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Garibaldi Provincial Park - Mount Carr (8500-ft) and Castle Towers NW Face (8778-ft)
April 4-5, 2009

Photos and story by Jason


The crowd moved to and fro in these rooms like ebb and flow of turquoises, rubies, emeralds, opals, and diamonds. As usual, the oldest women were the most decorated, and the ugliest the most conspicuous. If there was a beautiful lilly, or a sweet rose, you had to search for it, concealed in some corner behind a mother with a turban, or an aunt with a bird-of-paradise.
~From Chapter 96 of the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Damas

Commitment is hard when you know that price and reward are not always conjoined in a happy medium of sun, deep powder and summits galore, but when it comes to Canada, there are more peaks than you can shake a fist at, more wild-expansive territory than you could explore in 10 lifetimes, and enough, perhaps, to contain even my good friend Sky. Recently, after he finished his PHD in Nuclear Physics, he moved to Vancouver. Now that he has a full-time job, he doesn’t get away quite as often, but when he does, there is often a carrot extended to potential partners. This time my motivations aligned with his. Not only that, another friend, Ryan, offered to make my life easier by driving. I expected any energy saved would be called out, and summarily used. How right I was. There’s never much left over after skiing with these guys.

Everything, then, went to plan. Ryan and I arrived at Sky’s place in Vancouver...which no matter how close it may be to Seattle, her streets are about as well known to me as the mountains that fill her skyline. Having been here Ryan found a good parking spot before we crept into Sky’s place for a few hours of shut eye. It was foolhardy to imagine I’d get more!

That morning, Sky talked about how revitalizing 3 hours of sleep was and I grumbled about how I needed more. An hour and a half later, we were at the end of a gravel road. By then all of us were full of energy and spunk. It was still dark out as we parked and unloaded gear. Later telling Sky, I said I couldn’t think of a trip with him that didn’t involve beginning or ending in the dark? Not a moment to waste, I’d guess.

The differences between mountains in Canada and Washington are stark. Down low, there’s more snow offering easier travel to higher terrain. Up high, everything is longer, further, bigger and more numerous. Nothing is more conducive to that statement than Garibaldi Lake and her surrounding glaciers and peaks. The lake is 800-ft deep, located at 4900-ft beneath the Sphinx and Sentinel Glaciers. Numerous peaks rise 3000 to 4000-ft above the lake. Where else would a ski-mountaineer imagine being? This is a place where workday worries wash away.

From the car to Garibaldi Lake is 4000-ft of climbing. After a mile or two of road, a trail makes no apologies for getting down to business! Switchback after switchback after god awful switchback grinded away the first few hours, and warmed us up for further climbing. There were plenty of mountains to feast our eyes on once we surmounted the Barrier, a geological wonder that contains all the waters of Garibaldi Lake. Once down on its shore we began the 3-mile trudge across.

Our destination was a small hut located on the southeastern tip of the lake in what is called Sphinx Bay. Named Burton Hut, it was built in 1969, and can fit a dozen people, if you stack them in. The ski there, across the lake, couldn’t end fast enough. There were mountains to ski, vertical to climb and more calories to burn.

After fueling up with food and rest, we left our extra gear behind and set out for Mount Carr, one of the taller peaks in the area. With time against us, we clipped into bindings and faced our objective. A mix of sun-affected powder became more consistently soft the higher we climbed. Down low our skins glopped up. Mine managed to gather the most snow! As if 20lbs on my feet wasn't enough, why not add another 40? Some wax put an end to the retardation.

On my 20th mini-chocolate bar, I about crashed mid-way up, although, after another, I was revamped and motoring ahead once more. There is a small face that angles down from the summit of Mount Carr. We ascended far climber’s left and reached the summit late in the day. Even though the sky was overcast with haze, there was still a wonderful view to be had. Out in all directions glacier upon glacier, numerous beyond measure, confounded me. I left without mustering the energy to even try and take it all in.

The descent was fast and furious. With Garibaldi Lake below, we flew down the slopes, arching turn after turn. This was our reward and it was good, but not nearly as good as we would have on our second glorious day in beautiful British Columbia’s Garibaldi Provincial Park!


