Friday, July 30, 2004

Anderson River Group from the east. Alpaca Peak is the long ridge in the foreground, whose base I traversed in the morning, left to right, and then back along the ridge crest in the late afternoon, right to left. Bighorn Peak is 2km out of the picture along the lower right hand ridge. A lot less snow now, of course. Photo courtesy Dru Posted by Hello
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Waltzing With the Ungulates (Solo Ascents of Bighorn and Alpaca Peaks)
Trip report posted to

Sometimes the best trips come about by serendipity.

One hot July afternoon, I prolong my lunch break by walking down Broadway to Office Depot for some envelopes and cash register ribbons. MEC’s book department beckons insidiously as I wander by. “I’ll just go in for a second,” I tell myself. “Just a quick look at the nature guides.” Forty minutes later I’ve read all the good bits in Alpinist #7, the Powell River Rock guide, and, hey, isn’t that the new edition of the Beckey guide? Wonder what he has to say about Unnamed Obscure Peak in the Chilliwack Valley?

Lots, as it turns out. But then the book flops open at geologist George M. Dawson’s 1879 description of the Anderson River Group: “Looking up the valley of the Anderson, in a bearing of S 6 degrees E, a great block of higher mountains at a distance of about thirteen miles, can be seen. On the west of the group is an irregular conical peak, nearly vertical on one side. These summits must reach an altitude of 7,000 to 8,000 feet.” Dawson’s words make me think of Patagonia, and then about how little I’ve actually explored close to home. I use $50 of my Office Depot money to buy the Beckey guidebook and federal map 92 H/11, “Spuzzum.”

Fast forward a few weeks. Drew posts a road bulletin for the Upper Coldwater, declaring it 2WD. I stumble across the bulletin on a slow Monday afternoon, and, an hour or two later, check the road access against the Beckey guide and the topo map. Beckey and Bivouac both agree it’s possible to get close to timberline with a passenger car. A call to the weather office confirms 24 hours of sunshine and light wind. Another call, to Anonymous Car Rental Agency, turns up a Toyota Echo. I leave a possible route description with my staff and take off to collect the car, then lie through my teeth as the rental clerk directs my attention to the contract clause reading, VEHICLE MUST BE DRIVEN ON PAVED ROAD. And it will be, too, at least for part of the trip.

East through the Fraser Valley at 11pm with the Fine Young Cannibals on the car stereo. Up the Coquihalla in choking clouds of dust from the obligatory summer road refinishing project. Through the toll booth at 1am. On the Upper Coldwater at 1:20am. I drive slowly with my high beams on, following the road as it winds among the dark trees. Though I don’t want to admit it at the time, I’m a little scared. If anything goes wrong, it will be 48 hours or more before anyone’s looking for me. Plus, the dark night and three-quarters moon spurs other, more supernatural thoughts: the hooded yellow eyes peering from the woods up ahead; the skeletal grin and long bone-white fingers in the rearview mirror. The hair rises slowly on the back of my neck as I drive past shotgun shell-pocked road signs and the moon floats up over a low hill to flood the empty cut block with bright white light.

Past a Forest Service recreation site at km 7 the road narrows. Branches scrape off the side of the car, and rocks thunk off the undercarriage. Then something lurches out in front of me, which I take at first for a sick or injured snafflehound. But it isn’t. It’s a frog. More accurately, the biggest frog I have ever seen in my life. Its body is as big as my clenched fist, and its legs are as long as my fingers. I get a good look at it as it hops across the road in the moonlight and into the underbrush. Around the next bend, another frog. Around the next, five more. By the time I pass the km 12 mark I have seen seventeen huge frogs.

There’s a bridge out just past km 12. The car’s headlights reflect on a shallow dark slow moving stream. I briefly contemplate a four-figure tow job and call a halt for the night. I put up my tent at the side of the road and crawl into my sleeping bag, then fail to fall asleep quickly enough to not transform every rustle of leaves or stream’s splash into the stealthy approach of some supernatural intruder.

