Backyard Exploration

Moving through mountains in tight clothes with feather weight skis, boots as light as my runners, and constantly looking ahead to hasten route finding, is generally looked upon with curiosity and peculiarity from the perspective of British Columbian backcountry locals. Ski mountaineering is generally thought of as enjoying the mountains slowly with time to reflect on route finding. All of a sudden, there comes along a skier cruising by you at high speed in tights! Hard to blame BC’ers first impression as I would think the same before I had heard of ‘skimo’. Beyond all those preconceptions, moving fast and light is gratifying.

This concept originated in the mountains of Europe where outdoor enthusiasts wanted to cover more ground in less time with a similar amount of physical output. Moving light and fast is one strategy I have adopted to explore beyond the crowds and find solitude amongst the South Coast’s granite monoliths and dormant volcanoes.

After ten years living in Squamish my passion for the mountains hasn’t changed. Although it was only in the past 3 years that I have grown fond of travelling fast and efficiently. It is a way to see a broader spectrum of impressively humbling terrain.

At nine thirty AM Nick Elson and I boarded the Sea To Sky gondola in Squamish, BC. Nine thirty is a relatively late start time for a 36 kilometre 2200 meter traverse but due to the light and fast concept it makes these later starts possible. Our goal for the day was to traverse from the Sea To Sky gondola to Furry Creek through the Sky Pilot range and Mountain Lakes plateau with an ascent and descent of the lesser known

Descending the Co-Pilot South Couloir into marmot Basin

summit of Ben Lomond.

After an hour of skinning up the convoluted Sky Pilot basin we reach the top of the south facing Sky Pilot/Co-pilot couloir the first technical line of the day. We are surprised with excellent ski conditions and a little bit of windslab. Nick decides to ski first making a few ski cuts and stomps to test the narrow couloirs stability. With little reaction we both agree to make our way to the bottom. Many hop turns and a narrow choke later Nick and I found ourselves cruising some smooth turns to the bottom of the Marmot Basin and getting ready for the next climb. 20 minutes and 300 meters of elevation gain later we arrive at the lower south ridge of Sky Pilot. From here the majority of the day’s objectives are within sight. The Mountain Lakes plateau is a superb group of modest sized Scottish namesake mountains that have a unique feel to them with steep drop offs, frozen lakes and no lack of attractive ski terrain. The area was used more frequently during the copper mining boom of the early 1900’s. The mining community above Britannia Beach was relatively close to Mountain Lakes Plateau providing easier access. Nowadays the plateau is often explored by outdoor enthusiasts staying in the ‘mountain lakes’ BCMC hut on the west side of the plateau. Traversing this area has piqued my interest since I laid eyes on it from the Sky Pilot area.

A brief stop at the rustic mountain lakes hut and we make our way to Ben Lomond. Ben Lomond is a 1650 meter summit located at the SE corner of the plateau. For it’s small size Ben Lomond sticks out like a blunt dagger into the sky or like its definition, ‘beacon mountain’. It’s steep flanks are enveloped in cliff bands except for the west ridge. Although the peak is out of the way by several kilometres, Nick and I decide it would be worth a jaunt to the summit.

Skinning up the West ridge of Ben Lomond

Upon reaching the west ridge we quickly toss our skis onto our packs and start boot packing and wallowing steadily towards the top. From the summit the descent looks quite pleasant and loaded with soft well consolidated snow. Descending Ben Lomond is first rate skiing consisting of several smooth turns and a face plant, we then move on to the final part of the trip and commence our long slog to Furry Creek.

This consist of descending through tight alder, breakable crust, countless free flowing creeks, four kilometres of awkward shuffling and six kilometres of running with skis on our packs. Drained of energy, ready for some rest and mounds of food we arrive at Nick’s car around 5 PM just in time for a Howe Sound sunset.

Nick making some gentle turns off of Red Mountain

With the rumble of the car tires on the highway my mind is drawn to future objectives that tower high above Howe Sound. Living on the coast presents countless opportunities for deep exploration into old growth forests and vast alpine tundra. Another day moving through a full gamut of winter conditions and mountain terrain comes to an end.

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© 2019 Freelance Photography By Jessie McAuley

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Squamish, BC