Monday, August 22, 2011

Climbing a mountain, or two.

At 1350 metres in elevation and six kilometres in, after having carried a 40-pound backpack through switchbacks for the last two-and-a-half hours, the pain in your shoulders becomes almost numb. The first three kilometres is a struggle; not yet in your element, with every step up towards your destination your legs shake. Your hips, where the waist straps of your bag sit, are aching and in connection with your hip flexers are sending signals to your brain saying, "Sit down, now." Still, you can't. If you sit, you won't get up. And if you won't get up, you won't see what you and your friends are determined to see, even if it takes all of your might to see it.

The Barrier lava dam as viewed from 1300 metres. Click
on the photos for a detailed view.
Last weekend myself, Ben, Jess Moir and Jamison Herron - after having spent far too much time in the city - felt it was time to hike into Garibaldi Park. Halfway between Squamish and Whistler, the park is one such area that is difficult to find words to describe. Not many people are aware it even exists, as most usually rush past it to get to Whistler. We packed our bags: emergency blanket, long johns, toque, sweater, extra sweater, hikers, socks, extra socks, toothbrush, can of beans, trail mix, sunscreen. Trying to prepare yourself for an overnight hike, without overpacking, is a challenge I haven't quite mastered. Trying to do so when you've heard there is still 2 metres of snow at the camp where you're headed, is even more troublesome.

Not deterred, however, we began or ascent up the mountain, passing fellow hikers (or in my case, being passed) - some hiking in, others hiking out. We made our way past the six-K mark, and then to The Barrier. For my fellow geography buffs, The Barrier needs no explanation. Still, it is such a remarkable remnant of the changing earth that it deserves attention. The Barrier is a lava dam that retains Garibaldi Lake. According to my good friend Wikipedia (and my knowledge collected last year from a Geography field trip), its thickness is 300 metres and is 2 kilometres wide. The volcano responsible for the flow is Mount Price, and more specifically, Clinker Peak (a west vent of Mount Price). At the time of eruption (9,000 years ago) a glacier existed in the Cheakamus River valley and the lava flow halted against it to form the barrier.

The area below The Barrier is extremely dangerous, so much so that the village of Garibaldi (below it) was relocated. It's possible that The Barrier could collapse following an earthquake or another event. Seeing it in its entirety was tremendous.

Finally at Garibaldi Lake, where we stopped to view the lake
trout and indulge in our finally arriving.
Past The Barrier, it's another 2.5 kilometres to Garibaldi Lake and the campsite. The hike in from this point is beautiful - crystal clear lake water, streams and then the turquoise blue of Lake Garibaldi. Was there snow like what we had read? Absolutely. So much, in fact, that we had to trek around in search of a site that was snow-free, and upon failing, Ben and Jamison dug out a snow pit for our two tents. We ate lunch, unpacked, went for a walk and then spent the next few hours making dinner, playing cribbage, and recuperating from the 9.5 kilometer hike-in. Whiskeyjack (Gray Jay) birds were landing on our hands, and chipmunks were sitting at our feet. The rainbow trout swam in the lake. There was no sign that just hours before we had been surrounded by concrete and high-rises.

The following morning, after spending a cold, rainy night on the ground, surrounded by snow and wrapped in our sleeping bags like caterpillars in their cocoons, we were up and began our next hike. Garibaldi Park offers endless hiking opportunities and deciding which ridge to climb or mountain to conquer is more difficult that the venture itself (figuratively speaking). Thanks to Ben's topographic map, we decided on Mount Price for its yet unexplored territory (Jamison had already climbed the Black Tusk).

We did a bit of bushwhacking before finding the not-so-beaten trail in some crowded and rocky forest on the south-west portion of the lake near Battleship Islands. At first not even sure we were going anywhere (for our lack of knowledge about the trailhead), we quickly began hiking, not quite sure of where we were headed, excluding the moment when Ben pointed out, "We're going up there!" Marked only by flagging tape and a few faded footprints in the snow, we hiked towards Mount Price.

Mount Price and its vent, Clinker Peak (left and right); Jess and
Ben with a view of Garibaldi Lake in the background, and an old lava flow.
The hike mainly exists along the ridge of an old lava flow and partially through the flow itself. We zig-zagged through a basalt rock field that once would have been a solid flow of lava, now broken up after hundreds and thousands of years of weathering processes. The view from the ridge of Garibaldi Lake, and the surrounding landscape including Panorama Ridge, was a site to see.

Further up the ridge along the 4 kilometre ascent we encountered a colossal amount of snow. This past winter blanketed Garibaldi Park with so much white stuff the potential for colourful wild flowers was burried deep beneath. Instead, we gathered ourselves walking sticks and remained on top of the snow as we continued on our exploration.

As we reached the bottom of Clinker Peak, I noticed red streaks in the snow. Jamison informed me that what looked to be red spray paint was actually red algae, or watermelon snow. The algae, which is green algae with a "secondary red carotenoid pigment" thrives in freezing water and is common during summertime at alpine elevations.

Hiking in the snow towards Clinker Peak; Jamison, Jess and
Ben making their way upwards, and myself taking in the view.
Now on the ridge of Clinker Peak (reminder: this is where the flow that created The Barrier came from) the volcanic eruptions of its past became distinct. The direction of the lava flows heading towards The Barrier and into Garibaldi Lake, were easy to distinguish and even more remarkable from such a high elevation (1900 metres). The volcanic igneous rock beneath our feet, included Andesite, Basalt, and Pumice, was a geologist's dream come true. Reds, blacks, oranges, a rainbow of rock types. And the view from the summit of Clinker Peak of Garibaldi Lake was so vast that you simply cannot capture it in a 24 mm wide lens. At this point we ascended up a snow field and the view was so breathtaking that the aches in my legs were virtually non-existent.

