Archive for the 'Backcountry' Category

Where to find snow? (Mt. Strachan)

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.

Elevation 3600 ft on Mt Strachan and there is just enough snow to skin up

Elevation 3600 ft on Mt. Strachan and there is just enough snow to skin up

He lost this ski on this run last winter. It must have scooted down the hill for a couple of hundred metres. He has just found this downhill ski today in the trees below this spot.

He lost this ski on this run last winter. It must have scooted down the hill for a couple of hundred metres. He has just found it today in the trees below this spot.

A family, including a baby in a backpack, skiing the spring snow on Mt. Strachan, May 1, 2016

We are not the only people skiing this hill today

Suddenly, above 3,800 ft. the snow is deep and plentiful. It almost seems like rugged backcountry — Crown Mountain through the trees, looking from Mt. Strachan

Suddenly, above 3,800 ft. the snow is deep and plentiful. It almost seems like rugged backcountry — Crown Mountain through the trees.

Looking at the summit of Hollyburn Mountain from the ski runs on Mt. Strachan.

Looking at the summit of Hollyburn Mountain from the ski runs on Mt. Strachan.

Snow in the upper valley below the summit of Mount Strachan

Snow in the upper valley below the summit of Mount Strachan

Testing trail runners to replace hiking boots

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.

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
  • MEC Short Gaiters (only $10!)
  • SprapGear, 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.







Where to Find Snow? (Roe Creek)

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).

Rockfall on the branch road above High Falls Creek - Cloudburst Mt.

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.

Cars parked on the Roe Creek Road at Branch Road 200

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.

Roe Creek Road deactivated

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.

Branch Road 200 above Roe Creek - Barrier

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.

Snow on Branch Road 200 above Roe Creek

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.

Cloudburst Mt. from the clearcut above Roe Creek

Where to find snow? (Diamond Head)

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

Diamond Head Parking Lot & Trailhead 2016april3The 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].
First switchback on the Diamond Head Trail 2016april3
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].Waterfall - Trail to Red Heather Meadows

Conclusion: the snow is up there. And lots. But count on climbing above 4000 feet to find it.

Weather Resources for Mountain Travellers

Click to go to the Alpine Forecasting Resources page

Click to go to the Alpine Forecasting Resources page

Are you planning a trip into the mountains of southwestern BC? You need more than a map, you need to be able to predict the weather. Mountain weather is seldom the same as the sea-level report for urban Vancouver, and conditions can change dramatically and rapidly. Learning to anticipate what could happen and what to watch for when you are out there is part of planning a mountain adventure. If you are in a hurry, it is often difficult to find the online resources you need to do your predictions. I’ve tried to assemble sources of current information at one web page. Yesterday I updated that page for the first time in two years.

The Alpine Weather Forecasting Page is here:

Let me know of any errors or better resources. Thanks.

If you want to explore our local mountains…

This week a couple of hundred friends and colleagues of the International Policy Goverance Association (#IPGA2015) will be travelling here to meet in Vancouver. This post is for you if you find yourself looking at the great mountain range that rises from the city’s North Shore — and are pining to experience those hills. For 25 years, I’ve been hiking and backcountry skiing that endless high country, so be sure to ask me about the great places and routes. What follows is a sampler to whet your appetite.

You will need a car and a map (Google Earth on your phone will do). Here are some destinations that don’t require a 4×4.

The easiest way to get high is to go up on a wire. Check out these links: Grouse Mountain in nearby North Vancouver, SeaToSky Gondola in Howe Sound (the link includes a shuttle from Canada Place but you can drive up there yourself), and Whistler’s Ski Resort Summer Program.

Everything that follows is free.

Looking north from the downtown peninsula, the mile-high mountain visible at the end of all the streets facing NE is Mount Seymour (1450m/4766ft). The road climbs the south ridge of the mountain to a ski area.

Mount Seymour from 547 West Cordova Street in Vancouver

Mt. Seymour from West Cordova Street in downtown Vancouver
click for full-size image

Just before the parking lot, at 3240ft, is a pullout with an awesome view of Vancouver. From the north end of the parking lot there is a hikers’ trail to the summit of the mountain. This is where I must make the usual guidebook warning and disclaimer. In spite of the easy road access, the hike is high-altitude wilderness mountain travel. It will be colder up there than in the city. The trail is rugged and includes some scrambling. You’ll need to be fit, and prepared for sudden changes of weather and possible injury. Carry food, water and extra clothing. Know about the 10-essentials for your pack (don’t even think about making a fire). The trail follows a broad ridge, and the only way down is back along the trail. Warnings aside, the location and views are stunning and mountain hikers will have a good time. The round-trip is 5.5 miles and the elevation gain is 1475ft (with lots of down-and-up).

