For me, Squamish is a climber's playground: world-class granite walls and splitter cracks - a miniature Yosemite with fewer rules and better beer. This summer, though - during my third annual visit there - my trip to Squamish was completely different. This summer, the town and its surrounding wilderness became a race course. I (Erik) ran my first 50-miler, the Squamish50, along with Seamus Boyd-Porter.
This post tells the story of a climber dabbling in ultra-marathoning. If you're reading this because you're considering running the Squamish50, then you're in luck: this post also reveals detailed tips on what has become the biggest ultra in the Pacific Northwest.
25 August 2018: the weather turns
We should have been happy to see rain in the forecast. Thick smoke smothered most of southern BC and we could feel it in our lungs. A little rain would nicely clear up some fires. However, we only had a week to squeeze in as much alpine climbing as possible--only rain could stop us...
My (Nick) meteorological expertise indicated Yak Peak would be the only dry rock between Golden and Vancouver: "9°C and cloudy, 0% chance of rain." After deliberating over soup, sandwiches, and innumerable free coffee refills in Golden, Erik, Seamus, and I agreed Yak Peak was our best bet for a final adventure of summer 2018. We set our sights on 'Beckey–Speedway,' soaked up our last bytes of free wifi, and began a 4.5 h drive...
August 20, 2018. Scottish sea shanties played boisterously over Seamus’s van stereo as we careened through Rogers Pass toward Glacier National Park of Canada. We were three: Nick, me (Erik), and Seamus - the third leg of our trio being a good friend from Newfoundland. Our destination was the crown jewel of the park: Mount Sir Donald, a striking 3,284 m peak that passes by the window of most as they whiz by on the Trans Canada Highway. A monolithic Matterhorn-like mountain, it rises well above its neighbours and is listed in Roper and Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America. Easily accessible from the park, its soaring Northwest Ridge route has a grade of 5.4 and calls out to novice and expert climbers alike.
Check out the video and click the "Read More" link for the full trip report!
Identical brick houses flank the gridded metropolitan streets of Southern Ontario. The horizon is confined to a few blocks. After living in Hamilton for five months, I (Nick) felt an inkling of suffocation, so I booked a plane ticket home to Newfoundland on a whim, and took a deep breath… is salt-spray in the air?
Friday, 16 February, 2018
My dorso-ventral girth is doubled with the addition of my hiking pack, and its brain rises a full six inches above my own. Crouching like a spelunker, I attempt the low-ceilinged staircase and manage to ascend eight steps before my ski bag rams the door at the top. I curse. Letting go of the carrying straps, I pinch the far end of the bag and advance to the top step. Reaching up, I twist the knob, flooding the passageway with light. Through eight or nine convoluted maneuvers, I finally make my escape from the basement.
Three flights and thirteen hours later, my beaming parents collect me from the bottom of the ‘Arrivals’ escalator in YYT. Dad’s jocular efforts to heft my baggage from the conveyor metastasize into a comedy of errors, drawing chuckles from onlookers. A warm welcome indeed.
We were on a roll.
Bathing in the ice-cold rush of the Chilliwack River and breathing in the alpine air of the Bugaboos had done amazing things to our climbing psyche. Barely a week into our August 2017 outing to British Columbia, Nick and I (Erik) were high off ascents of Mt. Slesse and the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower… and we were eager for more. In just a few days our trip would be over. Nick would start grad school; I would be continuing my own studies. But all that meant nothing if we could just fit in one more climb.
Thanks to our climbing friends Robert Jong and Andrew “Toba” Osnatch, we had seen images of the striking prow of Mt. Gimli’s South Ridge. It rises high among the peaks in Valhalla Provincial Park, a small alpine paradise in the splendid Kootenays of interior British Columbia. If an image is worth a thousand words, then an image of a featured mountain in the crystal alpine air of the Rockies is, to a climber, worth a thousand daydreams.
“My God… it’s beautiful… we should climb it… what’s the grade? Can I see the topo? Damn... look at it. What’s the approach like? What’s the recommended rack? How cold is it up there? Let’s go!!”
Monday, 21 August, 2017 - The Bugaboos
Fresh off our ascent of the glorious Northeast buttress of Mount Slesse, Erik, Toba, Jamie (another good friend from NL), and I (Nick) beelined it straight to Brisco, BC where we were eager to make the most of an auspicious alpine forecast at Bugaboo Provincial Park. For myself and Toba this was a return trip to the Bugaboos and we were ecstatic to get back to Applebee Dome campground during the best conditions of the year.
As luck would have it, we happened to time our arrival with a special astronomical event: a solar eclipse. We took it as a sign that the stars were aligning for our stint in the mountains.
Our ascent to Applebee dome coincided with the August 21 solar eclipse. At our latitude, the maximum coverage of the sun was around 85%.
Wednesday, 16 August, 2017 - Squamish Chief Campground
"It's no problem, we just have to make it to Chilliwack. I booked us two Greyhound tickets leaving Thursday at 10AM."
"Ok, so where's the Greyhound station?"
"Don't worry about it Erik... I'll just call Greyhound's customer service and ask them to have the bus pick us up in downtown Squamish. It's a 45 minute walk. Easy."
Friday, 18 August, 2017 - Highway 99
Soon enough, Erik and I forgot about our roadside trek. After all, we were finally on our way to Mount Slesse, the cynosure of our expedition, and nothing could stop us.
And then someone flipped the “On” switch in my brain. Under a title that read “What’s Next for the Choss Boys?” was a photo of the soaring North East Buttress of Mt. Slesse. The image was taken with impossible exactness, with every contrasting relief of the knife-blade North East Buttress etched in perfect detail. I shuddered in my Rubbermaid chair. The steep ridge led directly into a dark, ominous, black headwall of gneiss that towered above neighboring peaks. A plane had crashed into Mt. Slesse in the 1950s, exploding airplane fuselage and body parts all over the mountain, a history that added a sense of tacit foreboding. Nick said he was hoping to climb the peak next summer… “maybe.”
With that, the presentation was over, and a chapter was closed on the Choss Boys' epic adventures. Although I sensed a whole new chapter was just beginning…
This post is all about mine and Nick’s climbing adventures in British Columbia during August of 2017. It’s our “prequel,” highlighting some of the planning, training, and preparations that went into our two-week-long tear through the alpine that resulted in successful ascents of two "50 classics," and three stunning mountain summits. So “Read More” and jump into another season of Choss Boys adventures - and stay tuned for three follow-up stories featuring each of the mountains we climbed.
Throughout the trip and since we returned home to Newfoundland, the Choss Boys have had a couple opportunities to practice our public relation skills.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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