The Ledge has been on my mind ever since the Sea To Sky Gondola opened. The majority of people in the Squamish / Whistler area probably don’t know of it’s existence, but you can see it from many points along Highway 99, including the Tantalus lookout. It’s also visible from the gondola. But only the upper ledge is visible, and the lower 2/3rds of the line remained a mystery to me. After summiting Sky Pilot two months ago I started to piece together the two ramps that comprise the bulk of the business. Although I scanned what few pictures existed online, nothing could have prepared me for seeing it head-on, in the flesh.
To cap off a lackluster winter, my spring was mostly spent at the computer. Got things backwards and ended a major work contract just as the season is about to end. I knew there was some quality corn up in them hills, but couldn’t be bothered with the extended low snow approaches. Enter Eric Carter, who just got back from 3 months rando racing in Europe. He got me off the couch by suggesting Sky Pilot’s northwest, which I hadn’t skied in over 15 years. Don’t know what’s scarier: skiing a face with full double exposure to cliffs, or being completely out of shape and heading into the mountains with one of the fittest guys in Canada, who also happens to be wearing a speed suit. Certainly the latter.
After arriving home from the Weart mission, I wanted to take a day off and then do another mission before the forecasted storms changed the snowpack. Unfortunately the weather seemed to be coming earlier than expected, and Sunday was the last perfectly clear day. For my ski line I needed all of the sun’s energy to convert that thin sheen of ice into slightly softer hardpack.
Whistler is one of the busiest resorts in the World, with millions visiting each year. On the way up from Vancouver, the Garibaldi Massif (aka. Diamondhead) is probably the most iconic mountain people see. There’s lots of skiing to be had on the massif, but all of the lines are hidden from the eyes of these visiting millions.
A week of bluebird had me holed up in my office at the computer. Managed to get out one day and ski off the very small yet striking feature of Mt. Fee’s west face. Now it’s time for some medium high-altitude skiing out East.
Couloirs are probably the most distinctive and celebrated features in backcountry skiing. Obviously a magazine was named after them and people travel all over the world to ski them. I’ve been lucky enough to ski some stunners, and nabbed the first of the Camel Toe, a truly world-class beast. Aesthetically they are king. The reality is they’re a bit over-hyped – a beautiful model with little personality. The skiing is claustrophobic, and you’re usually forced to the sidewalls to avoid the central runnel. The snow is often sluffed-out or filled with avy debris. Regardless of how steep they look from afar, the reality is is that they’re usually very straightforward ski lines with little adventure or surprise . . . (sort of playing the devil’s advocate here – I love couloirs).
After a 2-week work stint, another 2 weeks in the heat of Central America, some sickness, a botched mission to the Tantalus, and some uninspiring avy danger, I finally summoned the motivation for a day trip. As usual the weather forecast was wrong, and I was left scrambling for ideas after sleeping in. The weather was bluebird and the North faces were firing. But the temps were soaring, so it had to happen fast. Finally headed out with Chris Christie, only after almost forgetting my avy gear, and fully forgetting my boots when I was part way up the highway . . . obviously a little rusty. After giving Jason from Washington a ride up the logging road, my karma bank was topped up and I was ready for a balmy alpine mission. Digging a hasty pit contrasted the lowish avy rating and revealed some interesting layers. It certainly inspired my delicate and creative approach on the last slope to the summit. Chris was wise and stayed on a lower ridge to capture the action. After a delicate ballet of ski attaching on the knife-edge summit I skied down and met up with Chris, and we had good North facing pow all the way down. A nice welcome back to Canada, on a rarely skied slope.
After five turns I have to make the decision. Leave the relative safety of the spine I’ve just climbed, or head out onto the face. The expansiveness is brutal. Full commitment. “Live in the moment . . . calm the mind . . . live in the moment . . . calm the mind . . . live in the moment . . . calm the mind.” My mantra to infinity.
The endless deep powder of December was fun, but nothing can replace high alpine action. Finally snow conditions and weather cooperated this past week. I was still groggy from too much Christmas food and mild Mount Washington terrain, and it took a bit of effort to switch gears. So what to do with this bomber snowpack? 2012 was the year of Atwell for me, so why not finish it off with one more descent?
Atwell is a stunning peak. Its pointy summit, which is mistakenly attributed as Diamond Head, can be seen from all over Squamish and Howe Sound. It’s part of an ancient volcano, and because of this it stands isolated on its own. Its volcanic rock is horrible for climbing, but has created amazingly steep pitches for skiing. The West face is it’s longest and most technical face, providing about 3000 feet of some of the Coast’s most committing lines. Although it is relatively close to Squamish and is easily viewable from Brohm Ridge, the heinous approach has repelled many parties. It was first climbed via the Siberian and Armenian in 1985 (during a -30 degree cold spell – hence the name Siberian), and skis touched these same routes in 94 and 92 respectively. While possibly being climbed several more times, the West face was not skied again until ten years later when I soloed the Siberian in 2003. After this descent, I headed to the Himalaya for a year, and the Rockies after that. With the taste of bigger mountains, Atwell faded from my mind. It was another ten years until my interest peaked again, and I began to frequent the face.