As a habitually suspicious species, we humans tend to feel "the grass is always greener"whenever we consider our own situation in life. But I'm suggesting that, at least as far as mountain conditions go, that it simply doesn't get any better than what we've got in our backyard right now. I've spent most of the last month in the Boundary Range around Stewart and, having just done a 3-day smash and grab in the Tantalus Range, I can offer a broad perspective on Coastal conditions.
Remnants of prodigious Winter and Spring snowfall remain at the highest elevations where perennial snowfields and glaciers alike still boast thicker snowpacks than usual. Subsequently, glacier travel is pretty straightforward at these uppermost reaches. It's a bit abstruse how rapidly the seasonal snowpack tapers with elevation as evidenced by bare ice exposed not far from super fat areas. I suppose there's little wonder after our 40-degree "heat dome" a few weeks ago and yet another heat wave this week. But it is interesting to see how the glaciers have responded overall and how tricky these mid elevations are becoming. At lower elevations the glaciers display lugubrious edges and snouts, the wear-and-tear of global weirding and nearly 50 days without rain. Still, these bony and bare ice elevations on the glaciers are relatively easy to negotiate. Where people are getting into trouble is around the firn line which is covering a broader elevation band than we're used to. Add to that a general deterioration of Coastal glaciers from year to year and some trickery is born.
The Tantalus Traverse continues to see lots of travel and rightly so given the perfect conditions and weather. The Dione Glacier is no longer the ropeless and carefree run amok affair of years past, where climbers endeavouring an in-a-day effort eschewed the safety of a rope in favour of speed. We witnessed a crevasse fall where a Traverse team was negotiating snowy patches between bare ribs of exposed glacier ice, the classic firn line dilemma right now. Hidden or difficult to see crevasses abound on the Dione Glacier this year and the change is astonishing from day to day. What provided firm and stable crossings in the early morning were quickly wasting to etiolated snow bridges in the afternoon's febrile heat. Simply said, following tracks isn't a guarantee of safe passage; don't be lazy, keep the rope on!
Oddly enough, in contrast, we found excellent coverage and easy crevasse navigation on Serratus' North Face and, it seemed to me, the route is in better shape than usual for this time of year. The upper portion of Serratus' North Face has melted back and down to the rocks, exposing more rock than before which meant a lot of climber-generated rockfall. I would be very wary of climbing anywhere underneath another party if people are moving through the final talus covered slabs below the summit. We were able to climb Dione's South Face Couloir to access the SE Face as the 'scrund which sometimes bars access hasn't really formed yet, or is only just beginning. But it likely won't last longer than another week or so and the more typical gully routes near the rappels are probably better climbing. While avalanches in the classic sense aren't a current concern, we did observe a recent snow slide where rock slabs shed a massive amount of snow on a steep south face (see photo).
Friends on Garibaldi's North Face this past week described good snow travel conditions and reasonable passage around the inimical bergschrund on the climbers' left side. Both snow and ice protection turned out to be handy for that ascent which, again, isn't surprising given how randomly snow is melting off the glaciers this summer. Elsewhere in the area, more heat induced rockfall on the Chief has much of the base area closed and much of the valley rock climbing is hot and sweaty even in the shade. I am rather picky, though, and some people seem impervious to perspiring hands. I have noted a lot (more than a dozen) loose bolt hangers all over the place in the last week, both in the alpine and on rock climbs around Squamish. It's almost as if the earth's rotation is rattling them loose or something but all I know is I've been gently snugging up more bolts than ever before.
The weather this weekend looks to persist as it has for the last six weeks with warm, clear and thankfully smoke-free skies. Perhaps we will finally see a change in the weather as the extended (10-day) forecast suggests. But until then it's important to have zero campfires or open flame of any sort as the forests are a tinderbox ready to ignite. As much of the rest of the province deals with smoky air and forest fires, I feel we are really fortunate to have made it this far in the Sea to Sky area without those struggles. Let's keep it up! Overall climbing conditions in the mountains these days are as good as it gets, with all the variables coalescing to provide exceptional experiences for those looking for some alpine adventure. These have been some of the best days I've ever seen and the beauty of our little slice of the world is heartbreakingly wonderful. I hope you will enjoy the magic of the mountains this weekend!
IFMGA Mountain Guide