Mount Callaghan — hike and scramble (and ski)

After several exploratory hikes, we made it to the top of Mount Callaghan on October 4, 2000. This blog did not exist then, but I am reproducing the story  (now January 19, 2013) and posting it back in the year 2000. It appeared originally on my personal web site. This, then, is a legacy blog article. I will add some resources, such as the location of Mt. Callaghan, at the end of the article. The pictures are mine. They were taken with film and a small camera. I’ve tried to process them a bit to reveal the detail. These are thumbs — click to see full-size.

In case someone who has their heart set on K2 stumbles onto this page, let me explain I am not in your league. I am 57 (in 2000 AD), and moved from the prairies 10 years ago. I am thrilled to be able to plan my own route and scramble to the top of Callaghan. This is for my friends so that I may share some of my pleasure. Is pleasure the right word?

Mountaineering is like fun, only different

We spotted Callaghan on the northern horizon in 1996 from the summit of a popular hike, Mount Brandywine. The map showed a 17 km forest road that ran north from the highway into the valley west of Whistler. It ended at Lake Callaghan. Beyond, there was nothing but wilderness and the vast Pemberton Icefield. The peak of Callaghan is 7 km west and north of the end of the road.

What is it about mountain peaks? Seeing that mountain, and then studying the maps, I discovered that I really wanted to find out what I had to do to go there. There were no trails, and little written about how to approach it. When does passion become obsession? (This was before anyone imagined using the Callaghan Valley for the ski jumping and nordic events of the Whistler Olympics. In the year 2000 there was no paved road, and the threats to the area were from logging and snowmobiles.)

Callaghan Lake 96Sep22Our first attempt was a month later, September 22, 1997. Here is Lake Callaghan at dawn with Peak 7495 behind. Peak 7495 is at the eastern end of the Callaghan massif.Callaghan Peak and Robert Ballantyne  96Sep22

After an ugly bushwhack we made it to the alpine benches and could see the summit we would not reach that day.

Callaghan Basin 96Sep22-psiwWe were actually close to a good route. The basin on the right became our route to success, years later.

For me, the location is exotic, and the views are stunning.

Ring Mountain

Ring Mountain has the classic shape of a tuya

Joined to Callaghan by a saddle to the west is Ring Mountain. Ring is characteristic of a tuya — a flat-topped, steep-sided volcano that formed as lava erupted under the ice of the last ice age.

Powder Mt dome (Cayley Icefield)

Powder Mt dome (Cayley Icefield)

To the south is the dome of Powder Mountain; named in the hopes of making a ski hill there. It is actually a névé that tops the divide between the Whistler corridor and the Squamish River.

Callaghan Lake

Descending to Callaghan Lake

That day, as we descended to Callaghan Lake I slipped in a swampy patch below the tree-line and ruptured a ligament.

We were back a year latter to try the guidebook route (that was poor advice — but we didn’t know). Upper Lake CallaghanWe slogged our way through the low altitude swamps and finally rounded the beautiful Upper Lake. That is Callaghan on the left (you cannot see the peak) and Ring is behind us. We made it to the saddle between Ring and Callaghan, and for the first time looked north and saw the southern verge of the Little Ring Mountain and the edge of the Pemberton Icefield — Little Ring is a tuyavast Pemberton Icefield, with Little Ring (another tuya) in the foreground. That was 13 hours on the trail, and an exit by headlamp.

Having walked around most of Callaghan, we decided that the Southeast Ridge route should be our best route to the summit. Callaghan SE Ridge BluffsWe did a short day trip on the snow on Remembrance Day 1997, to reconnoiter a route through the bluffs of the lower ridge. Callaghan SE ridge to alpine 97nov11As soon as we could see a clear path to the alpine, we declared the day a success, took a break where there was a great view, and View from Callaghan SE ridge 97nov11repaired to Whister in time for the Crystal Lounge deal on wings and beer.

In the summer of 1999 we returned to tape the bushwhack up the SE ridge. We saw so much snow, we came back a week later with skis. Ski Mt Callaghan via SE Ridge August 1999The route was fine, but we went too high on a ridge just below Peak 7495. To reach our high point for the day, we kicked our way up the little couloir on the right of the picture to reach the summit ridge, but we were still 3 km from the peak. Nice ski down — and it was August! ’99 was an amazing year for snow.

After this we decided that the summit was a 2-day trip.

