Pictures by Lee Lau and Jonathan Armstrong
Jonathan and I had been getting pretty stoked for spring traverse season in the Coast Mountains and had already talked about some fantastic trip ideas. With his impending lengthy time off in April and my always-flexible work schedule, we were hoping that high-pressures would park over our neck of the woods and give us the chance to get up high into glaciers. The forecast for the next few days looked mildly favourable – but not great. So I was a bit intimidated when Jonathan said we should try to bust out a traverse of the McBride Range and squeeze that into four days. Without much advance warning or planning or much time to look at maps, we decided to keep our plans flexible and head to Whistler to see how things shook out.
Whistler parking lot
Our plans were to keep an eye on weather and either do a reverse Spearhead with peak-bagging or do a quick and fast McBride Traverse. We both packed enough gear for 5 days out and held our breath as we rode the chairlifts up to what looked like thin patchy cloud.
Whistler Peak – temporary whiteout hopefully
As we continued past the Peak, to Flute and then to Oboe, the weather started to get better. We discussed setting up camp near Benvolio-Fitzsimmons if the weather looked poor (for a Spearhead traverse) or a camp at the bottom of the Diavolo Glacier past Detour Ridge (if things looked good for a McBride attempt).
Flute – what was once the boundary
Foot repair on Flute
Nice views of our hoped-for destinations down Oboe
Shots of the N face of Mt Davidson
N Face of Hour Peak
Pano of the second half of the McBride Traverse
My continued obsession with the relatively unknown peaks of the McBride Range kept haunting me. This range is relatively close to Whistler. However, it is visited by very few parties each year (especially in contrast to the Spearhead – Fitzsimmons Range). Its terrain is complex, glaciated and navigation is tricky.
At many times you are very far from possible help and retreating from the traverse is reputedly quite difficult. All these thoughts kept us in discussions as we made our way through the familiar terrain near Fissile, then Whirlwind and up to Overlord. Visibility started going to pot at the Benvolio Glacier and we had a bit of an exciting whiteout navigation exercise skirting the big mother-of-all cornices off the Benvolio-Fitzsimmons col. We then descended to Fitzsimmons’s SE chute following nice landmarks of rocks through some very surprisingly nice knee-deep powder.
Some freshies down the Benvolio Glacier
More freshies down the glacier just below Fitzsimmons’s SE chutes
The cloud breaks down the Diavolo Glacier
The route down the Benvolio and Diavolo Glaciers gave us a sweet 800m powder shot. Unfortunately near the bottom half of the glacier we ran into big piles of slide debris from the Easter long weekends natural slide cycle. Fortunately visibility then started getting better again as the sun danced out of the clouds.
This convinced both Jonathan and I that it would be a crime to not give the McBride a shot. Skiing through slide-debris on the Diavolo Glacier turned out to be good training for the days to come.
A large icefall and serac outcroppings on the central Diavolo Glacier
Jonathan drops into the Diavolo Glacier
Jonathan approaching the base of the Diavolo Glacier and upper Cheakamus Creek
View looks back to the Diavolo Glacier and the Iago Glacier (from L to R) from upper Cheakamus Creek
View looks to the east section of the McBride traverse from upper Cheakamus Creek
We got into camp to breathtaking views of the first half of the McBride traverse and the Spearhead Traverse, which we had just left. Inspiring views, ready access to water and nice winter camping temperatures – we were both pretty stoked and felt more then ready for our mission.
Lee preparing a kitchen at camp
Day 1’s route – not bad for an afternoon start
Day 1’s elevation profile