A Tale of Three Glaciers; Blackcomb/Spearhead/Phalanx Glacier - Feb 10, 2006
After a record-breaking snow month in January it wasn't such a bad thing to have a high pressure sit over SouthWestern BC and give us a chance to tour in sun. First time I've used the sunglasses in a while. Since Blackcomb is alpine terrain and usually a meaningful tour there requires viz, we decided to head to Blackcomb and bag some glaciers.
First I had to remind myself that groomers and crowds are not my thing.
Coverage is good on the bootpack up to the Blackcomb Glacier and even in the Blowhole. Corona Bowl and Husume look good but with this weather I would guess lots of people are heading up there and we didn't want to deal with crowds.
A few people are out early but we manage to beat most of them to Spearhead Col.
From the strong SE winds scouring most slopes and the warm temps, it's pretty apparent that good snow conditions aren't going to be easy to find. Great views will be the order of the day. This looks south east from Spearhead Col to the Spearhead Range.
From Spearhead Col here come the hordes pouring out of the Blackcomb backcountry gates.
How's this for product placement? Deuter packs rock!
Some people work their way up to Don't Swill. We're in an exploration mood and check out a chute entrance to the Spearhead Glacier. The approach is pretty exposed and not confidence-inspiring. The chute is wind-scoured, rocky and generally pretty lousy so we back off to try another entrance.
The SE faces heading down to Circle Lake are their usual crap snow. I hate this pitch; 9 out of 10 times its junk and a waste of elevation. This time its both wind-scoured and sun-crusted. Junk Junk Junk. Sharon skis this pitch so we can get to another traverse to an alternate entry to the Spearhead.
Bootpacking to the alternate entrance. The Decker Glacier behind looks in fine shape.
A large guided group drops into Don't Swill. It looks like the slots at the bottom are all filled in so it's good to go .... once you get your number and line up.
Like I said, the views were great, the skiing mediocre. So here are some mountain shots. First the south end of the Spearhead Glacier; Phalanx to the left (N) and Wedge to the right (NE). Map is here
A view of Wedge from the Spearhead Glacier.
Small crown off a SW aspect. No idea how old this crown is.
We have to look hard for decent snow for some boot-top turns. NW slopes will do as the SE winds deposit some dust on the wind-scoured crust. NW slopes are also not too badly sun-affected.
Another view - this time from the NE ridge of the Spearhead Glacier looking down on some nice skiable - if slightly wind-crusted slopes. This view looks NW - lots of people heading to Husume and to Corona.
About 20 cms of facets at the top of the NE ridge at the base of some wind-sheltered rocks. We didn't bother digging a pit as conditions were bomber. Must have been quite the TG in the last few days for this to happen.
Incredible views of the Spearhead Range today - this view from atop the NE ridge of the Spearhead looking SSE.
NW slopes ski the best today. This short stretch goes down to the north end of the Spearhead Glacier.
We drop into the alpine to the heli-ski tenure north of the Spearhead Glacier. This area is quite a playground with chutes, open bowls and then some sparse trees as we approach treeline. Also quite a few cliffs and objective hazards like convexities and cornices above tempting bowls. I put this pretty shabby stitched pano in just as a record of the area so next time we're there we can plan gnar sessions.
Maps are deceiving. This terrain is very complex; it takes us 2 hours to cover 500 m of elevation to traverse the Phalanx Glacier and to gain the saddle overlooking the Blackcomb Glacier to drop into the Poop Chutes. Wind-scoured traverses - glad we had ski crampons.
Poop Chutes were terrible skiing. West facing slopes are wind-scoured but stable. Just as we got to the saddle the winds picked up gusting to 60 - 100kmh; the mountains wanted us out of there and we obliged.