Garibaldi Neve Traverse - A Coastal Classic

So, a week after doing the Spearhead Traverse I flew back to Vancouver to do a repeat crossing of a favourite weekend trip of mine - the Garibaldi Neve Traverse. This time though, instead of a four day weekend, Christine and I had one of those annoying 'regular' weekends with only two days in which to cover 38km and 1900m of elevation gain. So after picking me up from the airport and then sorting gear on Friday night, Christine and I took off early Saturday Morning and were immediately derailed by my need for a coffee at Galileo Coffee (just outside Britannia Beach, do yourself a favour and stop there as you go by and get an americano and a raspberry chocolate chip muffin - it's the breakfast of champions) which had it's usual, annoyingly long line-up.

Unlike the Spearhead, the Garibaldi Neve Traverse is an A to B traverse that we'd be doing in the North-South direction (net elevation gain, but a nicer trail on the way out), so I'd arranged with a couple of other parties I new would be doing the traverse the other way to swap keys in the middle and we'd shuttle cars around for each other. Meeting in the middle of a traverse to swap keys - how could that possibly go wrong?

When we got the Rubble Creek parking lot, Christine discovered that also unlike the Spearhead, there were no chairlifts to immediately bump us into the alpine and that, in fact, we were starting at one of the lowest parking lots in the Sea to Sky corridor at only 500ish meters above sea level. The result is that we got to strap our skis to already loaded down packs and carry everything for almost 5km up the trail.

 Only 5km of carrying skis!

Only 5km of carrying skis!

Being from the coast, I'm used to carrying my skis all over the place. Christine was a wee bit unimpressed.

 Christine, happy to finally be able to put her skis on in that virgin snow...

Christine, happy to finally be able to put her skis on in that virgin snow...

At the 6k junction with the Taylor Meadows trail we split off on the winter route that cuts across a couple of lakes and normally saves you a bunch of time relative to the summer route which sort of meanders through the trees. Except the lakes had thawed and we ended up thrashing along the banks until we could rejoin the summer trail just before hitting Garibaldi lake. My shortcut cost us only an hour compared with taking the well marked standard summer route. Christine kindly didn't rub my waste of time in my face - she's a better person than I am.

When you get to Garibaldi Lake, it's absolutely stunning - across the lake you see the Sphinx group towering over everything and the lake gives you great, fast travel. Which is good, because it's a 7km slog across the lake that seemingly never ends. We eventually stopped for lunch mid-way across and Christine was a touch concerned when I filled my water bottle by just digging through the snow to water. Unlike out here in the Rockies - the lakes don't freeze on the coast - they just get huge snow rafts on the surface so you can happily dig down to water wherever you like. You just assume that that snow raft is floaty enough to keep you from plunging through.

 The never ending lake. This is actually most of the way across closing in on Sentinel Bay.

The never ending lake. This is actually most of the way across closing in on Sentinel Bay.

While stopped for a lunch we ran into a party of friends from the VOC who were doing the full traverse in a day - it's sort of a right of passage on the coast. Thanks to the great weather they were making crazy good time.

At the far end of the lake, in Sentinel Bay, there's a couple of decrepit old huts that UBC used to study the glaciers from and have now been abandoned, though some people still use them (pro-tip, just go to Sphinx Bay a kilometre or two away and you can stay in the well maintained and yet dirt-bag-friendly Burton Hut, it's worth the detour) and we figured that was where we'd meet the first of the two parties we were key swapping with. Except they weren't there. After sort of milling about for a bit, we continued on and just hoped we'd ascend the same slope out of the bay that the party we were looking for would be descending. We were lucky, and ran into them, swapped keys and sorted out a plan for getting our respective cars back to each other and continued on.

 One of the two old UBC Glaciology huts. Cute, but mouse infested.

One of the two old UBC Glaciology huts. Cute, but mouse infested.

Our plan was then to try and camp near The Tent - a feature on Mt. Garibaldi and where we were supposed to meet the second party we were key swapping with, but in the blazing sun and heat, and loaded down with 50lb packs since we weren't using any of the huts littered along the route, we decided that we would call it a day around the Shark's Fin (having done about 18km and 1400m of elevation) and camped a few hundred meters from another party.

