In Search of Eldorado

What started off as a winter traverse, Robin Mckillop style (See VOCJ 1997, December on the Pemberton Icefield), turned into a yo-yo hut digging traverse in the Eldorado and Taylor Basin, located in the South Chilcotins. At least that was the case for Tim and I, who joined the Blinky Crew, Fred, Robin, Mark, Anne-Marie and Steve on a circumnavigation slog of Harris Ridge, with a detour to climb Eldorado Peak. Planning this trip over email, with fifteen people, arriving at different dates with different objectives was a bit of a logistical nightmare. But somewhere Scott and Robin did a great job of it.

Day 1:
The Madeleine Crew (Scott Sandra Tim Craig and I) left Vancouver at 3am to drive the long stretch in the dark up to Lillooet, and then to Gold Bridge via Hwy 40. It’s an exciting section of highway, driving past long stretches of till and colluvium slopes at the angle of repose and with the only overhanging rock section I know of in BC. Speed up. In most years you wouldn’t think of going to the Chilcotin’s this early in the season, but there’s an amazingly deep snowpack up there right now. Even the Shulaps Range was holding some snow, and in normal years they’ll be bare at this time of the year.

Access to the Eldorado Hut is relatively easy. It’s well described in Baldwin’s book, and we arranged booking with the people at Spruce Lake. Follow an old mining road up to the treeline, and then traverse west across the headwaters to Pearson Creek to a low pass. We only had time for the one run down from the col to the hut. Even skiing with heavy packs, the snow was light and forgiving (maybe even hero snow), and we all knew right away that we picked a good place to spend the next week skiing. We dug out the front porch of the hut, and cleared away the outhouse, sauna and wood shed before finding a bit of time to relax. Digging would become a trend of the trip for Tim and I.

Craig skiing towards the low pass between Pearson and Eldorado Creek

Scott Sandra, and Tim who’s always moving

Day 2:
The next day, Tim and his faff-negative abilities had me packed up and we left the hut shortly after sunrise. Unlike Scott Sandra and Craig who would spend the next three days yo-yoing out of the Eldorado hut and likely sleeping in, Tim and I were joining the Blinky crew on the “traverse.” It was hard for me to leave the Eldorado basin, looking at all the pristine powder that morning and opting to traverse instead of yo-yo. Tim was lucky that I never caught up to him for me to express my opinion. Mark later quoted his “mom” that one should never leave good powder to look for better powder. We reversed our route from the previous, skiing east over the low pass and down into the meadows where we found the Blinky crew lounging in the morning sun, faffing around. Steve decided that faff was an abbreviation for “fucking around for fucking-forever.” I think that might just stick with some.

Tim and the early sun

DSC_2339Mark skiing along snow-covered slabs at Camel Pass



One of the three rocky sections we skinned over that day.

Mark skiing down another nice line


DSC_2522 Eldorado Basin
Sandra meadow skipping down some nice snow


We skied over Camel Pass at the head of Taylor Creek and descended down in search of the run-down Taylor Cabin. Robin and Steve found it once in the past, and we found it fairly easily again. Of course it didn’t actually look like a hut, but rather a gigantic snow pillow with over two metres of snow on top of the roof, plus additional amounts covering the entire door. We spent the next hour or more digging out the chimney, the window, and the doorway. A digging traverse indeed.
Looking up at the conveyor belt digging crew from the entrance of the Taylor Cabin

The ski terrain in the Taylor basin is quite awesome, with lots of west-north facing tree options , and some gnarly looking lines on the northwest face of Peak 7418. On the first day back on the mining road, we bumped into Pat, who said that the Taylor basin is normally full of snowmobilers highpointing everything. So when we reached the basin and found it untracked, we thought things were too good to be true. But shortly after leaving the hut that afternoon, about ten snowmobilers went by us. They didn’t bother us where we were skiing, but apparently they found Scott and co, highpointing below them, while they were skiing down.

That afternoon, we skied up to the ridge top at 7400′. Our first run was down an big east face bowl, where conditions were perfect for my big wide teleturns. I still don’t know how to turn, so I tend to just point my skis straight and make big sweeping turns, while everybody else, even Fred who skis on antique Silveratta like bindings, churns out nicer looking noodles. On the second run down, we didn’t go as high as the ridge, but found slope with better snow which then lead down to an avalanche path towards the road. Some great skiing there, and I even witnessed the “flying Squirrel”, or what happens when Robin gets overly excited skiing powder in the trees.