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 I want to show visitors some high altitude old-growth forest, I take them to Cypress Bowl Provincial Park. The access road departs from the Upper Level Highway in West Vancouver and climbs Hollyburn Mountain. At the two main switchbacks there are excellent lookouts with outstanding views over Burrard Inlet, all of Vancouver, Mount Baker, and on a clear day you might see Mount Rainier in the USA. The road ends in a ski area called Cypress Mountain (no mountain with that name here). The three mountains that surround this high altitude bowl are Black, Strachan (pronounced Strawn), and Hollyburn. For a very easy walk, drive to the end of the road and park by the lodge. There are well maintained, fairly level trails that head west toward Yew Lake. For a more ambitious day, this is the start of the trail to St. Marks Summit << The link is my illustrated account of that hike — highly recommended.

If you love mountain travel, and you are looking for more adventure, contact me directly. Once I learn something about your capabilities I’ll have lots more recommendations. I might even tell you about the trails I mapped up Mount Gardner on Bowen Island.

Bushwhack on Trail Runners

Bushwhacking up Mount Gardner on Bowen IslandYesterday two of us spent several hours bushwhacking in the upper part of the Mt. Gardner woods below the north summit and above Bluewater. It was a good test of my new trail runners as a replacement for hiking boots.

In my last post, I described the new Saucony Xodus shoes and my reasoning for acquiring them. This area of second-growth forest is fairly open, sometimes steep, and there is lots of underbrush. I figured it would be a fairly good test of backcountry travel on the runners. Since we were here, on Bowen Island, I was not committing to a trip far from home.

My first comment is that using the runners instead of boots is somewhat different. On the trail, especially during the uphill grinds, the going is much easier with the runners. Oddly, on those sections of trail that are steep and rocky because rains have washed away most of the soil, I found the hiking much easier with the runners.

The runners seem to require me to pay more attention to foot-placement. During this kind of bushwhack — fairly low level forest — I often cannot see my feet: they are down there obscured by the salal (gaultheria shallon). With boots I would confidently plant my feet on whatever support they could find, and then lift them up without too much worry about bumping into a rock or branch. My feet had lots of protection. With the thin mesh on the top of the runners, there is no protection.

Even though the runners have a Vibram sole, it is more flexible than on boots. In steep downhill situations, with the stiff boots I might be able to dig the heel or side of the boot into the soil for some purchase, but I couldn’t do that with the runners. I had to keep the tread flat on the ground.  So, in some circumstances, even with the Vibram sole, the footing was slithery. I was often reaching for vegetable belays.

Also, during the downhill, I felt my toes were against the front of the shoes, and I was wondering if that would cause a problem. That was only a 6-hour hike, but afterward there was no discomfort.

In the Section Hiker reviews of trail-runners-for-hiking, Philip has often said he does not use Gore-Tex because it retains sweat. For socks, all I was wearing was a pair of heavy liner socks. As soon as we returned to the car I wanted to take off the shoes to examine my feet. I was wearing the gaiters (described in the previous post), and I have to remove the shoes to take them off. After a day of strenuous hiking, my feet were only slightly damp… so the Gore-Tex was venting satisfactorily. In cold weather, I’m hoping the Gore-Tex will contribute to keeping my feet warm.

The gaiters are waterproof, and I was surprised to find the inside of both were very wet with sweat. They are shorties, and there was no related discomfort. Their robustness was very useful protecting my ankles and feet as I slogged through the underbrush. The gaiters use a shoelace that goes under the runner. Two comments. First, the catelogue shows the gaiter lace tied on the outside of the foot,  and the bungee for the part around the leg to be on the outside as well. I am simply not flexible enough to tie the laces on the outside of my feet. So,  I put the gaiters on the wrong foot so the lace-ties and bungees are between my legs. Much easier! Yes, I expect the laces will wear out fast, but they should be cheap to replace. The real problem was that the laces untied themselves several times during the day. The gaiter seem to stay in place without them, so it was not really a serious situation. I would like a better solution.

It was an enjoyable day rambling around the mossy bluffs and researching a better route from Bluewater to the North Summit. So far,  I am satisfied that my day was much easier on runners than if I’d used my old hiking boots. I do have to pay more attention to how and where I am stepping, and I am probably learning how to do this efficiently.

Edit to add: On April 16, 2016, I was able to test the system in wet spring snow. Report here:

Robert's professional sites:
Ballantyne and Associates

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