Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Last Summer (2020) my good friend Justen Bruns and I completed a fifteen hour push of the North and Southern flanks of Mount Tantalus (2603m) otherwise known as the Tantalus Traverse or Enchainment. At the time this felt like one of the more serious objectives I had tackled in the alpine. Simply because of the amount of relatively technical terrain that one needs to cover if making a push in "fast and light" style. As a child growing up in Squamish the Tantalus range was constantly looming overhead. With a backdrop like that one can only become so curious before setting off to explore and cut my teeth. Around the age of seventeen along with my family we started making trips into different rather obscure parts of the range. A standout three day trip in the South Tantalus range at the age of eighteen sparked my imagination for future possibilities. After a few years of smaller scrambles, runs, climbs, bushwacks and time spent learning the ranges in's and outs Justen and I completed the Tantalus Traverse. It was a day filled with learning and pleasant memories that left me motivated to spend more time in the range.
In late July of 2021 Nick Elson a partner, friend and mentor of mine and I decided to spend another long day in the Tantalus range completing what is known as the "Full Tantalus Traverse" this version of the traverse involves completing the regular traverse but tacking on all of the five major summits you pass along the way Pelion (2312), Tantalus (2603), Dione (2589), Serratus (2321) and Aplha (2302). Full of excitement and some nerves I drowsily hopped in the car at 4:15 am to pick up Nick from the grocery store parking lot. Before I knew it Katarina had dropped us off at the Ashlu river bridge and we were on our way just after 5:15 am.
Most days in the mountains in the Sea To Sky start with some form of mindless slogging. This objective was no different. Within an hour and forty five minutes we reached the beautiful open basin below Pelion, Ossa and Sigurd peaks. From there the slope angle rears up and the proper elevation gain starts. As we rambled up past babbling brooks and along gentle glacier polished slabs my nerves for the day seemed to melt away as morning rays of sun touched down on the surrounding peaks.
Once reaching the Pelion East shoulder the scale of the day seems a little daunting. Alpha mountain looks awfully far away. It was one of those moments where I just have to take a breath and focus on what is next rather than dwell on how far away Alpha is. Nick and I opted to go directly up and down the East Face ramp of Pelion. This ramp is a little bit crumbly at times but overall pleasant 3rd-4th class scrambling with a gorgeous low angled arete just before the summit. I will also note that we saw more sign of Mountain goat than any other areas in the Tantalus range. This is likely due to far less helicopter traffic on this side of the range.
Approaching the Summit of Mt. Pelion
After descending back down the East face Ramp on Pelion we started the scenic ramble towards the classic North Ridge of Mount Tantalus. First ascended in the 1944 the North ridge follows a visually aesthetic line that is featured in thousands of images seen from the highway 99 tourist lookout. Nick and I opted to take the North Ridge Direct West face bypass in interest of efficiency. This cuts out about 500 meters of high quality ridge line but is almost definitely faster (for myself). Once on the North Ridge we cruised along passing pleasant and exposed sections of 4th class terrain on mostly good rock intercepted by short sections of snow. When describing the North Ridge of Tantalus I often refer to it as a "side walk in the sky" - it is hard not to enjoy yourself. Near the end of the ridge we crossed a final section of snow before making way up to the tantalus sub summit tower. we gingerly rambled up a section of 4th class terrain on crumbly rock before ascending the airy Mt. Tantalus sub summit. The sub summit has got to be one of my favourite places in the range because of the rock quality, exposure and ambiance of the Rumbling glacier far below. A short down climb and about 25 meters of elevation gain we found ourselves at the high point of our traverse Mt. Tantalus. At this point we were 6 hours and 45 minutes in with around 3800 meters of elevation gain behind us.
Thankfully Nick and I know the descent off of the South side of Mount Tantalus reasonably well from previous ascents of the mountain. There are several options but due to snow levels we opted for the relatively new rappel stations that follow the SW Spur. We efficiently down climbed and made five 20-30 meter rappels before climbing out of the moat at the edge of the pocket glacier below Dione. We quickly made our way to the base of Dione and coiled the ropes. After a few minutes of looking at the sketchy moat between us and the rock on Dione Nick looked around the corner of the South East face and found a safer option. Dione is a short very enjoyable mostly 4th class face if ascending from the South East side. Before I knew it we were at the summit in the swirling clouds staring over at our final objectives. Serratus and Alpha which both still seemed somewhat far away.
