Dates: August 4 – 7, 2016
Location: Squamish/Whistler, BC
Distance: ~40 km hiked, 7 km hitchhiked, ~3900 m elevation gain
About two weeks before a short stretch of time off, I sent Brittany a short list of 3 – 4 day trips that we might try. My most coveted destination was the Alcoholic traverse, an alpine hike with no set path which links Brandywine Mountain to Mt. Brew with a few other thematically-named peaks in the vicinity to be plucked (e.g. Hops, Keg, and Malt).
The plan was to convince a friend to join us on day one for the ascent of Brandywine and, as an ulterior motive, help us drop a car on the Roe Cr. FSR so that we could simply hike out from Brew Hut on day four and drive back to Vancouver. When no friend materialized, we left Thursday morning to park at the 2wd parking for Brandywine with a vague notion of either returning the way we came or hitchhiking back up the highway at the end.
The logging road is in pretty good shape and we were able to drive to within 1 km of the parking lot before being stopped by a steep hill. No matter, by 10:30 am we were pushing it up the steep trail to Brandywine meadows. We made quick work of the forest and emerged into the meadows under a blanket of low-lying clouds. Since Brandywine is a popular daytrip, it’s a three-star scramble in Matt Gunn’s guidebook, we assumed the trail would be easy to follow so I hadn’t taken a picture of the route description nor even read it. In fact, I did very little preparation in terms of determining our route for the entire trip. Rather, I purchased a 1:50 000 map of the area (CGS 92 J/3) and borrowed a GPS with the belief that it would be more exciting if we found our own way. Originally the GPS was only intended to take tracks for plotting on Google Earth but we soon began to rely on it.
At the top of the meadows is where we made our first of many navigational errors. Instead of crossing the creek and heading up a heather and talus slope on climber’s left to gain a ridge, we plunged straight up a rocky gully that soon ended at the foot of a sizeable glacier. By this point the cloud had burned off and we thought we could see the peak on climber’s left. The next hour and a half was spent scrambling our way left by passing over and around cliff bands and snow until we reached our perceived destination only to discover it was little more than a nub amidst many more impressive peaks. The first of many consultations of the map got us set straight, but by the time we gained the ridge and then the summit it was after 6:00 pm and we decided that the base of the final steep section was as good a place as any to pitch a tent.
We decided to forego the fly since the sun was setting from a beautiful, clear sky and no rain was forecast. Turns out rain isn’t necessary to wake up wet. In the morning the cloud was thick and the wind was blowing strongly up the valley on the south side. It also seemed to be raining, at least water was dripping on us from above. As it happens, a mesh tent is very good at trapping the moisture from a cloud as the wind filters it through the material. Good enough that it was raining inside the tent and Brittany was literally sleeping in a puddle deep enough to be bailed out with a mug. Being pretty wet but not too grumpy, we waited until 11:30 when the cloud burned off for good and the wind had mostly dried our belongings.
The rest of the day was spent making our way south by travelling below Mt. Fee on the west side. We were treated to ever-changing views of the formidable Mt. Cayley further to the west, and we began to see the snaking Squamish river making its way down the valley on to Howe Sound. Our progress seemed to be as slow as the views were spectacular. In about 8 hours of travel we made 10 km, hampered by consistent route-finding side trips and decisions and heinously steep sidehilling on boulders. I think we spent a lot of time looking for the “easy” route that simply wasn’t there. We would have been better served to forge ahead with reckless, boulder-hopping, abandon.
Day three simply continued the slog with our hopes of summiting Cypress and Tricouni long since abandoned. We started off by walking for an hour and a half in a large 270° arc that placed us just a few hundred meters from our camp. At this point we hiked to the top of the nearest “Tall Thing” in order to figure out where we were and how we might continue. Success! From the top of a minor peak we could just make out Brew Hut in the distance. All that separated us from the lap of (relative) luxury was another 4 hours of up and down ridge walking with a quick summit of Keg Peak thrown in.
We got to the hut and bathed in one of the tarns on the “outhouse side” of the ridge before relaxing inside the hut with a few Czechs and an Englishman. We passed out early in the loft that was populated by only 6 bodies. On one of my previous visits, a record-setting 19 people slept – 16 in the loft and 3 on the benches. The hut is advertised as sleeping 12 relatively comfortably…
In the morning we packed up for the last time and toured by Brew Lake before picking up the flagged trail. Something was off though. This trail was much steeper than I remembered and when we started getting views of Daisy Lake, it became abundantly clear that we were on an entirely different path than intended. This was supposed to be the easy part! This was supposed to be the end of our own decision-making and the beginning of blindly following flagging tape and bright orange blazes back to civilization. Another consultation of the map and GPS showed we were on the summer trail that I thought had been abandoned several years ago, so instead of coming out to the Roe Creek FSR, we were on the Brew FSR. If we had left a car at Roe Creek we would have been kilometers off track. But luck was on our side. As we hiked down the FSR we began to slowly gain on another pair of hikers. We caught up to them just shy of the 3 km mark from the highway, where they had parked their vehicle. Without asking, though we were about to, we were offered a ride to the highway and in the end they drove us a few kilometers north to the start of the Brandywine FSR even though their fatigue was apparent and home was in the other direction. Thanking them for the ride, I left Brittany with our bags in the snowmobile parking lot and jogged/walked the 6 or so kilometers up the road to where we had parked the car passing two people and one black bear along the way.
This traverse seems like a better bet on a good-weather weekend in the spring when skis would make fast work of the down hills and boulder-hopping would be replaced by straightforward skinning. In fact, the fastest time I know of for the Semi-Alcoholic Traverse was done in early June, 2015 in under five hours. It took us more than two days to cover about the same distance on much of the same terrain.