Dalton South Face

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. Amongst the volcanic mass of cliffs, spires and sharp ridges that the public does see, there’s very little snow to link turns.  The only significant patch of snow is located on Dalton Dome, a crumbling lump on the left side of the massif.  For over a decade I’ve looked at this snow ‘bench’ and wondered.  I’d quickly dismiss any serious thoughts of skiing it when my eyes would focus on the row of massive cliffs above and below.  Mess up any turn on the entire line, and you’re going for quite the ride.  The cliffs above posed another problem – how to even get to the line (Dalton’s volcanic mush does not provide inspiring rappel anchors)?  Then there’s the aspect.  The south face gets direct sun, spoiling the snow as soon as the weather clears; creating melt-freeze layer upon layer for snow to slide.

Dalton South Face
Line – View near Murrin Lake – Highway 99

Fast forward to this past month which was spent on the couch mending an injured knee.  Looking through old photos from my ski lines on Atwell’s west face, I spied a little chute accessing the Dalton south face. I couldn’t believe that I had missed it on all my ski missions across the valley.  I guess the stress of soloing had clouded my view, because the solution had been in front of me on 6 different occasions.  For almost a week, warm temps created a strong enough melt-freeze crust to bridge the horrendous layers lurking below.  I was really bored and unmotivated, and it seemed like this mission was the only thing that would get me off the couch!

A 4am start had me reaching the alpine for a spectacular and hazy sunrise.  After a couple of crux maneuvers involving ice axes and crampons, I reached the top of Dalton Dome.  A few icy west facing turns had me at the top of my entrance couloir.  Although it was almost noon and blasted with sun, the south facing slopes were still icy. Like my descent of the Canadian on Atwell 2 years ago, I had to sit on my little perch and meditate for a while.  It had been a while since I’d been on anything this exposed, so it took a little extra effort to stay calm. I had no idea what I’d find once I dropped onto the bench. Patience was key, but also timing as well.  I knew the bottom slopes were more south facing than the top, and would soon be isothermal mush. Because of this I couldn’t wait for the top slopes to fully soften. After 1 ½ hours I finally put my skis on and headed onto the bench.  The initial slopes were perfect corn. I then had to ski onto a more westerly aspect, and could see the ice glistening. A few tense turns had me traversing back onto more southerly slopes.  Then things got really fun. I’d make a couple of large sweeping right turns and then ski some nice rib features and open faces, and then traversed a little more.  Obviously I was trending right the entire time, but since the fall line was always off the cliffs below, I got a lot of great fall line turns the whole way along. By the time I reached the bottom, the lower slopes had gotten a bit too mushy, so it seemed like my timing worked out.

dalton steep final
The exposed upper line. Probably more of a skiBASE than a ski line. 1st GoPro pic below taken on red dot.
Looking down the entrance onto the upper bench.
Looking down the entrance onto the upper bench.
GoPro of the upper bench
GoPro of the upper bench. The chest mount tilts things a bit.
Mid line
Mid line, looking towards the bottom bench.

All in all, it was wonderful ski. It skied way better than I had anticipated, and certainly wasn’t the contrived traverse-fest I’d thought it would be. I would’ve loved to hit it in powder, but the constant exposure and finicky south facing aspect is tricky for sure. I’m just glad that I got to ski a possible first descent, and that my knee still seems to work.

Photos: I stashed my 200mm lens back on the ridge so that I could get some shots of my tracks from across the valley. Unfortunately the power of the midday sun made it impossible for the camera to pick up anything.

Gear used: Dynafit TLT6 boots, Grand Teton 173cm skis,  and Speed toes with Expedition proto heel pieces.

 

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