For exercise, on Sunday June 3, 2016, I walked up to the north summit viewpoint on Mount Gardner. There was a huge plume of smoke rising from the direction of the municipality of Delta. I learned later this was Burns Bog burning and there were about 100 firefighters trying to contain it.
The spring snow is rapidly vanishing in the local hills, and I wanted a tougher test for my system of replacing hiking boots with trail runners. On May 21 I suggested to my hiking buddy that we leave the skis behind and head up for a local bushwhack. Click here for a full description of the system.
Disclaimer and warning: this article describes a route that is potentially dangerous, and is therefore not a recommended hike. A fall is very possible and could be fatal. The north face of Hollyburn Mt. is very steep, gnarly, and drops into a deep gully. Rescue would be difficult. Although this is close to urban Vancouver, the old trail is no longer completely marked, and the spring conditions increase the hazard. Wayfinding is difficult, the weather is changeable and very different from that at sea-level, and there are no easy ‘escape’ routes. This article is a report, and is not advice to adventurers.
I had heard that there was an old trail that leads from Mt. Strachan, over to Hollyburn Mt. via a steep ridge. I thought we’d be on spring snow most of the way, and the steepness would give me a sense of how the Saucony trail runners and Microspikes managed in conditions that are typical in these mountains. Since I am taking the pictures, you are looking at my companion, yet I am discussing my experience with my footwear. These are thumbs, click for full-size images.
What worked with those shoes, and what didn’t? Generally, I am thrilled with the system. The runners are not boots, and kicking steps in the snow worked because while the snow was often hard, it was not icy. Runners are much softer than boots, so I was kicking tiny toe-holds and I blew out more steps than I would have with boots, but I never really felt insecure. The Microspikes are not as aggressive as crampons, which meant that when it was really steep I could not keep them from slipping — I was better to kick a hole for my toe, or better-yet, zig-zag up the slope in a diagonal ascent. For this manoeuvre I was kicking the side of my shoe into the slope until I had a little shelf to stand on. Here, I found I had to be careful. While boots would provide the support to keep my foot flat, the runners could allow my ankles to roll out and lose the grip on the hill. It required a slight adjustment to my technique.
After an hour or so with the shoes constantly in the snow, my feet became cold. This didn’t bother me because this has always happened with my hiking boots. Also, the boots became much heavier as they became wet. The runners are so light that I was amazed at how easily I could keep climbing. I felt 15 years younger. For me, this is a wonderful revelation! There was a bit of sun and dry rock at the summit, so as we rested I took off my shoes. By that time my feet had already begun to warm, and I was pleased to find that my feet were dry! I am very impressed with the Gore Tex liner in these shoes. While on the way down the benign southern aspect of Hollyburn, plunge stepping down every steep slope I could find was fun. At one point I put my foot through a cavity under the snow and into a stream of melt-water up to my ankle. My ankle came out damp, but my foot stayed dry. The next weekend we were back in the hills where the heavy rains had produced several inches of new snow at the top. I happily tramped through the spring snow in my runners. Microspikes are for more than ice: I am pleased at the security that the Microspikes provided walking across wet and sometimes mossy ground where the snow had melted.
Conclusions: These runners are not for mid-winter, high altitude, cold hiking and climbing. For everything else, they are truly a breakthrough development for my hiking. I will try warmer socks for the shoulder seasons.
On Sunday, May 1, we headed out late in the day, so we were looking for nearby snow — and that usually means on the hills above Cypress Bowl in West Vancouver. It is a short drive up a paved road from sea-level to park at at the ski resort, which is now closed for the season. Elevation: 3,000 ft. The site was fairly quiet and access is free. The sun was warm in a deep blue sky. There were some scraps of snow on the ground left over from winter and people come to hike and sunbathe — its sometimes nicknamed Cypress Beach.
After skinning up the hill to 3,600 ft, there is only a little snow left on the ground. From the parking lot you’d wonder if it were really possible to ski here.
In a post from last May I described my plan for replacing my hiking boots with trail runners. In a subsequent article I talked about what it was like to use the trail runner for a bushwhack. For months, the Saucony Xodus 5.0 GTX runners have worked well for me when hiking. While the Gore-Tex liners have kept my feet dry in all weather, I knew the real test would be when I was hiking in wet spring snow. (I posted more complete test of the system here.)
Yesterday the weather was grey with some occasional drizzle. I announced to my skiing buddy that we were not going to ski, I wanted to try hiking on spring snow. We drove up to the parking lot on the local hill, Hollyburn Mountain. There were only a few cars parked, and we saw very few people along the hikers’ trail. That was at 2980 feet (49.379641° -123.191288°) and there was not much snow at that elevation. We didn’t have to climb very far to find lots of wet spring corn snow. So, with my runners, and Microspikes, I was often post-holing in wet snow. Much of the time I wanted to be in the forest, away from the trail. More about my experience in a moment, but the conclusion is that I’m very pleased with this system. My friend shuffled along with snow shoes, I danced up and down the hill in my light Runners. Look:
In conditions like that, my old leather hiking boots would quickly become wet and much heavier, and my feet would become soaked and cold. With the runners, my feet never became wet. I was wearing two pairs of socks: a light hiking sock with some percentage of wool, and a thin liner sock. Probably one pair of socks would have been enough. My feet were always warm. This was partly due to the gaiters and pants that easily shed snow.
