Monmouth to Meager: Across the Coast Mountains on Skis
reach the Tchaikazan Glacier by skiing (or walking) for two to three days
up the long Tchaikazan River valley from Fishern Lake, and, while I admire
purists, admiration and aspiration are two different things, and I was
content to hitch a ride with Dale Douglas of Tyax Air to the upper
Tchaikazan Glacier due east of Monmouth Mountain.
I had spent the morning dozing in the sun on a picnic bench at the
Pemberton Airport while half of our group of six drove up the Lillooet FSR
to the Meager Creek branch to leave two vehicles and the other half, flew
in a food cache to an unnamed icefield south of Lillooet Mountain and
continued on to the upper Tchaikazan Glacier to make camp.
By the time Dale was making his second landing on Tchaikazan
Glacier to drop me and the rest of our party off, the gradually thickening
cirrus of the morning had rendered the light flat and obscured the sun.
Within minutes of dropping us off, Dale was off again, hastily
trying to beat the approaching weather.
and I, still smarting from a series of storms on the Pemberton Icefield
traverse just two days previously, built snow walls around our tent, while
the other four (in two tents) feeling very confident merely plunked their
tents onto the snow and staked them out.
Before dinner, we had time for only a short ski up the Tchaikazan
Glacier to east, the summits of both Monmouth and Fluted Mountains had
dipped into the clouds and a storm seemed likely.
winds and snow in the night left L and M sleepless in one tent. In the second tent, S and Z fared somewhat better, perhaps
the young sleep more deeply, while Doug and I were comfortable but the
weight of new snow in the night broke the zipper on our vestibule and we
discovered a few holes in the goretex of our single wall tent.
We would spend the next 14 days building huge snow encampments to
protect our rapidly disintegrating tent from the worst of Coast Mountain
the morning, the wind was still blowing strongly from the north, but
visibility was good enough to allow us to pack up and begin skiing
southwards. From the upper
Tchaikazan Glacier the traverse route climbs steeply 600 feet up to a
narrow col to the east of Fluted Mountain.
M, skied part way up then laboriously kicked steps for 200 feet,
while the rest of us stayed on skis and switchbacked steeply up beneath
Fluted Mountain. At the col, the Chapman Glacier makes a gradual descent to
the east eventually running into the Lord River, while a broad saddle due
south and to the west of Mount Taylor leads out onto the Edmond Glacier.
After an easy 500 foot descent we crossed the head of the Chapman
Glacier and stopped for lunch beneath Mt Taylor.
Descending the south slopes of Mount Taylor was challenging with
sleds and big packs on a 40 degree slope in mushy snow conditions.
long gradual climb south up the Edmond Glacier brought us to a 9,200 foot
spike on the ridge running west from Transition Peak.
We kicked steps up to the apex and scrambled the rocky west side,
shuttling our sleds and packs 400 feet down to a pass above the Edmond
Glacier. With our sleds
swinging from side to side we skied 1,500 feet down to camp on a lake with
Transition Peak to the north and Mount Fowler to the west.
poor weather the next day we skied out onto the Frank Smith Glacier and,
weaving our way through crevasses, moved camp south to a broad expanse of
ice below Mounts Porter and Mills. A
sucker hole the next morning, lured us into packing up camp, but within
half an hour, we were skiing through yet another Coast Range snowstorm. Using Mount Mills as a handrail on our left, and an unnamed
9,300 foot ridge on our right, we plodded our way south and west to make
camp on the Stanley Smith Glacier north of Mount Stanley.
7 a.m. the next morning our camp at 8,600 feet was above the clouds and we
could look down on swirling clouds and the great glaciers draining east
towards the drier Dickson Range. As
the day warmed, the clouds rose and intermittently we would become
completely engulfed in cloud. We
skied to the summit of Stanley Peak, and four of us went on to the summit
of the unnamed 9,508 foot peak to south as well as the 9,300 foot peak to
five days of bad weather, the sixth was blue bird clear.
Doug and I left camp at 8.30 in the morning and were on the summit
of Mount Henderson (an easy ski ascent from the north) by 10.30.
On the glacier below Mount Henderson we met M and L, who were on
their way to Mount Dodds. They
skied and kicked steps up the icy south face to the south ridge while we
gained the south ridge by skiing up the west face.
After a short snow slope and rock scramble we met up on the summit.
From Mount Dodds we could see ski tracks off the north face of
Stanley Peak where S and Z were doing laps.
After lunch, L and M followed our track up to the summit of Mount
Henderson, while Doug and I skied across to the north ridge of Mount Mills
and kicked steps to the summit.
the next morning, our seventh day out, dawned clear, cirrus clouds quickly
appeared and gradually thickened throughout the day – an almost certain
harbinger of bad weather. We
navigated the icefall on the glacier draining southwest from Stanley Peak
to the Ring Glacier in flat light and stopped for lunch by a melt water
pool at the base of the Ring Glacier.
