Pemberton Icecap Traverse

Robin Mckillop, Mark Grist, Dave Campbell, Chris Michalak, Fred Touche, and I attempted to traverse east-west across the Pemberton Icecap from South Miller Creek, to Blanca Lakes. Unfortunately, the unseasonable wintery weather forced us to stay in our tents for most of three days while on the main Squamish glacier, so we couldn’t quite finish the route. Despite that, we still had fun, smelled bad and farted, had some incredible views on top of Longspur Peak (2575m), and only heard four snowmobilers (tons of tracks though).

April 8-15

Day 1: Left Vancouver at 5:45am with Chris, met Robin in Squamish and dropped off Blinky somewhere on the Elaho road. Drove up to Pemberton, and met the rest of the guys. Robin, dressed in polypro underwear went to the wrong farmhouse and surprised some young lady. We drove up to the first gate, and realized that Scott’s handiwork was locked away by the IPP guys. There was a solid chain and padlock preventing us from swinging the gate. The canyon looked scary anyways, so Chris took his toolbook and unscrewed the gate mesh from the gate frame, and we snuck under. The first km’s of the road was brutal (for me anyways) since we had to carry our skis. Once we had our skis on, the rest of the road wasn’t that bad, and got up to the dam quickly. The next section went through some trees, and river canyon and I was pretty slow going through here. We camped at 4300ft, and noticed some heliski tracks running down big avalanche slopes and cliffs.

Day 2: Weather wasn’t that great, with lowlying clouds. After lounging around waiting for slighty better visibility, we started moving, and reached a big lake. THe visibility was still poor, so we couldn’t quite see which big gully we were suppose to climb up and over. Eventually Fred led the way with a steep set of switchbacks up a ramp. At the top, we waited around for a bit better weather, and then started moving up towards a col. The weather improved to sunshine (felt like a steam sauna), and Mark, Dave and I even went for a quick yo-yo. The drop down the other side of the col was horrendous for me, and it felt like water skiing at times. The view was phenomenal, and sluffing was occuring everywhere (including a small one that went over Mark’s tracks). After using various survival skiing techniques, I managed to catch up and we camped at the bottom of the glacier, around 5300ft?. Another strenous day.

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Skiing into the mist

Day 3: We traversed along a ridge, and then dropped down to the valley bottom through crusty snow in the trees. Then we climbed up 400m to our lunchspot on some rocks. This was followed by another drop down to a valley, and another 400m up a big scary slope. Towards the top of this slope, the weather started getting wintery. We dropped down from the col and finally got onto the Appa glacier, where we camped. At least 10cm fell in about 2 hours, but then it cleared up completely. Robin summited some unnamed peak, and the rest of the guys went for a yo-yo. Fred made the first bootie ascent of some little peak in the distant.

Day 4: We woke up to amazing views, and before long, the sound of the world’s largest mosquito. I went with Mark for a quick pre-breakfast yo-yo. Then we packed up camp, climb up a ridge, and dropped down to the east? face of Longspur Peak. We dropped our packs, and skiied most of the way up, and then bootpacked up a 50deg slope to the summit. Views were panoramic. The ski down was amazing but tiring (400m?), on 25-35deg pitches, in 10-15cm of fluff on top of a solid base. I even managed to link some teleturns. We continued across the Appa glacier, and then dropped down some slushy snow to the Soo Glacier. While slogging across the blazing hot Soo Glacier, we saw two snowmobiliers up high sitting around. We hoped that they wouldn’t think we were caribou and shoot us. There were tons of snowmbiler tracks everywhere, basically a highway. At the end of the Soo glacier, we took off our skins, and had an awesome run down into the valley beyond. I think Fred accidently made a 180 turn here and dissapeared for a while. We climbed up another 400m to get onto the the main Squamish? glacier, and slowly skied across to our campsite somewhere on col. Robin dug a kitchen with a commanding view of the glacier, worthy of the frontpage of “Backcountry kitchen’s and crafts”. We noticed sundogs and lenticular clouds.

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Day 5: Storm Day!. Snowfall and high winds started during the night. The winds gusted up to 70km/h. Around 2-3pm, the weather cleared up, and we moved 1km eastward and then the weather crapped out again. We debated whether this was just showers, or a full on system.

Day 6: Storm Day!. The snow and wind didn’t let up at all during hte night, and visibility is poor in the morning. We’re starting to get worried, especially Robin who has to catch a flight on Sunday. We start to talk about possible escape routes, and conserving fuel and food. Parts of the afternoon was spent discussing computational fluid mechanics and stock market trading. Everything time the wind shifted or when the sun tried to poke out, we would make comments about what the weather was doing.

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The tent getting buried.

Day 7: Storm Day!. By lunchtime today, we had spent most of 60 hours in a tent. Fred was getting tired of sitting around, so we decided to pack up and escape via the Squamish River in the poor weather condition. We moved south through 60-70cm of fresh powder down the Squamish Glacier, and then climbed up to a col east of little ring peak. to camp. Temperatures were wintery, around -10C, and snowfall still didn’t stop.

Day 8: Robin and Mark left earlier at 7am to break trail, and we followed shortly. Eventually we got up to a pass near Ring Peak, and dropped down through heavy snow into the trees. We expected the tree section to last much longer, but the lower parts were clearcutted. The sunny views of the headwater of the Squamish River was quite nice, and noticed that the Exodus Peak and Blanca Lakes area was socked in. From here, we had 25km on logging roads. We managed to ski the upper parts, hiked 13km, and Fred did the last 8km in about one hour. While waiting for Fred at hte bottom, various people came by, and one person thought we were sitting down by the Squamish river because we were waiting for snow! A tight squeeze of 6 smelly skiers into Blinky followed, and I eventually got home at 12am.

A classic Coast Mountain spring traverse experience.

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Waiting in the rain for Fred to retrieve the car.

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