John, Anita and I left Squamish, British Columbia for a week in the Tantalus Range in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. This was my first time in this mountain range and Canada's climbing mecca Squamish, British Columbia. Squamish is a great little town on the west coast an hour north of Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky highway. It's home to the famous Squamish Chief, a granite wall second only to Yosemite in California. Due to the difficulty in accessing the Tantalus Range we opted to fly out of the Squamish Airfield aboard a Bell 206 Jetranger chartered from Black Tusk Helicopter Inc. I eagerly waited for John to pick me up from the lobby of the Mountain Retreat Hotel for our 7:00 AM flight. We were lucky the helicopter was available as most were being used by the Ministry of Natural Resources to fight the many forest fires in BC that year. As I waited for John I sat on a bench outside the hotel staring at cases of beer behind the locked doors of the attached wine shop thinking, damn, if we're flying in I should have brought a case with me to base camp. Good thing John had the same thought.
After landing on the Serratus Glacier at the Red Tit Col we set up base camp. Anita and I had brought our own tents while John made home in the Red Tit Hut, a 1960s looking fiberglass dome in the shape of, well, a tit. The hut was full of holes and had a mouse for a room mate but John had slept in worse and was quite comfortable. We enjoyed the beautiful weather practicing crevasse rescue and fall arrest skills before turning in for the night.
Ascending the Ice
We left camp at 6:00 AM after a quick breakfast. After roping up we began by walking east down the Serratus Glacier to the base of the North Face. This meant descending about 500' while either avaoiding or crossing the many crevasses on the route. This summer the glacier was extremely dry so identifying where crevasses were and the strength of any snow bridges we wanted to cross was relatively easy. We took turns in the lead and John kept encouraging me to cross as many as I could for two reasons. First, it's the quickest way to complete the climb. Second, because I had yet to fall into one which John desperately want me to do (ha ha). We also passed beneath a large icefall which, as evident by the number of new rocks on top of the glacier, had seen recent activity.
At the base of the North Face Anita lead up around a rock buttress separating the face from the icefall. This section was heavily crevassed but she quickly found an easy route through. Up the 40 degree ice we climbed until be reached the bergschrund where we took our first break. The weather was still gorgeous and the view of the Coast Mountains from up high was spectacular. Continuing I lead through the berg back onto the North Face and belayed Anita while John and I shot the shit about other climbs until the rope when tight. After Anita failed to answer several calls John down climbed to find she had fallen through a snow bridge inside the berg but was able to climb out. We continued up the neve snow until we reached a break in the ice revealing a rock band. John led up through the easy rock section and back onto the alpine ice and Anita and I followed. From there it was steeper 50 degree neve to the East Ridge.
To the Summit
High on the East Ridge We took another short break to take off a layer in the hot sun. The ridge was composed of the most broken rock I have ever seen. Making my way along the ridge chucks of rock were breaking off in my hands at the slightest touch and I was worried about knocking a large section down onto Anita. We continued ascending the ridge until we made the summit where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the range and Lake Lovely Water far below. We ate lunch and talked about theh climb, other climbs and whatever was happening in our lives up to that point.
The descent for this mountain is down a couloir off the southwest spur. We down climbed the first 300 feet until it was to steep. We set up a series of rappels next down the couloir off of natural rock features. Prior to each rappel we trundled larges rocks down to clear away any loose stuff. We reached a section of alpine ice that was easy to descend but again the ice ran out and we were back rappelling the rock. At one point I rapped over a vertical section going down about 25' and what I saw horrified me. The entire couloir was comprised of huge 10-20' boulders all of which were being held back by three specifically positioned large rocks. Standing at the base of the rap I tried not to think about the consequences of what would happen should they let go. John encouraged me to keep going as far as I could without a rope while he and Anita rapped down. I was able to downclimb onto another section of ice that lead to the Ionia-Serratus Col. From there we quickly crossed the glacial ice back to camp. John, a very experienced climber and guide, said it was the worst descent he had ever come down. Of course pictures never do a climb justice, you had to be there.