The Ring Glacier rises gradually to the southwest between Mounts
Alecto and Magaera, and we skied easily to the highpoint before another
very gradual descent brought us to the junction of the Lillooet and Bishop
Glaciers. We skied southwest
by the immense north face of Mount Tisiphone rising over 3,000 feet from
the Bishop Glacier and watched seracs calving off the north face of
Lillooet Mountain as we crossed the Lillooet Glacier. On
an unnamed glacier 500 feet above the Lillooet Glacier we made camp in
deteriorating weather and visibility and dug more snow walls as yet
another storm approached.
morning, with only one more day of food in our packs, we were still 2,000
feet below our food drop on the wrong side of another icefall. So, in a brief clearing in the morning we packed camp and set
off. Within 45 minutes
another weather system had moved in and we were skiing on a compass
bearing in blowing snow. In a
complete whiteout we stumbled onto some gaping crevasses on the shoulder
of Lillooet Mountain and, in a brief but providential clearing, manoeuvred
our way around them. By some
quirk of fate, we had a one hour break in the storm just as we reached the
base of the icefall and, roped up for the first time in over a week, we
negotiated some snow bridges and took another bearing before the weather
closed in again. Around 3.00
pm we reached the plateau where our food drop was buried and using the
“go to” function on our GPS we followed the arrow to find our probe
pole and red flag marking our buried boxes.
We dug our walls, put up our tents and settled in just as the storm
had settled in that morning.
spent all the next day and half of the following day in our tents, exiting
only to intermittently shovel off the snow that was blowing over the
walls. A fleeting clearing
late on the second afternoon allowed Doug, S, and L to follow the north
ridge of Mount Dalgliesh to the summit.
During our third night the wind switched to the north and blew in a
high-pressure system, so that on our fourth day we woke to clear but cold
and windy weather. From the
glacial plateau between Mount Dalgleish and Lillooet Mountain the traverse
route snakes its way east and south along a high ridge
Lillooet River valley from the Toba River valley.
Gaining the ridge involves dropping down 50 degree snow slopes
(which we rappelled) into a steep south facing bowl from a 9,100 foot col.
A precipitous and somewhat exposed high traverse to the east
follows and leads to a broad saddle and easier ground.
views from this divide are outstanding; the most spectacular vistas lie to
the south where the Manatee Group, dominated by Wahoo Tower – a dramatic
fang of rock - rises abruptly from the surrounding glaciers.
We skied south along the ridge all day goggling at the views, and
made camp on a plateau below Mount Obelia.
morning, a gradual climb of 1,200 feet brought us to a saddle below Mount
Obelia, where the remainder of the Manatee Group (Mounts Manatee, Dugong
and Remora) came into view. After
a wonderful 2,500 foot descent on corn snow we stopped for lunch in a
basin by a frozen lake. Another
1,000 foot descent over a moraine and through very patchy snow followed
and we skied into the headwaters of Manatee Creek and the low point (at
5,000 feet) of the entire traverse. A
gradual 1,000 foot climb up the Manatee Glacier led us to a delightful
campsite on a knoll above the headwaters of Meager Creek.
our thirteenth day out we contoured east on moderate snow slopes to follow
a north tributary of Meager Creek to a pass on the Mosaic Glacier.
As we slogged along in the blinding sun a friend of L and M’s
flew over in his tiny Piper airplane and dropped a garbage bag of apples
and oranges out the window to the last person in our party.
Lunch on the Mosaic Glacier took on a festive air as we sucked the
juice out of fresh oranges. Another
gradual climb took us up to the top of the Job Glacier and camp below the
aptly named pillar of volcanic rock that is Mount Job.
had another icefall to negotiate in the morning as we skied southeast off
the Job Glacier and on to the Devastation Glacier.
On snow slopes under Mount Capricorn we hurriedly put our climbing
skins back on our skis to ski up to the Capricorn Glacier as volcanic
rocks, loosened by the sun, were pelting down the slopes around us.
We made an early camp at the high point of the Capricorn Glacier
and skied to the south summit of Capricorn Mountain, from which we had a
fabulous 1,500 foot corn snow descent.
Doug, I, S and Z also skied south to the ridge east of Pylon Peak
and scrambled up a loose tower on the ridge.
our fifteenth and final day the inevitable cirrus cloud began to build
early in the day. Within half
an hour we had skied the 500 feet up to the broad ridge northeast of Pylon
Peak, which we would follow down to logging roads in the valley.
The ridge is initially easy but, after about 500 feet, it narrows
and steepens considerably. We
had to remove our skis once to scramble down a loose step of volcanic
rock, but were then able to ski easily to treeline at 5,500 feet.
Some lucky navigation brought us down a small spur ridge to the
south where we finally had to take our skis off at around 4,000 feet as
the snow had become too patchy to ski, and at 3,800 feet we popped out of
the forest onto the Pylon spur road.
denouement for me is classic Coast Range ski touring, walking down a dusty
stony logging road with your skis on your backpack in stiff plastic boots
and suddenly encountering civilization as a family in shorts and sandals
walks along the Meager Creek FSR to the hotsprings, after two weeks in the
wilderness. You gawp at them
and they at you, and you barely know what to say to each other.
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