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.
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.
All photos were taken with Fuji Provia slide film. Consequently, most photos are unedited. I was using a Nikon FM2 camera and Ptor was using a little Minox. Thanks for the photos Ptor.
This season certainly hasn’t been memorable for the right reasons. But it’s these low years that make you truly appreciate the glory of previous years. This lack of snow reminds me of the 2005 season. I might have skied 5 times that season before fate had me in Golden in early April. Walking into my friend Nevada’s house, I was immediately nervous of her dinner guest who had a certain ‘presence’ (to put it mildly). Introductions were soon underway and my suspicions were correct. The mystery man was none other than Ptor Spricenieks. After some time the conversation settled on Mt. Logan, and Nevada’s bid to solo the East Ridge and place an important Tibetan Peace Vase high on the mountain. With mischief in her eyes she asked, ”Why don’t we all fly in together and the two of you can ski some peaks together.” Neither Ptor nor I had visited the range and were instantly hooked. I’ll always remember Ptor’s next words as his eyes bore through my very soul, “Can you ski?” I had just finished a year of skiing 6000 and 7000m peaks in the Himalaya, often solo, so yes I was pretty sure I could ski. Luckily Nevada saved me from an embarrassing explanation of my skills and assured Ptor that I was capable. I don’t remember much else from that surreal night, but we agreed to meet back in Golden in a month’s time.
This is the final Georgia post. Cheers if it’s blazing hot where you are with no thoughts of skiing on your mind, and yet you’ve continued to read my posts! Apologies if you’ve just stumbled upon this blog and you end up reading the whole story backwards. I’d suggest clicking on the Georgia category and then scrolling to the end, so as to start from the beginning.
So we’re headed home! Or are we?
Initially we planned to ski another line the day after, since clear weather was forecast. But after our epic it seems out of the question. Out of habit, Peter starts to take stock of our leftover food. If we share the last remaining bars, we could squeak out another line. But I’m too destroyed to think about it.
One of the perks of living on the Coast, is that my winter was filled with many steep lines. But I encountered amazing snow conditions all winter, so every descent was pretty mellow. Powder allows a lot of people with a wide range of abilities to enjoy steep skiing. Whereas the top of the couloir on Chatyn is a sheet of ice. You can’t fake it here. Technique has to be airtight.
The night before, Peter skins to the base of the cliff at the bottom of our line to collect water from a little waterfall. As this ant-like figure make his way up the bottom of the face, I get a physical idea of how big our line is: 1900 meters (6230 feet).
We wake up a 2:30am as usual. Finally clear skies! But for myself, immediately shit goes wrong. I’ve lost my headlamp again. Two guys over six feet tall, with all their wet ski gear piled everywhere in a one man tent, makes it hard to find stuff. For only the second time in almost 15 years of expeditions, I totally lose my patience. The claustrophobia of the tent finally gets to me. I’m soon tossing all my stuff out onto the snow, and I don’t care if it gets wet, or how cold I get eating breakfast outside. I’m just done with that tent (sorry for the freakout peter).
After finding my headlamp, packing my stuff for the day, realizing my crampons had somehow loosened since I last wore them, and swearing at tons of other random shit, we set off up the face. As soon as the climbing begins, my mind settles and I focus on my pacing.
We wake up to another beautiful sunrise. We’re camped up high, and mercifully there was no wind over night. Unfortunately I wake up to the most intense headache of my life. Something has gone terribly wrong. Could it be the altitude? But I’ve been much higher than this on many occasions and never felt like this. I touch my forehead and it is burning up. Yesterday I tried a new balaclava. It must have been too thin, and it seems as though I’ve cooked my brain. Thoughts are impossible. I can’t contemplate the simplest of tasks, like what I should have for breakfast. How quickly we can crumble into infant-like helplessness. When I do manage a thought, it is of bailing and going back home.