Nearing the top of Clinker Peak, and Ben with the beginning of an incredible landscape.
Once at the top of Clinker Peak, we walked down into a concave between the peak and Mount Price. It was here, upon climbing towards the pinnacle of Mount Price, that the true limitless of Garibaldi Park set in.

Jamison and I heading into the concave dip before climbing
to Mount Price; Ben with the most incredible view.
To the southeast of us came into view The Table, the Warren Glacier, Garibaldi Neve and Mount Garibaldi. The Table (seen to Ben's left in the bottom photo) sits at 2,021 metres and formed beneath the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Behind The Table is Mount Garibaldi - for all intents and purposes - an active stratovolcano. At 2675 metres in elevation, the volcano is concealed by glacial snow. Even now, these photos do not do the landscape justice. "Wow. Wow. Wow." It's all I could muster up to say.

Minutes later, after digging through and picking up large chunks of Pumice, we made it to the top of Mount Price. A flat, rounded summit, Mount Price was by far the best choice for a hike. A 360 degree view from the peak (at 2052 metres) showed Garibaldi Lake, Panorama Ridge, lava flows and the glacier kingdom of Garibaldi Park.

No words. Just splendor.
We weren't at the peak for more than a half hour before the blue sky gave way to ominous clouds. As we explored the top, gray cloud moved into the mountain and concern about ill-tempered weather had us packing up and heading down. What was a steep and slippery climb through snow and rock on the way up turned into a fun slip-and-slide ride on our rain coats as we descended. No walking necessary - we wrapped our jackets beneath our bums and slid down the mountain. I may have had a little too much fun, but it's not every day you get to play in the snow in the middle of August.

Two hours later we were back at camp, packed up, and making our way down the dreaded switchbacks back to the truck. By nightfall we were still on the trail and, for some time, I sang to myself in the dark before Ben convinced me to strap on my headlamp. At 9 p.m., nearing the parking lot, my feet began to throb. Every step closer on the path sent agonizing pain through my body. After having hiked for nearly 15 hours in less than two days, my sprightliness for exploring dispersed. My back pained. My legs cramped. My feet swelled. My heart delighted.

All aches and pains were made up for with a view like this. Go the Garibaldi Park. Even looking at this, it gives little insight into actually being there and seeing for yourself how amazing it is to climb a mountain, or two.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. - Robert Frost.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Room between me and the ground.

As we ascended off the tarmack at Squamish Airport, what I thought would be nervousness in my first flight in a single-engine plane was actually utter excitement. The headset was on, the engine roared to life, and my good friend Stuart - who recently received his private pilots license - pulled back on the control column and sent us flying in the air. In seconds we were escalating above ground.

Before take-off he gave us the tutorial: "This is the tracking device incase we crash. Put your seat belt on like this. If I say 'hands off,' don't touch anything." And then, as if he had been doing it for years, Stu flew up to 7,000 feet in the air and imprinted within me an entirely different view of the Coast Mountains around Squamish and Whistler. A bird's eye view, if I dare to sound cliche.

 We saw the Stawamus Chief, not from the highway as most do, but at 3,000 vertical feet. The vastness of the granitic monolith is even more astounding from the air. And then we flew - in attempt to reach our desired elevation - through Garibaldi Provincial Park, which encompasses a volcanic field of nine different stratovolcanoes.

It was like a geography dream come true. You could see where glaciers from thousands of years ago used to sit in the earth, that have now melted away and left the ground transformed. And more, you could see the amount of volcanic activity that shaped the land in the first place during the Holocene (11,000 years ago). Above you can see the lateral moraine, a Roche Moutonnee (thanks to Malcolm's knowledge below) and U-shaped valleys from glacial activity.

And then you've got Garibaldi Lake, which is, in itself, absolutely astounding. It's depth is at 300 metres and exists due to a lava flow from Clinker Peak that created a lava wall barrier during the last ice age. The blue colour is the result of rock flour - ground up sediment from the glacier that, when the sun hits it, reflects the water in a bright blue. Adjacent to the lake is The Table, which formed below the Cordillera Ice Sheet. Flying directly next to and above these features, having never seen them at any close distance, was breathtaking. Not even an hour from Vancouver there is so much left to explore.

Stuart then flew us in our loop past Mount Cayley, seen behind me here. Mount Cayley is a "potentially active volcano" that rises 7,428 vertical feet. Upon further reading I discovered that Mount Cayley poses future eruptions, with hot springs steaming up on the western flank. Also, seismologists have recorded earthquakes as early back as 1985, a sure sign that volcanic activity still exists beneath the mountain.

As we began our descent back to solid ground, pilot Stuart and the other passengers (myself excluded) decided that Negative G's would be a hilariously fun form of entertainment. As I gripped my hands tightly to the bottom of the seat, Ben and Mikey giggled like school boys in the back. I resisted the feeling of floating and yet my body leapt into the air as the plane dove. All was not well in Jesse's insides. Still, I refrained from throwing up and took a photo of the two, much more thrilled passengers. Flying is fun. Seeing the reflection of the tiny single-engine plane on the trees below had me feeling nostalgic. However, I can't quite put into words what flying through a volcanic belt, with glaciers staring back at you, is like. It's like knowing something is beautiful but the description of it isn't tangible.

The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one. - Wendell Willkie
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