It was my first day using the Kahtoola Microspikes — and I am thrilled with them. I felt more secure on all slippy surfaces that I ever have with just hiking boots and a good Vibram sole.
The big advantage to this aging hiker is that the weight on my feet is much less with runners than with any hiking boot. I’ll probably reach for my monster Montrail Verglas boots for a mid-winter trek on a very cold high glacier. But for most hiking, you’ll likely see me wearing those Saucony runners.
In the year since I planned this system, Saucony have discontinued the Xodux 5.0 GTX and replaced it with the 6.0 GTX. I hope the new ones are made on the same last, and are as waterproof/breathable. MEC no longer carry the Istrum pants, and I don’t know what is the replacement.
The equipment I used that contributed:
- Saucony Xodus 5.0 GTX runners
- Kahtoola Microspikes
- MEC Short Gaiters (only $10!)
- StrapGear, 8″ bungee (big improvement over the laces that come with the gaiters)
- MEC Istrum pants (easily shed snow after post-holing knee-deep, if they did get wet they were dry again in moments, cut the breeze yet vented my sweat)
This was all purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op.
This season we are finding that some of the familiar routes to great spring skiing are no longer easily available. On March 19 we discovered that the road into the wonderful valley to the NW of Cloudburst Mt. was blocked by a recent collapse of a cliff (49.950275, -123.290549).
We had a nice walk that day… but we were very far from Tricouni Meadows or the summit of Cloudburst Mt. and adventures we’ve enjoyed here in the past: Cloudburst from the Tricouni Trail.
A reliable destination has always been the road to the head of Roe Creek, so that’s where we went yesterday. We made it only to the intersection with Branch Road 200 (50.010479, -123.205308). Three other cars were parked there, and we wondered why.
Beyond this point, the road has been deactivated. Immediately beside this intersection, the road has been trenched to guide the water flow from along BR200 down to Roe Creek.
Looking up BR 200 several mighty logs have been placed across the road as barrier. In the past couple of years, this has become the site of active logging.
BR200 has been an important route for backcountry travellers because it leads to the trail to Brew Mt. Meadows and the Brew Hut. It was a warm sunny day, and we could see almost continuous snow on this road. So, we tossed our skis over the barrier, and could snap into our binding right there and begin to skin up. There were a few small open patches of road, but most of the way up we were on lovely soft spring corn.
Above 3500 ft, the new logging clear cuts had enough snow on them for us to make a few turns and enjoy some great mountain views. That’s Cloudburst across the next valley. We’ve skied off the top of that, and it was fun to explore the gullies we’ve skied over there from this point of view.
It’s spring. Here in British Columbia’s lower mainland the fruit trees and daffodils are blooming and the weather is mild. Some of us are looking up at the flecks of snow we see glinting on the tops of the local hills… and wondering, “How far do I have to drive or walk to find snow that is deep enough to ski?” This weekend, as part of our skiing I noted the answer to that question… and it is here as an historical record of the spring of 2016
The weather has remained chilly, and we’ve had lots of precipitation lately, so there is a mighty snowpack somewhere up there. We took the Mamquam Road out of Squamish. It provides the closest access to Garibaldi Park from Vancouver. Mamquam Rd. crosses Ring Cr. [elevation 71 ft, lat 49.733684°, long -123.114137°] and becomes a rough mountain road that climbs to the Diamond Head Parking Lot and Trailhead. The trailhead is at 3200 ft. [trailhead lat 49.750206° long -123.053084°]. There was almost no snow in the woods. The trail is an old Jeep track, and because it is open to the sky it collects lots of snow. Well, the snow on the lower section of the trail has almost melted away.
In some sunny places the trail was patched out and we stepped carefully over the rocky path with our skis. this is the first major switchback on the trail [lat 49.749963° long -123.047329° elevation 3698 ft].
About one and a half kilometres farther, the track has climbed gently to the northern side of the ridge, and the skier is in old growth forest. Here there is lots of snow. I realized how much there was at the waterfall. We were only 800 feet higher than the parking lot [Waterfall, lat 49.761572° long -123.047500° elevation 4073 ft].
Conclusion: the snow is up there. And lots. But count on climbing above 4000 feet to find it.
Readers of this blog know I love radio drama — and my favourite stories are created by the ZBS Foundation. This week, while I was travelling, an announcement arrived in my email about an 80-minute program of audio episodes of ZBS radio plays. Back in June, Meatball Fulton, the creator of Jack, Ruby, The Android Sisters, and many others, was asked by Hear Now: The Audio Fiction & Arts Festival to put together a retrospective to present at the festival.
The Retrospective is now online, and you may go directly to the SoundCloud 80-minute audio track with commentary by author and producer, Meatball Fulton.
This is luscious stereo audio, and it is worthy of better sound than your computer speakers will produce. I recommend pumping it through a good hifi system or, the way I prefer, listen with a great headset. No, not a gamer’s headphones — if you are looking for quality sound reproduction, perhaps pick something from the Grado catalogue where even the low-end cans sound great and are not expensive.