A long weekend and high pressure system aligning! In February! The weather gods were pleased with us last weekend.However, with the sky-rocketing temperatures we knew that big objectives were out, so we all (DanielJ, his buddy Matt, my gf Lindsay, and myself) took an extra day off work and headed to Mountain Lake Hut, just south of the Sky Pilot region on the Sea-to-Sky.
The curiosity of others who have used the roads to access abandoned (and active) mines behind Britannia and Furry Creek have caused the roads to be gated at all access points. We had debated creating a BCMC trip and getting the key for the gate for later in the Spring, but plans changed with the weather, and we figured a 12km road walk with snow gear and 4 days of food is good for the soul.
Saturday, February 6
We parked the trucks at the top of the Furry Creek Hill at 830AM keeping them in full view of the highway (and had no issues with break-ins). This was our second trip in a row to the North Shore Mountains, and after not being here for so long last year, I am always thrilled with how short the drive is!
Shortly after, we were geared up and ready to hit the road. The road is in perfect driving condition until km5, where a large wash has taken out a few hundred meters of road and another at km7 prevents any further vehicle travel. These brought us a weird sense of satisfaction – “At least we would be walking anyway!”
Around km5 Matt began questioning when we would be reaching the Hat Hilton – I guess communication hadn’t been the best – he was in for a longer day than bargained for!
Rotten snow started at km8, but we made good time to the end of the road, which is only a bit alder. It took us about 4.5 hours to reach the spur (more accurately about 13.5 km from highway versus bivouac 12.2 we found). From here, we attempted to find the spur road, but then opted to cut straight up. The next 300 m climb took us about 2 hours – with the others not having got out much this winter, Dan and I shared the trail breaking – an overall joyous experience.
Wind packed snow near the top of the spur gave us some relief and we reached old growth. This section was the only part we figured would be a bit sketchy with current conditions – a steep traverse to reach Wind Lake. We dropped off the end of the spur road.
Full on trench warfare began here. It took us over 3 hours to gain the next 3 km. Views of Howe Sound opened up though from below Wind Lake and a lovely sunset unfolded before us.
After taking a quick break from leading I look back at Dan, “I think you and I are the only ones still smiling.”
He glances back at the others out of earshot: “I know, I love this sh*t, I just didn’t want to tell the them!”.
After reaching Wind Lake, the terrain opens up and small rolling hills and plateaus lead to Mountain Lake.
With headlamps out we finally reach the Hut, which thankfully had a large windscoop and only required 10 minutes of digging – around the hut we measured a 300cm base in places. A welcome home for four tired bodies, we clambered inside and set to eating the copious amounts of food we had between us.
Excitement was high to have a look around the next day with good predicted weather for the area.
Sunday, February 7
We awoke to high clouds and decent views of Sky Pilot and Ledge across the valley, but soon we were engulfed by light clouds which would persist for the rest of the day and into the evening. Every so often we would get icy rain or sometimes small snow flurries, but mostly just mist.
We set out for the day regardless and headed back across Mountain Lake and back up to the large plateau south of the lake. From here we turned NE and followed the ridge above Condor Lake (Ben Vorlich and Ben Avon Peaks in Bivouac database).
Despite the lack of views the ridge was fun to travel on and offered many diversions into mature sub alpine forest, with massive trees, and the odd bit of steep snow to climb. The return was fun with much sliding to be done, but overall a short day and we were back in the Hut early.
Clouds stayed over us the whole night, but the company in the Hut was more than enough to make up for the bad weather.
Monday, February 10
Finally! We awoke to bluebird skies and awesome views of the Sky Pilot group, Mt Sheer, and down to Howe Sound. The peaks on the western side of the sound were draped with cloud until later in the morning, but Sedgewick dominated the view west as the day progressed.
We ate a quick breakfast and headed out to do some exploring. We crossed Mountain Lake to the ridge at it’s northern end for our first views into the Pinecone Area and the Coquitlam-Pitt Divide.
Mesliloet was prominent all day behind Bagpipe peak – can’t wait to get there this spring.
From here we returned to the broad plateau south of the lake and climbed the 1630m highpoint SE of the plateau (Ben Lui Peak).
With insanely warm temperature and blue skies all about we lounged on the peak for a few hours.
The North Shore Peaks looked quite rugged with their winter coats.
Views opened up towards Mamquam and Garibaldi ranges as well.
The summit had a small plateau and views of Red Mountain, Ben Lomond and Omer Lake were plentiful.
Just further along the ridge, the 20m higher Ben More beckoned, but with the warm conditions, no safe route could be seen to the summit, and we were satisfied for the day.
The entire Sky Pilot group and Sheer were visible. Ledge looks particularly fun from the south.
A summit panorama looking north and east from Ben Lui (1630m).
After tearing ourselves from the awesome views, we sauntered down to the ridge between Wind Lake and Bingham Lake for some more views of Howe Sound – a recommended stop and only minutes from the summer trail.
The backdrop of Sky Pilot never gets old as we turn and head back to the hut. Lindsay reads in the sun and we dry some gear and have a snack.
Dan and I head back out to the plateau east of Condor Lake to take in the sunset, while Lindsay and Matt stay at the cabin.
No matter though, it is awesome from everywhere and the alpenglow on the surrounding peaks does not disappoint.
A solid day topped off with some Apple Cobbler and more hot chocolate than one would think necessary for four people.
Tuesday, February 11
Matt needed to be back in Chilliwack by the afternoon and Lindsay wanted an early day as well, so we were up and out of the Hut by 740AM. We took a bit of the mouldy garbage and hammered a few nails in the roof, but all in all the hut is in great shape. (The outhouse has a broken window that is patched with poly and required some digging out). We were the first entry this year at the Hut.
The early wake-up allowed us better views of the dawn light on Sky Pilot than the day before.
We made insanely good time when compared to our first day. Although we had broken an awesome sets of tracks the previous days to make this day easier, there was no need, as despite the temperatures, the snow was supportive until we dropped below Wind Lake.
The boulder field was crossed quickly despite the snow conditions, but the steep forest again slowed our pace – we stayed higher this time and ended up dropping down on the road, much preferred to our original route.
Much cursing and a few big holes ensued before reaching the road though.
From here, the spur was ankle twisting hard crust that grabbed snowshoes with each step, but we still made it back to the road with out any hiccups and had the snowshoes off within an hour and a half of leaving the top of the spur. 6 hours total back to the highway – we only saw two other people: on the walk back to the trucks, out supposedly for some pictures of Capilano (of which the road offers great views).
A great trip into some new (for us) terrain so close to home with views of familiar peaks. Unfortunately the conditions prevented us from attempting some of the steeper peaks, but a great time exploring and relaxing was had by all. I will for sure return in the Spring and Summer at some point!
Got to love those views of Howe Sound!