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[TR] Tantalus Range - East Ridge of Alpha 7/24/2010

david c

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Trip: Tantalus Range - East Ridge of Alpha


Date: 7/24/2010


Trip Report:

Alpha in a day


I’ve been trying to convince my brothers to start climbing for the past few years. One is preoccupied with mountain biking, the other (Ian) with river kayaking. Neither Ian or I are kayaking all that aggressively these days and last weekend’s high water Whistler Creek Race on the Callaghan River (http://www.brushymountainpublishing.com/rivergypsies/callaghanfest/) didn’t appeal to us at all (I competed a number of years back and came dead last - http://www.kumsheen.com/reelrooster/whistlervideo.mp4). So I jumped on the opportunity and convinced Ian to come climbing. I suggested an alpine climb, and sold the idea to him as “bad ass hike”. He bought it.


Alpha East Ridge in the Tantalus range seemed to fit the bill. Ian noticed that Kevin McLean’s guide mentions that the route can be climbed in a day from Squamish by a party that is “fit and fast”. I tried to explain that climbing guide book authors are chronic sandbaggers, but Ian was too naive to let the notion go. “I’m pretty busy this weekend, let’s just do it on Saturday after the party Friday night”… I was nervously considering the pros and cons:



- We are fairly fit, and fast at hiking.

- Crossing the Squamish should be a breeze for us with our river kayaks.

- The weather looked as ideal as possible and made the high potential for a bivi seem palatable.

- I have been climbing before.



- Ian has only ever climbed once or twice in a gym years ago. He had no idea what we were in for.

- Lots of lingering snow could be a show stopper.


So, off we went. Leaving Vancouver at 5am, crossing the Squamish at 6am (the gate over the road was open, and we had no troubles driving to the cable crossing and leaving our truck there). Up at Lake Lovely Water by 8:30 am. At the shoulder of the east ridge of Alpha by 10am. The trail from Lake Lovely Water to the shoulder was well marked by flagging tape and was not a problem. There was lots of snow on the way up, but it was soft and cruisey.



Crossing the Squamish


Once on the route, we went along the ridge (mostly on snow) to the base of the crux 5.7 pitch. From this point onward there was no snow on the ridge. We roped up and did the crux section in 2 pitches. I found it okay with my boots, although very steep for such easy climbing. However, it left Ian a nervous sweaty mess. I remembered my first few times climbing: trusting the top rope, the exposure of being high-up, over gripping everything… haha, ya, this was a lot like throwing my big brother into the deep end of the climbing world. But as usual he did great, and after a short break to calm the nerves, we were soon scrambling up the remainder of the ridge.


Ian asked for a rope-up only once along the 4th class ridge crest. This came after I said to him “this part is steep, but just hand jam the corner crack and reach a crimp on the arête and you’ll send it no problem”… He gave me a very blank look and told me lower down a rope. I suppose we climbers do have our own lingo. “What the hell is a hand jam?” he asked me later.


At 1pm we were lounging on the summit. Our mood had gone from motivated charging up the mountain, to a relaxed state of reflection. We spent about an hour on the summit looking around; the visibility was crazy clear. From the summit of Alpha you can see much of the areas where we spend our life kayaking, skiing and climbing. South is Howe Sound and the mountains around Vancouver. West is Tantalus and Dionne, the Sunshine Coast and off towards Strathcona Park on the Island. North is the Squamish, Alshlu, Elaho awesomeness. East is Garabaldi, and beyond to the Cascades (Slesse and Baker clearly visible).





Eagle tracks on a summit snow patch looking north up the Squamish Valley


We descended the west ridge, almost to the Serratus-Alpha col. The McLean guide says to go more directly down, but this way seemed a lot less steep and was quite cruisey. Ian didn’t mind the down scramble at all. Once on the snow below, we perfected our boot ski technique and then began happily walking along the snow/talus fields below Alpha’s south face.




At this point Ian suggest we dip down to Lambda Lake and then walk along the shore back to the trail. This sounded quite pleasant so I wholeheartedly agreed. NOTE: do NOT dip down to Lambda Lake and try to walk along the shore! We were soon standing on tree branches, stuck in brush looking 10 meters straight down into Lambda Lake on its very steep north shore. “What do you have that can’t get wet?” asks Ian. “My camera” I reply. “Oh, well, it would be a pretty sweet cliff jump from here”. You gotta love the innovation. “Sorry Ian, next time I’ll remember a dry bag”. Once we had bushwhacked around another 100 metres and down to the lake, we did end up wading most of the way around the lake and back to the trail. We stopped for a nice swim, then back to the Tantalus Hut on Lake Lovely Water at the beginning of the decent trail.


We dried our boots and spent another hour lounging at Lake Lovely Water before destroying our knees on the decent. A quick paddle across the fast flowing Squamish (a funny picture, kayaking with ice axes), and we were drinking beer in Squamish by 8pm.






Okay, so, my brother was right, it was a doable and somewhat relaxed (although exhausting) day trip. The only shame was not to spend more time is such an incredible place!




Interesting points:

- First climbed in 1916!

- The Tantalus Hut is luxury and has canoes, fishing rods, a propane BBQ, etc. You need a key to get in.

- The Russian Army Campground seems to be at the base of a massive avalanche run out. Does anyone know why the heck it has that name?

- Flying in is cheating… unless you bring beer for those who hike in, then it is excusable. (We were not given any beer.)




Gear Notes:

Gear notes:

- Light Bivi gear (tarp, some clothes)

- Ice axes

- Light rack (.3, .5, .75, 1, 2 + 6 nuts)

- 8mm rope (for emotional support)



Approach Notes:

Well flagged trail all the way to Alpha east shoulder. A river kayak helps for the Squamish River crossing.

Edited by david c
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