Although it’s officially been Fall for some weeks now, we are really settling into the Coastal autumn routine with regards to weather and overall mountain conditions. We seem to exist by the hour, with heavy rain at one point followed by sunny periods the next, bookended by pre-frontal winds and post-frontal “shmoo.” Heat waves and multi-month droughts seem long forgotten, existing only ephemerally in nostalgic memories. Once upon a time we were crawling into glacier-fed pools just to cool off, now we’re crawling along the overhanging underbellies of cliffs and boulders just to find whatever dry rock is left to climb on. Days grow shorter and the sun glides lower in the sky. Valley leaves begin to pale and turn, Chilcotin aspens drop their golden leaves and alpine heather fades from red to brown as it succumbs to the increasing frequency of snowfall. In rivers around Squamish the salmon are still in full form whereas other rivers along the central coast have seen their annual share, sending grizzlies to bulk up elsewhere. Overall it’s an amazing time of year to be in the mountains if for nothing else than just the beauty and contrast of the vibrant colours: snow on the peaks, the shock of yellow aspen mingled amongst green conifers, the turquoise of glacial fed streams and all the drama of the clouds thrown in.
While the prodigious rainfall in our ocean valleys may feel banal enough, bitter storm winds in the alpine have been a shrieking maelstrom. Each storm has brought the snow line down a bit lower with yesterday’s storm putting a dusting of snow on the Duffey (1300m). While there hasn’t been much snow along the South Coast, the winds have been hard at work drifting whatever fresh snow in deep piles on North and East aspects where the weakening sun can’t get at it. Height of snow in the typical early season ski zones is generally less than a meter and, in my opinion, not worth the effort yet. Furthermore, the combination of a hot, dry summer opening up crevasses with just enough snow to obscure the edges of big holes is a real hazard of the glaciers right now. Not many people will be venturing onto big glaciers and it will likely take more time than usual for our glaciers to heal enough for “safe” skiing. Either that or a couple big dumps. Regardless, the glaciers suffered a toll this summer and many of our go-to early season spots may look quite a bit different than previous years. One friend romped up Sky Pilot a couple days ago, reporting breaking trail in knee-deep snow en route. The central Coast Range has received much more snow, well over a meter on the high peaks already based on what I could see today driving into Bella Coola.
Overnight temps are cool in the alpine and, with warm days in between, it’s a good set up for our typically brief ice climbing “season” in the higher reaches. I’m going to wait until things get a bit colder (or make a foray to the Rockies) but a few masochist alpinists will be mixed climbing in the Wedge/Ethel/Weart group before too long.
Speaking of climbing, I’ve managed to get in a few days on the rock recently. Brief clearing between storms has been enough to dry off rocks in certain areas but it’s beginning to feel like many of the Chief routes (whatever isn’t closed) are too wet. The Malamute tends to dry faster, some things dry quickly in the Smoke Bluffs, but otherwise you’ll have to look for South-facing crags of the sport variety or boulders that aren’t festering under a new crop of week-old moss from all the recent rain. There are lots of good bouldering options in open air places, especially now that temps have cooled to conducive sending levels.
Honestly the weather for this upcoming weekend looks a bit fickle, more of what we’ve been having these last couple of weeks. Tomorrow (Friday) is the best bet. It looks like a heavy pulse of moisture is in store for Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning but…if you time it just right there should be windows for a few pitches, a fast hike or a good trail run amongst our wonderful mountains. Remember that the days are getting shorter so have a backup plan and make sure someone knows where you’re going. Happy Thanksgiving weekend and stay safe everyone,
IFMGA Mountain Guide