Sunrise. I poke my head outside. I’m camped at the edge of the last big cutblock before the valley’s walls rise up all around. I pick out Alpaca, Vicuna, Gazuma and Llama Peaks, all familiar from the Beckey guide and Bivouac. Twenty minutes later I’m shouldering my pack and heading up the road.

As it turns out, not driving through the stream was a good idea, because the driveable road only extends another half a kilometer or so. It then forks, with the left hand fork going to a cut block below the Llama-Alpaca col, and the right hand fork crossing another creek and then climbing up to a cutblock below Vicuna. Both these spurs are massively deactivated with extreme cross ditching, no bridges, and logs dropped across the road every (in the case of the Llama fork) thirty or forty feet. You might be able to get a Jawa Sand Crawler through. Maybe.

I choose the right hand fork, and, after crossing the Coldwater River on some rocks (less exciting than it sounds; at this point, the river is about as big as the creek across the street I grew up with as a kid), begin to climb slowly NNE through a cut block. Bivouac describes a signed trail about 400m up the road, but I’m unable to find it, so, after about twenty minutes, when a totally overgrown road cuts back into the cut block, I follow it, and immediately begin to flounder through fireweed, blueberries, baby pines, devil’s club, & etc. Once the bush gets really bad I churn straight uphill to the edge of the cutblock, and into the woods beyond, which are just as steep, and, truthfully, not that much less overgrown. I plough on, not knowing exactly where I’m going, but reasoning that, so long as I keep heading NNW, I’ll eventually run into the 2km-long flank of Alpaca Peak. Occasional holes in the forest cover disclose views of Vicuna Peak’s granite crest high above. And, soon enough, I emerge, soaked in sweat but happy, into the meadows just east of the Alpaca-Vicuna col. Marmots whistle sharply from the fridge-size white boulders that dot the hillside. A wind comes up, taking the heat off the day. I contour up into the col proper, shoot some pictures, eat some lunch. It’s shaping up to be a great day.

Through the col and down the long, scree-studded slope on the other side. I countour along below Alpaca’s slabby NE face, crossing over steep snow slopes and down smooth granite ledges covered with bits of scree. At one point, a pretty impressive rockslide comes flying off Alpaca’s high grey walls and sprays bowling ball-sized shrapnel across the snow a few hundred yards ahead of me. I’m wearing a helmet, but I nonetheless take the hint and travel further down on the slabs, sticking to the edges where streams of meltwater have pooled into substantial lakes and tarns.

Up onto the long flat ridge that runs from Alpaca to the day’s target, little-climbed Bighorn Peak, two kilometers north along the ridge. But first another water break and pictures, of the Anderson River Group rising high to the west. The sound of a chainsaw floats up from a cutblock on the far side of the valley, and a little red pickup zips down the Anderson mainline, a child’s toy at this distance, raising a huge cloud of brown dust behind it. Other than these things, and one jet contrail high in the sky, the world is bright and warm and still.

Along the ridgeline past little tarns and brilliant humming patches of heather, fragrant and bee-hung. Then Bighorn Peak’s slabby south face rises before me. The Beckey guide calls this peak “a hike,” which isn’t really accurate, it’s more like class 2-3, with some exposure near the top. The climb goes as follows: ascend granite slabs to half height (class 2, like the hardest parts of the Chief’s Second and Third Peaks). The objective is to reach a distinctive “brush ledge” that cuts the face from west to east. Walk to the right hand edge of the ledge and trend up and right on sloping ledges to pass beneath two huge, totally distinctive boulders with a pie-shaped wedge missing from each (class 3, slippery when wet, big drop below). Scramble back left to the broad summit ridge and cairns. When descending, take care to always turn to the right, so as not to end up on a series of steeply sloping ledges dropping off into space.

