Spearhead Traverse - April 2004
(Adapted with consent from Eric Hoffman's version of events.)
Likened by some as the North America's equivalent to the Houte Route in the Swiss Alps, the Spearhead Traverse is a classic and highly popular ski traverse in BC's South Coast Mountains. Named after the Spearhead Range, the route makes a wide "U" shaped traverse over the glaciers that comprise both the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons Ranges. Most parties, including ours, begin the traverse at the Blackcomb ski area and end at the Whistler ski area.
After spending the night with relatives in North Vancouver, I drove on to the Starbucks in Squamish for an 11:00am rendezvous with Jerry Sanchez, Bo Lalovic and Eric Hoffman. After an over-priced cup of coffee and some last minute supplies from the IGA, we were off to Whistler Village. We paid dearly to park in a garage beneath the Holiday Inn, believing that our vehicles and their contents would be more secure there. Free overnight parking, is (or was) apparently available at Day Parking - Lot 4. All geared-up, we left the cool parking garage for the hot (it must have been close to 80 degrees out), awkward walk over to Whistler Guest Services. There were numerous curious glances cast upon us by the crowds milling about the village square.
We picked up a one-ride lift ticket at Guest Services ($30 CAD + tax) near the Whistler Village gondola (be prepared to present a beacon and a shovel). From there we took Blackcomb's Excalibur gondola, Excellerator chair, Glacier Express chair and the Showcase t-bar to reach the Blackcomb Glacier. There was a minor snafu on the short descent from the Excellerator chair where we lost Eric (I was busy trying to herd an overzealous Jerry down the correct piste). We stood around in the sweltering heat in front of the Crystal hut for about 20 minutes before Eric showed up again (I think he just wanted to sneak in an extra run). It was after 3:00pm when we finally traversed the Blackcomb Glacier and started the short hike up to Blackcomb's East Col.
I was relieved to now be officially in the backcountry where the gear I was schlepping didn't look so out of place. From the col, we made a long descending traverse to the Decker Glacier, doing our best to not interfere with the cameraman filming boarders launching off a huge backcountry booter. We skinned up the glacier and crossed the NE Shoulder of Decker Mountain (c.7300'). We then booted down a steep, mushy gully (only Bo dared ski it) to reach the flats of the Trorey Glacier. Alternatively, one can go over the +7800' high-point east of Decker then traverse high on the Trorey glacier. We reached a notch on the North Ridge of Mt. Pattison (c.7700') at about 5:30 and decided to camp there for the night.
After a night of snoring (it wasn't Eric or me) and Jerry's leaky Therm-a-Rest, we decided to make a push for the Russet Lake hut and got off to an early (?) start the next day...somewhere around 10:00am. We descended from the notch onto the Tremor glacier (someone had stomped the words "later boys" on the glacier flats), noting ski tracks on the steep Northwest Face of Tremor Mountain. The 1000' ascent to the Tremor-Shudder saddle (c.8500') was one of the longer ones on the traverse. From the saddle we made a short descending traverse onto the Platform Glacier and stopped for a snack and to take in the incredible views. The latter half of the traverse is viewable from here, as is the entire Fitzsimmons watershed area including the impressive Fitzsimmons Glacier.
After a quick lunch, we skinned to the col between The Ripsaw and Quiver Peak (c.8500'). We allowed ourselves a short side-trip to tag The Ripsaw's summit. 200 feet of boot packing then brought us back up to a shallow notch (c.8100') in an adjacent ridge. From the notch, we descended a short bit, and then made a mostly level traverse across the incredibly wide and flat Naden Glacier to the col between Mount Macbeth and Couloir Ridge (c.7900). By the time we reached the col, fast moving day-trippers had caught us. In fact, the only folks we would encounter on the traverse were day-trippers! I suppose the host at Guest Services truly meant it when she said "the thing these days is to do it in a day".
We descended the Macbeth Glacier (a nice ski!) to about 7300' where we exited to a ridge at skier's left. The route continues up the ridge for a few hundred yards, traverses the Iago Glacier (cornices looming above) and ascends to another shallow notch (c.8000'), immediately East of Mount Iago. From the notch, we made another enjoyable descent onto the Diavolo Glacier. At the Diavolo Glacier flats, we chatted briefly with a friendly local who suggested that we continue the route by going over Mount Benvolio's summit ridge (c.8600'), which he described as the standard route. Little did we know what lay in store for us, but suffice to say, an attitude adjustment made that brutal 1400' ascent somewhat bearable. The local referred to this portion of the route as "Bonk Hill" - we soon found out why. Most of the day-trippers, I noticed, took a route variation and cut-short their ascent of the Diavolo Glacier by aiming for the prominent Benvolio-Fitzsimmons Col.
From the top of Benvolio, we descended a wide, low-angled slope (I linked my first ever splitboard ski turns here) then traversed the east and north sides of Overlord Mountain via the upper Benvolio and Fitzsimmons Glaciers. Here, the day-tripper tracks from the col merged with ours as we approached the North Ridge of Overlord Mountain. At 8200' on Overlord's North Ridge, looking down over the vast Overlord Glacier with a looming wall of snow and ice hanging above and avi debris littered below, I made haste and assembled my board for the descent. We then traversed the Overlord Glacier to a flat below Whirlwind Peak.
After a short skin up to the Whirlwind-Fissile Saddle we found ourselves looking down the final slope leading to the Russet Lake Hut. Jerry was first to ski that glorious afternoon corn slope. The pint of Canadian Club I had lugged around up until this point was devoured almost instantly. Eric and I agreed to set up the tent once more in order to avoid the snoring that would surely take place in the hut that night. The following morning we all headed back up toward Whirlwind Peak and the Overlord Glacier to do some skiing/boarding sans heavy pack. Much powder and corn was harvested!
We returned to the hut around 3:00pm and packed up for the remaining grunt back over the "Musical Bumps" to the Harmony/Symphony Bowl area of Whistler Mountain. After a short ascent from the lake we had an enjoyable ski down to Singing Pass, followed by a much less enjoyable ascent up Oboe, the eastern most of the "Musical Bumps". When snow levels are low, the Singing Pass Trail may be a quicker alternative by which one can return to Whistler Village. There was a short descent to the saddle between Oboe and Flute summit before we were climbing back up again. We traversed around the north side of the Flute to a small saddle (c.6300') where we could see Whistler's "Burnt Stew" boundary trail. One last unpleasant decent through tracked-out, re-freezing corn, followed by a short boot pack back up to the runs and we were home free. The groomers had left a single track of some much-appreciated corduroy-corn on the runs for most of the descent back to Whistler Village.
We slid into Whistler Base at about 7:00pm and again became the subject of tourist curiosity. This time I didn't care, for directly across from us was the "Longhorn Saloon" where ample quantities of food and beer would help me re-integrate myself back into society. All in all, the Spearhead Traverse fully lives up to its reputation - a true classic! I would encourage any fit backcountry skier to consider doing it in a day. Now, who's up for the McBride Traverse??
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