As I write this summary there are stars shimmering through the thick Hemlock canopy surrounding our tiny house, implying a sense of clarity and peace. Shrieking winds raging through mountain passes, rime-coated clothing and ropes, and freshly hidden crevasses all seem like parts of a distant past...but this brief calm belies my recent experiences in the Coast mountains. Some colleagues and I have been developing a scale for rain, kind of like a 1-to-10 but with terms like: passing fancy, misting, drizzle, pouring, dumping, slashing, trouncing and absolutely trouncing and we have experienced all of this recently. And still there are brief periods of respite where stars appear, even the sun emerges, and it's "all good" again and we forget when the only indications of time of day were when it was either just grey or black outside. Yes it's been a tougher than average last couple of weeks but when the skies clear between these series of lows, man, it's a beautiful time of year to be in the mountains.
The leaves are changing amongst the deciduous valleys and riverbeds, the salmon are still running thick, bears are feasting on late berries and carrion, the mountains get a fresh coat of white overnight to shift back to brown in the evening, the air is crisp and many of the seasonal climbers have drifted back South to warmer and more stable climes which makes the mountains feel all the more empty and special. Gone are the long days of bold impunity, these are the days requiring us to pick and choose more judiciously and cautiously...and we reap greater rewards for our effort, in my opinion.
I spent the last week in the Tantalus Range where we climbed above an ocean of clouds with only neighbouring island-like summits visible around us. And then it rained like mad and we were pinned down wondering if we'd ever be dry again. The September 17th snow still lingers in the highest shaded folds and creases of the alpine around the Coast but the latest storms since then have been too warm to add any substantial accumulation. We witnessed glaciers transition from 25cm of snow back to bare ice in a matter of a couple days. The exception to this is farther along the North Coast near Bella Coola where fresh snow is hanging onto those far bigger mountains. Once the snow melted around here the glacier travel was fast and firm and relatively easy. Still, beware areas where new snow may still mask the edges of visible crevasses and moats.
We are once again in a period of potentially rapid change, as was evidenced this past week. Rain in the valleys may mean snow in the alpine so keep an eye on the freezing levels and plan accordingly. It's Fall, yes, but feels like Winter high up. One benefit to the recent snowfall was that it's acted like "glue" and we noted a substantial reduction in rockfall, that is until the snow melted. Even easy routes we would typical scramble felt more like 5th Class climbing due to slick lichens and, with another bout of rain in the forecast for Friday, I would expect things may not be exactly dry for the weekend.
That said, this looks like it will be a truly glorious weekend to be in the alpine. Overnight freezing levels for both Saturday and Sunday look to drop to ~1000m and skies will be clear. The cooler temps will lock up rockfall to some extent but will also form verglas so be on a look out for icy sections on shaded sides of the mountain where crampons or micro-spikes are advised. In the valleys around Squamish, sunny and low-elevation crags and rocks will dry out but many routes on the Chief will remain wet; we saw it glowing radiantly in the afternoon sun today, glistening wet all over. This is looking like a great weekend for alpine ridge routes as these will likely dry out the fastest. Have a great, safe weekend!