Three weeks ago, a couple of friends and I set off to the Spearhead traverse in Whistler.
While the prospect of carrying a 20kg back-pack up thousands of meters, eating dehydrated food and sleeping on snow for 2 nights might sounds idiotic at first, with just the couple of weeks elapsed since then, I feel like this is one of the most marking experience I’ve had the chance to live. The early closure of Whistler Blackcomb forced us to start from the base rather than up-top, and added 1400m (or so?) of vertical to our trip ; and we did not manage to close the loop we initially planned. But the magnificence of the scenery, being isolated in the wild, the physical cost, and sharing that experience with friends made it really unique. Like some past experiences that were significant to me, I felt like sharing it (and cashing in the brag-capital, of course 😊). So here we are.
Our story begins at the base of Whistler. Philippe, James and I meet our guide Nate. He’s on a split board. After a quick gear check, we leave the base at 9AM onto singing pass trail.
After about 20 minutes of up, trees are clearing out, and we drop a layer.
What I didn’t realize until later, looking at the pictures, is that we have a nice view on our destination, at the tip of the red arrow
We climb up the forest for most of the day. The bottom is nice with fresh snow from the previous night.
Halfway through it turns to ice, which makes a few spots a bit more complex to get through
At about 1pm, and after about 1000m of vertical, the trees are clearing up, the sky as well, and it gets flatter for a while.
Our final climb of the day gets us up this. Looks easy from down low, but bear in mind that a) it’s much higher than it looks, b) we’re already 4 1/2h and 1000m in.
We can see Black Tusk from the trail up
We’re all tired by this point, so we try and focus on the glaciers around us, keep our heads low and just follow the flow.
After some time we pass the top, and arrive at our first camp just before 4pm. We see our tracks to the right.
Everyone’s pretty used, legs tired, that last climb was hard. My feet started complaining as well, I’m pretty sure I’ve got blisters, but for now it’s setting camp and having food Then enjoy the sunset while the cold sets in, with some wind. We camp close to a hut.
The view could be worse. The weather as well. Tomorrow we’ll go up to the right of our mountain.
Our guide takes our socially distanced group photo.
The night was fine, almost no wind, -15c apparently, with the big sleeping bag, was no trouble.
We wake up shortly before 7. Legs are back to their original state, but I got a toonie-sized blister on each of my ankles, and that’s not the most comfortable thing in a ski boot. Nevertheless, we break camp and leave at about 8:45. We start with a short down, and so we don’t remove the skins. I start the day with a beautiful face plant in the snow. After that it’s up.
And up some more. And freaking steep. Then we get onto the Overlord glacier, the cliff there must be about 50m high at least. At which point I ask the guide for a 2m break to take a quick picture …
… to which he kills our souls by answering “no break, we don’t have time, we need to push on”. We left 2h ago. Then we get on top, and we realize we’re not on top at all. We need to get up that thing
The guide asks us how our rock climbing is. We tell him it sucks. He says we can take a detour that will add 200m vertical to our day. We go with the rock climbing.
Nate goes in front. No breaks, another hour goes by. Everyone is head down. This one is hard. The guide is 100m, then 200m in front of us. Once at the bottom of the rocks, we take a break while Nate sets some belay line. View’s not bad. It’s on the cold side.
We finally get food and water in, we chat and decide to ask Nate about options. Takes him a long time to setup the line, at some point we wonder if he didn’t bail on us, or if he’s just waiting for us to climb the rocks.
Then we go one by one.
Once on top we can see the huge cornices over the up we just did.
We enjoy the view from the top of Overlord, and can actually make up where we started
We discuss our options. We’re not in a state to finish the trip we initially planned, that last up was daunting, we’re only 2/5 of the way for the day, and it’s only going to be running after the guide. We decide to cut short. Makes me happy!
The good news is that after about 2000m of just going up, we are finally going down. Stripping the skins off the skis for the first time since we left.
The snow is surreal. Deep, light, fantastic!
Makes you forget you’re on a glacier full of crevices.
After having some fun it’s back to the real life. We’re going up a cornice
Then back up. Knowing that the day will be slightly shorter, slightly slower, and less risky, makes it fun again. The sun’s there. Landscape is fantastic.
Across Russett lake.
That hole in the snow to the right is where I planted my face 6h earlier
Going up, one last look onto the Fissile, that we just circled.
Back down then up again on Oboe. Our tracks down are right next to Phil’s head
Oboe will be our last up for the day, we clocked in more than 1200m today, and no-one regrets cutting it short - it was a great day.
Another look at our day, we went up around Fissible on the blue arrow, the rock climb on Overlord is on the red arrow.
Our camp on top of Oboe. Social distances means 3 tents.
The scenery we have for diner could be worse
From Oboe it’s a short down and then skins back on and up on Flute.
We can make up our camp in the middle of the picture, with Fissile and Overlord right behind
At the top of Flute we enter the ski area. The resort is closed and deserted, not an usual sight
Stripping the skins off one last time
And down the runs to the resort. All that up on the first day to get down on groomers at the end!
Just for fun…
This was my pack, about 20kg
And everything that went in.