Half an hour later I’m back on the ridge, and, in a fit of inspiration or heat exhaustion, decide to end the day by traversing over Alpaca and on down to the valley. I slog back along the ridge, wilting a bit in the heat, and then up Alpaca’s grassy NW ridge. The ridge starts off wide and steep, a bit like the standard route on Needle Peak, then gets progressively narrower, steeper, and wet. The crux is 20-odd feet of stiff wet 3rd class scrambling, then the ridge kicks back to the summit plateau with its double cairns and little tarn. I shoot some more photographs and bask in the sun. Then fall asleep with my hat over my eyes. When I wake up, the shadows have grown. Time to go! I descend Alpaca’s long south ridge toward Llama Peak, but overshoot the ridge that drops into a grassy bowl below the Alpaca-Llama col. Half an hour of thrashing down through wide krummholtz-infested ledges puts me in the first subalpine trees. But as usual, bluffs, several hundred feet high, separate me from the valley below. This time, though, I draw upon past experience and head toward, not away from, the head of the valley. I pick the largest trees I can find, duck under them, and start downhill. Within fifteen minutes I intersect a flagged route that leads steeply downhill and, eventually, into unlogged old growth. The flagging finally spits me out at the edge of a cut block below Llama Peak’s eastern face. All that remains is to stagger through the clearcut, down the deactivated logging road, and into the creek by the car, where I scrub away some of the dirt and salt and sweat and try to puzzle out where the bear is that left the huge, still-steaming piles around the tent in my absence.

Down the road a kilometer or two, is the answer. A big one, too, jet-black and as tall as my shoulder. Maybe out looking for toads in the twilight. Doesn’t hurry, even when I honk, just gives me a slow, Clint Eastwood-style appraisal and steps off into the woods, with that funny swinging walk they all have.

Home at midnight. In bed by 1am. The best sight on the way home, the moon rising full over Mount Cheam from near the Herrling Island turnoff, the huge mountain all black and white in the light, like a Rembrandt etching, or the woodblock print W.P. Weston made from that location in the late 1930s. A fitting end to my best day in the mountains in years.

Stan Persky reads The Da Vinci Code, from Dooney's Cafe:

"“’Tell me about the Priory of Sion,’ said Sophie.” Robert gulps at the scenery, and then goes into lecture mode. “’The Priory of Sion,’ he began, ‘was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named… [blahblahblah].’ Sophie nodded, her eyes riveted on him.” ‘Nother big glob of explanation follows. “Sophie looked uncertain.” Onto the Knights Templar. “Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition.” More Templar. “Sophie already looked troubled.” “Sophie looked confused.” “Sophie looked uneasy.” “Sophie looked skeptical.” And so she should, poor dear. Yes, Sophie looked skeptical. “I’ve never heard of it,” she says of the reference in the last glob of exposition. “’Sure you have,’ Langdon smiled. ‘You’re just used to hearing it called by the name Holy Grail.’” Cue music. Cue Harrison Ford in his Indiana Jones tweeds. Cue the smoldering gazes."

Overheard in the Kingsgate Mall BCLDB lineup:

"As an adult I wouldn't want my kids doing it. But as a kid I had a good time."

Fish Head and Salt Man Save the Day! -- "artistic," nay, surrealistic use of Flash in a commercial context (thx Michael and John)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Gone climbing. See y'all Thursday. Posted by Hello

Sunday, July 25, 2004
Fungibility and bookselling -- a still-current essay from Dooney's Cafe


Stayed up all night with this, ex-Vancouver Review editor Bruce Serafin's first book.  Serafin writes better than 99% of his local contemporaries, and I really admire his clear-eyed, lucid prose.  The book's structure confounds me -- lurching and jerking around like a plane in turbulence -- but I made it all the way through in one go, nodding at the accuracy of the reported dialogues and his dead-on and utterly unsentimental analysis of West Coast academic and class politics.

"How powerful social structures can be.  The professor smiles; I sit before her with my back bent, my head lowered, a man in his forties unable to make the quip that would ease the emotions her words provoked.  Those emotions resulted (I realize now) from the class structure that ordered the room; more exactly, they were due to the experience of being put in your place, the quintessential colonial experience, which I had reacted to the way people have always reacted to such experiences, unable to salve the wound and unable to wound back."Posted by Hello

Powered by Blogger

.post-title { display: none!important; }