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Saturday, March 4, 2023
Decker Mountain - East Ridge via Decker Glacier, March 2022
Third time touring Decker zone but first time on tippy top. As with Blackcomb Peak, The Spearhead and arguably Phalanx Mountain, this is low hanging fruit for the WB slackcountry set. Across Blackcomb Glacier, up 'n over East Col and up Decker Glacier, this is a local classic that unsurprisingly sees a lot of traffic. Expect outstanding views, a variety of ski descent options/variations and generally casual vibe.
Following in the footsteps of my previous tour, I skinned up to near a prominent notch in the East Ridge, ditched my gear and completed the ascent on foot. A better option appears to be to contour around a prominence an the end of the East Ridge then traverse the south slopes to the summit. Either way, it makes for a fine outing with outstanding views and never too far away from civilization. Wind hammered snow aside, it's all gravy here. Oh, and speaking of snow conditions, consider giving a late afternoon return via the refrozen mank in Body Bag Bowl a miss and instead head back up 'n over East Col and ski the groomed down Glacier Road. As always, no better way to wind 'er down than apres at Dublin Gate. Love that place!
This one saw a fair bit of attention in February and March last year following a post on SWBC Peak Baggers describing it as great snow hike with good FSR access, minimal brush, reasonable stats, and excellent views. My ears instantly perked up when I got wind of this, being that such outings, especially those reasonably close to home are increasingly in short supply for me. With a guaranteed track to follow and good weather in the forecast, I seized the opportunity to sample this peakbagging flavor of the month.
Turning off pavement near Mission, access to the trailhead is via the same Lost Creek FSR used for Mount Saint Benedict, except one follows the FSR several kilometers further towards Salisbury Lake. Potholes got annoying for the final km or two and lingering snow meant 4x4 or SUVs with decent clearance only. The first ~6km follows an old forest road, initially free of alders and snow and interrupted by a couple stream crossings. Just as the alders started to become annoying, snow coverage became continuous and helped to keep the brush at bay. Easy cruise now on snow all the way to the base of Statlu's SW Face and the start of steeper climbing. Following tracks, I turned off the forest road and started up towards the forested ridge crest above. Snow eventually became too steep and firm for snowshoes, so I swapped out for crampons and ice axe and continued up. Encountered a twosome returning from the summit near here - they seemed a bit disoriented and were relieved to see me, knowing that they now had my tracks to follow back down. Could have done without the lecture on hiking solo though...I wasn't the one lost up there after all. But I digress.
Snow got quite steep and firm for the final bit to the ridge, occasionally punching through to rock and tree wells. Continued up now in open forest to reach the last of the trees at a steep step. Up this and onto more gentle slopes with the rest of the route now laid out before me. Quite an aesthetic looking ridge crest from this vantage point and the inspiration behind my coming here in the first place. I could see tracks leading up a series of gentle steps to the summit, with a party of three about 2/3rds of the way there. I motored up, grateful for the tracks especially now in the deep powder snow. The threesome vacated the summit just before I arrived, leaving it for me to enjoy all to myself. Damn good viewpoint up there I tell you, especially of Robie Reid and the "Judge", the Chehalis Group, and Stave Lake with Mount Crickmer rising behind. Pretty sure I could identify St. Benedict from up there as well and couldn't help but think how much better of an objective Statlu is as compared to its more popular neighbor. But then I'm sure the brush can get bad here once all the snow has melted. Back to the truck without incident for a very manageable 13-14 km and about 4000 ft of total vert. Sure, it's got a short window, but timed right Statlu makes for a fine day out!
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!
A relatively popular ski and snowshoe objective in the near backcountry of Squamish, Anif Peak is a good choice for those seeking a winter summit with excellent views but without the need for driving very far. Clocking in at about 16 km round trip and ~4000 ft of gain, depending on where one parks, the route is mostly a FSR hike followed by a series of steep steps up from a col to reach a short but aesthetic quasi snow arete for the finish. Approached via a rough road that branches right off Mamquam FSR about 3 km past the signed Stawamus FSR junction, the crux of the outing seems to be how high one can drive before being stopped by snow. For me, this happened shortly after the very first switchback, a scant four tenths of a kilometer from the main road.
It is a rather uninteresting plod until reaching a large clearcut area on the broad NW Slopes of Mount Mulligan and from where an unexpectedly expansive vista of the Squamish Valley and peaks to the west and north comes into view. From here it's just a short walk to the headwaters of Ray Creek, where the road finally ends. From there, a short steep pitch leads up a headwall to reach the Mulligan-Anif Col. Mulligan bound parties will want to turn left here, but as I had no interest in its lower treed summit, I turned right towards Anif instead. As mentioned, a series of steep steps punctuate Anif's lower NE ridge, ending finally at a sharp crest with the true summit at its southern end. A gaggle of hikers was already up there as I crested the ridge and so waited for them to vacate the area before proceeding to the highpoint. Pretty darn good views for such an otherwise lowly peak! Great perspective on the Mountain Lake area and Sky Pilot Group to the south, Sedgewick and the Tantalus Range to the west, northwest up the Squamish Valley with icefields and peaks on the Ashlu-Squamish Divide beyond, Garibaldi and Mamquam to the northeast, and finally the Seed Peak Group and Meslilloet to the east and southeast. Reasonable stats, fun finish, great views, short drive - can't ask for much more!