With Dione done we now down climbed, glissaded and ran towards the Haberl Hut between the Tantalus South ridge and West face of Serratus. Minus some patches of glacier ices we had to avoid on the west side travel was smooth and we quickly arrived at the Haberl hut feeling parched and looking for a water source. We passed some un-opened cans of Mott's Clamato and Stouts that had likely been left in the snow from guided parties. We both contemplated cracking one open. In the end we both agreed any 5% alcohol would not be a good combination with nine hours of fatigue under our belts. Fortunately we found a trickle of water off a snow patch two minutes later and stopped for 10 minutes to eat. After a quick reset we marched on towards the West Face of Serratus. Upon reaching the West Face we bumped into a few friendly parties making their way back to the Haberl hut. We exchanged a few words and proceeded on route. I had never done the West Face of Serratus before and found it very enjoyable overall. The rock at the bottom is nice clean granite. The quality of rock deteriorates on the upper face but is still quite pleasant.
Coming up the lower slabs on the West face of Serratus.
Once we hit the summit of Serratus I had a nibble of a granola bar and we started our descent. We planned to down climb the South Couloir. With another meter of snow this would have been a good and efficient option but with the snow level it was a bit sketchy. A couple hundred meters of somewhat chossy down climbing lead to firm summer snow about half way down. The snow was fine until we realized there were some hollow sections so we made a couple slightly awkward rappels and took our time. 30 minutes later we arrived at the bottom. Waisting no time and happy to be finished with Serratus we both transitioned out of crampons and started shuffling along snow, dirt, heather and talus towards our final climb.
Next and last on the list was the West face of Alpha. A straight forward route that involves mostly hiking with a couple short steps of scrambling on good rock. The challenge at this point for me came in the form of a small "bonk" Although only a couple hundred meters in gain the climb felt long. Eventually I topped out on Alpha. We both chuckled as I took a seat immediately and shoved the last of my food in my face. The sun was out and the 6:00 light was amazing. Alpha casted a shadow down on the valley and the sun illuminated Lake Lovely Water a thousand meters below. We didn't stay for long. Enough time to appreciate our surroundings and hydrate a little more.
Although I was tired the East Ridge of Alpha is hard not to enjoy going up or down. Gorgeous and exposed ridge scrambling intercepted with sections of enjoyable down climbing with one 30 meter rappel at the base of the route. We made quick work of it, set up the rappels and quickly stripped our harness's off, coiled the ropes and started down on soft slushy snow.
Nick down climbing at the start of golden hour
Glissading was much appreciated after moving on firm ground most of the day but it was over within a couple minutes. We started cruising down the brushy trail towards Lake Lovely Water. It all blurred together. Some talus, some brush and some log hopping then we popped out at the lake where a couple groups of campers ate their dinners and observed the stunning view. I have a love hate relationship with the Lake Lovely Water trail. It is gorgeous. Untouched old growth stands, thickets of lush devils club and ferns with a couple stunning waterfalls. I mean what is there not to like? The 1100 meters of leg pounding down the the Squamish river always turns out to be a bit of a slog after moving all day.
Down, Down, Down
After about and hour and ten minutes we reached the Squamish river and jogged the last kilometre towards the cable finishing our day 15:24:02. We high-fived and I caught my breath while we chatted briefly about our last obstacle. The cable walk. Although having been into the Tantalus many times before I had never walked the cable. I usually canoed and set up a shuttle if needed. Walking the cable is not hard but admittedly it was a little spooky and sort of pumpy if you aren't close to six feet tall. I watched as Nick shuffled his way across and then clipped into the upper cable and started across. after ten minutes of awkwardly scooting along and navigating the pylons I made the climb down the ladder straight to a big burrito courtesy of my awesome Mom Line and girlfriend Katarina. Finally a moment of rest - what a day!
In July of 2018 Eric Carter, Greg Hill And Ross Berg completed this route in roughly 17:45:00. This effort is what sparked my interest for this day (Thanks guys!). When Nick mentioned doing it over our text conversation I was psyched to give it a go.
For what it's worth the new Fastest Known Time on this route is now 15:24:02. Our statistics for the day were 38 kilometres with 4800 meters of elevation gain and loss. I hope that this sparks an idea in someones else's mind to explore the in's and outs's of the Tantalus range in the future. It took me a while to find the time to write all of this but I am happy I did as this day is one that I will not forget any time soon. Also, thank you Nick for being a patient partner and mentor throughout the day considering that he could likely knock down this time a fair amount.
Thank you to Ross Mailloux from OnwardUp Sales for setting me up with some sweet Patagonia clothing this summer which was much appreciated throughout this traverse!