In the morning, we woke up bright and early with the intention of trying to bag Garibaldi on our way by, but the super warm weather the day before combined with a good freeze overnight had turned everything into a skating rink. Since we'd left our ski crampons at home after getting nailed by a snowstorm just a week prior, we decided that maybe we'd sleep in instead.

 Sunrise? Sunset? I don't remember, pretty spot to camp though.

Sunrise? Sunset? I don't remember, pretty spot to camp though.

Eventually, after watching the other party get a tutorial on glacier travel from their token experienced person, we packed up and continued and pretty quickly ran into the other party we were supposed to swap keys with. Horribly sunburned and grinning like the VOC idiots they are, they'd been better prepared and had just finished bagging Garibaldi. We swapped hugs and keys and continued on our way.

Now, to avoid what we heard were super dicey sun-warmed slopes on the standard route through Ring Creek, we decided to take the high road and continue up past the Tent, over Diamond Head and down through the Gargoyles (the best map for this route, that has all these names on it, is the Clark Geomatics one) and then down to Elfin Lakes. Problem was, the navigation through the crevasses is a lot trickier, the slopes are a bit more committing and it was way, way longer than I remembered (it's been two or three years since I last did the traverse).

Once at the Elfin lakes shelter (after way more up and down than I remembered), we stopped for a bite and ran into a couple that had just come out of Ring Creek after attempting Mamquam (big objective). Apparently they'd been so freaked out by the sun warmed slopes and activity they'd been seeing that they waited down in the creek for an hour until the sun went behind a cloud. I'm not sure it really bought them any safety, but it made them feel better at least. As did the extra bars we gave them since they'd run out of food.

From the Elfin Lakes shelter it's an easy 5km slog along Paul Ridge before a ski down the Red Heather trail which is an old logging road which makes for fast travel (and is why we chose the North-South direction). Just barely managing to keep our skis on to the parking lot we got there stoked to drive out to Squamish, meet the others for a burger and swap vehicles back.

 Fat POW all the way to the cars!

Fat POW all the way to the cars!

Except for one tiny hiccup. The second party we swapped keys with? The VOCers? They were driving Piotr's 4Runner affectionately named Trucky-Truck. Every time I drive this stupid truck I swear I'll never get in it again - it's more bondo and epoxy than steel at this point. And it had a flat tire. And it was getting dark. And it was starting to rain. And the spare tire was firmly rusted in place. And the 12v outlet that the air compressor plugs into was dead so I couldn't even patch the stupid thing. Now, Piotr is a prepared and resourceful guy - so I knew there was a way to get his tire patched and re-inflated, but it would probably require intimate knowledge of his truck so while I got to trying to figure things out, Christine grabbed the other car and drove off to go get Piotr.

Sure enough, there was a solution. You see, the heat died in Trucky-Truck years ago, so for years, Piotr would drive up and down the Sea to Sky corridor with a truck loaded up with dirtbags and all of the windows wide open in the middle of winter to keep the windshield from fogging. Have you ever driven down the highway in a snowstorm with the windows wide open? Eventually, his trip buddies all revolted, so Piotr bought a 12v fan/heater thing and epoxied it to the dash and ran the cable for it out the door, and into the engine bay where he had a second 12v socked wired up. So we unplugged the heater, plugged in the compressor, got the patch kit, patched the stupid tire, finished swapping keys and didn't even get dinner since it was so late by now that everything was closed. I was seriously unimpressed - guilt-free victory burgers are half the reason I do stuff in the mountains.

On the plus side the Garibaldi Neve Traverse is frickin gorgeous and we had great conditions. It's a lot less technically interesting than the Spearhead, but (especially if the Ring Creek option is viable) it goes in basically any weather and is gorgeous in it's own right.

It's a great three day trip if you stop at the Burton Hut in Sphinx Bay and the Elfin Lakes Shelter and like I said before, gets done in a single day all the time (I did it in a day something like six years ago in about 14 hours, though it gets done way faster than that on a regular basis). Doing it in two days is actually your worst option since there's no mid-way hut so either you pack a tent or you have a big day and a little day.

Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.