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Thursday, January 26, 2023
Alpen Mountain - West Route via Mamquam FSR, February 2022
Across the valley traversed by Raffuse Creek and just under 5 kilometers as the crow flies east of the recently bagged by yours truly, Anif Peak, lies Alpen Mountain. Same as Anif, getting there requires driving up Mamquam FSR an additional ~3 km to a spur. The similarities do not end there, being that both are popular Squamish-area winter objectives with comparable KMs and vert, and feature the same monotonous snow-covered FSR walk for most of the approach. Both routes are also finished with a short but aesthetic summit ridge from where similar views are to be had. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but as a relatively "safe" objective not too far from civilization, it fit the bill for this solo peakbagger looking to capitalize on a sunny late February day.
Parked about 3.5 KM up the "Raffuse" FSR after which icy conditions made driving any further foolish. Commence the boring plod, soon reaching continuous snow for the remainder of the way to eventually reach semi-open terrain beneath a subsummit west of Alpen proper. Some apparently proceed up and over this subsummit, whereas I found it more efficient to traverse below it and in short order into Alpen's West Bowl. Crossed the bowl to reach the relative security of trees on the right skyline, then zigzagged up the West Face, kicking steps in steep snow overlying rock slabs shortly below the summit. Having reached a shallow saddle in the ridge, I grabbed my ice axe and turned right for a short but fun walk over to the summit proper. Stellar 360-degree views of deep valleys, striking peaks and glaciers near and far! Many familiar names, many more unknown to me - a stunning mountainscape pregnant with possibilities! All in, maybe 15 km and 6 to 7 hours round-trip, making for a very manageable and worthwhile day in the 'Squampton' backwoods!
Phalanx Mountain - Stairmaster Coulior/Poop Chutes, February 2022
A classic among the Whistler-Blackcomb "slackcountry" ski tours, this features travel over the Blackcomb, Spearhead and Phalanx Glaciers, an ascent of the aesthetic Stairmaster Coulior and an exhilarating finish via the notorious Poop Chutes to the Glacier Road piste. We'd done variations of this tour over the years - Husume Coulior, Corona Bowl - but never up and over Phalanx and down the 'chutes, which up till this day remained high on our tick list. It was also with a fair amount of trepidation that either of us committed to riding out this way in the first place, having witnessed the aftermath of large avalanches throughout the area so many times over the years. Needless to say, stable conditions are essential to pulling this tour off safely, particularly the final descent. If in doubt, one can always punt down the lower-angled Phalanx Glacier instead, crossing back over in the relative safety of trees on the lower North Ridge. But we'd timed this one right and so kept our eyes fixed on the prize...or so we thought.
While the risk of avalanches was relatively low, I hadn't counted on such icy conditions, especially the lower Poop Chutes. I suppose I should have seen this coming, as it was close to -20 C out and the skin out from the backcountry gate was challenging right off the bat. Also, a bit of a sketchy descent from Spearhead, quickly forgotten thanks to a nice long run in glorious pow down the glacier. Skinned back up at the flats and began the traverse over towards the apron below the coulior. Then finally, up the Stairmaster bootpack to the notch between Phalanx's two summits, tagging both for good measure and feasting our eyes on the outstanding views. Didn't linger for long as the wind was making us miserable, and we were a bit nervous about what came next. Scooted out along the North Ridge to the drop in point and sighted our line. Fatty goes first as they say, so off I go with Agata hanging back to watch. Just a couple inches of fresh over a smooth but firm base, not quite dust-on-crust and certainly nothing to worry about. We leapfrog down to the top of the dogleg, at which point the snow turned to solid ice making for long slides between turns. Agata had a bit of drama here having lost her edge, coming to a stop at the last second just above a cliff. Some tense moments as she carefully inched her way back to the safety of the chute, after which it was all gravy down to the groomed run and straight to the Dublin Gate for a shot of Jameson with a Harp chaser to help calm the nerves! Slainte!