Golden Ears to Blanshard Needle Traverse

The Vitals

Date: July 29, 2017

Location: Golden Ears Provincial Park

Partners: none

Distance: 25 km+, and 2000 m+ elevation gain*

Time: A little under 12 hours

Resources: This route description and this trip report

GPS Tracks: see below

*I didn’t turn my GPS on until about km 2 and left it at the bottom of the Golden Ears scramble. With that in mind it recorded 25 km and 2400 meters of elevation gained.

The Trip

Look at the photo at this link to see the Golden Ears group as viewed from the west. The route I followed traverses from left to right hitting Golden Ears, Edge Peak, Blanshard Needle, and then the low flat summit of Alouette Mountain.

The route minus the side trip to get the summit of Golden Ears. The spike to 16 km/h was running down Incline trail.

I left the West Canyon parking lot at 7:18 a.m. and followed the well-worn path up to the summit Golden Ears in 3:04. Not too shabby, especially with a 60 meter rope and some climbing gear in my pack (helmet, harness, belay device, a few long slings, and sacrificial webbing and carabiners for rappel anchors).

Once at Alder flats you start to get your first good views of the east side of the peaks and they were certainly intimidating me. The route description recommends staying on the west side of the crest for the most part so I tried not to get psyched out. Once up the steep slog you get treated to views of Robie Reid and Mt. Judge Howay as well as numerous peaks further afield.

Heading up to Panorama Ridge. Golden Ears on the right, Edge Peak in clouds.

Just past the shelter on Panorama Ridge I stopped to eat a sandwich and drink from the stream fed from the permanent snow field. I kicked up the snow and dropped my bag in order to tag the summit. Even at 10:20 a.m. I was the fifth person to summit that day after a group of four who had camped next to the shelter beat me to the punch. From here I got the first good look at the bulk of the traverse to the south.

Looking south towards Edge Peak (center) and Blanshard Needle (right)

I dropped back down to my bag and was itching to get going so I forgot to fill my water at the stream on my way towards Edge Peak. This necessitated about a half hour detour to downclimb the scree until I could reach open water and fill my three liters of capacity. You can see the detour in the gps tracks above directly under the “Edge Peak” text.

Looking down to Panorama Ridge from the summit of Golden Ears. Robie Reid is the broad peak in the center top, Mt. Judge Howay is the sharp peak to the left of Robie Reid.

From the route description, the crux of the route is supposedly the first technical moves at the top of a gully below Edge Peak. I found the 1′ x 4′ ledge described (covered in moss when I was looking for rock, FYI) and climbed the eight feet to a ledge. I was happy to be through this bit without difficulty and hoped I could cruise the rest of the route.

This is where I think the route description fails in terms of clarity. It instructs you to pick up a faint trail and then, “… head around to the northwest aspect and scramble to the summit of Edge.” I’m sure the people in trip report made the same mistake as me and interpreted that sentence as an instruction to climb the ramp on climber’s right. I tried climbing this ramp twice but the moves were too technical to continue with so I backed off and decided to circle around the sub summit on the east side. This is the correct way. Once around the sub summit’s east side, you can make your way over the ridge to Edge Peak’s NW aspect and a mix of bush and rock to the summit.

I was at the summit of Edge Peak at 12:17 p.m. and I was feeling optimistic that I could finish in under 10 hours total. However, at this point my nerves and the heat were getting to me and I could only eat half a sandwich. The source of my nerves was the view south towards increasingly exposed terrain coupled with the knowledge that I was on my own. As is usual, my fear took the form of “what if” questions that never materialized. Things like “what if I run out of rappel gear?” or “what if the rope gets stuck?”.

Top of Edge. Blanshard Needle gets closer. Alouette Mountain is the flat mountain behind Blanshard and to the left.

From this point to the top of Blanshard I found the route relatively easy to follow with one exception. I hiked and scrambled over the “deeply serrated” ridge and made the first two rappels of the day down the gully to the snow field in the route description. Just before the last narrow fin of Edge Peak I was momentarily lost when I came across a rappel anchor in an unexpected location and in terrain that I deemed too dangerous to downclimb given a very sharp drop on both sides of the ridge. I considered my options and decided to backtrack a bit and see if I could tarzan my way down the extremely steep west slope of the ridge. The rerouting decision again proved to be correct as I could descend through the thick bush and then circle around to a flatter section of ridgeline and pick up an unexposed route through more bush and rock over the fin and to the top of Blanshard.

I topped out Blanshard at 2:53 p.m. and was nearly finished the technical aspects of the traverse before the hike out. From the summit I found two cairns marking something of a trail down the south side of the needle but once past the second I couldn’t see any more evidence of a trail. I knew the notch below me dropped off quickly to the east and west so I didn’t want to rappel and possibly face running out of rope in vertical terrain.

Summit cairn of Blanshard looking north back at the route (Edge Peak on the right, twin peaks of Golden Ears on the left)

I started to bear east and ended up in a narrow, steep gully with a sandy bottom and a rappel anchor around a tree. I added my own piece of webbing and made a ~20 meter rappel further down the gully where I found a second anchor. I took this as a good sign and set up for a second rappel over a vertical section of rock. After a full thirty meter rappel there was no more evidence of another anchor and I felt very insecure given the unconsolidated nature of the gully. With no other options I slung a chockstone in a crack as an anchor and clipped in one of my long runners while I pulled the rope. Without the rope above, I was committed to downclimbing the steep and loose gully.

I felt very mortal as I unclipped my sling and started to downclimb by stemming against the gully walls and avoiding the sand where possible. After about 5 meters of downclimbing and a short vertical section looming, I traversed climber’s right onto the face next to the gully. Shortly thereafter I spotted a bit of pink flagging tape and evidence of an aggressive trail. Relieved to be back on track, I downclimbed the route to about 10 meters above the bottom where I set up a quick rappel on another found rappel anchor and dropped into the notch. Moral of the story: The real route seems to be somewhere climber’s right of the obvious, deep gully.

Last rappel

I wanted to round out the day with summits of Alouette Mountain and Evans Peak so I worked my way quickly through the bush to the summit of Alouette but could never find evidence of the trail to Evans Peak so I decided to just follow the Alouette Mountain trail down because I already knew it well. This is an uneventful 11 km to the parking lot on Mike Lake Road. I walked another 1.6 km down Mike Lake Road to the main road, arriving just after 7:00 p.m., and commenced hitchhiking back to my car 7 km away.

Last view of the traverse from the summit of Alouette. The steep gully is the shadowy bit that trends slightly right up Blanshard. The bottom of the peak is hidden by trees.

After 45 minutes I had failed to get a ride which I found both surprising and frustrating. The first car to stop for me was a park employee who just wanted to inform me that hitchhiking was illegal and that I better start walking. Super. Less than a minute later another car stopped, this time it was the RCMP. Luckily the officer was much more sympathetic and offered me a ride to my car. Once at the lot, he gentlemanly opened the door for me but maybe that is more a result of the door handles in the back of a cop car being for display purposes only.

I drove home around 8:00 pm and was treated to the late evening light illuminating the peaks I had just climbed while I crossed through Maple Ridge and over the Pitt River bridge. I thought about stopping to take a picture but the call of McDonald’s was too strong.