Tim with ants in his pants, waiting his turn
Robin showing the rest of us how it’s done with his Ontario legs
Most of us didn’t sleep in the Taylor cabin that night, partly since we brought tents, but also because of the mice poo presence. Anne Marie coined a new nickname for Fred’s action suit, the “cat suit.”

Day 3:
The clear skies in the morning meant two things, an early wake-up call by Robin, and a plan to climb Eldorado Mountain with a loop thrown in too. The plan was to ski up the south facing slopes to the Eldorado col, climb the peak, skied down to the col, ski the north facing bowl 2km east of Eldorado, and then return to the hut via the slopes east of Peak 8160 to take advantage of those good aspects. Or something like that. Ask Robin or Tim if you really want the map details.

Somehow we ended up at the wrong col, and instead we did the loop in reverse. Up high it was rather windy, and it was obvious that anything open and in the alpine wouldn’t hold good quality powder. This was evident in sections along the ridge where we skinned over rocks, with the slope looking like cookies and cream icecream.
Anne-Marie and Steve skiing along the wind swepted ridge. It was windy! The entire west-facing bowl to the right was completely scoured with lots of bare rocks everywhere.
Ontario legs strikes again. You can faintly make out our tracks in the flat light.

The skiing at the top of the bowl wasn’t the greatest, some firm windpacked snow. Robin said it was fine, and that you just had to ski it with confidence. Mach 3 turns here I go. At the bottom of that slope, a long north trending ridge stood between us and Eldorado Mountain. It was less than 300m high, but there was good skiing on both sides, and conditions dictated that it was necessary to yo-yo it. The best skiing was on the east side of the ridge, following perfect gullies down the pine trees. From the bottom of the ridge, we skied south climbing up to the col east of Eldorado Mountain. It was very windy at the top, and we didn’t linger too long. We managed to piece together a decent descent from the peak, traversing across any true south facing slopes, and skiing down the less south facing aspects.

Anne-Marie skiing down the steep trees, and the dry interior in the background.


Robin and Mark making the final long climb up to the Eldorado col.

Day 4:
The goal today was to simply ski up to the 6900’s col north of Harris ridge, and then ski west, south, and eventually east again back to the Eldorado hut in time for the New Year’s festivities. Of course things were slow going when we found a perfect untouched northwest slope just south of the col. We joked that if the yo-yoing kept up, we might stumble into the hut at midnight. And then on the other side of the col, we found another great slope. The rest of the way to the hut was a pleasant tour, especially the deep snowpack allowed us to ski along the creek. New Year’s eve was celebrated with a cabin full of VOCers, now that the traverse crew had returned, and the Subaru crew of Chris Krystil Ben Frances and Dave arrived. They came in the day before.
Robin checking out his fine noodles. Take a wild guess at which tracks are mine. Hint: Wide radius marked with impact craters

We made it to midnight!

Day 5:
New Year’s day. It was puking outside, and it never stopped. We started off skiing in the meadows south west of the hut, but the snow was getting too heavy to ski anything low-angle. Luckily the terrain options are great in this basin, and we found some good tree skiing north of the hut. I didn’t take any photos today, just imagine wet skiers and lots of snow everywhere, and faceplants cartwheels. Come skiing with me and you’ll understand. I’m thinking of combing circus tricks and telemark skiing together.

Day 6:
The best day of skiing on the trip. We yo-yoed the Pine Sol trees for a while where both the lightning and snow was good, and then we skied up to a small pinnacle at 7200′ below Harris Ridge. What followed next was a perfect fall line run, about 1000′ down to the meadows at the bottom of the valley. It was fun. And then we squeezed in one more run in a gully called “Cream of Genie Show” just east of the hut. And that was good too.
Fred breaking trail to the Eldorado-Pearson col. The Blinky crew had to leave a day earlier.

Craig, Scott, Sandra and Tim contemplating their line

Craig skinning up for another run

The lightning was fantastic today compared to the flat light in the previous days

Happy to be modelling

Scott charging down his line in the Pine Sol trees

Craig skiing with pine trees

Face shots.

Craig at the top of the 1000′ run

More of the same run


One last run down Genie Show

Cold evening out

Long exposure. Tripod, wide angle lens, 30 secs, moving clouds and a full moon.

Day 7.
We skied out the next day. It was fast and uneventful for us, but not quite so for the Blinky crew who left the previous day. They triggered a Class 2 avalanche on the way out, see the incident report. We ended the trip with a late lunch at the Pony Expresso. Tim and Craig did get up to a bit of tree-saving mayhem on the way out though.




Rest of the my photos on Flickr

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