Date: March 26-27, 2021
Location: Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC
Distance: ~40 km, 1400+ meters
Partners: Will, Dave, and Alex
Resources: Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis, Gaia GPS, map from the VOC
Will referred to a traverse of the Garibaldi Neve as “a hole in my resume”, which is a good way to view it. For many skiers, the Garibaldi Neve can be the crowning achievement of their first winter in the backcountry. By this point we mostly viewed it as just one of those things you do eventually but without a lot of fanfare.
Early in the week the weather was forecast to be quite good on the weekend so we planned, as a group of four, to ski the Neve in 3 days with a side trip to summit Mt. Garibaldi and perhaps ski above Sphinx Bay on the third day. We met in Squamish at 5:00 am to start the car shuttle, leaving my car at the north end Rubble Creek parking lot before the four of us drove up to the Diamond Head parking lot.
I had spent a good deal of effort in paring down my pack for the trip since I was cognizant of some grief originating in my lower back. Between glacier kit, avalanche kit, and a fairly heavy winter sleeping bag, my bag was still much heavier than I had anticipated
All of us were in the same boat, with Will and Dave trading off carrying the rope for the entire trip, as we trudged up the road to Red Heather and then across the undulating Paul Ridge to Elfin where we had a little snack. The weather was warm with small squalls of needle-like snow but visibility at this elevation was still good.
We crossed several recent wet avalanche debris paths as we contoured next to Ring Creek. An exciting short but steep descent, mostly exciting with skins on and free heels, brought us down to Ring Creek and then the last ascent up to the glaciers. In the still air next to the creek we all started to feel the effects of the warm weather and the early wakeup call.
We made camp on the glacier around 3:30 but visibility had deteriorated and the temperature was now clearly above freezing.
Early to bed, we spent 12 hours in our tents before reemerging at 7:00 am. Dave and Alex are experienced and efficient winter campers. Will and I are not. I faffed for a few hours melting snow and making breakfast before starting a concerted effort to break camp. That still took another hour and we were only moving at 10:00. Dave had heard some icefall in the early morning and a few swirls in the cloud gave us brief glimpses of the debris as well as of impressive peaks to the south and east. For the most part, however, we navigated by following another party’s tracks and using GPS. The poor visibility seems to have been localized as we later learned a pair was simultaneously summiting Garibaldi via Brohm Ridge. We had given up on our original summit plan and aimed to ski out the same day without a summit or a second camp.
The crossing of the high point of the traverse and a lunch break near the Sharkfin were passed with near zero visibility, some issues with glopping in the warm snow, but little stress. The GPS was working out fine and we occasionally would rediscover the tracks of others. Fortunately, we did get one break in the weather for about an hour, lasting from just before the last col until down to Garibaldi Lake.
In the sunshine we ate up the delicious descent of the Sentinel Glacier down to the glaciology huts and the shore of Garibaldi Lake. It seemed like skating would be too much effort in the sticky snow so we donned skins and counted steps to pass the time.
At the campground at the far end of the lake, we dug down in the snow to refill our water bottles and briefly talked to a party of three who were completing the traverse in one day. I looked at their bags and equipment with envy as they seemed to float by effortlessly.
The final descent was made in deteriorating weather as we dipped low enough for it to begin raining. We chose to descend the Barrier which turned out to be a legitimate ski descent that bypasses 5+ km of the notoriously icy switchbacks on the trail to Garibaldi Lake. Once we were committed to the descent I started to become very interested in getting off the slope. The skiing was not too technically challenging but the rotting snow and rain with thinly covered rocks didn’t inspire confidence in the slope stability.
We hopped from island of safety to island of safety before rejoining the switchbacks 2.5 km from the parking lot. The first 1.5 km were skiable on a dirty ribbon of ice a few inches thick but the last kilometer was spent walking with our sodden gear. Spirits were still pretty high and we left the parking lot around 6:30, ensuring our eventual arrival at home sometime just after 9:00.
Despite completing the activity and effort of the traverse, the lack of views and side summits makes it feel like we were robbed of the true experience. I think I need at least a year to recover my interest in what amounts to a very long walk, but we will have to try again when the weather forecast promises clear and cold.