the time we reached the summit ridge, the clouds had thinned and occasionally we glimpsed the disk of the sun.

With my ski pole, I measured the depth of the fresh snow: 16-inches!

16 inches of fresh snow on the summit ridge of Mount Stachan - May 17, 2017

This has been an unusual spring. The local temperatures have remained cold and we’ve had lots of precipitation. The size of the snowpack up on our hills is awesome.

The drone pictures and commentary in this Clubtread forum thread provide an interesting perspective of the current snow the conditions high up on Mt. Strachan: North Shore Cornices.

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