Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Tantalus Range

Summer finally kicked in for us in the Pacific North-wet last week, and my timing couldn't have been better for a 5 day trip to teach some folks about alpine climbing. Working for Canada West Mountain School, I met with my two climbers Mike and Lou at a coffee shop in town at 7 am. A little caffeine, some pouring over maps, and a ten minute drive took us to the Squamish Airport. The heli pilot gave us a quick briefing and we loaded the bird for the hop up to the Jim Haberl Hut in the Tantalus Range of coastal British Columbia.

Black Tusk Helicopters setting some climbers up with Alpha in the background.

The Tantalus Range is an amazing string of peaks that rise out of the ocean just west of the highway between Squamish and Whistler. If you have ever driven to Whistler on a clear day and looked west off the highway, you are smacked in the face with 6 - 7 thousand vertical feet of steep, rocky peaks with tumbling glaciers pouring off their ridgelines. The problem with climbing in the Tantalus range has always been access. Steep forested hill sides guarded by major, fast moving rivers prevent easy access, and that is where the heli comes into play. For a few hundred dollars per person Black Tusk Helicopters will drop you off and pick you up at the Jim Haberl Hut, right in the middle of the range. We chose this option, and after the 6 minute flight straight up, we were practicing crevasse rescue on a glacier by 8:15 am. Unbelievable!

The Jim Haberl Hut with Dione in the background

The hut fully styles you out, completed in 2006, with its bunk beds with mattresses, hardwood flooring and walling, propane grill, outhouse, is full on alpine bivy luxury. You can walk out your door to technical alpine terrain. What could be better 15 minutes from my house in Squamish.

So with 5 days of sunshine and warm weather forecast, we set to making plans for some of the classic climbs in the range and a bit of instruction as well. First off we climbed Serratus, which is literally a 15 minute walk from the hut. Steep snow slopes led to some easy rock scrambling and the summit at 8:30am.

Summiting Serratus with Dione in the background.

Warm weather meant alpine starts: 3am wake up calls and walking by 4am so we could get the best snow conditions before the heat of the day. It also meant sunrises on the summits.

We did some skills and then ramped up for an ascent of Dione, one of the more prominent peaks in the range. This one required a few hours of glacier travel on the approach, front pointing up a steep couloir, and then 3 pitches of 5th class rock. By all means, a well rounded alpine ascent, requiring a wide skill set.
The SE face of Dione with the Rumbling Glacier in the background

Approaching the summit of Dione

The shadow of Dione from the summit

We climbed a few more small objectives the next day and then headed back down to the heat of the valley. Overall a great trip in an amazing spot just a short heli ride away from Squamish. Get up to the Tantalus if you have a chance!

Climbing above the Lake Lovely Water area.