Day Two: NW Face of Castle Towers

Our plan was to wake early and yet no one roused at our pre-determined 3:30am wake-up call. The previous day’s miles left us slackers willfully hijacking that days planned festivities, but no excuses were accepted. What extra sleep was had would be deducted from the following night’s rest. By 8-9 we were climbing up refrozen, sun-affected snow to a 7800-ft pass below Castle Towers. From what I had gathered from Sky, there was a steep face in need of our attention. Once before, he had attempted this route, but weather had been bad, so he had to turn back.

The beginning of the day went quickly, but never as fast as our eyes would surmise? Any distances are further than they appeared. One hundred feet, not-so-suddenly becomes five hundred feet. Each time you would look back and shake your head in wonderment.

Glorious powder was found as we dropped to the north side of Castle Towers. At the base of our objective for the day, we used our skis to cross a steep and questionable bergschrund that bared us from the steeper snow-face. Once our skis were off and on our packs, we began trudging upward. Snow conditions were boot top powder, strongly bound to a solid base. It was ridiculously perfect for both climbing and skiing. How could we not be thrilled? As we moved higher, the pitch of the slope increased. At the top was the crux of the route. Unroped, without protection of any sort, we were forced to reconsider going further several times, with Sky putting in the most effort. He climbed up and down, never finding a weakness. The problem wasn’t that he couldn’t climb to the top, but whether or not he could down climb every step he took upward. Better to live in spite of your ambitions than to be shackled to their demands. There is always a better day and if not, there are always other mountains just a little less committing.

Carving out a platform and juggling gear was mind numbing, all the while looking down the path you would skip along if you lost balance. Every move is twice thought out and done half speed and everything takes four times as long. By the time I punched my fist into the slope, looked down and popped my first turn, I was more than ready to let gravity take its hold and wrest me from these angel’s heights back to more earthly realms. And yet, controlling that descent is what thrills me; the faster it goes, the faster it is gone.

Sky and Ryan both followed, with Ryan going all the way to the bottom right away. His excitement was intangible to me, but not for long. Watching him, my mouth was certainly open the entire time. Wow. Then Sky skied by as I balanced with my camera. Capturing what I could, I peered downward at him bouncing turn after turn all the way to the bottom. Then, without further adieu, it was my turn. Pulling myself together, I dropped into the spaces between turns and the slope, my heart skipping a beat each time my edges carved into the snow and leapt into the unknown. The laws of gravity never cease to amaze or tease me.

Once down on calmer terrain, we stopped a few times before skiing between an icefall to a bench below the 7800-ft pass. Each of us had smiles and grins - shortness of breath - with our mind’s no longer muddied by anything so complicated as “Why?”

The skin up 500-ft of powder with shadows and views were not only separated by the beat of our steps, but the music running through our heads.

The southerly faces had seen sun all day, but I’ve noticed in my few trips to Canada, it gets cold fast up here! The upper layer of snow was already beginning to crust over. Beyond the west face of Castle Towers and a lower basin, the snow changed to soft velvet. None of us so much as pulled up for nearly two thousand feet! Except when just before the valley bottom, I yelled at Ryan to follow me around a rock buttress. From our perch, looking out beyond the hut to the Tantalus Range, to the hills surrounding the lakes and all the snow and ice that confined us to this place, I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion. Seeing new places and new horizons? Well, that doesn’t occur often enough for me, at least in the Cascades. But, that’s not the case in Canada. Here you are surrounded by an entirely new and vivacious land of opportunity. At least that’s how I felt as I skied back to Burton Hut.

As our gear leapt into packs, the sun coasted down under the horizon with us chasing its dying colors. No matter how you slice it, three miles of lake doesn’t go nearly as fast as you would like, although, the next 7 miles couldn’t have gone any faster! With a trail all iced up, it was comparable to a race track, except add in trees, rocks, dim lights and icy corners for happy-speeding delight! This was likely the most dangerous part of the trip. For one, cause I like to go fast and two, you can pick up a lot of speed when you have four thousand feet of gravity in the gas tank. With our pedals to the metal we finished in a flurry of excitement!

The last mile or so of road vanished in an instant, but the memories persisted as I reached the car, climbed in and drove back to Vancouver. After nearly 40 miles and 14 thousand feet of climbing and skiing, food at a 24-hour Pho restaurant was a choice reward, although, bed by 4am was less than ideal. But better to do than regret you didn’t.

Thanks for driving Ryan!


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