On October 4, 2000, two of us headed for Mount Callaghan. A fatal car accident blocked the Whister highway from 8 am to 11 am, so it was just after noon when we parked at Callaghan Lake and crossed the Callaghan Creek. Camp SE ridge Mt Callaghan 2000 Oct 25An hour later we began our bushwhack off the trail and up the SE Ridge. It was very dry so we wanted to camp near snow for water. We made it to a great location for our camp just at sunset.

Callaghan Garibaldi Brandywine 2000Oct24We were up at 7:15 AM. Magnificent weather! On the left in the picture you can see the Black Tusk, and a hint of Mt. Garibaldi. Brandywine Mt, Mt Fee, and Tantalus from Callaghan MountainThe pointy bump on the right is Brandywine Mt on the next ridge south, and beyond that are the sharp fins of Mount Fee. In the distance: the misty towers of Tantalus.

We rose, Breaking Camp - Mt Callaghan 2000Oct21skipped a cooked breakfast, prepared our kit, and were hiking shortly after 8.

Callaghan alpine benches 2000 Oct 20The route is along the open alpine benches so there is always a fine view.

Mt Callaghan basin 2000 Oct19Four years after our first hike, we were back in the basin that we hoped would lead to the top.

Mt Callaghan water in the basinWe were overjoyed to find that water was plentiful and delicious.

Callaghan icy rocks in creekIn spite of the sun, the air was cool, and the rocks in the creek were sheathed in ice.



Mt Callaghan Snow route to summit ridgeAt the top of the basin there is a snow route to a lovely little cirque Mt Callaghan chute to summit ridgejust below the summit ridge. From the cirque, there is a steep boulder chute up to the glacier.

We had no idea what we would encounter when we emerged from the chute.

.Mt Callaghan top-of-chute

Callaghan Shattered Summit and névéWe found the top of the glaciers on the north side of the mountain. It is a rolling landscape vast enough for a whole town — a névé. And there, less than a kilometer away, was the summit. We were amazed to see that the whole north face of the summit rocks had recently shattered, and much of the debris was deposited on the glacier.

approaching Mt Callaghan Summit from the north-side glacier

Mt Callaghan scramble to summitOur route to the top is up the ledge behind that tongue of snow on the left. That tongue is really a treacherous snow bridge over a nasty hole. The loose rock makes the ledge the most uncomfortable part of the trip. My friend has just rounded the difficult corner, and I am just below the peak casting my shadow unprofessionally into the picture.

Mt Callaghan scramble to summitA few moments later we were at the summit. We didn’t actually stay at the peak for any time because the fresh fractures in the rock Mt Callaghan Summit - west viewwere visible and we didn’t want to contribute to any further destruction of this hill. So we sat with our heads just at the summit level on safer rock.

Overlook Ring MountainSquamish - Whistler divide from Mt CallaghanLet me say that these pictures just don’t tell the story. There was not this much blue haze and the vista is a 360 degree panorama that beggars IMAX. Now we were looking down on Ring with the Elaho in the distance. The wind was almost calm. We were on the south side looking down the Whistler-Squamish divide.

Mt Callaghan Summit view towards Mt GaribaldiMt Callaghan looking down at the upper lakeWe could see some of our route along the benches. And we could look down on the Upper Lake.


Rainbow Mt from Mt CallaghanAlong the summit ridge we could see Rainbow Mountain. To the right of Rainbow are the runs of Blackcomb Ski Resort (barely visible).

Ipsoot Mt from Mt CallaghanLooking over the peak to the northeast, we could see the fallen rock on the glacier with Ipsoot Mt. and more distant peaks beyond.

We left the top about 1 pm.

glissading on Mt CallaghanThere was a long way to go before dark. Going down on snow is fun, and we could do some glissading.

Break Camp on Mt CallaghanIt was after 4:30 when we broke camp and headed down the ridge trying to move fast enough to have light to find the trail. We made it down through the maze of bluffs and gullies, and into the forest while we could see our way. During the lower bushwhack we were using my compass and the first quarter moon to navigate. We bashed forward recklessly with me counting down our elevation on my altimeter. At 4040 Ft. and 7:20 pm my buddy announced he was on the trail. A stop for water and food and we used our headlamps to march to the car, arriving at 8:15 pm.

Mt Callaghan and surrounding area in Google Earth

Mount Callaghan and region in Google Earth looking east – click for dynamic version


1 Response to “Mount Callaghan — hike and scramble (and ski)”

  1. 1 Mount Callaghan – my first legacy blog « Salish Sea Trackback on January 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

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